At the end of any good trip, I’m left with a feeling of gratitude, awe and sadness that creates a cocktail more potent than a Manhattan. I’ve been beyond fortunate to experience plenty such trips this year and my recent explorations in Stockholm were no exception. From the moment the cab left my house at 5:15 am until my plane flew over central London, affording us a perfect view of the blinking lights in Piccadilly circus, my trip was nothing short of awe inspiring.
When I was 14, I received a fancy DK guide to Sweden for Christmas. Looking through the pages was fun, but visiting the country didn’t seem like something that would actually happen. Even during my afternoon in Malmö, sandwiched in between time in Copenhagen, didn’t feel like being in Sweden. Stockholm loomed in the distance like the cool kid at school. Imagine my surprise when I got off the plane and found the city to be familiar like an old friend. There were grand boulevards that reminded me of Paris and smaller, edgier streets that called to mind Berlin or New York. Every now and then, I turned a corner and saw a house that looked Danish hygge. Stockholm wasn’t my favorite city, but I felt more at home there than places in which I have spent more time (it’s known as Milan).
I arrived with an assortment of goals in mind, but I began at my most basic needs: coffee, walking and warmth. Luckily, those building blocks turned out a stellar trip. After hopping on the Flygbussarna (cheaper than the Arlanda express), I quickly arrived at my hotel, which was only a short walk from the Sankt Eriksplan stop. I stayed at Ibis Styles Odengaten and, it may have been the heavy promo offer that prompted be to stay there, but I loved it. Located in the northern section of central Stockholm, it was far away enough from the hustle and bustle of the central shopping area and touristy Gamla Stan (the old island), but still central enough to be walkable for all major sights. That is, if you like long walks like me.
My first stop was the Hötorgshallen food hall (saluhall), which hosts foods from a variety of cultures, in the center of Stockholm. While there are plenty of kebab stands and the obligatory gelato kiosk, there were also a smattering of bageri and fisk purveyors. I downed the first coffee of the trip, bought the first bread and first dessert blissfully clueless as to the exchange rate. If you’re in the market for Swedish food, this food hall isn’t standout, but it’s a fun experience nonetheless.
Östermalm Saluhall highlights food from the Scandinavian peninsula and is a fun, though hectic and slightly touristy experience. There are stalls selling raw goods, ones selling prepared foods and a smattering of restaurants. When I went for Saturday lunch, it was packed with people lining up the aisles for a table at some of the more popular restaurants. Overwhelmed, I ended up eating an overpriced, though delicious smørrebrød. People seemed to love Lisa Elmqvist, an eatery that’s been there for 85 years.
Foodhalls and grocery stores are always on my list of must-see attractions, but in a city as expensive as Stockholm, they take on a new edge of urgency as you search for a meal that won’t break the bank. Luckily, piecing together a great meal outside of a restaurant is surprisingly simple. You can buy pre-washed lettuce from grocery stores and small vials of bottled dressing with names you’ve never heard of before. There are plenty of places to get dense, grainy loaves of bread. For your protein you’ll be able to find small containers of mild, milky Swedish cheese, little tubes of kalles and packages of smoked fish that go beyond the traditional salmon. I had several feasts in my room and enjoyed every one of them. Make sure to get a chockladboll, punschrulle, or slice of princess cake to finish your meal.
When it comes time for a meal out, you’ll be spoilt for choice. I ended up eating only a few meals out, but each was a unique and fun experience. Sunday afternoon, in the midst of wandering around, I decided to see what all the fuss was at Kulturehuset in the middle of Stockholm. Overwhelmed with the commotion, I was swept onto the line of Kulturehuset Stories and ate a delicious and not too-overpriced vegetarian quesadilla. You’ll quickly discover that Stockholm seems to offer more ethnic eateries than traditional Swedish ones, which makes trying “local” cuisine an annoyingly delicious challenge.
If you are searching for the perfect scandic meal out, then make sure to reserve a table for dinner at Café Tranan on Karlbergsvägen. I discovered the restaurant on Spotted by Locals and immediately made a reservation. Good call. From the moment I passed through the door of heavy curtains, I knew I made the right decision. The atmosphere is celebratory and unfussy. Locals rub elbows with tourists. I ordered the fried herring with a side of green beans. The fish was salty, hearty and fishy without tasting like the sea. The string beans retained some crunch and were refreshingly green. Even the potatoes they served alongside the meal were delightful. Compared to other meals out, Café Tranan is practically cheap.
There were plenty of other, smaller treats along the way. Swedish desserts are a forced to be reckoned with and no good traveller can leave without sampling a kardemmombulle, or cardamom bun. Unlike the sticky, oversized bun on sale at Ikea, the true Swedish versions are intricately woven and comparatively restrained. They’re heavy on the spices and perfect for warming up on a chilly day. The cinnamon ones (kanelbulle) are nice, but the cardamom ones steal the show, managing to turn the often floral spice into a comfortingly familiar flavor. I had my favorite one at Bakery and Spice, just off Sankt Eriksplan, but the ones at Fabrique (locations throughout the city) looked delicious as well.
There’s a reason people are loving everything Scandinavian these days. From the delicious food, to the refreshingly simple asthetic, the Scandinavians offer us what we know, with a delightfully novel twist on it. A twist that’s so much fun, I’m going to wait to tell you about the rest of my trip.
What does your ideal day of travel look like?