On September 20, 2013 at 7:50 a.m., my wife (Stephanie Brusig) and I arrived to Stockholm Arlanda Airport in the heart of Scandinavia for a whirlwind weekend. The overnight journey on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) could not have been more quaint and comfortable. Time seemed to float by effortlessly while we caught up on movies we had been meaning to see – right from the comfort of our own seats. A thick blanket was available to every passenger in Business Class – not the thin kind you get on domestic flights. And the food! Let’s not forget the food. One could not go hungry on a flight from Seattle to Stockholm. At one point in the evening when the other passengers were far away in Dreamland, I noticed a shooting star over Reykjavik, Iceland. Seriously, you can’t make this up! This is the stuff that dreams are made of…literally, in this case. And all of this happened before we had even landed at our destination.
THE FIRST DAY
Upon our arrival to the ultra-plush green city, we scooted across town to the Clarion Sign for breakfast at the American Table Brasserie and Bar by Marcus Samuelsson. Fresh orange juice, omelets made to order, pancakes and waffles, and everything in between waited patiently for our consumption. Sign is a hotel that combines the best of Scandinavian architecture and design. It is Stockholm’s largest hotel and designed by the well known Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh, located in the heart of Stockholm city adjacent to the Central Station and Arlanda Express as well as near all the best of Stockholm’s favorite spots. Beautiful black and white portraits by well known Scandinavian photographers were delicately placed all over the hotel.
Aiming not to miss one fleeting moment on our weekend trip around the world, next up for us was Center for Architecture, Design & Form where we witnessed a masterpiece a la Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibit was called “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” and it was the first international exhibition devoted to the celebrated French couturier. Mannequins designed to resemble his famous acquaintances and models filled the first room. I will admit, it nearly scared the living daylights out of me – in a good way. Their lips and eyes moved as though they were living, breathing models! It was superbly orchestrated and the rest of the exhibit was much the same. The museum offers an active platform for architecture, sustainable urban development as well as fashion and design year round with new art forms being displayed all the time.
Next, we took a short walk down the hill to nearby Hotel Skeppsholmen where we had lunch at Långa Raden with managing director Joachim Olausson. Hotel Skeppsholmen, a modern and eco-friendly hot spot situated on the waterfront, is more than 300 years old. The hotel has 81 rooms to offer and a popular restaurant that serves the very freshest seafood.
The next item on our agenda had us doing a double-take so close to eating a delightful lunch, but we cast caution to the Baltic wind and jumped into a RIB boat to the Island Lodge. Donning snowmobile one-pieces, lifevests and goggles (more for the wind than for the water), we were on our way! While I wouldn’t say the ride was a smooth one, it sure was fun!
Imagine a remote island with high-end tents with wood-burning fireplaces and luxurious bedding suitable for almost anyone’s comforts and you’ve checked into the otherwise uninhabited Island Lodge. Located in the Stockholm archipelago Bergholmen, you can escape the wonders of central Stockholm for the desires of nature in a mere 20 or 40-minute boat ride, ferry ride, or private yacht excursion. Once you row, paddle or speed your way to shore, light your lanterns and collect your wood for the evening before jumping into the Baltic Sea – an absolute must for anyone tenacious enough to try it! The locals do it…no pressure.
Depending on the day, there will be either a dry sauna or hot tub readily available to excite the senses before the all-inclusive dinner held near the dock. If it is still light out post crayfish dinner (we call it crawfish in the U.S.), take a whirl at discovering the Swedish military’s former mine and torpedo depot (ask for a guided tour).
Word of note, there is a minimum required reservation at this property, so you will want to consult directly with the staff to plan your adventure, but it’s certainly worth the quick chat for an experience of a lifetime with your family and friends!
THE SECOND DAY
After peacefully falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves outside our tent, we were well-rested and ready for the next full day ahead. We took turns freshening up in the wooden outboxes (I will admit that it would’ve been a great investment to have a little heat in the morning by way of heater or warm water), before joining the rest of our party for breakfast near the dock. Once our bellies were nice and full, we were headed to the archipelago ferry from Vaxholm to Stockholm City!
Our Stockholm proper accommodations were made at the Sheraton. The five-star hotel was conveniently located in the very heart of Stockholm’s central business district with shopping areas within walking distance. This came in handy later in the day when we decided to take a few minutes to raid the town for souvenirs.
My wife is a professional photographer so we had to check out Fotografiska next. Fotografiska is one of the world’s largest meeting places for contemporary photography. The museum presents four unique major exhibitions and about 20 smaller exhibitions per year. Being a writer myself, it was an eye-opening experience to visit Fotografiska and see the world through different lenses – if only for a few hours.
“We offer both an art and a taste sensation,” says founder Per Broman, referring to the museum’s restaurant and award winning bakery.
Stockholm’s exclusive department store Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) was next. When Josef Sachs founded NK in 1902, his ambition was to create a commercial and cultural theater. Today, the department store is a six-level house with one-hundred separate departments each with its own distinct personality. International brands such as Hermès and Mulberry share space with well-known Swedish brands, including: J Lindeberg, Filippa K, Acne, and Anna Holtblad. Legendary crystal manufacturers Orrefors and Kosta Boda display their complete collections at NK and visitors can sample the best Sweden has to offer in culinary delights. Rosenrummet is a private lounge that offers assistance with personal style and shopping.
Once we completed our purchases, we hopped a bus to ABBA The Museum and The Swedish Music Hall of Fame at Djurgården. We were so eagerly awaiting our turn to see the museum that we missed our stop the first time around and had to reverse in direction. When we found the life-size cut-outs at the entrance, we knew we had hit our mark.
The 5,000 sq. meter building houses both ABBA The Museum and The Swedish Music Hall of Fame. One can easily do both in the same day, but you must arrive early because tickets are extremely limited. Once the museum has reached capacity, they shut it down for the day and no one else is allowed in.
As you wander throughout the museum, keep your entrance ticket handy. There are numerous points throughout the trip where you can insert your ticket in order to record a song or video to be downloaded later at the hotel. Come on! You have to sing along, it’s ABBA!
From one Hollywood legend to another, Greta Garbo’s gravesite was next on our list. The UNESCO World Heritage Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården) became the resting place for the Tinseltown actress after her niece spent several years searching for the proper burial spot for her aunt. This strangely romantic and oddly mesmerizing cemetery a short ride south of the city is a perfect pilgrimage for anyone interested in a walk through the park. Seriously, we almost forgot we were in a cemetery because of the sheer beauty of the thing! The UNESCO World Heritage cemetery expands out over heavily-planted pine forest, green hills and grassy slopes. Pathways wind through the trees and benches are conveniently placed for a little peace of mind and a quiet heart.
Is having a drink at the original Icebar on your bucket list? Stockholm lovers, you’re in the right place! The first permanent Icebar (Jukkasjärvi) opened in the lobby of the hotel Nordic Sea in 2002. Since then, this toe-tapping meeting place has been hosting events, parties and even same-sex weddings! Talk about progressive…progressively cold, that is! Before entering the Icebar, guests must cloak themselves in warm winter gear (supplied by the venue) and optional gloves. Drinks are served entirely in ice glasses and you’re only allowed in the room for a limited amount of time because the demand is so high and the temperature is so low.
We dined at Le Rouge for dinner following our icy retreat. It was almost as if Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor could’ve popped out of the chandeliers overhead at any second – extremely reminiscent of Moulin Rouge, in other words. Le Rouge is best described as a lovely romantic hideaway in the Old Town with great French gastronomy made of the best of Swedish products. Le Rouge was of another world entirely.
THE THIRD DAY
The Royal Palace is a working structure whose history is long and bountiful. Whether you fancy being whisked back in time to the days of Queen Christina and Gustav III, or prefer to stay in the present moment with King Carl XVI Gustaf, you will find it all within these Palace walls. King Carl XVI Gustaf celebrated his 40th jubilee as Sweden’s Head of State in 2013.
From the Palace to the sculpture park, Millesgården is the former home and sculpture garden of Carl Milles, Sweden’s foremost sculptor, and his most breathtaking works are on display here. Romantics will love the vibe of this hip hideaway. Even if you’re not particularly excited by art or sculptures, there is something for everyone on the grounds of Millesgården.
All of this traveling around town can make a girl very hungry so it was off to Ett Hem for a sit-down meal that left both of us wishing we could unpack our bags and move in for a week.
Built in 1910, Ett Hem is a serene private residence and garden in the center of Stockholm. It was created for people looking for something more personal than the luxury hotel and numerous celebrities have both dined and stayed at Ett Hem. The 12 rooms are generously displayed with all the amenities available to modern society. Looking for a quiet place to read, nap, enjoy the day alone or with new friends? Ett Hem has a garden terrace, a luxury spa, and a place at the kitchen table to make you feel as down home or far away from home as you prefer. The food is spectacular and cooked in-house for guests who would prefer a little low-key affair during their stay. Ett Hem – a magical place to get away from it all.
It was nearly impossible to consider departing from Ett Hem, but we were obliged to move on to other arrangements. As we bid adieu and boarded the awaiting bus, we all realized we had met a few new friends in our fair city of Stockholm a la Ett Hem.
LAST EVENING IN STOCKHOLM
A private tour of the Vasamuseum with all of the friends we had come to know and love was the beginning of our last evening in Stockholm. The architecture of the 17th century ship had us tingling to the core with its restorative properties and multi-faceted posterior. The Vasa Museum is a one of a kind “must see” that leaves no one indifferent, from it’s extremely short maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor 1628 to the wacky, but successful salvage attempt in 1961. This warship is a piece of Swedish history, and the world’s only perfectly preserved 17th century ship. An easy ”come in and get out” kind of exhibit with a ”stay as much as you like and take a million pictures” feel – perfect for any itinerary.
Nestled in the city center Bibliotekstan District is Zink Grill. Locals enjoy breakfast, lunch, “Swedish fika,” or dinner here, and it’s also a welcoming bar suitable for anyone over legal drinking age. Clean digs with delicious bites and a full menu, Zink Grill is sure to please even the most ardent food connoisseur.
EARLY MORNING DEPARTURE
A speedy trip via Arlanda Express and we were on our way back to the airport for our journey home. Arlanda Express is a speedtrain from Stockholm Central Station that makes an otherwise lengthy adventure 20 minutes of bliss (if travel can ever be called such). After trekking through the airport to find our gate, we were onboard the plane that would take us through Chicago and back home to Seattle.
What a weekend!