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The local’s guide to Stockholm: The Venice of the north

Home to ABBA, IKEA and Scandi-chic, a visit to the cosmopolitan capital of Sweden – which constantly tops the World Happiness Report – is something to smile about.

 By Karen Pasquali Jones

Stroll down any street in Stockholm and you’re rubbing shoulders with some of the officially happiest people in the world.

The reason Sweden consistently ranks at or near the top of the world happiness report? It has one of the highest GDP per capita; new parents can take 16 months of paid family leave, and there’s a cultural emphasis on equality and discovering the right work-life balance. Oh, and they exported Abba and IKEA.

The Seventies Super troupers are back at the top of the charts again with new album Voyage – and their home city has never been more popular.

An archipelago of 14 idyllic islands in the Baltic Sea, ‘the green and blue city’ of Stockholm is known by its own inhabitants as ‘beauty on the water,’ and by the rest of us as the Venice of the North. There’s water – literally – everywhere you look.

Connected by a network of bridges, Stockholm is easy to get around and walking – along with island hopping by ferry – is the best way to see everything.

The enchanting, impeccably preserved old town district, Gamla Stan, is a must-visit. Dating back to medieval times, it’s a classic Nordic blend of cobbled streets, with a royal palace, gabled buildings, charming cafes galore, and brightly colored houses that look like they’re from the pages of a fairy tale book.

Grab a fika (coffee and a cake), before deciding what to do next. Nordic noir fans can head to the southern island of Södermalm where the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson based the fictional town of Hedestad in his best-selling novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

A former working-class area, with wooden cottages squeezed between 20th-century stone houses, the hilly district is packed with bars, fashion stores and art galleries and gives great views over the Swedish city.

Carousel at park in Stockholm Sweden

ABBA The MuseumTake A Chance

Next, go east to the island of Djurgården, home to ABBA The Museum. It opened in 2013, with the involvement of Björn and Benny and was originally a permanent home to the traveling ABBAWORLD exhibition.

Now, along with the (teeny) 70s satin jump suits and sequinned stage outfits, there are interactive singalongs, including making a demo, performing on stage alongside the group (sadly only a hologram) and a piano linked to Benny’s home which reproduces whatever he’s playing at the time. There’s even a phone only the band members can call while you thank them for the music. Just don’t forget to pack your blue eyeliner and platforms.

The island is also home to the city’s famous Gröna Lund amusement park, where the band played some of their early concerts. There are more than 30 rides including roller coasters with fear-inducing sheer drops and traditional carousels if you prefer your fun more traditional.

The entire island was once the royal hunting ground, and you can step back in time at the open-air museum Skansen, where you can see wildlife including wolves, elk and brown bears as well as traditional Swedish architecture.

The Vasa Viking ship museum is a must-visit where you can get up close to a 17th-century galleon warship which sank in 1628 less than a mile into her maiden voyage. She spent the next 333 years under the sea before being salvaged and meticulously preserved.

A visit to the permanent indoor food market at Östermalms Saluhall is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. For less than £10 you can dine on a traditional Swedish lunch of fresh salmon, cod, fried herring or meatballs with cured meat and cheese.

Unique hotelsWhere to Stay

With views of the parliament buildings and the Palace, the Grand Hotel on the water’s edge on Östermalm, has been a luxurious home-away-from home since 1874. Princess Grace of Monaco and Frank Sinatra used to stay here, and there is a basement pool and sauna.

ABBA fans will no doubt prefer to check into Pop House Hotel, right next door to ABBA The Museum and part-owned by Björn, where guests can stay in the ABBA Gold Suite, lined with platinum discs or The Mamma Mia! The Party room reproducing in minute detail the Greek Villa of the movie.

Benny Andersson owns Hotel Rival, which has a great café, bistro and bakery. But for a unique experience, why not stay behind bars in the Långholmen Hotel, which is a converted prison?

Stockholm Sweden

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Published 03.02.22