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As summer approaches and the days grow longer, we head north – far north – to one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals for today’s Destination of the Week, where TPG contributor Brittany Shoot takes us a tour of baroque palaces, pristine waterways and leafy neighborhoods. We’re heading to Sweden to visit Stockholm.
There are so many spectacular sights and fun spots to visit that it’s hard to imagine ever getting bored in the Swedish capital, which has over a million people residing in the metropolitan area. The lush 12-island city is made up of nearly 30% green spaces, with another 30% comprised of waterways, earning its occasional nickname, “the Venice of the North.” The weather tends to be mild, but especially because so much of the city faces the waterfront, you’ll want to carry layers to pull on after the sun goes down, even in high summer.
Like most Scandinavians, Swedes are avid cyclists. To see the city on two wheels, remember to use marked bike paths and learn a few of the proper hand signals in advance. It’ll make your travels much more enjoyable.
Note that like other Nordic capitals, Stockholm effectively shuts down for several weeks in July and August. Swedes take several weeks of their vacation in the summers, so staff may be reduced, and smaller businesses may be closed altogether.
WHAT TO DO
Stockholm is a bit more spread out than other Nordic capitals, so you’ll likely want to concentrate on specific islands or sections of town if you have limited time in the city. Stockholm is known for its wide array of museums, so pick a few traditional spots to see along with a quirky exhibition or two.
To get an initial overview of Stockholm, hop on the Under the Bridges tour that winds through the waterways while a recording explains the various sights as you glide by. I promise this isn’t as cheesy as it sounds. In fact, it’s one of the most popular and memorable tours in town! And, you’ll get the lay of the land before you set off on foot.
If you end up on the island of Djugärden, you’ll be within walking distance of many of the most interesting museums. The Vasa Museum, which holds a completely in tact 17th century warship, is both terrific and bizarre and definitely a must-see. The front-heavy Vasa sank just minutes after its 1628 launch and was submerged in the harbor for more than three centuries. In 1961, determined preservationists were able to salvage the ship in one piece, preserving it in that bears its name, a strange symbol of failure and eventual recovery. Check out the documentary, narrated by a once-young and unknown Stellan Skarsgard.
Nearby, the Skansen open-air museum and amusement park is a great spot to catch a glimpse of reindeer, moose, and other Nordic native species, plus a wide array of regional flora and fauna and traditional crafts demonstrations. The delightful Spirits Museum should be a destination for any vodka enthusiast, especially the Absolut art exhibition. But be warned: the funky gallery explores both the lighthearted and dark sides of imbibing in the North, from the history of public intoxication to displays on drinking songs and an annual contest judging the most original new tunes. If thrilling rides are more your speed, it’s hard to miss the roller coasters and world’s tallest starflyer swings in Grona Lund, Sweden’s oldest amusement park.
On Sodermalm, you’ll want to wander through the SoFo district, full of cute boutiques, designer shops, eclectic housewares stores, and charming cafes. If you can’t decide, look out for Coctail, which is 20 years old this year and was one of SoFo’s first boutiques. Sodermalm is also known for its vintage and secondhand shopping, especially along Götgatan, a major street running between two subway stops. Pet Sounds is a must-visit for music fans—particularly those fond of vinyl. While the friendly clerks will probably sell you some ABBA if you ask nicely, they’re more interested in talking about new blues albums or classic rock.
I’d be remiss not to mention Gamla Stan, the Old City. Bustling with guided groups and history buffs touring the gorgeous historic cathedrals and churches, this largely pedestrian-only island is best known for the Royal Palace, an imposing 17th-century castle still used by the royal family for official events. Scholars and geeks will want to stop into the former Stock Exchange, which now holds the Nobel Museum detailing the history of the prestigious prizes established by Alfred Nobel and the many famous luminaries who have won them over the years.
Swedish breakfast is often just coffee and pastries, but lunch and dinner are another matter. For one of the widest selections of local fare, stop by the Ostermalms Saluhall, a food court-style hall filled with family-owned fish vendors, dairy carts, and chocolatiers serving up some of the freshest local specialties. There, you can fill up on treats like pickled herring, fried cod, soft cheeses, and salty licorice. Strange as it may seem, you may also want to keep an eye open for Max, Sweden’s delicious, eco-conscious version of McDonald’s. Try the chili-cheese bites along with your burger and a chocolate shake. At the other end of the spectrum, Stockholm also has several Michelin Star restaurants, all of which require reservations far in advance.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
The Stockholm-Arlanda Airport is located 25 miles north of the city. There are several trains and buses that run into town, depending on the speed and cost combo you prefer. The Arlanda Express Train runs every 15 minutes from the airport and takes 20 minutes to reach inner Stockholm. It’ll set you back 260 SEK, or about $40. The Flygbussarna bus leaves the airport frequently (check schedule for exact departure times), costs 119 SEK ($18), and takes about 45 minutes. To take a taxi from the airport to the city center, expect to pay a fixed rate of at least 350 SEK, or about $55, but probably closer to 500 SEK ($75).
Other nearby airports includes Skavsta Airport 60 miles from the city, with flights from Ryanair and other European discount carriers.
Air Berlin (Berlin-Tegel) serves Stockholm direct from Berlin. British Airways flies direct to Stockholm from London (Heathrow). Finnair flies direct from Helsinki.
Using SkyTeam airlines, you can reach Stockholm direct on Aeroflot from Moscow, Air France from Paris (Charles de Gaulle), Czech Airlines via Prague, and KLM from Amsterdam or Delta from New York JFK.
Stockholm is served by Scandinavian Airline Systems (SAS) from most major SAS hubs, including Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, London (Heathrow), Manchester, Paris (Charles de Gaulle), and Oslo. SAS also serves Stockholm from Chicago and New York in the US. Lufthansa flies direct to Stockholm from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, and Munich; Swiss Airlines via Zurich, Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, United Airlines from New York (Newark), Air China from Beijing, Austrian Airlines from Vienna, Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa and Cairo, Thai Airways via Bangkok.
Other airlines that fly direct to Stockholm include Aer Lingus from Dublin, Air Baltic from Riga, Estonian Air from Tallin, Icelandair from Reykjavik (with many stop-overs from U.S. connections), Qatar Airways from Doha, Rossiya Airlines from St. Petersburg, and Thomas Cook Scandinavia from Aruba, Gran Canaria, and Phuket.
Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel: This urban retreat has 414 stylishly modern rooms and suites with sweeping views of Lake Mälaren. Rooms are equipped with flatscreen TVs, and WiFi is complimentary. The RGB Bar & Grill serves breakfast daily, with a range of local specialties like Swedish meatballs and steamed cod, and even an entire menu of aquavit varieties. The Lobby Bar opens mid-day, serving snacks and a wide selection of cocktails and spirits all day. This hotel is pet-friendly. Rooms start at SEK 2,375 ($355) a night or 50,000 Gold Points per night in June.
Radisson Blu Royal Viking Hotel: This 459-room hotel is located in the heart of the city, convenient to public transit, the Old City, and the business district. On-site Fisk Restaurant offers fresh local seafood and provides 24-hour room service to guests. This property offers complimentary WiFi, a free pass to the on-site SATS fitness facility, and is pet-friendly. Rooms start at SEK 1,895 ($285) a night or 50,000 Gold Points per night in June.
Options just outside of the inner city include Park Inn by Radisson Solna about three miles from downtown, or the stylish Radisson Blu Royal Park Hotel. Options 25 miles from the city center include Park Inn by Radisson Stockholm-Arlanda, Radisson Blu SkyCity Hotel Stockholm-Arlanda, and the Radisson Blu Arlandia Hotel Stockholm-Arlanda.
Hilton Stockholm Slussen Hotel: This five-story building has 289 light-filled rooms and suites equipped with 32-inch flatscreen televisions, complimentary WiFi, and other standard amenities like bathrobes and hair dryers. Located in the heart of Stockholm, it’s close to many major attractions and the Old Town. Staff at the Slussen is known to be exceptionally friendly. Check out the hearty breakfast served each morning. Rates in June start at SEK 1,390 ($210) per night. This is a Category 8 property and requires 60,000 Hilton HHonors points for a free night redemption (40,000-70,000 seasonally).
The city’s only Marriott property is the Courtyard Stockholm Kungsholmen, a centrally located Marriott Rewards Category 5 hotel with spacious rooms starting at SEK 1,840 ($275) or 25,000 points in June.
Sheraton Stockholm Hotel: This centrally located hotel boasts 465 rooms including nine suites and one Presidential suite. It is a short walk to many tourist attractions and features amenities like a spa and sauna, as well as the ThreeSixty restaurant and bar. WiFi costs $15 per day in the rooms but is complimentary in public areas and the business center. Room rates in June start at SEK 1,995 ($300) per night. At this SPG Category 5 property, you’ll need between 12,000-16,000 SPG points for a free night.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late checkout, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Grand Hotel Stockholm: This historic hotel is one of the city’s finest, with 368 rooms and suites overlooking Gamla Stan and the Royal Palace. The 5-star property offers free WiFi, complimentary entry to the spa and fitness club, and a free morning newspaper of your choice. Be sure to visit its restaurant, Madsalen, which won two Michelin stars in 2012 with chef Mathias Dahlgren at the helm. Dahlgren’s Matbaren, also housed in the hotel, was also awarded with a star of its own the same year. Rates in June start at SEK 2,340 ($350) per night.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Hotel Diplomat: This hotel has 130 rooms and suites, and is one of the city’s finest. Most rooms have wrought-iron balconies that overlook the waterways and lush Djurgården island parks and gardens. In the hotel lounge, a new contemporary art display goes up every six weeks. Guest DJs spin on Fridays, and the Stockholm Bossanova Quartet plays during Saturday brunch in the T Bar. Every hotel guest receives one hour complimentary in the fitness and wellness center, which is equipped with a Jacuzzi, sauna, and fully stocked minibar. The hotel’s brand new gym opens in March 2013. Rates in June start at SEK 2,750 ($410) per night.