When I received an invitation from VisitSweden.com’s Magnus Lindbergh to join a gay and lesbian writers’ tour of Stockholm, I accepted immediately, eager to make my overdue first visit to a city that frequently tops the list of favorite and welcoming gay destinations.
During my three whirlwind days sampling its culture, art, design, sports, outdoors, history, food, nightlife and lodging, Stockholm lived up to its reputation and convinced me to return for a longer stay.
The connection from airport to Central Station via the Arlanda Express train is a breeze. The weather was perfect. (Magnus says, “My personal favorite is September/October but if you want the warmer months, end of July into August. For the summer lights, do June.“)
Our hosts brought us together for breakfast at the stylish Hotel Clarion Sign (good lodging for the budget-minded, as is the Hotel Hellsten) where we had time to relax and refresh at the luxurious spa and rooftop heated pool before receiving mysterious instructions to take from our luggage only what we would need for an outdoor overnight boat and hiking excursion.
Not sure what to expect, we watched the rest of our luggage taken away to our hotels, as we headed to the fascinating Center for Architecture, Design & Form for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit: “From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” This sleek museum is a platform for architecture, fashion, design and sustainable urban development.
We then walked to the waterfront 81-room eco-friendly Hotel Skeppsholmen for lunch with managing director Joachim Olausson who is justifiably proud of the hotel restaurant’s traditional Swedish cuisine with a modern twist. The hotel is a 300 year-old house, carefully renovated to preserve its character, on a peaceful island in the middle of the city. (Stockholm is a city of 14 islands in an archipelago of 30,000 islands!)
By 2 p.m. we found ourselves suited up in bright red snowmobile jumpsuits and goggles, and seated in an RIB boat (speedboat) for a white-knuckle zip across the water at speeds up to 50 knots. Our half hour on the RIB boat felt like five minutes before we transferred to a sailboat for a quiet glide to the secluded dock of Island Lodge on Bergholmen a small, heavily forested and uninhabited island once used as a torpedo depot by the Swedish military. Island Lodge is “glamping” more than camping. Our geodesic domed tents were outfitted with wood-burning stoves, deerskin rugs and sumptuous eiderdown beds. While our hosts prepared dinner, several of us stoked the fire in the floating sauna and cooled off by repeatedly jumping into the bracing water of the Baltic Sea. We swam, hiked, ate al fresco and toured the torpedo caverns in the stone cliffs. I can easily imagine staying a few days at Island Lodge (with the inclusion of some boating and fishing day trips) as part of my next stay in Stockholm.
Back in town, I checked into the five-star Sheraton Hotel located in the heart of Stockholm’s central business, shopping and tourism districts. I appreciated its upscale sauna/steam and gym during the few moments I had for unwinding. Those of us lodged at the Nobis Hotel, gave it equally high marks for comfort and elegance.
We toured Fotografiska, one of the world’s largest centers for contemporary photography presenting four major exhibitions and 20 smaller shows annually. We had a fine lunch at the museum restaurant and bakery.
We took a bus to the famous NK (Nordiska Kompaniet) department store where the extremely helpful staff guided my search for a Swedish-made shirt for my husband. He loves it.
Next, we took the tram to the ABBA Museum and Swedish Music Hall of Fame. I was expecting this to be less than interesting, but it was one of the highlights of my stay in Stockholm. The ABBA Museum is lively, funny, exuberant and interactive. I found myself on stage with a few of my cohorts singing Dancing Queen with the “virtual” members of ABBA. Using the code on our tickets, we were able to get the video of our performance from the museum’s website where it is unfortunately still viewable.
We visited the UNESCO World Heritage Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogarden) to see the grave of Greta Garbo and stroll among the towering pines.
In the evening, we donned heavy ponchos and gloves to enter the Icebar, which is—you guessed it—made of ice. I drank a lingonberry beverage from a glass made of ice and heard about the weddings held at this unique venue.
Dinner was at Le Rouge, a romantic hideaway in the Old Town featuring excellent French/Swedish cuisine.
Although weary, I couldn’t pass up the after party of the Stockholm Queer Film Festival with its high school prom theme. From there, the sturdier (younger?) members of our group went (wobbled?) to two gay venues, Zipper and Paradise Garage.
On the last day of our trip, we had a walking tour of the Old Town led by handsome, knowledgeable and authorized Stockholm guide Marco Giertz who dropped us off at the magnificent Royal Palace after showing us Millesgarden, the former home and sculpture garden of Sweden’s foremost sculptor, Carl Milles. Worth your visit for the view over the water, the erotic statuary and the deco architecture/landscaping.
We visited Ett Hem which means “At Home,” a luxurious 12-room hotel in a 1910 Arts and Crafts mansion sumptuously modernized with well-appointed rooms/baths, a solarium dining room and an amazing spa carved out of the cellar. Lunch was exceptionally well prepared by a locavore chef dedicated to savory, fresh cuisine. With its newly installed courtyard garden and bikes for the guests who are really more inclined to socialize in the inviting kitchen, library and living rooms, I would bracket three nights of “glamping” at Island Lodge with four nights at Ett Hem for a perfect one week Stockholm visit.
In the evening, we received a private tour of the must-see VasaMuseum. The Vasa is a magnificent oak royal warship that sunk 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. It was found almost entirely intact on the seabed and resurrected three centuries later. Why did it keel over and how was it raised and preserved? Visit this museum.
We ended the day with dinner at Zinc in the chic Bibliotekstan district in the city center, after which the more intrepid took in Patricia, a nightclub on a boat docked in Slussen.
A visit to Stockholm can take a variety of shapes. You may take advantage of the water, islands and cycling. You may choose to spend more time at the museums and cultural venues. You may want to do spa days and party away the nights. You also won’t be disappointed if you are the eat/shop/wander type of tourist.