Peeping through the porthole of our cabin on the AF Chapman, I see a few white boats anchored to the harbour of Skeppbron on the opposite bank of Strömmen, the body of water separating us from the 5-to-8-story-historical buildings on the East shore of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. The seagulls are awake. It is only late April and the sun already rises very early: it is 5AM and it is daylight.
At slightly past 7AM, we feel a cold wind on our chests while starting our run. It is sunny, but we are at 59° North and it is only a few degrees above 0°C at night. The very specific sound of cars driving by with winter tires reminds us that the springtime in Stockholm may start a bit later than what we are used to.
Crossing the bridge of Skeppsholmen, by the painted wooden houseboats and well maintained sailboats, we follow the shore to the East and pass by the local beach clubs of Östermalm, with trendy lounge sets and ladders coming out of the water for brave swimmers: it must be an interesting spot to observe and experience in the summer!
About two kilometres away, the statues of gods from the Nordic mythology lined up on the bridge to Skansen welcome us to the Djurgården Park. Even though it is built with the excellent Skansen open air museum, cafés and a few mansions, the park looks very natural and is well maintained, with orchards, wide alleys and forestry trails. It is a peaceful place where we mix with many fitness-conscious Swedes who are also running. The trails offer nice views on the expensive and stylish late 19th century apartment buildings of Strandvägen, the very residential boulevard completed in 1897 for the world fair.
A comforting kanelbullar (a cinnamon bun), the locals’ favourite, is a good introduction to our visit of Stadsholmen island where one can find Gamla Stan, the old city dating back to 1252. The narrow medieval streets with cobble stones convey a very different feel from what we have seen of Stockholm so far. Buildings are painted in warm colours, some with rounded rooftop facades, contrasting greatly with the huge, austere and squared-shaped baroque Kungliga slottet, the 18th century royal palace.
South of Gamla Stan, the Slussen lock separates the lake Mälaren from the Baltic Sea and is a major hub, encompassing bridges for cars, trains and pedestrians. Södermalm, famous for its bohemian and hipster atmosphere, lays on its opposite side. This former blue-collar area is built with huge brick warehouses, old factory chimneys or workers’ housing, now turned into a trendy photography museum, cool spots to hang out or cutely renovated districts with wooden houses. Mainly a farmland to support Stockholm, Söder turned into a working-class district around 1860, before its gentrification lead to the construction of classy residential buildings overlooking the capital.
From Fjällgatan on the East side and Montelius on the West side, fantastic viewpoints on the islands composing the city can be enjoyed: Gamla Stan, Noormalm, the scary roller coaster tracks of the Gröna Lund Tivoli fun-fair and the Vasa museum on Skansen, and a few ferry boats evolving in an organized fashion on the waters covering a third of Stockholm… We join many locals chatting on benches and sharing drinks at sunset on Monteliusvägen, a boardwalk with a stunning view on the city.
The low key atmosphere makes Söder a great area to hang out with many different vibes. Local cafés serving delicious organic homemade sandwiches on rye bread with a Swedish flare line up the streets. Hip bars and restaurants packed with 20-to-30-year-old trendy Swedes are plenty. Art galleries showcase all sorts of different pieces, and cultural evenings are a great opportunity to experience art workshops and impromptu recitals, drinking a glass of wine in one or a tea with scones in the other. Night clubs occupy the most unexpected venues, like Patricia‘s, a former royal yacht which belonged to Queen Victoria and that is anchored along the shores of the Mälaren lake.
To enjoy more authentic Swedish food, we have to cross some more bridges, heading north to Norrmalm, a business district in its Southern part, housing Central station and the clean and odourless Hotorgshallen underground food market.
The 24,000-island archipelago must be fantastic to visit in summer, but the cold April wind discourages us from discovering it. Taking off from Arlanda airport, we are rewarded with a sunset over the beautiful archipelago. We witness how this attractive capital is completely surrounded by nature: square miles of forests and thousands of islands of all sizes and shapes calling to be explored more extensively.
Marcella & Claire
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