Mother Nature carved the Stockholm area into fourteen islands, and industrious Swedes linked them with beautiful bridges and clearly marked bicycle and walking paths which conveniently turn this city into a walker’s dream, particularly if your pace is set to “brisk,” the native speed of choice. I arrived in Stockholm in early autumn just in time to turn the clocks back an hour, rendering the streets of the city dark by 4:09 pm on my second afternoon in Sweden. The urge to head indoors and drink a hot grog before a roaring fire comes on early! Good thing I was on vacation. As it turns out, so were some of the natives, as I visited during a break in the public school system. My last visit to the city was seventeen years ago, in August. This time around, the crowds were fewer, the sun was lower in the sky, the locals were still fishing in the pristine (truly) waters off of the city’s bridges and the quality of good food choices had skyrocketed since my last visit. Here’s a 36-hour slice of a designer’s visit to “the Venice of the North.”
F R I D A Y
Spritmuseum (the island of Djurgården)
Spirited Debate: A guided tour of the spirits museum that may inspire an evening of revelry. The English language whirlwind tour is all the time you’ll need to take in “Sweden: Spirits of a Nation” with its DIY scent “puffers” that envelope you in carroway, anise, fennel, and the like with the squeeze of a bulb (completely captivating, like commandeering the perfume counter at Saks, only better); “The Swedish sin” a racy little exhibition (peepholes and Susan Sontag quotes included) about Sweden’s global reputation; and “Traingone/Frank Bowling” for art devotees. ($19.50)
Gaston Vinbar (the island of Gamla Stan)
Old Town tasting: From the Spritmuseum, briskly cross a bridge and hug the shoreline along the beautiful Strandvägen past some grand waterfront hotels twinkling in the moonlight. You’re headed for the cobblestoned streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s medieval old town, and a glass of wine served up by one of five top sommeliers at a wine bar known as Gaston. You’ve been craving something from Langedouc or Sonoma County? Sit right down and stay a spell.
The Flying Elk (next door to Gaston on Gamla Stan)
Up, up, and away! Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, this conveniently located Swedish/English pub is hard to resist just next door to Gaston. Service stumbled a bit on the night I visited, but the general good cheer and craftily gourmet comfort food more than made up for it. ($8 Oysters “Rockefellar” snack; $26 souped-up pork belly BLT platter)
S A T U R D A Y
Stockholm Observatory (Observatorielunden park)
Work that body: Start your day by running some strenuous laps up, down, and around the very steep paths of this small park. At the top of the hill sits the first Stockholm Observatory, a charming building created for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1753 and functioning as a museum today. Get a sweeping view of this part of the city and catch your breathe before doing another lap while the “Rocky” soundtrack plays in your head.
Just Looking: The giant rotating clock at the top of this five-story building becomes a a familiar beacon as you walk throughout the city. A twinkly, brassy department store in the heart of the busy shopping district, NK was founded in 1902 and sees close to 10 million visitors annually, all of them seemingly tall and thin, with cheekbones carved by the Nordic winds. The section of the 1st floor (that’s ground floor plus one) devoted to Nordic designers like Acne Studios draws fashionistas like a moth to a flame. The multilingual staff and tasty treats in various bars, cafes, restaurants and konditoris tucked throughout the building make this a friendly way-station of the mostly “just looking” sort.
& Other Stories (Biblioteksgatan)
Am I dreaming? Well-made women’s clothing that a woman can actually work in, walk in, wear to dinner. What is this special place? Even the address, Biblioteksgatan 11 at 111 44 Stockholm, is perfectly bookish and elegant and full of magical numbers. Surprise! & Other Stories is a newly launched H&M brand, with a satellite store in SoHo. There’s a handy website at stories.com—a URL which must’ve been a bear to procure?
Dream on: Has someone taken all of the items from your dream home—the one you’d secretly curated over the years of admiring Scandinavian designers’ work and stored away in the “beautiful objects” file in your brain—and scattered them about in the showroom for a spell? Yes, it has happened on the elegant isle of Östermalm in Stockholm. Clean-lined but comfortable. Elegant but with a sense of humor. Engaging without shouting. Chat with co-founder Michael Asplund. Surreptitiously run your hand along some beautiful wooden side tables and brass lamps and a snow white chest of drawers from the Asplund collection. Whisper, “I’ll be back.” Swing by Svenkst Tenn on Strandvägen after lunch for a look at what came before.
Especially Speceriet: It’s Saturday and Speceriet opens for lunch Tues–Fri from 11 am to 2pm. You can have supper there instead, but the light is so beautiful in the afternoons in this tiny space on Artillerigatan in Ostermälm. It looks like you’re going to have to stay in Sweden through Tuesday! This annex of the formidable Gastrologik restaurant (located just next door) serves farm fresh food in innovative ways, in a warm family-style setting that will make you want to linger. An autumn lunch at Speceriet may be your favorite meal of the season. (Tarte-Flambé with salami from Ursåkers charkuterifabrik, apple, and cabbage $18.50; Äppelclafoutis $10.50)
Vasa Museum (the island of Djurgården)
Safe harbor: Ensconced in a copper-roofed beauty of a building designed by Marianne Dahlbäck and Göran Månsson, Vasa is a 64-gun warship commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf in Sweden in 1625. 300 men built her from over a thousand oak trees. Three years later, she sank in the middle of Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage. Within forty years of the tragedy, workers using a diving bell were already salvaging Vasa’s cannons. But it wasn’t until the late 1950s and ‘60s when the rest of the ship was raised and conserved, along with fifteen heartbreaking skeletons of the sailors and family members who were invited on the maiden voyage. She settled into her final home, and the Vasa Museum was officially opened in 1990. (Adults $18; Children 0-18 Free)
Moderna Museet (the island of Skeppsholmen)
Sculpture After Sculpture: The current Sculpture After Sculpture: Fritsch/Koons/Ray exhibition (through January 18, 2015) is sculpture on a theatrical scale, carefully assembled by former Artforum editor-in-chief Jack Bankowsky with a knowing eye for detail. He said “Three of the artists I’m most disposed to think about these days are all figurative sculptors” and added “The underlying question is how some figurative sculpture had become at the very least a contender…for the title of the most powerful and relevant art being made today.” http://bit.ly/13HcGlI ($22/$25 ticket with entry into architecture and design center included)
Arkitektur- och designcentrum
Panorama: Just next door (and recently taken under the wing of the Moderna Museet), don’t miss German designer Konstantin Grcic’s retrospective Panorama exhibition, originally developed for the VITRA Design Museum. It’s interesting to see how this influential experimental designer tells the story of his own work, in this case via three large-scale installations that share Grcic’s personal vision of how life might be set in the future at home (life space), at work (design space), and in the urban environment (public space). Best of all, in a fourth area of the exhibition Grcic displays objects his studio has designed alongside drawings, prototypes, background information, and even artifacts that have inspired him over time. It’s a bit like walking into his studio or maybe his brain, with a delightfully random, almost voyeuristic twist.
Good food sans publicist: Where to put up your feet and tuck into a cozy meal? Nothing’s more inviting than this small café with an open kitchen where chefs Peder Greitz and Bengt Lind work their magic in a well-windowed place on a side street near Hotel Hellsten. French cooking meets Nordic sensibilities and fine ingredients from the land and sea. All of this happens sans publicist, quell horreur!
Colorful home base: There’s a world market feel to this cosmopolitan hotel. Ponder it over free cappuccinos in the lobby of this circa 1898 building on a quiet residential street in Stockholm. Someone with an eye for big, bold color and for blending modern and antique furnishings from varied cultures clearly had a hand in designing the hotel. The big, open bar space with deep, cozy armchairs and high ceilings is a great place to review the day over an after dinner drink. Even the very petite small single room—a seriously single space—would suffice on a solo trip, especially on long summer nights.
S U N D A Y
Walk the walk: The hotel’s breakfast sunroom gives you plenty of food choices and the chance to start slowly on a bright autumn Sunday morning. Stockholm is best seen on foot or bicycle, but it’s nice to know that the Rådmansgatan metro stop is just around the corner. It’s a short stroll to Gamla Stan (old town) and the harbor from here.
Herman’s Vegetariska Trädgårdcafé
Just another leafy Sunday: A vegetarian restaurant and garden café with one of the best water views of Stockholm spread out below the grand patio. Stop here for a leisurely, leafy green buffet topped with vegan baked desserts. As the website promises “you pay before the meal so the line to the cashier may be a bit long at times, but trust us it is worth the wait.” ($25)