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A guide to Stockholm's archipelago


Stockholm is defined by the sea and lakes that surround it, making this city a fascinating destination, says Beth Druce

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

Built on fourteen islands, the Swedish capital is unique and diverse. In Stockholm, festivals are held to celebrate the passing of the seasons, so in tune are the residents with nature, while he water that flows around the city sets a pace and tone that is unique to the area. A traditional Swedish song, Stockholm in My Heart, celebrates the way in which salty sea air and sweet lake water mingle and the effect this has on the atmosphere of the city, which is immediately evident to visitors.

Here, fast-paced, urban life sits harmoniously side by side with the surrounding environment; waterways and luscious forests can be found beside the most cutting-edge design stores and vibrant nightlife. This is a city where fishermen take up position on the bridge outside the parliament.

Gamla Stan (the Old Town), situated on its own island, is the city’s original centre and dates back to the 13th century. One of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, it is characterised by ancient bridges and historic buildings including the cathedral, the Nobel Museum and the Sveriges Kungahus (the royal palace) which is the king’s official residence. These impressive structures rise above the area’s narrow, winding alleys and quaint cobbled streets, with their own buildings in richest sepia, ochre and nutmeg shades. In the winter, expect to find these charming streets dusted with snow and lit by streams of glowing lights: the visitor feels as if they have stepped straight into a fairytale. 

Along with its traditional splendour, Gamla Stan has plenty of modern-day attractions, including excellent bars and restaurants. The Grillska Huset on Stortorget, is a café, delicatessen and bakery located in a beautiful old house. Run by the city’s Stadsmission – a charitable organisation – in a typically progressive Swedish way, the enterprise supports homeless people in the city.

With its tree-lined boulevards and calm, elegant feel, Östermalm is located on the mainland, and is surrounded by waterways. It has gained an international reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious shopping districts. Historically, cattle was reared on the here and in the 19th century it was developed to accommodate museums, educational institutions and embassies, which laid the foundations for the highly sought-after residences now found throughout its streets.

Östermalm is home to a number of designer fashion boutiques, including Nathalie Schuterman which stocks labels such as Alexander Wang, Balenciaga and Philip Lim. The Swedish designer Anna Holtblad also has a store here, while the luxury department store NK combines Swedish and international labels with a food market, eateries and bars. There’s also a buzzing restaurant scene on Östermalm; the casual bistro Speceriet and the Michelin-starred Gastrologik are fashionable and popular venues.

For a change in pace, Lola Akinmade-Åkerström’s, a contributor to National Geographic, recommends Södermalm island. ‘Södermalm feels like the city's heartbeat, with its bohemian nooks and crannies, ethnic restaurants and organic eco-friendly stores,’ she says. And if you’re looking for fresh air and breathtaking views, head to Djurgården, the royal game park. This island in central Stockholm, as well as being a beautiful place to simply stroll through, contains some of the city’s most famous attractions, including Skansen, an outdoor museum and zoo. The exhibitions include a showcase of Swedish architecture and an interactive exploration of Swedish life though the centuries. When its time to eat, try Oaxen Slip, which is known for its simple dishes prepared with carefully sourced food.

Stockholm is a playground for the adventurous traveller, with something different to discover over every bridge, fused together by the shared waterways.

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