Full disclosure: When I booked my trip to Stockholm, I didn’t have high expectations for it. Of course I’d heard from friends who raved about it. But I’d had such magical trips to Iceland and Norway, and these two countries are said to be more spectacular nature-wise. So instead of booking a week for Stockholm + countryside, I opted for just a long weekend in the city. I now realize I could easily have spent a whole week in Stockholm itself!
Sweden might not be known for fjords like Norway or ice-blue thermal springs and fairytale waterfalls like Iceland, but Stockholm is an enchanting city with water views of its own. The city consists of 14 interconnected islands where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea, which means everywhere you turn there are gorgeous Beaux-Arts buildings along the waterfront. One of the best things about Stockholm is feeling like you’re in an enchanted castle or a snow globe–especially if you’re there during winter, as I was. In between walking, you can indulge in interior design, sustainable fashion, vegan food, museums, craft cocktails, and vibrant nightlife–and the prettiest flurries and blizzards ever.
Going from airport to city center is so easy with the Arlanda Express train, which announces that it’s run entirely on renewable energy. I check into Miss Clara Hotel and go in the direction of Gamla Stan, the medieval center of the city. Walking from city center to Gamla Stan is a nonstop parade of beautiful sights. Bridges! Snowflakes! Spires! Don’t let the “tourist trap” reputation prevent you from seeing Gamla Stan, which is a peach-colored cocoon in the middle of the city. Before any sightseeing can truly begin, I stop by a charming organic & vegan bakery Sattva for my first-ever fika.
Fika is a Swedish afternoon ritual involving coffee and some tasty treats. In NYC, the land of sad desk lunch, I…never take coffee breaks. Ever since I swore off coffee in disposable cups over a year ago, I just don’t crave it and power through the day. On my first afternoon in Stockholm, tucked into a little cafe as the snowflakes descend in slo-mo, this fika just feels sooo special and luxurious. Here’s the vegetable pie for my savory…
Next, I head over to the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet), which has stood in its place since the 13th century. I find it fascinating that in countries such as Norway and Sweden where equality and to an extent, conformity are encouraged, there are some of the oldest existing monarchies in the world. But maybe it’s that non-hierarchical spirit that makes the palace here quite low-key. While definitely bigger than the Royal Palace in Oslo, Versailles this is not.
It’s hard to know what to do with your non-purse arm when posing in a palace courtyard.
The palace is a fun place to get inspired for a pared down, yet surprisingly sumptuous, Swedish lewk.
For dinner I make a pilgrimage to Hermans, a mostly-vegan restaurant with a fantastic waterfront view. There are multiple main dishes, soups, salads and salad ingredients, freshly baked breads and spreads included in the dinner served buffet-style. The food, especially a potato pie wrapped in a flaky pastry dough, reminds me a lot of vegan food I had in Norway–much more so than what I get in NYC! There’s definitely less of an American-style vegan food here and more Indian and Mediterranean influence.
The dessert selection at Hermans.
In spite of temperature hovering below 20* F and the fact that I have a cold, I go searching for drinks. After much hobbling around in heels in the snow, I find Pharmarium in Gamla Stan, a cozy, speakeasy-vibe craft cocktail haunt. When I tell the friendly bartender that it’s my first night in Stockholm, he gives me a complimentary glass of Champagne and helps me make friends with the locals. If you’re in a dancing mood, I highly recommend Tak, an all-day concept rooftop bar/restaurant/club where normally reserved Swedes are getting down and freaky on a Saturday night. The views are incredible and the playlist is predictably cool–the only downside is that everything turns off at 2 a.m.
The Swedish bed is a thing of beauty! I wake up after sleeping like a baby and enjoy the vegan-friendly breakfast at Miss Clara. Homemade cacao granola topped with vegan yogurt, lingonberry, blueberry jam, and a wellness tonic to help with the hangover/cold.
I walk over to Historiska Museet in Ostermalm, which is only about 25-minute walk from my hotel. The museum covers Swedish history from Mesolithic times to the present (and it’s free!). It honestly is far more incredible than my expectations.
Besides being incredibly fascinating and informative, Historiska makes me think that Sweden is surprisingly conscious of and focused on its connection to other cultures. Its narrative of Swedish history is less nationalistic and more sympathetic to synthesis, if not downright cosmopolitan, from a Buddha sculpture in India that made its way all the way to Sweden over a thousand years ago, to the Viking exploits that went as far east as Central Asia and far west as Greenland and America. Actually, modern Stockholm has some of this as well, with a far greater mix of ethnicities and nationalities than you might guess.
After a few hours’ intense historical pondering, I walk over this bridge to get from Ostermalm to Djurgården, an island that is supposed to be the city’s best green space. Just on the other side is Sjocafeet, the perfect place to warm up over a vegan butternut squash soup while looking out at this gorgeous, snow-covered lake view.
I had planned on walking around Djurgården the rest of the afternoon but by this point my feet are truly frozen. The little I did see in 10 minutes of flailing around in the snow was truly beautiful, and then it’s back across the bridge to Ostermalm. Said to be one of the toniest walks in all Stockholm, Strandvågen–the waterfront street lining Ostermalm–is an interior design lover’s must. Check out the gorgeous, jewel-box boutiques for ideas and maybe bring home a souvenir or two.
My eyes open to the most enchanting blizzard ever and wish that I could wake up like that every morning! Swedes I met made fun of me for liking snow but coming here in February was the best decision ever. After breakfast, I head to Sodermalm, Stockholm’s equivalent of Brooklyn, which offers the best independent and sustainable shopping.
Hornsgatan33 is a gorgeous boutique with a mostly Scandinavian designer selection and a few labels that offer organic cotton goodies. Judits Second Hand is a great place for vintage shopping and (new) vegan leather bags.
While seeking shelter from the blizzard I stumble into Filippa K Second Hand, where they offer new items from past seasons and gently worn second-hand pieces. I love the eco-friendly ethos of the brand and Scandi-minimal vibes. I get a sweater, a Tencel shirt, a skirt, and a pair of shoes for about $300–a loot that will last me about 8-10 years of hardcore wearing! For lunch, I wish I could have tried vegan Swedish meatballs at Kalf & Hansen just a stone’s throw away. Next time…!
But I end up choosing Mahalo and tucking into a delicious vegan burger with eggplant bacon, plus a raw vegan tiramisu. It definitely hit the spot! And now it’s back to the airport…
Stockholm will surprise you. It’s more beautiful, laid-back, and diverse than you may think. Every Swede I talked to claimed almost proudly that they are a reserved people–and yet no one shunned me and actually made me feel welcome, despite my gravelly voice. It’s just as cold and as eco-friendly as its reputation, but beneath the dreamy blanket of snow there is a warmth here that I wouldn’t have foreseen–and will not soon forget.
Have you been to Stockholm? What’s your favorite foreign city?
More European adventures: Natural Wonders & Utterly Chic Cities: Norway Is Europe’s Best Kept Secret
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Photos: Miss Clara Hotel; Peaceful Dumpling