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Taking stock of Sweden's capital city

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5 January 2010

Kimberley Brown, Email Marketing Coordinator at Wexas, enjoys 48 hours in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, on a small budget, but with a luxury feel.

We started out wanting a short, inexpensive wintertime weekend away. Ryanair was doing a sale to countries in Europe and Stockholm return flights were just £70, so our decision was easy to make. But Stockholm on the cheap would be a challenge! Happily, we succeeded and had a great time away.

Day 1 - Friday
Day 2 - Saturday
Day 3 - Sunday

Day 1 - Friday

Getting to Stansted can be thought of as a drag but it suited us perfectly. We only had to take a few hours off work to catch the 3.30 pm train from Liverpool Street to Stansted. Our flight from Stansted to Skavsta Airport was just 1 hour and 45 minutes and we enjoyed our own packed supper on the way.

Simon Walsh, one of the Europe travel experts at Wexas, was able to give us all the inside information we needed for our trip as he really is Sweden specialist having spent time living there. His first suggestion was to pre-book our bus journey from the airport to Stockholm city centre. It took about 1 hour and 25 minutes and a return ticket only cost around £15. It was quick, cheap and went straight into City Terminal. Once there, we jumped on the tube and headed for our hotel.

Taking Simon’s advice again, we decided we wanted to stay in the central and atmospheric area of Gamla Stan (The Old City) often described as the town between the bridges. He suggested we stay in one of the three Collector Hotels and we decided upon the Victory Hotel. Arriving there, we were not disappointed - it was beautifully furnished with the owner’s antique collection and delightfully decorated. Every detail helped with the atmospheric introduction to Stockholm and its nautical roots. And, having never stayed at a boutique hotel, I must say we were very impressed.

The friendly staff greeted us on our arrival and helped us arrange what to do the next day. Up in the room we found a nice personal message and some chocolates on the house. Perfect.

Day 2 - Saturday

We rose early and went down to breakfast. There was a wonderful array of different foods - cereals, breads, cold meats, smoked salmon, pickled fish (traditionally Swedish), eggs, cheese, fruit, dried fruits, juices, yoghurt, teas and coffee. With this sort of choice we decided to eat well now, skip lunch and see as much of Stockholm before it got dark, which we knew would be much earlier than in the UK.

To make things easier we bought the Stockholm Card - this gives you an unlimited number of free trips on Stockholm transport and entry into more than 75 attractions.

We started off the day by getting a feel for Gamla Stan’s beautiful architecture, small streets and narrow alleyways. We walked through the old square and came across a small market selling many Swedish biscuits, hot drinks, homemade sweets and artisan products. Just what you imagine when you think of a Christmas market - just a smaller version. As we walked around you could not miss Stockholm’s Royal Palace or Kungliga Slottet, a large imposing, but rather beautiful, building on the waterfront. This building is not only beautiful to look at, but inside it has a number of museums, including the Royal Treasury where you can see the crown jewels. (Similarly to Buckingham Palace the guards stand very still and do not smile!)

We then crossed over the bridge and walked along the water until we got to our next must see sight - the City Hall. This building also hosts the annual Nobel Prize ceremony (except for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is celebrated in Norway). We took the 45-minute inside tour, which I would highly recommend, which goes through the official sections of the City Hall as well as the famous parts like the Blue Hall where the Nobel dinner is serverd. The Golden Hall was the most stricking, from an historical, architectural and cultural point of view. It has 18 million gold mosaic tiles and must seem the perfect place for the Nobel Gala guests to dance the night away every year.

After all these sights it was time to stop off for a quick coffee. Wayne’s Coffee seems to be the equivalent to our Starbucks and the coffee is very good but, be warned, it is strong.

After regaining our strength we made our way through the city to the island of Djurgarden. It’s right in the middle of Stockholm and known for its beautiful green spaces. We had been told by our hotel concierge to walk around it and to go and enjoy home cooked cakes in Skansen. After a long walk the delicious Swedish pastries were definitely worth the long wait since breakfast.

Soon enough it was starting to get dark, but the perfect time to make our way to the Vasa Museum, probably the highlight of our trip. The Vasa is the only remaining, intact 17th century ship in the world. Her sad story started on 10 August 1628 when she made her maiden voyage and sank only 20 minutes in, due to miscalculations with her stability. After more than 300 years underwater, she was salvaged in 1961 and since then has been stopped from deteriorating further - the museum is now constantly kept at 18-20°C to avoid further deterioration.

This was, almost literally, our last port of call before returning to the hotel to freshen up before our night out. We found a lovely small bar down a little alleyway in Gamla Stan and after seeing the wonderful seafood coming past us as we sat at the bar, we decided we had to stay. We both went for the seafood pasta. Big mussels and enormous prawns in a fresh tomato sauce could not have been more ideal and at just £15 a main course we could not have asked for more.

So after a very cultural day we decided to do what most tourists see as a ‘must do’ when in Stockholm and that is to visit the famous Absolut IceBar - the world’s first permanent ice bar. Here, the temperature is -5°C all year round and the entire interior (plus glasses) is made from 100% pure clear ice.

Normally you need to book, but if you turn up after 9.45pm you are sure to get in! We were given big coats with hats and gloves attached and entered the ice bar. The entry fee is just under £20 and with this you will get one vodka based drink. We went for a mix of Mango vodka, passion fruit vodka and lime juice with a splash of ultra violet liquid! You only have 20 minutes in there, which at the start we thought was very little but after just 15 minutes we were frozen and ready for yet another Swedish coffee ¬- but this time in our hotel bar!

Day 3 - Sunday

After all the walking on Saturday we wanted to start our day a little slower. Our hotel concierge suggested we take a boat tour and at this time of year the only operating tour was the Royal Canal Tour. Depending on the water levels when you go, there are different tours on offer - our 50-minute tour was just what we wanted, short and long enough at the same time! The audio guide is available in different languages and pleasingly keeps everyone very quiet as they listen to a little bit of history and local information.

After disembarking, we decided to go into the shopping area. At this time of year Sweden’s equivalent to Harrods, NK, is famous for its amazing window displays. They’re all very Nordic in theme, but certainly something not to be missed.

As the afternoon was approaching we did not want to miss seeing the panoramic view of Stockholm and crossed over to the Bohemian area of Sodermalm. This area is home to a multitude of unusual, interesting and contemporary boutiques for fashion, design, interior décor, vintage merchandise and many cafés. But before venturing in we took the Katarina Lift to enjoy a spectacular view over where we’d been - the Old Town and the waterfront. But this is not for the faint hearted or those afraid of heights.

After a walk through the steets of Sodermalm with all its quirky shops we decided to relax in one of the many more bohemian cafés, where we enjoyed delicious Swedish pastries and coffees one last time, before returning back to the hotel to pick up our bags, ready to catch the bus to Skavsta airport.

The return by bus just as easy and we grabbed a bite to eat before boarding the plane - I’d suggest eating before going through customs, as there is a better restaurant on that side. Arriving in Stansted at 10pm was also easy - the coach back into London only takes just over an hour to get to Victoria and is just £9.

I would definitely recommend Stockholm for a quick weekend away and, if you are clever with how you travel, where you stay and how you eat, you can easily have a luxury-feel weekend on a shoestring!

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