August 15, 2017

Stockholm Cultural Festival (Kulturfestivalen)

Concert at Gustav Adolfs torg
Photo by Emma Grann/ Studio Emma Svensson
Today, August 15th, is the first day of the Stockholm Cultural Festival (Kulturfestivalen) and it runs all week until Sunday August 20th. This is a large festival with over 600 events on the program and there were 750,000 visitors last year. Best of all... there is no admission and it is all free of charge, with the exception of a few guided walks. On the program you will find all sorts of different forms of culture: music (jazz, opera, classic, rock, pop, etc.), dance, art, literature, theatre, street art, photography and more. Every year they have a theme for the festival and this year it is India. I am guessing that this is due to India celebrating 70 years of independence this year. You will also find food and drink tents there so you can have lunch or dinner without having the leave the festival area.
Festival area at Skeppsbron
Photo by Stockholm Kulturfestival
The festival is in different squares in the downtown area, especially at Skeppsbron, Gustav Adolfs torg, Norrbro, Sergels torg and Karl XII torg. With over 600 events in their program over 6 days, it is a bit hard to list what is going on here in this article. To make it a bit more complicated, the festival website (with online program) is in Swedish, though there is a Google translate function... just click on "Meny" in the top right hand corner. You can download and print some highlight information in English by clicking here. I would also suggest visiting their information tent at the Stockholm Visitor Center and talk to them directly, or stop by and talk to me if you are staying at the Rival Hotel.
Artist group Jhanjhariya with Sunita Singh
Photo by: Kristian Reuter
Two other festivals are going on simultaneously in the city. In Kungsträdgården you have the We Are Sthlm festival which is a festival geared for young adults (13 to 19 years old). Free admission with lots of music and activities! The other festival going on is the outdoor cinema put on by the Stockholm International Film Festival. Every evening this week (Wed through Sun) a film is screened in Rålambshovs Park. Free admission. The movies start at 9pm but there are staff there starting at 6pm selling popcorn, drinks and more. A lot of people take picnic baskets with them. The theme this year is the 1980's! Keep in mind that the movies are all shown in their original languages with Swedish subtitles.

August 12, 2017

Swedish Crayfish Season

Traditional crayfish party (kräftskiva)
Photo by: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se
It is August which means it is the traditional time of the year for Swedes to have crayfish parties (a kräftskiva). The reason this happens in August is that this was historically the only time it was legal to fish for the little critters here in Sweden. These days, due to the high demand, we import them from Turkey, China and the US year-round... but August remains the traditional month to eat crayfish. Crayfish parties generally happen in peoples' homes where friends and family gather, wear funny hats, sit at long tables decorated with paper laterns, drink akvavit snaps and sing drinking songs. It can be a lively evening!
If you are not lucky enough to be invited home to some Swedes for a party, you can still try this Swedish delicacy at a select few restaurants in Stockholm this month. Depending on the restaurant, they either do it as part of a three course set menu or just as a main course. Double check the restaurant's website to see the duration of their crayfish offer (some have crayfish for the whole month while others do it for a week or two). Here are the restaurants I could currently find...



August 9, 2017

My Alternative Top Ten List for Stockholm!

Skokloster castle
There are a plethora of top ten lists to be found online over what to see & do when visiting Stockholm... like this great list from Visit Stockholm. Gamla Stan, Vasa Museum, Skansen, ABBA the Museum are great, but what is there to do if you have already visited these popular attractions/sites or if you want to get off the beaten path? Well, you obviously need an alternative top ten list! These aren't wild & crazy alternatives, just great options that might not have made it into your guidebook or things I feel visitors often overlook. In no particular order...

  1. Skokloster Castle- If you feel like you haven't had your fill of palaces and castles after visiting the Royal Palace and Drottningholm Palace... take a trip out to visit Skokloster Castle, one of the best preserved baroque castles in the world and a monument to Sweden's Age of Power. Boat tours to the castle are available during the summer months, otherwise you can get there with public transportation. 
  2. Skogskyrkogården (Woodland Cemetery)- Just a few subway stops south of central Stockholm you will find this beautiful cemetery designed by famed Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to it being "an outstanding example of the successful application of the 20th-century concept of architecture wholly integrated into its environment". Especially popular to visit on All Saints' Day when people light candles at the graves of loved ones. 
    Skogskyrkogården. Photo by:
    (c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
  3. Historiska museet (Swedish Museum of History)- This is a museum that I feel is oddly overlooked by many visitors, even though it is centrally located and has free admission. The museum has several exhibitions on Sweden's history, but of special note is their permanent exhibition on the Vikings. Don't miss the Gold Room where Viking treasures are on display! Interested in Vikings? Click here for more options for getting to know Swedish Viking history while in Stockholm.  
  4. Unusual sightseeing tours- The company Strömma has a wide range of great bus and boat sightseeing options that are very popular with visitors... but why not see Stockholm from a bicycle, vespa or kayak as well? Maybe take a food tour, rooftop tour or wildlife safari? Many of these offer you a more intimate view of the city than, say, a tour bus. 
    Roof top tour!
  5. The Great Synagogue- You will probably visit a church or two while here, like Storkyrkan, Riddarholms Church or even Uppsala Cathedral... but the Great Synagogue is worth a visit as well. During the summer months they have public guided tours of the synagogue and Holocaust memorial (days/times in link above). Private tours are available if booked in advance. You can also visit the memorial on your own on weekdays. Don't miss the monument to the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi occupied Hungary, located just a stone's throw from the synagogue. 
  6. Haga Park- Stockholm is famously 1/3 parkland (and 1/3 water and 1/3 city). The most famous park is Djurgården where you will find many popular attractions. However, on the northern outskirts of the city you will find another fantastic park, also filled with attractions (and perhaps less tourists), called Hagaparken. Take a stroll around the lake Brunnsviken, visit the Butterfly House, Copper Tents, Echo temple and Chinese Pagoda. Popular park with locals. Earlier blog article
    The Copper Tents at Haga Park
  7. Sigtuna- Founded in 980, this is Sweden's oldest town and, before the founding of Stockholm (circa 1250), Sweden's most important town. "Where Sweden began" is their tagline. They have quite a few attractions to visit there including churches, castles, museums, runestones and their old town. It takes a little over an hour to get there by public transportation (train and bus), but during the summer you can take a boat tour to the town. Another similar option? Visit the town of Uppsala
  8. Artipelag- This museum, located in the archipelago, is starting to become more well known but is still overlooked by many as it is outside of the city... but this is a great way to combine nature, art, the archipelago and a boat trip. Boat tours there in the summer months, otherwise the museum's own bus (weekends and holidays) or public transportation. Another similar option? Visit the porcelain factory at nearby Gustavsberg
    Artipelag
    Photo by Anders Fredriksen
  9. Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum- Stockholm has some great art museums like Fotografiska, Moderna and Millesgården... but there are many less known ones that are definitely worth a visit. One of these is the Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum. Besides interesting temporary exhibitions, you can also visit a replica of Sven-Harry's villa, on the roof of the museum, which houses his own private art collection. An added bonus is that the museum is located in Vasastan, a great neighborhood often overlooked by visitors. 
  10. Hötorgshallen- The most famous indoor food market in Stockholm is Östermalms Saluhall, but there is another great food market called Hötorgshallen, located at Hötorget. While the Östermalms market is upscale and more Swedish, the Hötorgs market is more local and has food from the four corners of the world. Great options for lunch there as well! An added bonus is that there is a fruit and flower market in the square out front (Mondays through Saturdays). 
    Part of the rooftop sculpture garden at Sven-Harrys

August 5, 2017

Restaurant Trattorian

Trattorian on the waterfront promenade
I had my parents visiting me last week and one evening we went out for dinner to celebrate my mother's birthday. As it was a beautiful summer evening and my mother also wanted to have a pre dinner drink at nearby Mälarpaviljongen, I chose a restaurant located on the Kungsholmen waterfront: Trattorian. I wrote about a visit here way back in 2012 when they first opened, thought it might be time for an update.
Trattorian is an Italian, or rustic Tuscan to be more specific, restaurant. The restaurant itself is very pretty and the design does remind you of a nice restaurant in the Tuscan countryside. They have some great tables at the front with open windows facing the waterfront, but they also have really nice comfy booths inside the restaurant. Next door is their sister restaurant/bar Orangeriet which is casual with smaller dishes.
Pasta with half a grilled lobster
The menu is very classic Italian... with antipasti, gourmet pizzas, risotto, pastas as well as main courses (piatti principale) and dishes from the grill. My father had the linguini with shrimps, garlic and chili, my mother had tagliatelle with grilled lobster while I opted for grilled tuna with artichokes and a summer salad. It was all very delicious. I have been there before and tried their pizza which was also very good (they even have dessert pizza with nutella!).
Grilled tuna with artichokes and summer salad
As I mentioned earlier, Trattorian is located on the waterfront of the island Kungsholmen, not too far from City Hall (Stadshuset). The waterfront is one of my favorit places in the city, with parks, walking paths along the water and great views, across the lake, of Södermalm. Very popular place with the locals. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is about a 10 minute taxi ride, a 20 minute bus ride or else you can take the subway. The closest subway station is Rådhuset on the blue line. Click here for more restaurant recommendations & reviews.
Interior...
...with comfy booths.
Exterior...
...with great views.


August 2, 2017

Visiting the Stockholm Archipelago on Your Own

Waxholmsbolaget's pier at Strömkajen
Seeing the archipelago is on many visitors' lists of things to do while in Stockholm and, with over 24,000 islands, it is a true natural wonder. I really recommend putting aside a full day to really enjoy the islands... but there are some half day options as well. Strömma offers several boat tours, half to full day, while Cinderella is a good company when you want to visit islands in the outer archipelago, like Sandhamn, Finnhamn and Möja (full day).
Digital signs letting you know the boat, destinations and depature time
A third option is using Waxholmsbolaget which is a company that runs the commuter boats that criss-cross the archipelago and is often used by locals to get to their summer homes. I have written about this company before in one of my most popular articles which is about visiting the town of Vaxholm, but I was at a friend's summer home yesterday and I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit the subject and do a new article.
Waxholmsbolaget's information office where...
You can think of Waxholmsbolaget as the water busses of the archipelago, helping people travel between islands. Using the bus analogy, the above mentioned Cinderella boats are like the express busses and are recommended if you want to visit the outer archipelago for the day. Waxholmsbolaget is less "express" and great for visiting more off-the-beaten-path islands, doing island hopping or getting to and from the town of Vaxholm.
...you can get maps, brochures, schedules and advice.
Like busses, these boats are also quite inexpensive. Tickets are purchased on board the boats and then shown when disembarking. If you have more time while in Stockholm, they do have the options of 5 or 30 day travel cards which allow you to hop on and off any of their boats. Like busses also, their routes and timetables can be daunting and confusing. However, they do have an online journey planner complete with maps of the different routes along with names of the various docks/stops which should help you plan your travels.
Arriving in town from the archipelago
For more personal help, Waxholmsbolaget does have an information office located on Strömkajen. Here they have a plethora of guides, brochures and time tables as well as agents who can answer questions and give advice. The location on Strömkajen is convenient as this is where the boats arrive and depart from in Stockholm. To get there from the Rival Hotel,  it is a 25 minute walk through the old town, a 7-8 minute taxi ride or else there are regular busses which take about 15 minutes.
Leaving Stockholm...
...for the archipelago...
...where you can hopefully find...
...your own bit of natural bliss. 

July 28, 2017

August- a Month of Festivals & Events!

Open air concert
Photo: Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
July is generally a bad month for festivals and events in Stockholm due to the fact that most Stockholmers have vacation this month and leave the city. Instead, organizers cram in a large amount of events between the end of July and beginning of September making this a fun time to visit the city. There is pretty much something for everyone... cinema, dancing, music, culture, pride, concerts, drama, food and sporting events.
Something else positive that comes with August and September is the reopening of several cultural institutions after their summer breaks. Royal Opera House and Konserthuset both start their regular program on August 26th, Dansens Hus and Musikaliska start their regular programs on September 8th.
Stockholm Pride
Photo: Yanan Li/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

July 25, 2017

Restaurant Strömterrassen

The Royal Opera with Strömterrassen on the right.
This week I had relatives visiting me and for our last lunch, before they left, I decided we should try Strömterrassen. With its beautiful views over the Royal Palace and Parliament building, it was the perfect place to impress visiting family. Strömterrassen is located on the second floor of the Royal Opera House (Kungliga Operan) and is part of a trio of restaurants located in the building, the other two being Guldterrassen and Brasseriet. You can read about my earlier visit to Brasseriet by clicking here.
View of the Parliament building from the terrace
The name of the restaurant means "stream terrace" and refers to the water running between Gamla Stan and the city, called Strömmen, just below the restaurant. Here you can eat lunch/dinner or have a drink and enjoy the views. Some of Stockholm's most iconic buildings can be seen from the terrace! The terrace is all outdoors, but this can be quite hot on nice summer days so, thankfully, they have awnings and parasols if you want shade (as we did).
Smoked shrimp, padrones ands aioli.
The menu consists mainly of Swedish and international favorites. My family had the fish and chips, Toast Skagen (the unofficial Swedish national dish) and a smoked salmon salad. I opted for two appetizers... the smoked shrimp with aioli and padrones (small, fried Spanish peppers). It did miss having a lunch special or two, but it was all very good and I suppose you are paying for the view as well.

A large Toast Skagen
Of special note: it is almost impossible to book a table outside at a restaurant in Stockholm. This is due to both popularity and the fickle nature of weather. For example, if a restaurant is busy and all of their tables inside and outside are booked... you can imagine the chaos a summer shower would cause. That being said, Strömterrassen is one of the few restaurants in Stockholm where you can actually book a table outdoors! The fact that there are two other restaurants in the same building (same owner) solves the above mentioned weather problem. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for any help in making a reservation.
The Royal Palace, Cathedral and Strömmen

Click here for other restaurant reviews.
A small Toast Skagen and Fish 'n Chips.
The bar with awnings providing some shade.

July 20, 2017

Vegetarian Restaurants in Stockholm

Some of the vegetarian dishes at Spritmuseum
I often get asked by guests if it is a problem eating at Stockholm restaurants if they are vegetarian. My short answer is that just about every restaurant in Stockholm has at least one vegetarian dish on the menu and are pretty good at adjusting other dishes to make them vegetarian. The Rival's Bistro, for example, always has 2 or 3 vegetarian dishes on the menu. But if you have specific dietary restrictions (gluten free, lactose intolerance, allergies, etc.) or wish for more vegetarian options, it is good to notify a restaurant ahead of time. I have worked in restaurants and I can say that chefs aren't very happy on a Saturday evening, when they are slammed in the kitchen, to have a waiter tell them that a seated guest wants a vegan dish with no gluten or trace of nuts due to a deadly allergy. But if they know these things ahead of time, it is much easier for them to be prepared..
Zucchini, peas and mint at restaurant Gro. 
That all being said, there are several restaurants (from fine dining to casual) that are vegetarian or concentrate a good part of their menu on fruits and vegetables. In fact, it has been a popular trend over the past couple of years for menus to focus on organic, locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables with the protein coming as a side dish. Here is a list of recommended restaurants for vegetarians:

Higher end restaurants (as opposed to casual, see below)- keep in mind that many finer restaurants close for a few weeks during the summer.

  • Rutabaga- recently Chef Mathias Dahlgren closed his Michelin two star restaurant Matsalen and opened instead a vegetarian restaurant in the same locale. Closed for a few weeks this summer, reopening on August 8th. 
  • Spritmuseum- the Museum of Spirits has a great restaurant run by Chef Petter Nilsson. Here you have a choice of two set multiple course menus (7-8 courses), one of which is completely vegetarian. Reopens mid August after a short summer break. My visit a couple of years ago.
  • Gro- great hole-in-the-wall restaurant with high-end flavors and techniques. They offer 2 four course menus, one "omnivor" and the other "vegivor". Reopening on August 2nd after their summer break. My visit last year.  
  • Fotografiska- located in the museum of photography. Named best restaurant in Stockholm in the mid price range category in 2015. Here the menu is basically vegetarian but you can order meat and fish as "complements" to your meal if you wish. During the summer they close the indoor restaurant and open a more casual barbecue restaurant (click on "se menyn" for the English menu) on their outdoor veranda. However, it has the same food philosophy as the indoor restaurant! My visit a couple of years ago.
    Fotografiska
More casual restaurants
  • Herman's- probably Stockholm's most famous vegetarian restaurant. Casual restaurant which serves a vegetarian buffet. Besides the food, many come here for the great views of the city. 
  • Växthuset- the name literally means "greenhouse" as in where you grow plants. Especially popular with vegans. They serve many sharing dishes family style. 
  • Rosendals Trädgård- café in the gardens on Djurgården. Lunch. Many of the dishes are vegetarian, biodynamic and use ingredients grown in the gardens. My recent visit.
  • Chutney- vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the trendy SoFo neighborhood. 
  • Doctor Salad- breakfast, salads and smoothies. Prioritizes raw and vegan ingredients and excludes processed sugar, gluten and lactose. Reopens on August 1st after the summer holiday. 
  • Sally Voltaire & Systrar- casual restaurant in the Åhlens department store with many salads and vegetarian dishes. 
The views from Hermans vegetarian restaurant. 
And as many vegetarians know... Asian/Indian restaurants often have several vegetarian dishes on their menus (more than restaurants serving European/American cuisine). If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and want more information about these or the restaurants listed above, contact me directly. 
The biodynamic gardens at Rosendals Trädgård

July 12, 2017

The City Line is Open! New Commuter Train Stations.

Stockholm is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe with its population expected to increase by 11% over the next three years. This means that the city's infrastructure has to be constantly expanded and improved. One such major improvement has been the building of Citybanan (City Line), a six kilometer long tunnel deep under the city which reroutes the commuter train line away from the regular train lines. Construction started in 2006 and the line finally opened this past Monday! Cost for the project is estimated to land at around 20 billion SEK.
Background: The Central Train Station in downtown Stockholm was completed in 1871 and all southbound train traffic goes across a bridge and through the old town (Gamla Stan/Riddarholmen). This all worked fine when it was used solely by regional/international trains, but since then Stockholm has constructed a large system of commuter trains servicing the suburbs and this has become a bottleneck, especially for the southbound traffic. Expanding the tracks was vetoed by the government due to the historically sensitive buildings in the area. The solution? Reroute the commuter trains deep underground!
This new tunnel/line includes two new stations. One in the northern part of the city at Odenplan and the main commuter train station called Stockholm City. This station is located under the main subway station T-Centralen, which in turn is under the Central Train Station. It is over 40 meters under street level and the station includes 44 new escalators and 17 elevators. When transferring from trains/subways to commuter trains, just follow the signs for Pendeltåg or Commuter Rail.
So... as a visitor, when will you be using the commuter trains? Well, these trains can take you to Nynäshamn for the ferry to Gotland, to the new Friends Arena (concerts, sporting events), the new giant shopping center Mall of Scandinavia, to Barkarby for some outlet shopping, the international fairgrounds at Älvsjö (conventions/fairs), a day trip to the city of Uppsala and, more importantly, the Arlanda airport.
Another reason is just to visit these new stations. They are engineering marvels and are decorated together with 14 new works of art. This ties in to the Stockholm subway system being called the world's longest art gallery. I visited the Stockholm City station yesterday and it was fun just to walk around. Though I would avoid doing this during rush hour! For guests of the Rival Hotel, you can easily catch a commuter train at the nearby Stockholm Södra Station (no changes there). This station is located just four blocks from the hotel.