May 25, 2017

Summer Pedestrian Streets 2017

For the third year in a row, the city of Stockholm is making certain streets pedestrian (i.e. car free)  for the summer months. Restaurants, bars and cafés put out outdoor seating into the streets (not just the sidewalks) and locals stroll up and down enjoying the late summer sun. This has proven so popular with Stockholmers that they have added a street this year, bringing the total to 4 streets.
The pedestrian streets this year are:
Rörstrandsgatan (Vasastan), Skånegatan (Södermalm), Swedenborgsgatan (Södermalm) and for the first time Hornbergs Strand (Kungsholmen).
Swedenborgsgatan is of special interest for guests staying at the Rival Hotel as it is literally right around the corner from the hotel. The street starts at the square Mariatorget (where the hotel is located) and runs 4 blocks or so to the Stockholm Södra Station. On those blocks you will find several restaurants, pubs, cafés and wine bars. All with outdoor seating. For example: Morfar Ginko, Dryck Wine Bar, Half Way Inn, Bistro Süd, Johan & Nyström, Petrus Bakery and Da Luigi. More information in Swedish: click here!

May 23, 2017

UEFA Europa League Final 2017

City Hall
Photo: Björn Olin/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se
Tomorrow, Wednesday May24th, is the UEFA Europa League Final between Ajax and Manchester United here in Stockholm. In recent years they have had the final game on "neutral territory" so no team has home field advantage. This is a huge event and is bringing in a large crowd of supporters and fans. The Friends Arena has a capacity of 50,000 and it will be full. If you are not interested in football/soccer then consider this a warning and an explanation of why the city is filled with football supporters. Expect full restaurants and bars in the coming couple of days and traffic problems on Wednesday. If you are going to the game, try to get there in plenty of time. Doors open at 5:45pm and kick-off is at 8:45pm. This is especially important due to yesterday's senseless bombing at the concert in Manchester... security will be rigorous and will take extra time! It also good to note that Thursday, May 25th is a bank holiday in Sweden (Ascension Day)... so the bars and nightclubs on Wednesday will be busy!
Friends Arena
Photo: Friends Arena © All rights reserved 
It is a good idea to stay away from getting to the arena in a car/taxi. Traffic will be bad. Friends Arena is located in the suburb of Solna. You can easily get to the arena by subway or commuter train. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, your best bet is to take the commuter train (pendeltåg) from nearby Stockholm Södra Station, just 4 blocks from the hotel. The trains are very regular/frequent and the trip to Solna Station is only 12 minutes! You take either train 36 in the direction of Upplands Väsby or train 38 in the direction of Uppsala. The arena is just a 10 minute walk from the station (just follow the stream of people!). More info.

May 17, 2017

Summer Art Museum Exhibitions 2017

Marie-Louise Ekman, Väntsal, 1971 © Marie-Louise Ekman
at Moderna museet
Summer is just around the corner and tourist season is gearing up! Time to look ahead and see what is going on in the city during the summer months. Stockholm has some great art museums and galleries and it looks like they will have some good exhibitions coming up. Check my earlier article to see exhibitions going on this spring (some until mid June). Listed below are the main art spaces in the city. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, check with me directly for information about smaller art galleries.

May 11, 2017

Book Your Own Authorized Stockholm Guide

Visiting City Hall (Stadshuset)
Photo by Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
And speaking of sightseeing... while there are many ways to see Stockholm, the best way to understand what you are actually seeing is to book your own authorized guide. FSAG is the union for authorized guides in Stockholm and they have 370+ guides and can offer guiding in almost 30 different languages. The authorized guides have all gone through a rigorous year long training, ending with a certification test they must pass. This is perfect if you want to have a knowledgeable guide with you whether wandering through historic Gamla Stan, doing a day trip, visiting a specific museum or have special interests (art, shopping, child-friendly attractions). Guides charge by the hour (3 hour minimum) and payment can be made directly with the guide through various means (cash, credit card, online, etc.) depending on the guide.
Stockholm View
Photo: Henrik Trygg/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
FSAG has recently launched a new website which makes it much easier to book your own guide online. If you know your language, dates and what you want to see, you can send a booking request where you fill in your preferences for itinerary/guide/language/date. Your request will be sent out to the guides who match your preferences and they will contact you by e-mail. Suggested itineraries, and more information about them, can be seen by clicking here. You can also read more about each guide and contact them directly here. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can also contact me directly for more assistance or if you have special requests (like a car with guide).

May 5, 2017

Unusual Sightseeing Tours in Stockholm

Vespa Stockholm 
Strömma is the main sightseeing tour company in Stockholm and they have a wide range of bus, boat, walking and combination tours of the city as well as day trips in the archipelago and countryside. However, many visitors are looking for more unique ways to see the city... sightseeing paired together with an "experience". Two birds, one stone! Fortunately there are a good variety of options in Stockholm to do this. Keep in mind that most of these tours are only offered during the warmer months of the year. Two good companies which offer several of these more unusual sightseeing tours are OURWAY Tours and Stockholm Adventures. Have a look at their websites to see all they have to offer! Here are different sightseeing options offered both by the companies mentioned above and/or others...
Kayaking in Stockholm
Photo by Henrik Trygg/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

  • Bike tours. Stockholm is a very bike friendly city during the summer months and there are a few companies doing bike tours of the city. One company is called Stockholm Cykel and is of special interest to Rival Hotel guests as the meeting point is only a few blocks from the hotel. They offer both a set tour of the city every Thursday as well as well as a couple of self-guided tours. 
  • Yoga + sightseeing. What about a 30 minute walking tour of the old town followed by a 60 minute yoga pass outdoors and ending with a "fika"? Run With Me Stockholm offers this on Saturday mornings during the warmer months (subject to weather). 
  • Sightseeing on a vespa. When you rent a vespa at Vespa Stockholm, four set self-guided tours (using GPS) are included. Classic sights, island hopping and out in the countryside... a great way to zip around Stockholm on your own and get off the beaten path.  
  • Jogging tours. How about getting an aerobic workout while seeing the sights? Several companies offer running/jogging/cross-training tours, both public set tours as well as the option of private tours. Run With Me Stockholm and Stockholm Running Tours are two good options.
  • Sightseeing on a segway. Stockholm Air Wheel has tours twice a day and OURTOURS and Adventures also offer segway tours. 
  • Food tours. Eat your way through Stockholm! Two main companies offer these tours... Food Tours Stockholm (with several set food tours, visiting specific neighborhoods) and Stockholm Food Tours
  • Rooftop tours. Learn the history of Stockholm while standing on the roofs of historic buildings, enjoying the views. Nothing beats mixing education with adrenalin. This tour is offered by Takvandring. Click here to read about my recent visit.  
    Rooftop tour with Takvandring.
  • Sightseeing with a twist. What about a sightseeing tour with a bus that turns into a boat? This amphibious bus tour is offered by Ocean Bus. Not only a great way to see the city, but you will be sure to be featured in many tourists' photographs as your bus floats by them. 
  • Sightseeing in a taxi. Taxi Stockholm offers a set interactive tour where the guiding is done through tv screens in the car. The tour is themed and currently the theme is Stockholm Crime going off the popularity of Nordic noir novels/films. On this tour you will be visiting sites of famous crimes like the hostage situation that spawned the term "Stockholm Syndrome" and the assasination of prime minister Olof Palme. They also offer 90 minute or 2 hour guided tours of the city where you hit all the main points of interest with a driver guide. 
  • Ghost tours. These popular walking tours are offered year round by Stockholm Ghost Walk. The guides weave in Stockholm history with tales of murders, ghosts and bloodbaths. 
  • Sightseeing by kayaking. Stockholm is built on 14 islands so sightseeing from the water is a definite possibility. Both OURWAY Tours and Stockholm Adventures offer kayak tours, both in the city and out in the archipelago.
  • Hot air ballooning. How about floating high above the city in a hot air balloon? On nice summer evenings the sky is often filled with balloons. A little tricky to book considering that it is popular and they can only fly in good weather. Balloon Flight Stockholm and Far och Flyg are two reputable companies. 
    Maybe you will see the king of the forest on a Wildlife Safari?
  • Beer tours. I've heard that alcohol makes learning easier, so a drinking tour of Stockholm should be ideal. Stockholm Pub Crawl is a popular tour to visit pubs/clubs and make new friends! Another good tour is the Craft Beer Tour where you learn the history of Swedish beer and do some beer tasting all while wandering the streets of Gamla Stan (old town).
  • On a budget. If you are travelling on a budget then there are two companies that offer free walking tours of the city. The main one is Free Tour Stockholm and then there is a newer company called Free Walking Tour Stockholm. They both offer daily tours with different themes and visit various parts of the city, so check and see which tour fits your wishes best and join up. They are free but remember to tip your guide if you are happy!
  • Safaris. You don't have to go all the way to Africa to go on a safari! Stockholm Adventures offer Wildlife Safaris where you have the chance to see moose, deer, foxes and wild boar. We have sea life here too, so why not take a Seal Safari out in the archipelago? 
  • Themed walks. The Stockholm City Museum offers several different themed tours including a Millennium ("Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") tour, private ABBA city walks and visits to the Woodland Cemetery. 
  • Challenges! Something that has recently been brought to my attention and looks like lots of fun is the 100 Point Challenge. Three different games (for visitors and locals) where you solve clues, complete challenges and race around the city. Sounds like a great way to experience Stockholm and have some fun. 
See? Lots to choose from! Booking these tours can be done via their websites (links above) or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, talk directly to me for help.
Ballooning over Stockholm.
Photos by Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com


May 3, 2017

Ports and Docks in Stockholm for Cruise Ships

Ferries and cruise ships travelling through the archipelago to Stockholm.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Summer is around the corner and soon the cruise ship season will start. Cruises in the Baltic Sea have become increasingly popular with such interesting stops like Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki, St Petersburg and, of course, Stockholm. Copenhagen and Stockholm are the two ports where most Baltic cruises either start or end... which is great for us as it means more visitors and hotel nights. I get a lot of questions regarding the distance between the harbour and the Rival Hotel. It is actually not an easy question to answer. What many people don't understand is that there are four main ports servicing cruise ships in the Stockholm area, some closer than others. So the answer depends on which port the cruise ship will be docking at.
Stadsgården port with Skeppsbron in the background.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Here are the four ports and their distance from the hotel:
  • Stadsgården- One of the two main cruise ship ports. It is located on the north-east coast of the island of Södermalm (where the hotel is located as well), just a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the Rival Hotel. This is also the docks where the Birka and Viking Line ferries to Finland and Åland depart from.
  • Frihamnen & Värtahamnen- The other main cruise ship port. These two docks are right next to each other and are located in the northern outskirts of the city, about a 20-30 minute taxi ride from the Rival Hotel. There are also special buses that can take you to the City Terminal next to the Central Train Station.This is also where the Silja Tallink Line ferries to Finland, Latvia and Estonia depart from.
  • Nynäshamn- Cruise ships get bigger and bigger each year and some are so huge that they cannot make it through the narrow straits in the archipelago to get to Stockholm. These ships dock, therefore, in the port of Nynäshamn located just south of Stockholm. Some other cruise ships may dock there if it is especially busy at the other Stockholm ports that day. It is about a 50 minute taxi ride to the hotel, otherwise there is also a commuter train and the cruise ships often have their own buses. This is also where the Destination Gotland ferries to the island of Gotland depart from.
  • Skeppsbron or Strömmen- The smaller, and often fancier, cruise ships (like Silver Seas & Seabourn) sometimes dock right at the Old Town, either at the Skeppsbron dock or moored at a buoy in Strömmen. This is about as central as you can get... just a 15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride to the Rival Hotel.
Map from www.cruisingfromstockholm.com showing
location of Värtahamnen, Frihamnen, Skeppsbron &Stadsgården.
If you don't know which dock your cruise ship will be using, you can check the Ports of Stockholm's website. For more cruise port information, check Visit Stockholm's cruise page. And the Stockholm Cruise Blog has recently made a similar list which can be seen by clicking here. There are taxi queues at the different ports. Just stick with the main taxi companies (Taxi Stockholm, Taxi Kurir) to get the best prices. Prebooking a taxi transfer can sometimes be problematic as taxi companies want an exact pick-up time (more or less) and cruise ship guests often don't know exactly when they will be disembarking, just when the ship is due to dock.

April 28, 2017

Crazy weekend! Festivals, tour starts, openings, Walpurgis and more!

Fjäderholmarnas Krog opens for the season on Saturday.
There are so many things going on this weekend in Stockholm! So if you are here now... lucky you. To start off with, it is a three day weekend here in Sweden as Monday is a bank holiday (May 1st- International Workers' Day). Keep in mind that banks, liquor stores and smaller shops will be closed on Monday. Several sightseeing tours start for the season on Saturday, April 29th: Hop On/Off boat tours, Birka Viking Village, Fjäderholmarna boat trip and the Stockholm Grand Tour (bus/boat). The fact that the boats are starting to go to Fjäderholmarna means that the archipelago restaurant Fjäderholmarnas Krog opens for the season on Saturday. Don't forget that the new Viking museum Vikingaliv has its premiere on Saturday as well (read about my visit here).
Ulvbjörn and Ragnfrid at Vikingaliv.
Photo by Peter Knutson ©
Then there are some special events going on in the city as well. On Saturday they are having a street festival in Gamla Stan (the old town). They close off the street Stora Nygatan and local vendors sell their wares (between 11am and 7pm, possible later). This is quite a new event so I don't have any real experience with this but, if you are in the old town, by all means stop by and have a look around.
Walpurgis Eve Celebrations on Riddarholmen.
Photo by Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
The other event I have much more experience with Sunday evening is Valborgsmässoafton, or Walpurgis Night in English. This is a very Germanic holiday celebrating Saint Walpurga and is celebrated in different ways throughout northern & eastern Europe. In Sweden it is celebrated with bonfires and singing. The bonfires will be lit at different places all through Stockholm but for Rival Hotel guests, the most central places are either on Riddarholmen or at Skansen. The Riddarholm bonfire starts with a torch parade from Stortorget in Gamla Stan at 7.45pm. The parade ends at Riddarholmen and the bonfire is lit at 8:30pm. At Skansen they have events all afternoon starting at 3pm and culminating with the lighting of their bonfire at 9pm.
Buildings in Hötorget lit up in purple during 2016's Kulturnatt
Photo: Adrian Pehrson @ Studio Emma Svensson
The final big event this weekend is Kulturnatt ("Culture Night") on Saturday evening. Basically, this is an evening of free culture throughout the city, everything lit up in the color purple. Between 6pm and midnight, the major cultural institutes in the city are open... museums, galleries, libraries, theatres and much more. All with free admission! It is virtually impossible for me to list all of the things going on, but you can download and print out an English leaflet with information on the different venues on their website. I would say that the best thing to do is stop by the Stockholm Visitor Center at Sergels Torg. Here you can get an English program and ask questions/advice. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can also talk directly with me. Art, dance, performances, music, literature and much more!

April 25, 2017

Scandinavian Furniture & Design at Fogia's Concept Store

One of the top questions I get from visitors is where to go to shop for Swedish/Scandinavian furniture and interior design pieces. You do know that Swedish furniture design is much more than IKEA, right? Fogia, one of the top Swedish furniture design companies, invited me to visit their concept store, Fogia Market, yesterday... and I now know what my fantasy home would look like.
Fogia's furniture is found at retail furniture stores throughout Scandinavia as well as other parts of Europe and in the US and Australia. However, Fogia Market is their showroom and only store where all their products can be found under one roof. It is a great place to browse, get inspiration as well as purchase that perfect piece of furniture or accessory for your home or office. Their experts are on hand for consultations and to answer any questions.
Fogia's furniture is all individually manufactured, using materials of the highest quality and durability. They have a huge variety of fabrics to choose from for each piece of furniture, so this means that your fantasy is basically the limit when it comes to creating your dream space. At Fogia Market they also have a wide range of interior design accessories from collaborating partners... vases, pots, pillows, rugs and much more. This is the perfect place to visit while in Stockholm if you are a lover of Swedish & Scandinavian design, whether or not you are in the mood to buy anything.
Fogia Market is located out on the island of Nacka at the mouth of Stockholm harbor. The best, and most picturesque, way to get there is by commuter boat. There are regular boats departing from Nybroplan in the downtown area and the trip takes approximately 20 minutes to Finnboda Hamn. These boats are part of Stockholm's public transportation which means that it is included in the public transportation card. The store is right on the waterfront so the boat drops you off just 25 meters or so from the front door. You can also get to the store by car/taxi/bus... but the boat trip is half the fun in my opinion.
They also have a great café in the store. So head out, browse through the store and then have some lunch and watch the ships sail by. Talk to me directly if you are staying at the Rival Hotel for more information and boat schedules. Fogia Market is open daily but they do usually close for a couple of weeks around the end of July, though the dates aren't set yet (keep your eye on their website). If you do decide to buy something, Fogia will help you with shipping so you don't have to worry about carrying a sofa on the plane home.

April 21, 2017

Vikingaliv: New Viking Museum in Stockholm

There is a new museum opening in Stockholm on April 29th! Vikingaliv, loosely translated as "the life of Vikings", takes a look at the Viking Age (circa 800 to 1050 AD) in Sweden, who the Vikings were, how they lived and what is myth and what is fact when it comes to what we have heard of these ferocious(?) people. Vikings are by far the most well known historical Swedes and it is high time they get their own museum in Stockholm.
Still putting on the finishing touches ouside.
My ancestor?
I was invited to a sneak preview of the museum yesterday. While they are still putting on the finishing touches and waiting on the delivery of the components of a couple of the exhibits, it was great to have the chance to see the museum before tourist season starts in earnest. The museum occupies some prime real estate on the island of Djurgården, where many of Stockholm's main museums and attractions are located.
Their tagline is "a true adventure" and the adventure starts on the first floor after entering the building. Here they have set up exhibits showing the history of the Viking Age, how far their long ships sailed, what they looked like, how they lived/fought/played and where the myth of the blood thirsty, horned helmet wearing Vikings came from. Many of the exhibits are interactive and the information is in both Swedish and English. There are also quite a lot of child friendly exhibits.
Some of the...
The adventure continues downstairs with Ragnfrid's Saga. Here you climb into an open carriage and are taken on an 11 minute ride, following the tale of Ragnfrid and her husband Harald and their journeys through Viking Age Europe. The narration comes in several different languages... from what I could tell, the staff determines the language for each carriage after consulting with the riders. It is a child friendly ride, though they don't recommend the ride for children under 7 due to loud sounds and the slightly violent parts of the story.
...dioramas from...
...Ragnfrid's Saga.
The adventure then ends back upstairs where they have a gift shop with plenty of Viking knick-knacks to purchase as well as a restaurant called Glöd. The restaurant wasn't open yet during our sneak peek, but it will have nice views over the harbor and I am sure the menu will contain Viking "dishes" and Nordic ingredients. Apparently you will be able to try mead here as well. The restaurant will be run by the owners of the popular restaurant Broms, so it should be good quality! You can visit the shop and restaurant without having to pay the entrance fee.
Gift shop
Vikingaliv isn't a huge museum but its location on Djurgården means that it is easy for visitors to combine a visit with another nearby museum like the Vasa Museum, Skansen or ABBA the Museum. And speaking of combining visits... if you are especially interested in Vikings, then you can visit the nearby Museum of Swedish History (Historiska) where they have a great exhibition on the Vikings as well as the gold and silver treasure found in Viking hoards discovered throughout Sweden (the museum has free admission). And during the warmer months, a day trip out to Birka (Viking Age trading town) is definitely worthwhile! Click here for more Vikings in Stockholm.
Part of the Viking display at nearby Historiska museum
The easiest way to get to Vikingaliv from the Rival Hotel is by taking the Djurgård ferry from nearby Gamla Stan (just a 10 minute trip). If you are already in the downtown area, then you can take the street car out to Djurgården. The entrance fee for Vikingaliv is a little high (190 SEK for adults and 120 SEK for children between 7 and 15) due to the interactive nature of the museum. But I figure that if you combine the visit with one to the history museum, which is free, then you can have a full Viking day for the price.
One of the runestones at nearby Skansen.


April 12, 2017

Rooftop Tour!

I had the opportunity yesterday to try another fun activity here in Stockholm... the Rooftop Tours. The tough life of a Concierge! They, along with their partners OURWAY Tours, invited Les Clefs d'Or Sweden (local Concierge union) to try it out ahead of the busy summer season. The Rooftop Tours have been running for 10 years now and this was my first time trying it so I was happy for the opportunity.
Photo op with Riddarholmen Church in the background.
The tour takes place on the rooftop of the old parliament building, now the administrative courthouse (Kammarrätten), and another building on the island of Riddarholmen, just adjacent to the beautiful Riddarholmen Church. The Church, built in 1271, is the oldest building in Stockholm and towers over you on the tour. The island of Riddarholmen is just next to Gamla Stan (the old town) and is often overlooked by tourists. But it is definitely worth a walk around when coming to Stockholm! Some beautiful architecture and viewpoints can be found here. The church itself is also worth a visit (closed during the winter months). The only preserved medieval monastery church in Stockholm, it is the final resting place of many Swedish kings and queens.
Safety instructions...
...all suited up.
The tour starts in the attic of the courthouse where you suit up in the harnesses and helmets and the guides go over safety and what to expect. It is important to dress appropriately! Sensible shoes and warm clothes, as you are exposed to the elements. They do have extra gloves and clothing to borrow as well as clear plastic bags to hang around your neck for your phone/camera. You can actually use your swipe function on your phone through these plastic bags which means that you are able to take pictures without risking dropping your phone. All pictures in this article were taken through the plastic bags.
Taking pictures with phone in a plastic bag.
Then it was time to step out on the rooftop. They have set up walkways along the rooftops which are easy to follow and you are always attached to the roof via your harness. There are platforms along the way to stop to listen to the guide and take pictures. For the most part there are railings to hold on to, but at a couple of points there aren't. Psychologically these are the tough parts. Even though you are attached to the roof, the walkway is a foot or more wide and you aren't on the edge, it still is a bit daunting to traverse the walkway without holding on to something. Thankfully, I found the fact that you have to concentrate on pulling your "lifeline" along the parallel tracks made it easier at those parts.
The guides were great and very knowledgeable. The tour stops at different points/platforms and the guide explains what you are seeing and how it relates to the history of Stockholm. And, as you are in the oldest parts of Stockholm, you are surrounded by history. These points are perfect places to take the requisite pictures (without worrying about being on a skinny walkway). The whole experience lasted a little over an hour and it was definitely a fun and unique way to see the city and learn a little history. Though perhaps not for someone who has a bad fear of heights.
Our guide!
Booking their set tours can be done through their website or via OURWAY Tours. Besides the set tours, you have the option of booking smaller private tours upon request. Larger groups can also be accommodated. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help in making a booking. Keep in mind that these tours are popular and space is limited. This means that you should definitely book in advance as they are generally fully booked on the day. If there is severe weather (windstorm, lightning, heavy fog, etc.) and they cancel the tour, you will get your money back. For safety measures, you cannot be shorter than 150cm (4.86 feet) or weigh more than 120kgs (264lbs). Children under 18 need to meet these requirements and be accompanied by an adult.
View of Slussen.
Panoramic view of Lake Mälaren.
Lake Mälaren with City Hall on the right.