Jeff and I have been living in London for the past 2.5 years. Whenever someone asks us what our favorite part of living in the bustling, international city was, we’d always say, “The travel.” In just a few hours, you’re in a whole other country with a different culture, cuisine, and history. If you’ve been following our adventures over the years, you’d see just how addicted we have become to taking in the whole wide world.
As our time in England was coming to an end, we had to make a plan to come back to the states. But instead of being traditional travelers making the one-stop flight from London, we decided to travel east, hitting about a dozen cities along the way.
Over the next several weeks, the blog will be devoted to our travels over a seven week period going from the Nordics to the Baltic, to South East Asia to Japan, to the last states to join the U.S.
As we began our “around the world” trek, our first stop was Stockholm, Sweden. Earlier this year, we traveled to Poland to visit the land of my husband’s ancestors. So, Sweden was my turn at some heritage. My great-great-grandfather, Nels Anderson, came from Sweden to the U.S. and because his name was un-pronounceable, my family line was dubbed “Anderson.” We know very, very little else of my Swedish family, but I wanted to at least walk the streets of Stockholm’s Old Town and imagine a time where Nels may have worked and lived in the archipelago.
Jeff and I found a lovely AirBnB in the Sollentuna neighborhood between Arlanda Airport and city center. What caught our attention about this listing was the view of a lake from the flat. Ready to unplug and relax for a long while from the craziness of moving away from London, it was just the ticket we needed, even if it was a bit of a trek to the city.
Transport Note: The train to grab for city center will say Stockholm C, but a note about the airport: If you’re not taking the Arlanda Express direct from the airport to city center, the train will take just about 30 minutes point to point. There is an additional cost to the train ticket to go all the way to the airport, but you can buy this “extension” at the station from the station master or at the airport. They will collect payment when you try to enter the terminal.
But, as a second note: if you have an early enough flight and you arrive at the terminal before the staff shows up, your extension is free, as we were fortunate enough to find out. If you get stopped by the airport extension collection, it will cost 85 SEK.
Last note about transport: if you’re staying in Stockholm for 3 days or less, the 72 hour travel pass is a no-brainer. All trams, trains, and some ferries are included in your 230 SEK price. We only used this card and had no need for additional transport.
We dropped our bags in our little flat, deep in suburbia near the lake and headed straight to the famous Old Town. The train schedule is very regular during the week (but always check for early mornings and weekends for changes), and we were roaming the cobblestone streets in no time.
Starving from our travels, our first stop was lunch. I am gluten-free, but finding food options was not hard in most restaurants, even if “gluten-free” is not widely advertised. One place that kept coming up in recommendations was Under Kastanjen. This little cafe tucked away in the alleyways of the Old Town and underneath a massive chestnut tree was a perfect spot for lunch, but it on the pricier side. I had the three herring dish which came with a boiled egg, three small potatoes, and smoked salmon. Each herring had a different flavor, but I was excited to have my first Swedish meatball. Everything does come gluten and/or lactose free if you ask.
Just down the way from the cafe was the famous Saint George and Dragon statue. We see this phrase everywhere: one of our favorite English pubs, statues in various galleries, and even a church in the center of Stockholm called Storkyrkan. I finally found out the story of the Saint and the Beast.
In a small town near or in Libya, there was a lake that had a “plague-bearing dragon.” He was poisoning the countryside, and to appease the beast, the people of the town would sacrifice two sheep a day. When they ran out of sheep, they started giving it their children by a lottery system, but then the duty fell on the King. Not wanting to kill his daughter, but resigned to the dragon, the King let her go. Fate came into play as Saint George came riding past just as the young princess was walking to her death. Saint George saved the girl and brought the dragon on a leash to the town center. He offered to slay the dragon if everyone in the town converted to Christianity.
We opted out of seeing the church that bore his name to go inside the striking-looking Riddarholm Church where all of the royalty is buried.
The church is no longer in use. The last service was in 1807, so it is used exclusively as burial site for centuries old monarchs. Royalty who have passed after 1950 are buried in the Royal Cemetery located in the Karlsborg island. Inside the church, the monarchs begin with Gustavus Adolphus (died 1632) and end with Gustaf V (died 1950). There are some exceptions, but the place was still beautiful, and the small area dedicated to the children was ornate and decorated with gold.
It was a quick visit inside the Riddarholm as it is simply a church and medieval burial site. But just down the way from the church in Old Town is the Royal Palace. I love royalty, and one of my favorite things to do is see different royal palaces, but the one in Sweden was not that captivating.
Broken into six different galleries, the palace allows you to walk down the halls where the current and past monarchy walked. But in the palace itself, there really isn’t a lot on display that stood out. There were coats of arms, jewels, and some furniture, but other than that, the other galleries just offered various sculptures and coins from centuries before. Honestly, I could have skipped this place and spent more time exploring the various islands.
What I loved seeing in the city was the Vasa Museum. We took the tram from the palace to the Djurgarden island and got off near the Nordiska Museet (National Museum), but based on what that particular museum had to offer, we skipped it and just took pictures of the exterior, which are quite remarkable.
But just behind the Nordiska Museet is the famous museum designed to look like a ship. A quick note about the Vasa Museum: get there early. By the time we left, the line for entry was incredible. When we arrived at 10a, we were able to get right in and pay our 130 SEK with no waiting. Outside, by early afternoon, it looked like it would take hours to get inside.
The Vasa is an 17th century ship that capsized off of the Stockholm harbor, minutes into its maiden voyage. It sat at the bottom of the bay for centuries until in the 1961, it was raised, restored, and put on display for tourists to see. I asked the question of what “Vasa” meant. A very nice tour guide said it was the royal family name at the time, which actually was derived from the Latin word for fascist or “power.”
Built between 1626 and 1628, this warship was commissioned by order of the king to expand his military presence during the war with Poland-Lithuania (1621-1629). It was to be one of the most beautiful warships with ornate paint jobs and twice as many cannons as the others. But because the extra cannons were almost an afterthought once they started building, the weight of the bronze guns altered the balance of the ship, so when a slight breeze came through the harbor that August, the mighty vessel faltered easily.
Known as one of the biggest military blunders in history, the Vasa is now one of the most visited sites in Sweden. Inside the museum, you see the magnificent ship in all its glory taking up four stories of the building. They actually built the museum around the ship as to not damage the ancient vessel. For seventeen years, they sprayed the ship every 20 minutes with a wax to preserve it because the water grave was keeping it intact. In the elements, the wood was drying out and causing irreparable damage.
On the other floors of the building, you can see what life was like at that time in Stockholm by way of galleries and videos, a recreation of what the intricate paint job on the hull must have looked like, as well as models showing the raising of the beast. I honestly didn’t know how much would be inside this museum, but we wound up spending a good couple of hours looking at everything that had to do with this 17th century disaster. I highly recommend this place.
After we left, we found ourselves roaming around the Old Town and stopped into The Bishop’s Arms pub for a drink. We laughed to ourselves because of all the places we could have picked for respite, we found a very British pub. There were pictures of the British monarchy on the walls, and the cases behind the bar were filled to the gills with every whisky known to man. Aside from Billy Ray Cyrus belting out “Achy Breaky Heart” on the sound system, I would have felt completely transported to London.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Stockholm where we found amazing eats in Old Town from gelato to reindeer heart, saw some golden hallways at the City Hall, and found ourselves boogy-ing to ABBA in a kid’s carnival.
Helpful Links for Stockholm:
- Official Rail Map
- Arlanda Express Train from Airport to City Center
- The AirBnB listing we stayed in near Sollentuna
- The Vasa Museum
- The Royal Palace of Stockholm
- Gluten-Free Stockholm blog from Your Living City
- The Co-Op will be your local grocery store.