In Stockholm, near the Central Station, is a gorgeous building with a gold tower. When we first arrived in the floating city, I saw it and was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. After a few questions, we found out this was the City Hall. Depending on the time of year, the entrance changes location, but we followed the crowd directly to the front desk for tickets to the 9:30 English guided tour.
If you get there before your tour, book your ticket, and then go across the courtyard to purchase your ticket to the tower. Climbing the tower is completely worth it if you wish to see a panoramic view of the city. But these sell out faster than the facility tours because of limited space. Our inside tour was at 9:30, but we couldn’t climb until 14:30.
Our guide arrived right on time and first took us into the “Blue Hall.” This room was absolutely massive with tall brick walls and a staircase that was designed specifically for women to make an entrance with stilettos and flowing skirts. Heels and skirts are important because the Hall is the location for the famous Nobel Prize Banquets.
The Hall was originally supposed to be painted blue to resemble water from the Stockholm Bay, but the architect, Ragnar Östberg, fell in love with the exposed brick and left the red facade instead. Today, it looks like a classic Italian Renaissance home complete with a Romeo and Juliet balcony toward the ceiling. When the room was finally revealed, the public was not too thrilled because for months they had been told of the “Blue Hall.” Where was the blue? But, despite the red bricks, the name forever stuck.
The tour then takes you into the Council Chamber. This massive room with an incredibly ornate ceiling is where the Chamber meets every third Monday to discuss pressing government matters. You are expressly not allowed to touch any chair or table in the room, but what was also impressive was the care taken to make sure the room was acoustically sound. Patterns of foam and insulation cover the walls to prevent loud reverberations.
We followed our guide through further hallways and corners of the massive building to eventually find the Prince’s Gallery. I was extremely taken by this long hallway leading to the famous Golden Hall because of the intricate mural. The painting is an exact (but abstract) view of the river and bay outside the opposite windows. Painted by Prince Eugen, brother to King Gustav V, from 1916-1922, this 40 meter long mural is a treasure to Swedish heritage and celebrated as such.
However, the creme de la creme of the City Hall is the Golden Hall. Almost directly above the Blue Hall, this 44 meter long room is completely covered in gold mosaics. Created by Einar Forseth prior to the opening of the City Hall in 1923, he was granted two years to design and create the room. At first impossible, he had workers round the clock for two years straight to get every single tile in place at a break-neck speed. All of the gold leaf is 24 carats, and there are 19 million pieces that twinkle around you creating a magical and overwhelming sense of the room. Each image on the walls represents a part of the Swedish history and fable.
On the farthest wall is a depiction of the Queen of Mälaran at the crossroads of the east and west. On the left side, you see quintessential “western” images like the American flag, but on her right, you see the classic images of eastern trade like the moon found on top of Islamic mosques. This is a great image showing just how neutral Sweden is when it comes to worldly affairs, and it is quite beautiful.
One story from the City Hall that I really enjoyed was of a young maid who wanted to contribute to the fundraising campaign. She saved every penny she had until she could give all of her savings, which, in the grand scheme of things, amounted to very little. But when she gave the money to the campaign, she had one wish: to see what her money would buy. When the City Hall was complete, she asked to see what she bought. She was taken into the outside courtyard and shown a small golden crown held by a statue, high above the ground. Her small pittance bought the crown. Whether this maid felt ecstatic or disappointed is not known, but she is forever immortalized in the Swedish City Hall.
Later that afternoon, we did come back to the building for our scheduled climb to the top of the tower. After 365 stairs, we made it to the top, and the views were beautiful. It is an incredibly tight space, so no wonder it’s limited to about 30 people per trip, but to see the bay beneath you and the towering steeples dotting the skyline, the wait was worth it.
As we wandered around the city, taking in the gorgeous sites, we found ourselves ravenous for treats. In our travels, we never seem to pass up gelato, and lo and behold, even in the Old Town of Stockholm, we found StikkiNikki Gelato. They give you massive portions, and they have delightful flavors. I tried the blackberry/lavender and the peanut butter crumb. Together, the flavors didn’t quite mesh, but separate, they were divine. They are certified organic, and they also sport several vegan flavors.
Just down the street from the gelato shop was a small bakery called Ekologiskt Bageri. “Fika” is famous in Sweden. The concept behind “fika” is to take a break in the day and relax with a cup of coffee and pastry. Determined to act like a local, I went into this little bakery because they advertised gluten-free and vegan pastries. I gravitated toward the famous Swedish delicacy, the chokladbollar: a small ball of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate. For the record, no, I did not chase the gelato with a pastry this day, but for the sake of storytelling and this blog, I will continue to dream in Swedish food. The chokladbollar was divine and dense, and I can’t wait to try my hand at them at home.
In the weeks leading up to our travels, Jeff and I found ourselves watching a lot of travel/cooking shows. One of them was Follow Donal, and in the name of research, we scouted out one of the chocolate shops he visited in Stockholm: Chokladfabriken. Specializing in small chocolate truffles and bites, we scoured the small shop near Central Station and bought just a couple of the expensive treats. Between the rose hip, cognac, and salted caramel, we were in pure chocolate heaven.
Before I go too far into treat paradise, there was one more trek we made in Stockholm: Rosendal’s Garden in the island, Djurgarden.
In my previous post, I mentioned with the 72 hour travel card, some ferries were included. The specific Djurgarden ferry is one of them. In just 10 minutes, you can leave from Old Town and land near Grona Lund, a weird but fantastical amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, people on stilts, and yes, the ABBA Museum. We didn’t go inside the musical museum, but we did a little boogie to “Mamma Mia” outside while waiting for the tram toward Rosendal’s.
Also on this little island is the famous Skansen, or Swedish Disneyland. We did not go inside of Skansen because it is a park geared for children, but if you have kids, it certainly looks like a fantastic place to take them and let them run wild for a few hours. Reviews online and pictures of the facility didn’t look inviting for a couple of adults looking to explore Stockholm.
A note about the ferry: When we inquired where the pick up points for the ferry were, we were told various things. The most common one was there was a stop near the Royal Palace. This is not the case. A little further south along the same bay shoreline is another boarding point for the Djurgarden specific ferry. You will see a sign for it, but since it was difficult to find, I have included a map here. The red square is exactly where you need to go. The green square is where you land and pick up the ferry to return.
The ride from Grona Lund to Rosendal’s via the tram was not long. If we had looked at a map, we would have rather just taken an afternoon stroll. But after about five minutes, passing Skansen along the way, we were at the entrance of the large park.
As we walked passed massive trees, we were guided right to a large, open farm. To the left, you see a gorgeous house with a full rose garden and small vineyard in front, and then there is the cut-flower garden to the side. These bright colors invite you further down the path toward a string of massive greenhouses full of more flowers, a boutique, a bee keeping facility, and restaurant. The food is all locally sourced with seasonal vegetables from the garden, and the tea is the special Rosendal’s blend.
We sat outside and enjoyed a scrumptious plate of polenta with Parmesan cheese with fresh spring onions, kale, walnuts, and mint. Gluten-free crackers are available upon request, otherwise, they serve the dish with a warm slice of bread.
After we finished our meal, we wandered around the apple orchard with trees that were over a hundred years old, and then went to visit the beekeeper and watch him harvest honey right then and there. He even gave us a small sample of the fresh-from-the-hive golden syrup.
The sun was beginning to set over the bay as we said our farewells to the luxurious garden. I honestly think it was the highlight of our few days in Sweden. The fresh open air, the gorgeous flowers, and the amazing food really made me wish we could have seen what else the little islands had to offer. But our time was short.
In front of Rosendal’s park, there is a tram stop, and this tram will take you all the way back to Old Town without having to wait for the ferry. But we had one more stop before we said goodbye to Sweden, and that was our last meal at Tradition. Recommended as a restaurant in Old Town with gluten-free options, we made a reservation for the night, and we had a scrumptious meal.
Served with such care and attention, it was a casual restaurant with top quality food. You will pay a little more than most of the other cafes around, but it was worth it for the atmosphere and the flavors that graced the plate. Jeff and I shared a reindeer heart appetizer, which we both were intrigued and weary about. I remember it being a little gamey, as reindeer should be, but it was still prepared quite deliciously. For my meal, I decided to go back in time to when we were in Munich and ordered the boiled beef with horseradish. I was so taken by that dish from two years ago that I had to see if my memory held up, and it was the perfect choice.
As we made our way back to the flat in Sollentuna, we mentally prepared ourselves for the next city of our trek, but also cemented the memories of Stockholm. For a city that was founded on pure luck and faith in the weather and the water, it is certainly gorgeous and deserving of the romantic status.
Stay tuned as we travel to the next city on our homeward bound journey: Helsinki, Finland.
Helpful Links for Stockholm:
- Water World: Stockholm
- The ferry from Old Town to Djurgarden
- Rosendal’s Garden and Cafe
- City Hall, Stockholm
- Gluten-Free Stockholm