With long, bright days and next weekend’s royal wedding creating a buzz around the chic city, Sweden’s water-laced capital is at its very best. Sophie Lam prescribes a perfect trip
Why go now?
Days are long and love is in the air in the self-styled capital of Scandinavia. The city is half way through its fortnight of Love Stockholm celebrations (lovestockholm2010.se). Highlights include art tours for two, regal dressing-up for kids at the Skansen museum and royal-themed walking tours. Events build up to June 19 — the royal marriage of Crown Princess Victoria and the personal trainer, Daniel Westling.
Arlanda Airport is served by SAS (0870 60 727 727; flysas.com) from Heathrow, Edinburgh and Manchester; British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow; and Norwegian Air Shuttle (00 47 21 49 00 15; norwegian. com/en) from Gatwick and Edinburgh. The fastest route into town is the Arlanda Express (arlandaexpress.com), which whizzes to Central Station in 20 minutes for Sk460 (£41) return. More economically, the Flygbussarna (flygbussarna. se) bus takes 45 minutes to reach the same point for Sk219 (£19.30) return.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Skavsta (88km south-east of the city) and Vasteras (96km east), and from Edinburgh and Liverpool to Skavsta. From Skavsta, Flygbussarna takes around 80 minutes to reach Central Station ; Sk249 (£22) return. From Vasteras, 75 minutes and Sk219 (£19.30) return.
For city-break packages, contact Visit Sweden (020-7108 6168; visitsweden.com/ citybreaks).
Get your bearings
Composed of a jigsaw of 14 islands where the Baltic Sea meets brackish Lake Malaren, Stockholm's geographical DNA is beguiling. The harbour city huddles around Gamla Stan, riven with narrow medieval streets. South is Sodermalm, or ‘Soder’, home to off-beat boutiques, bars and restaurants. East is the tiny museum island of Skeppsholmen and beyond, leafy Djurgarden, once the royal game park — farther still is the constellation of islands of the Stockholm archipelago. To the west is increasingly hip Kungsholmen, and north on the main island are Norrmalm, Vasastaden and Ostermalm, the main commercial and shopping districts.
The tourist office at 27 Hamngatan (00 46 8 50 82 85 08; stockholmtown.com) dispenses Stockholm Cards. These grant access to the underground, buses and trams as well as admission to 80 museums and attractions (Sk395/£35 for 24 hours, Sk525/£46 for 48 hrs and Sk625/£55 for 72 hrs).
Right now, the best place to be is by the water and Stockholm's newest hotel offers just such an opportunity. Hotel Skeppsholmen, 1 Grona Gangen (00 46 8 407 23 00; hotelskeppsholmen.com) is perched on the edge of leafy Skeppsholmen island. The design-driven rooms are housed in a pair of late 17th-century military buildings and start at Sk1,747 (£154), including breakfast. Just along — and on — the water is the af Chapman (00 46 8 463 2266; svenskaturistforeningen.se/afchapman), a ship-turned- youth-hostel. Dorm beds Sk280 (£25) per person, double cabins Sk580 (£51). Across the water is the Lydmar Hotel, 2 Blasieholmshamnen (00 46 8 22 31 60; lydmar.com) where stylish doubles start at Sk2,800 (£247), including breakfast.
Take a hike ...
... through ancient Stockholm on Gamla Stan. The lofty yellow, red, pink and green buildings of the ‘old town’ lean in to each other, creating an atmospheric web of narrow streets. Concentrated on tiny Stadsholmen island, Gamla Stan is the point where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea and is dominated by the Royal Palace (7) (00 46 8 402 6130; royalcourt.se; open daily 10am-5pm; adults Sk100/£8.80).
Start at the north face of the palace by Norbro bridge and admire the imposing Roman-baroque façade, then tuck right down pedestrianised Vasterlanggatan, the main drag where defensive walls once stood but where 19th-century shopfronts now mostly frame tourist trinkets and packed-out cafes.
As you negotiate the crowds, glance at the tiny cobbled alleys that siphon off either side. Then slip left up Kakbrinken to Stortorget, the oldest square in the city, lined with merchants' houses and the former stock exchange. Continue across the square and head down Kopmangatan, the ‘merchants street’ that brings you to Kopmantorget, a small square with a statue of St George and the Dragon. Take either of the cobbled slopes that lead off either side on to Osterlanggatan then continue left up the quiet street past the shuttered early 18th-century Den Gyldene Freden restaurant (00 46 8 24 9760; gyldenefreden.se) up to Slottsbacken and the Storkyrkan, the newly restored 14th-century brick cathedral that will host the royal wedding next Saturday.
Cross Skeppsbron bridge to Sodermalm, the home of the cool and the quirky. Forgo the branches of H&M and Levi's on Gotgatan, one of the city's longest streets, and dip into Weekday at number 21 (00 46 8 642 1772; weekday.se), which sells its own line of clothing (including Cheap Monday jeans) as well as independent labels; and Design Torget (13) at number 31 (00 46 8 644 1678; designtorget.se), a trove of innovative Scandinavian homeware and gifts. Things get cooler still in SoFo, eastern Sodermalm, with Grandpa, 21 Sodermannagatan (00 46 8 643 6080; grandpa.se) for designer and vintage finds and Coctail + Deluxe at 43 Bondegatan (00 46 8 642 0741; coctail.nu) for kitsch paraphernalia.
Lunch on the run
Testament to its success, there are now four branches of Vurma Cafe (00 46 8 669 0960; vurma.se) in Stockholm. Try the Soder outpost (16) at 31 Bergsunds Strand. Sandwiches are the order of the day — chicken with goat's cheese, roasted veg and apple syrup or grilled halloumi with pine nuts, rocket and balsamic, for example — served in a vintage setting of floral cushions, mismatched furniture and retro artefacts. Prices from Sk43 (£3.75) to Sk79 (£6.90).
Travel through Sweden's history at Skansen, an enjoyable open-air museum on Djurgarden, laid out like a large village (00 46 8 442 8000; skansen.se). Repositioned examples of Swedish architecture, from 14th-century farmsteads to 1930s townhouses, are set amid gardens and interspersed with enclosures of Nordic animals, including moose, reindeer, wolves, lynx and brown bears. The park is brought to life by costumed ‘residents’, who might be baking bread at home or working in the apothecary. Currently open 10am-5pm daily (times vary throughout the year); Sk100 (£8.70).
Be simultaneously dazzled by the views across the water of the imposing Royal Palace and the chic, white interior of the Verandan Cocktail Bar at the Opera House, Karl XII's Torg (00 46 8 676 5800; eng.operakallaren. se). Cocktails such as apple cider martinis start at a regal Sk130 (£11.40).
Dining in style
Skeppsholmen was once a naval base and while most of its ochre-hued military buildings now house art museums, a former torpedo factory and naval laundry recently emerged as Hjerta Restaurant, 28 Slupskjulsvägen (00 46 8 611 4100; restauranghjerta. se). The bright warehouse interior opens on to a harbour-side terrace in summer. Food is fresh and rustic. Start with the skipper's bread — a pizza of sorts topped with cheese, walnuts, wafer-thin reindeer slices and mushrooms, goat's cheese and herbs or cod and chorizo (Sk135/£12). Mains include cod with a scallop and bouillabaisse reduction for Sk275 (£24), or poussin with asparagus and green beans for Sk215 (£19).
Sunday morning: go to church
Take your pick of churches, from small and colourful to grand and soaring. Low-rise Stockholm is punctuated with spires, the grandest of which is that of Riddarholmskyrkan on a little island annexe of Gamla Stan (00 46 8 402 6130; royalcourt.se). The burial place of Swedish monarchs is one of the city's oldest buildings, dating back in part to the 13th-century. Services are no longer held here, but step inside and admire the plaques that adorn the walls. Open May 15-September 15 daily, 10am-4pm (until 5pm June-September); Sk30 (£2.70).
Take a view ...
... from the new SkyView , a glass gondola that ascends 130m up the spherical Globe Arena, 2 Globentorget (globearenas.se). The journey takes around 20 minutes and offers a superior view of the water-laced city. Open 10am-7pm weekdays, until 5pm at weekends (later opening June-August); Sk130 (£11.30).
Take a ride
Stockholm is easily explored on foot, but with the sun sparkling seductively on the harbour at this time of year, there's even more incentive to get on the water. The Baltic archipelago east of the city is some 24,000-islands strong, but boats ply the waters frequently to reach those both nearby and farthest away.
The most popular stop is Vaxholm, an island of wooden houses, ice-cream kiosks and a 16th-century castle. Boats depart daily from Stromkajen and take around an hour; check at the counter outside the Grand Hotel for timetables. Sk150 (£13) return.
Out to brunch
Admire the work of Picasso, Matisse, Tinguely and Dali at the Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen (00 46 8 5195 5200; modernamuseet.se; Sk80/ £7), then proceed to the glass-fronted restaurant for brunch with a harbour view. There are two sittings at weekends (11.30am and 2pm) for a smorgasbord of fresh salads, cheese, breads, eggs, gravlax, herrings, cured meats, sausages, desserts, tea, coffee and juice; Sk265 (£23) per person.
A walk in the park
East of Skansen, the museums and attractions on royal Djurgarden melt away into a section of Ekoparken, the world's first self-styled ‘National City Park’ (ekoparken.com). Stick to Djurgarden and you can meander along oak-lined trails past horses, cyclists, villas and the summer residence of Karl XIV Johan, the 1820s Rosendals Palace (00 46 8 402 6000; royalcourt.se).
Icing on the cake
The Grand Hotel at 8 Blasieholmshamnen, open since 1874, recently upped its grandeur with the opening of Raison d'Etre's flagship spa (00 46 8 679 3575; raisondetrespa.se). Inspired by Norse traditions, it features mosaics of bucolic Swedish scenes, saunas with ice-cold plunge pools, another pool surrounded by fire pits and cascades, suites with views of the Royal Palace and a gamut of treatments that start at Sk330 (£29).