Swedish Gem

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Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. The city has a long, rich history dating back to the 13th century, and holds many attractions for visitors flocking to its shores – Stockholm is ranked as the 10th largest visitor destination in Europe.

Almost 85% of Stockholm residents work in the service industry, and the almost total absence of heavy industry, including fossil fuel power plants, makes it one of the world’s cleanest metropolises. The last decade has seen a significant number of jobs created in cutting-edge technology companies.

The city is Sweden’s financial centre, home to major Swedish banks and the Stockholm Stock Exchange.

Stockholm is a cosmopolitan place with both classic and modern architecture. Over a third of the city is made up of waterways, and another third is made up of green spaces. Air quality is reported to be the third best of the European capitals – behind Berlin and Copenhagen.

History

The Viking town of Birka was founded in the late 8th century as a trading port on Lake Mälaren, west of current day Stockholm. For 200 years Birka was an important Viking trading centre, but was abandoned by the end of the 9th century, leaving behind a wealth of archaeological material. Excavations of the island have uncovered silver, coins and pearls from Arabic as well as Russian regions.

The town of Sigtuna, postulated by some to be the reason for the disintegration of Birka, was founded in 980. For 250 years the town was a royal and commercial centre and became one of the most important cities of Sweden. For a brief period it was the place that minted Sweden’s first coins. It was also home to St Mary’s Church, built in the 13th century by the Dominican order as a monastery church. The Dominican monastery played an important role in the Swedish Middle Ages and produced many important church officials. One source claims that the city of Stockholm was founded as a result of the plundering and burning of Sigtuna in 1187, as a substitute for the torched trading post. Sigtuna was rebuilt, grew and prospered, but around the year 1300 Stockholm surpassed it in significance.

Stockholm was granted city privileges on 1 May, 1436. The letter granting the privilege is considered the beginning of Stockholm’s national political heyday, and is often cited as the beginning of Stockholm’s role as capital of the kingdom.

Getting there

Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, located 42 kilometres north of downtown Stockholm, is the city’s largest airport, and serviced by more than 80 international airlines.

If Johannesburg is your African departure point, then consider Lufthansa German Airlines. The German carrier flies the big A380 between Frankfurt and Johannesburg on a daily basis. Thereafter, it’s an easy connection to Stockholm. In fact, Lufthansa and Swiss Air Lines both fly direct to Stockholm from their German and Swiss bases respectively, with Lufthansa offering flights from both Frankfurt and Munich.

Alternatively, if you find yourself further north within Africa, try Ethiopian Airlines. It flies direct from Addis Ababa to Stockholm.

Entry into Sweden requires a Schengen visa for all non-Schengen residents. These can take a few weeks to arrange, so get your ducks in row early and apply for a visa at your local Swedish consulate as early as possible.

Getting around

The public transportation system in Stockholm is extensive and well serviced. Between the underground and overland trains, buses, trams, ferries and taxis, there is almost nowhere you can’t reach.

Buses from the airport take you into the city centre in just 20 minutes.

Once in the city, the underground is the easiest way to get around town. The city is divided into three zones, and zone tickets are good for several trips within the hour. Tickets can be purchased at various points. You cannot pay cash for a ticket once on board a bus, although most bus stops have ticket machines that take both coins and cards.

Prepaid cards are the best option for those making few trips. It’s also possible to buy one, three, and seven-day cards, which allow free travel in all zones during the validity period. If you plan on sightseeing, the Stockholm Card, which allows free travel and free entry to 80 museums and attractions in the city, is a good alternative to a standard travel card.

Weather

Being so far north, Stockholm’s temperatures can drop substantially. However, its weather is relatively mild compared with other locations at similar latitudes. Although the average annual temperature is just 10°C, the average daytime mercury reading during summer ranges from 20°C to 25°C. Winter temperatures plunge into the minuses, usually registering between −3°C and −1°C. Rain and snow are most prevalent between December and January.

Things to do

A trip on either the number 69 bus or number 7 tram is a superb way to discover Stockholm. The lines go out to Djurgården and major attractions like Skansen and the Vasa Museum.

Stockholm was founded in Gamla Stan in 1252. Today the well-preserved medieval city is one of the city’s main attractions. The narrow cobblestone streets offer up churches, museums, restaurants, cafe’s, bars and many shopping opportunities. Visit the Royal Palace for a look at the Royal Armoury museum that displays royal costumes and armour. There’s also a daily changing of the guard.

With a city made up of islands, a boat trip is a good way to take in the sights. There are many companies offering this service. Most tours last an hour or two. Stockholm Sightseeing will sell you a combination ticket, allowing you to take in the sights from the water as well as by bus.

Museums are plentiful in Stockholm, with more than 70 vying for attention. The Moderna Museet, on Skeppsholmen Island, holds one of Europe’s foremost collections of art from the 20th century to today, featuring works by artists including Picasso, Dali, Derkert and Matisse. The Nobel Museum will shed light on the history of the Nobel Prize and its founder, as well as the Nobel Laureates and their creative endeavours.

For an uninterrupted view of the city, head to the SkyView.  At the top of the world’s largest spherical building, the Ericsson Globe, you’ll get a fantastic view encompassing all of Stockholm.

If you’re looking for a bit of retail therapy, head to SoFo. The area is packed with interesting creative shops specialising in clothing, design, jewellery, vintage and second-hand houseware, books and magazines, music and much more. Several fashion brands have their own stores in this district. There are also scores of restaurants, cafés and galleries.

Take a guided tour to Birka, considered to be Sweden’s first town, to see how the Vikings lived in the 800s. On the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren, Birka was the central hub and the most important marketplace in the entire Mälar Valley. Today the UNESCO World Heritage site has a wealth of ancient remains that have been excavated and studied since the 19th century.

Eating out

There are many restaurants and cafés in the city, offering an assortment of cuisines – Indian, Italian, Thai, Turkish and traditional Swedish food – but at a price. It is costly to eat out in Stockholm, however most places offer a well-priced lunch, known as ‘dagens lunch’, which usually includes a main course, salad, bread and coffee. If you’re visiting in summer, call ahead and make sure the place you intend eating at is indeed open – many eateries are losed during summer.

Fairly new to Stockholm’s edible offerings are food trucks. There are about 20 trucks roaming the city offering a range of dishes at decent prices. Try a Jamaican dish from the Back a Yard truck, a little taste of Mexico from the El Taco truck, or grab a caffeine fix from Frankie’s Coffee truck. 

Green City

Europeans have migrated from farms to towns and cities, with nearly two thirds of the population calling urban and suburban areas home. This high density living provides a unique set of environmental challenges, which the European Green Capital Award (EGCA) encourages cities to overcome. The EGCA, awarded annually, recognises and rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. Stockholm was the first city to receive this award, in 2010. Some of the reasons it was chosen as the award’s first recipient include effective measures for reducing noise pollution, a protection plan setting new standards for cleaner water, and an integrated waste system. Transport emissions are relatively low, and all trains and inner city buses run on renewable fuels. The city has reduced its green house gas emissions by 25% since 1990, and the city council has the ambitious target of becoming wholly independent of fossil fuels by 2050.

FACT FILE
Population: 900,000
Time Zone: GMT +2
Plugs: Two-pin round
Dialling Code: +46 8
Currency: Swedish krona; $1 = 6.5SEK
Language: Swedish
Religion: Christianity