Recently, I wanted to plan a trip to Europe that would be easy for the traveler lacking much experience -- a Europe on training wheels, so to speak. This was one of the reasons I chose to visit Stockholm, Sweden.
What made Sweden more manageable for me than other European countries is that almost everyone can speak English, as it is taught in school starting at a very young age.
I flew to Stockholm via Iceland Air (it has a great deal where you can layover in
for up to seven days on your trip to Europe without any extra fee). From Stockholm's Arlanda Airport, the quickest way into the city is on the Arlanda Express train, which goes from the airport to Central Station, the main train depot, in about 20 minutes for $20 apiece one way.
And if it's your first time in Stockholm, I would suggest then splurging for a taxi directly to your hotel -- there are a lot of street names that sound very similar.
Lodging, Dining and Sight-Seeing
I stayed at the inexpensive
Gustaf Vasa Hotel
-- which I found on Orbitz -- for about $110 a night. It is located in the Vasastaden district, a beautiful neighborhood with great restaurants and some interesting stores for shopping, and only about a 20-minute walk from the bustling downtown area. It is certainly a part of the city that could be missed if you stayed downtown.
But keep in mind, this hotel -- like many in Europe -- does not have air conditioning, which can potentially be a problem in the summer for the temperature-sensitive.
Throughout Stockholm, unexpectedly, Italian food is very popular. Try Forno Romano, at 45 Odengatan -- it specializes in pizza but has plenty of pasta dishes to choose from as well. For slightly more upscale, check out Primo Ciao Ciao at 79 Odengatan.
Most restaurants in the city have menus in English, which makes culinary exploration easy. Also worth noting, tipping is not customary.
And for the
-addicted, there are plenty of local coffee houses that make fabulous cafe mochas. The most ubiquitous is Wayne's Coffee, with 10 locations throughout the city.
Around the city, I saw several of the major attractions, and they all lived up to their billing.
First was the old city hall, where the Nobel Prize dinner is held. Stadshuset, as it is properly known, was built out of brick from 1911 to 1923. It has a huge courtyard in the middle and looks out over the waters of the Riddarfjarden.
The most notable feature is the 106-meter tower that gives a complete aerial view of the city. There is an elevator that takes visitors up six stories, and then you must walk the rest of the way in an upward sloping tunnel. While the tunnel has windows, it's still a bit disorienting, but the view from the top is worth the walk.
From Stadshuset, it is a quick walk across Vasabron bridge to Gamla Stan, which is where the Royal Palace sits, along with a lot of restaurants, touristy stores and some quirky shops.
||The Changing of the Guard
And it may seem touristy, but you should go to the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. It starts every day at noon, lasts for about 40 minutes and is free. It's really quite a show, even incorporating a marching band on horseback. While I don't usually seek out this sort of thing, it was very impressive and entertaining.
Stockholm has plenty of stores in which to buy souvenirs and postcards, but one unexpected find was Gray's American Food Store, located at 39 Odengatan in the northwest part of the city. While the idea of buying Pop-Tarts, Oreos or Ritz crackers might sound silly, for all the walking you will do around Stockholm, the Gatorade sold at Gray's will come in handy.
A great trip to pick up a little Swedish history is the Vasa Museet, a museum on the island of Skansen (accessible by foot).
This site commemorates a heralded ship, which after much fanfare, sank 10 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship stayed underwater until 1961, preserved by mud. The entire ship is housed in the museum, along with other displays to tell you more about the Vasa and what Stockholm was like during the period.
Other Travel Tips
In Stockholm, there is an Internet network that is in many stores, including 7-11 (which are all over the city), called Sidewalk Express Internet Point. You can buy 90 minutes for about $4, take the password with you and use the access anywhere that has the network.
And take a map everywhere you go. Almost every street in Stockholm ends in "gatan," and it won't take long to confuse Vastmannagatan, Vasagatan and Vastertangatan.
There are plenty of ATMs throughout the city to get cash easily, but you can use a credit card almost everywhere. Even the taxis can accommodate plastic.
All in all, Stockholm was fun, scenic and (armed with a map) easy to navigate. I stayed a total of five days, but four would do nicely if you are making a longer visit throughout other parts of Europe.
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