Travelling in countries renowned to be expensive requires a little bit of research and heeding the advice of those who have gone before. We did not use any taxis for our airport transfers in any of our Scandinavian cities, and were glad of the preparation. Landing in Stockholm, we bought a 3 day transport pass that covers all public transport, caught the fast train from the airport to Central Station where we changed to the T (metro) and only had to travel 3 stops to the metro station right near our hotel. Too easy. Made even easier by the smiling, helpful fare attendant who patiently waited and chatted with us about the city while I rummaged through my bag to find my pass. She checked it, made sure we were heading in the right direction and wished us a pleasant stay in her country.
The Hotel Rival
We stayed in The Hotel Rival, which is owned by Benny Andersson of ABBA fame, and we were treated like royalty. Rickard greeted us on the desk, a mature manager (about my age or a bit younger) who was thorough in his help and offering suggestions of what to do with our time in the city. He was especially helpful in his subtle subtext of checking that we would get our money’s worth of the Stockholm pass before we bought one, which we wouldn’t, so we didn’t. He offered us an upgrade at a bargain price, which we took, so we went from superior to deluxe and he threw in a balcony room cause we were chatting. Excellent business!
There was lots of space in our deluxe balcony room, and much attention to detail, as though the designer was aware of the needs of international travellers, not just Swedish. For instance, having one large doona on the bed, instead of the usual two smaller ones (as per previous Nordic hotels). Both the pillows and doona were feather and down and the bed was not only incredibly comfortable, it looked stylish as well, with its golden checkered wood inlay. The theme of honey coloured wood echoed throughout the room, and contrasted beautifully with black leather slingback armchairs and chrome framework. An accent of green in the drapes continued into the bathroom with olive green veined marble bench tops and flooring (heated, of course), which carried through into the shower feature wall of emerald small mosaic tiles. The magnifying mirror had a high rate of magnification, which is rare, the complimentary razor was a Schick, and the toiletries were Crabtree and Evelyn.
The room had great soundproofing – how often can you say that about a hotel? It had state of the art soundsystem and technology, with an extra speaker in the bathroom so that audio could be directed there while having a soak in the tub. And, of course, what good would that be without a window whose blinds could be raised to give unfettered view of the large screen television? This was fitted with USB and HDMI sockets to allow for all kinds of connectivity, and they even had DVDs and CDs in the room for those less comfortable with the demands of modern technology.
The storage was some of the best we have had in our travels: two double door wardrobes with plenty of hangers, shelves down one side of each, and full length mirrors on the inside of each door. And REAL bathrobes! Not those stupid waffle material things that have shrunk so much in the first wash that they wouldn’t fit a 9 year old!! Proper, large, fluffy, towelling robes – THANK YOU!!
The views of Maria-Torget Park from our room were stunning, especially when covered in snow. At least we could still enjoy the view in winter from the warmth of the room, although we did give the balcony a try. It’s Parisian café table and chairs would be the spot to enjoy a morning coffee or a glass of wine in the afternoon. In fact, there was a proper 24 hour complimentary coffee and tea station on the 4th floor where you could help yourself any time of the day or night. It was great for John to pop out and grab his morning hit while I was still showering. They also provided wine, champagne and whisky glasses to cover all preferences, which is not as common as you would expect. The bar fridge was of a decent size, providing snacks and drinks if you didn’t want to go out to shop, but easily removed to store your own provisions if desired.
The look of the whole hotel was an unusual combo of contemporary and funky retro, such as the stairwell being like a Chrysler building circular staircase, and the hip light shades in both rooms and public areas. The lighting in the room was fantastic, but not the ugly, blinding light that you normally associate with being able to see well in hotel rooms!
The one thing that is not equal to the high standard set by the décor was the inconsistent internet. When it was working, it was great, but it could be sporadic. This may have been due to construction work happening in a few places in the building, but it was inconvenient and frustrating.
Breakfast was the best of all of the hotels this trip. It had a lovely array of buffet yummies, from cold meat and cheese, smoked fish, salad and cereals to a decent number of hot selections. You could also request something from the menu, and I had the warm kale, haloumi and avocado salad each morning we were there!
On our first morning we headed out on the number 76 bus to the island of Djurgården, home to the two museums we ended up visiting and a third and fourth we wanted to get to, but were too tired by the time we finished the first two!
The Vasa Museum houses the salvaged remains of the Vasa ship that sunk 1.3km into its maiden voyage in 1628. Today Vasa is the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. The design was not great for a war ship – too top heavy, and then they changed the design and added heavier canons on the top canon level, rather than having the heavier ones below deck. Spent over an hour there, but could’ve easily spent more. It is, understandably, the most visited museum in Scandinavia.
Went for a walk through the picturesque graveyard next to the museum and decided to skip the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), even though it was in a stunning old building and housed a huge exhibition of the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden since 1523. There were two other museums calling us and we only had a day to explore this island in the middle of the city. The Skansen is an open-air museum, and being big fans of those, this was high on our list. The Lonely Planet stated that it was the world’s first open-air museum, but as it was started in 1891 and the one in Oslo was 1881, the guidebook was clearly wrong (according to New World Encyclopaedia). We intended to visit this after our time in the ABBA Museum, but that took much longer than we thought it would, and so another tourist goal had to be scrapped.
Lonely Planet was a little high brow about this museum and didn’t rate it that highly, but we both loved it. Were in the there for nearly 3 hours and watched every video and interview. I thought I knew a lot about this group, given my obsession throughout childhood and teen years, but I learnt so much more in my time there. Their company, Polar Studios, commissioned the first ever 40-channel analogue audio mixer – not only were they great songwriters, but revolutionary thinkers.
Realising that a friend’s unwritten rule of never doing more than two ‘attractions’ in a day was probably a solid bit of advice, we abandoned our ambitious plans of more museums. Instead we caught the #7 tram back to the north part of Stockholm and walked back to the hotel. This walk began with a stroll through Kungstradgården Park, where we watched the ice skating and Christmas lights, then crossed Norrbro Bridge to the old town, and walked the picturesque pedestrian street of Västerlånggatan until we reached the next bridge to take us across to the south part of Stockholm, where we were staying. By then it had started to get cool, and we had had enough of both the cool and the walking, so we grabbed some chips to have with our prosecco waiting for us in the fridge and headed ‘home’.
Tired from all the walking of the previous day, we kept things pretty low key. As much as we would’ve liked to head back to Djurgården Island to explore the other two museums on our list, we decided to spend time in the Old Town instead.
The Royal Palace was calling, and we caught a bus there, dropped our bags in a locker and headed in. We opted not to go with a guide, and instead just wandered and read the plaques and gawped at the grandeur. The Royal Apartments were like most palaces of this time (mid 1700s, Baroque); lavishly decorated, oozing wealth and opulence. The throne room was flanked with tapestries and the glass cabinets crammed with delicate porcelain. If we had taken a guided tour, we may have learnt more!
The Treasury was filled with crown jewels and various precious objects important to the history of the monarchy, but photography was not allowed. When it started to get busy, we didn’t tarry, and headed back out to the cobbled plaza.
During our research we had flagged a vegetarian restaurant in the Old Town called Hermitage that we fancied trying. It was quite close to the palace, and would’ve made a nice spot for lunch, but it was closed for renovation (of course, it IS the off season). Instead we escaped the -1 degree afternoon that had an apparent of -4 and caught the metro back to our stop. Lunch ended up being a healthy option from Organico around the corner from the hotel: mixed bean stew with quinoa with salad and avocado – relatively cheap and certainly cheerful!
Our evening was spent wandering through our local area, gazing at lovely architecture and smiling at strangers. An Indian takeaway of vegetable vindaloo sorted us for dinner and went beautifully with the wine purchased at the government run grog shop – the Systembolaget.
Stockholm was a delight, and we wished we had had more days to explore her beauty and her history. We will simply have to return in summer and continue our love affair (and we would definitely stay at The Rival Hotel again!).
On to our final stop, Copenhagen…
Accommodation: The Rival Hotel