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  • Writer's pictureKaren Bartlett

Happy Birthdays, Stockholm

Sunset with beautiful buildings in the capital of Sweden, LeManna | Shutterstock


If the Swedish birthday candle industry is on its toes, 2023 will be a flaming hot year indeed. The capital city of Stockholm marks enough anniversaries and royal Jubilees this year to ensure a pleasant early retirement for the whole candle industry.

The Royal Opera celebrates 250 years. City Hall, famous for the Nobel Prize banquet each December and some of the world’s most spectacular ceremonial halls, turns 100. The Nordic Museum, Nordiska museet, turns 150. Köpmannagatan, the oldest named street, just turned 700. And last (but most important to some), ABBA The Museum, the pride and joy of Swedes and disco-era music fans worldwide, is ten years old. Plus, it’s His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav’s Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years on the throne, and the 500th anniversary of Swedish sovereignty. It’s a glorious time to visit Stockholm.

So, let’s start with your shoes. You’ll need the most excellent, cushiest walking shoes you can afford, because walking and gawking (and often standing and gawking), is a thing in this artful, intellectual, powerful, and stunningly beautiful city that dates to Medieval and Viking times. The official City of Stockholm is an archipelago of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. Even if you grab a day ticket for one of the hop-on/hop-off bus or boat tours (highly recommended to get your bearings), the lure of the waterfront promenades, city parks and medieval buildings cry out for a stroll. Here are some suggestions for a spring/summer visit.

Gamla Stan: Another Century, Another Birthday

The heart of the city is Gamla Stan (Old Town). Merchant Street, at a mere 700, is young by Stockholm standards. Enhanced by the tiny kafés, boutiques and bakeries tucked here and there into clay-tinged walls, the 13th century still permeates the narrow, winding cobblestone streets and alleysof the 18th century Royal Palace and 19th century Parliament House. A must-see is the massive, violent and a bit bawdy wooden sculpture of St. George and the Dragon inside the circa 1279 Great Cathedral, Storkyrkan. A bronze replica stands outside on Merchant Street.

Bring Your Opera Glasses

The majestic Royal Opera House overlooking Gustav Adolf's Square was built in 1773. Its choir is one of the world's oldest professional ensembles. To celebrate its 250 years, the year-long celebrations include several free indoor and outdoor performances.

A Midsummer Day Wedding, Perhaps?

City Hall’s inauguration in 1923 took place on a Saturday when weddings are typically performed there. But it also happened to fall on Midsummer Eve, which was oh, so romantic. Because this year’s Midsummer Day, June 24, falls on Saturday, it may be the biggest wedding day in City Hall history. The price tag for your private five-minute civil ceremony in the palatial Blue Hall where the Nobel banquets are held? $95! Imagine the photo ops!

If you’re not in a marrying mood on Midsummer Day you may want to head over to Skansen (the world’s largest outdoor living history museum) to wear your flower crown and perhaps dance around the maypole.

For Viking Aficionados

The fearsome-looking warship Vasa–the most powerfully armed warship in the world when she set sail in 1628—came to an untimely end in a strong wind just minutes into her maiden voyage. Her humiliation was witnessed by thousands of locals and foreign dignitaries. Luckily for the millions of Vikingophiles around the world, her hull was salvaged largely intact, and she now holds court in the Vasa Museum, just a stroll from the Nordic Museum, with artifacts, interactive exhibits and a fascinating 11-minute ride back in time.

Expect to see evidence of the Viking culture everywhere: in garden sculptures, historic buildings, art and pottery. To go deeper, book one of the three-hour to full-day Viking cruises out of Stockholm Harbor.

Stand With Greta

If you’re in Stockholm on any Friday starting around 9 a.m., pop by Parliament House and see where in 2018 a 15-year-old local student named Greta Thunberg stood as a lone protestor, launching School Strike for Climate, now the largest ongoing climate strike in history. Greta, now 20, was named TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She plans to strike every Friday until Sweden fulfills its Paris Agreement obligations.

Stand With the Royal Guard

Well, behind the ropes, of course. Wherever I travel in the world, if there’s a royal palace, there’s likely a guard ceremony. If it’s public, I try not to miss it. Stockholm’s daily 40-minute ceremony, accompanied in warm seasons by the Swedish Armed Forces military marching band, doesn’t disappoint. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the king, with more than 600 rooms, the royal armory, and five museums displaying royal costumes, coronation carriages, and artifacts, including Queen Kristina’s silver throne.

And Finally: Walk in Dance Out!

No need to bring your disco boots or rhinestone-jeweled silver jumpsuit to ABBA: The Museum. The state-of-the-art interactive museum honoring Sweden’s most famous music artists of all time has it all set up for you to (virtually) jump on the giant hologram stage, along with (virtual) Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha in the outrageously fabulous ABBA costume of your choice, and then download your performance to wow your friends back home. Before you go, be sure to practice your Dancing Queen moves and watch the movie Mamma Mia, featuring ABBA’s best songs.


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