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I went on a quick jaunt to Europe in late April. With only two full days in Stockholm, I crammed in as much first-time tourist stuff as I could. And crammed I did. I walked so much I had to buy insoles for my sneakers.
Where to Stay
Scandic is the largest Nordic hotel chain and a leader of the industry in sustainably. The rooms' garbage bins have sorting for organics and recycling, and instead of disposable products in the bathroom, refillable bottles of FACE Stockholm products are offered instead (note: not a green beauty brand). Organic breakfast buffets with Fairtrade coffee are also included in the stay.
Stockholm is one of the most sustainable cities in Europe, being the first city to receive the European Green Capital award in 2010, so there are plenty of eco-friendly hotels to choose from. In fact, most of the hotels I looked into have some sort of green initiative or other. Another hotel that I almost booked was Miss Clara, a sleek converted girls' school, but Scandic Continental was more conveniently located.
Earlier that month, there had been a terrorist attack by Åhléns, Sweden's largest department store. By the time I arrived, the destruction and the shrines were gone, and it was business as usual. We've all been so accustomed to these unfortunate attacks happening around Europe, and it doesn't help matters to live and travel in fear. If the locals were still disturbed, they didn't seem to show it. The Swedish people I'd met were respectful and helpful, with an impersonal politeness and friendliness similar to Canadians.
Getting Around Stockholm
Spanning 14 islands, Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. The city is big and not always walkable, unless you're focusing on the city centre, which I mostly did on the first day. On the second day I bought a 24-hour travel card, which includes the ferry as well.
The pink cherry blossoms in peak bloom in Kungsträdgården right in the center of the city were a pleasant surprise.
I walked down to Gamla Stan, meaning "the old town" in Swedish. The area consists of a big island and a few surrounding islets. A picturesque, storybook district of historic heritage, this is the medieval city center you see on postcards and covers of travel guides. Bustling main streets have all kinds of shops, cafes and restaurants, but I preferred getting lost in the narrow cobblestoned alleys.
How to Dress for Stockholm in the Spring
Friends had warmed me to dress warmly, and I'm glad I listened and brought my winter layers. In late April, the weather in Stockholm was still tempestuous. Sun, extreme wind, rain, hail—I got it all in 48 hours. In fact, on the first night, I got completely drenched by a sudden rainstorm. And no, I did not pack an umbrella. On the second day, there were "only" a few scattered showers—and a teensy bit of hail. And I thought we had it bad in Canada.
Sustainable Shopping in Stockholm
I walked down to Södermalm, the island south of Gamla Stan. Södermalm is Stockholm's hipster hangout, particularly SoFo (South of Folkungagatan). You know you're there when you see women in hip, cropped fur coats instead of classy belted wool coats.
If you're out to shop for ethical fashion, chances are, the retail stores here will have something for you even if all the items they stock are not 100% ethical. I walked down Götgatan, a major shopping street, and saw quite a few signs in shop windows announcing the use of organic cotton, Fairtrade labour, and/or sustainable efforts. I get the sense that here, sustainable fashion is becoming cool, brands are making changes, people are really starting to pay attention to what they are buying.
Examples: a sign inside the Carlings store window informed me that their Karve line of organic jeans was now under the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. The super trendy Tshirt Store (soon to be renamed Dedicated Brand) boasts supporting the planet with their use of 100% organic and Fairtrade cotton. Weekday, owned by H&M with stores only in Europe, may be a fast fashion brand, but I was surprised to learn that their denim line is now sustainable. These are all young and hip fashion labels targeted at millennials.
Other sustainable stores to check out: Swedish Hasbeens, '70s-style wooden clogs made by local artisans using traditional methods; Nudie Jeans, organic cotton denim brand that repairs jeans in-house for free; and Filippa K, the renown Scandinavian label that uses sustainable materials.
If you simply walk around Södermalm, you'll find small shops and labels from local designers, or vintage clothes and goods.
Though I'd tried on some organic jeans, I didn't end up buying them. Shopping ethically, for me, is mainly about being choosy and finding the perfect piece to wear all the time. What I did buy was a pair of Swedish Stockings from Åhléns. They use recycled materials and sustainable production methods in a zero-waste factory. Swedish Stockings have stockists all over the world; now I know I can find them in Toronto too.
Swedish Design & Culture
Pretty much everything I knew about Swedish culture up until this trip was from working part-time at IKEA during my university years. But somehow I never learned that "fika" is a popular Swedish ritual, which was basically a coffee break accompanied by a small desert.
I had planned to fika the heck out of this trip, but I had too much to see to lounge around and write in my travel journal for too long. Fabrique and Barista are two cafes I tried. I recommend your coffee with a cardamon bun.
Is IKEA really an accurate representation of Swedish culture? For some reason, I had assumed it wouldn't be. During my IKEA years, I often ate in the cafeteria and used my employee's discount to buy frozen meatballs, Lingonberry sauce, Swedish chocolate, and the like. In Stockholm, I realized that, yes, the food IKEA sold was basically what was popular in the country. They really do like cinnamon buns with their coffee, and meatballs, herring, and open-faced sandwiches. I'm sure Stockholm has some great, innovative cuisine that I haven't yet tried, but after the first day, I really wanted to not eat Herring Smørrebrød anymore. I will say that I could eat cinnamon buns all day. Their pastries are fantastic and blow the IKEA version out of the waters.
Another thing I found bizarre was going into stores and realizing that I'm not in IKEA, even though my surroundings seem to be set up like one. See the photo below of a random garden store I went into (from the number of garden stores I encountered, I'll make the deduction that locals really like their gardens). Even the font looks like the one IKEA uses.
So I've concluded that IKEA is really a mass-produced/watered-down version of mainstream Swedish culture, albeit what you'd find in Stockholm is usually of higher quality. I admire the simplicity of Swedish design. They love their white tiles. They're everywhere.
Stockholm Museums and Attractions
I visited Fotografiska, a centre for contemporary photography. As a photography lover, this is a museum I'd visit again and again. The exhibits they offered when I was there had it all: fashion photography by Patrick Marchelier, photojournalism by Weegee, fine art photography by Cooper & Gorfer, and large-scale scientific medical photos of sperm, fetus, etc. by Lennart Nilsson. Their upstairs cafe also had a killer view of Gamla Stan.
The next morning, I stumbled into the 16th century Klara Church near my hotel. The sunlight was falling through the windows at the right time, and I'm pleased with this shot.
I took the bus to The Vasa Museum. I'd thought about skipping it because the idea of looking at a boat didn't sound enticing to me. But I had heard good things, and it is the most visited museum in Scandinavia, so I went to see what the hype was about.
And I'm so glad I did because this place is awesome. The boat is not just a boat; it's a really big ass boat. In 1628, the royal warship Vasa capsized in Stockholm's harbour. "Only" 30 people died out of hundreds on board. The museum opened in 1990, after a 17-year conservation effort. The details and sculptures on the ship's facade are incredible. I took the English tour and learned some interesting facts, until I got restless and wandered off on my own.
Visiting The Royal Palace of Sweden
The Vasa Museum is on the island of Djurgården, so I took the ferry after to Gamla Stan to visit The Royal Palace of Sweden.
Thank you to The Royal Palace of Sweden for the press pass.
The ferry ride gives you some sweet views: Gamla Stan, Gröna Lund (an amusement park on Djurgården Island), Kastellholmen (a small island with a small castle), among others.
The Royal Palace of Sweden is the official residence of His Majesty the King. Completed in 1754, it's in the style of Italian Baroque. While the royal family live in Drottningholm Palace, which is on the outskirts of Stockholm, The Royal Palace is for official presentations and where The King exercises his official duties. The Palace has over 600 rooms, and the general public gets access to certain parts.
If you're into history, royalty, classic architecture, and pretty chandeliers, it's worth a visit.
My trip to Stockholm was quick but compact. I'd hit all the big tourist spots—at least the things I'd really wanted to do—and next time, I could chill and fika the heck out of the city. The colourful architecture was stunning, and I'm happy I got to see it in person.