Thursday, Jul. 09, 2009


The Swedish Vikings who ventured east for samarkand were such splendid physical specimens that the 10th century Arab voyager Ibn Fadlan felt moved to write, "I have never before seen such perfect bodies; they were tall like palm trees, blonde, with a few of them red." When the Swedes went home and hung up their helmets, they set about building a capital city every bit as stunning. Stockholm is a cluster of jewel-like islands, and its long, light-filled days make summer the ideal time for your raid. Here's where to find the choicest spoils.

1. Nystekt Strömmingvagnen

First things first. Before taking on the city and its white-sneakered Swedes, get brunch on the go at this Stockholm institution. The herring wagon in Södermalm Square has been fortifying Stockholmers with freshly caught fish for more than 20 years. Skåning, a serve of herring on rye topped with Spanish onion, fresh dill and mustard, is a favorite.

2. Under the Bridges of Stockholm Tour

Next, get onto the water to acquaint yourself with the city's intricate island layout. This two-hour boat tour, tel: (46-8) 1200 4000, takes in 15 of Stockholm's bridges and the locks that connect Lake Mälaren with the Baltic Sea. Admire the saffron- and terracotta-toned architecture along the way. Boats depart on the hour from 10 a.m. in summer.

3. Rosendals

Parks and gardens make up a third of Stockholm, but among the standouts is Rosendals, tel: (46-8) 5458 1270, created on the grounds of King Oscar I's 19th century palace on the island of Djurgården. Ferries to the island are frequent, with Rosendals ("Rose Valley" in Swedish) a 15-minute stroll from the dock. Produce grown in the organic garden is served in the café, bakery and shop. With a copious serving of chicken salad and one of the café's seasonal cakes on your tray, take a table in the greenhouse or loll on the grass in the apple orchard.

4. Museum of Modern Art and Architecture (Moderna Museet)

Since the infamous 1993 burglary of $66 million worth of Picassos and Braques, using methods copied from a French heist film, the Moderna Museet, tel: (46-8) 5195 5200, has been reworked to a Rafael Moneo design. The lantern-lit galleries house the permanent collection of Swedish and international modern art, including significant works by Picasso, Matisse, Dardel and Hjertén. Last year, to mark 50 years since its opening, a monumental new work by Barbara Kruger was unveiled at the Museet's entry. The architecture museum, which is among the world's largest, occupies the adjacent former naval drill hall. On the way out, you can spy Kastellholmen's turrets above the treetops.

5. The Royal Coin Cabinet

Crossing the Skeppsholmen bridge from the Moderna Museet, trace the water's edge to the Old Town. Take refuge from the sun in the Royal Coin Cabinet, tel: (46-8) 5195 5304, a stately clay-colored building beside the palace. Cabinet is too modest a term for this hoard. Many ancient coins from Baghdad and surrounds found in Europe were unearthed in Sweden, and more ancient English coins turn up in Sweden than in England. Here they all are, along with the world's largest coin, a whopping copper plate of almost 20 kg struck in 1644, and the world's first banknote, issued in 1661 by Stockholms Banco.

6. Södermalm Nightlife

Settle into a long evening in bohemian Södermalm (Söder for short). For spectacular views and chic surrounds, head to the skyscraper-high Och Himlen Därtill restaurant and bar, tel: (46-8) 660 6068. If the restaurant is fully booked, try Imperiet, a restaurant run by the same team on a lower floor. For a livelier scene, check out Hornstull Strand Etablissement, tel: (46-8) 658 6350, a restaurant, concert venue and club. The mirror-mosaic frontage and mismatched alfresco furniture hides an interior that is immaculately styled. Under sherbet-colored illustrations, the benches are tiered, grandstand-style, so you can people-watch to your heart's content.

7. The Långholmen Pontoon

In the morning, clear out any lingering cobwebs with a dip. Stockholm's water is clean, and warmer than you'd think, thanks to the North Atlantic drift. The small island of Långholmen, once a prison island, is a popular swimming spot. Making your way past allotment gardens and historic shipyards, you'll find the sandy cove on the northern shore. The wooden pontoon has plenty of space to lie back and read the paper while you dry off.

8. Millesgården

At Millesgården, tel: (46-8) 446 7590, sculptures from antiquity and the Middle Ages to the last century stand sentinel above the Lilla Värtan strait, with the Baltic Sea beyond. The Swedish sculptor Carl Milles created the sculpture garden and grounds at his cliff-top home on the island of Lidingö, in Stockholm's north. The realization of Milles' fantasy for this five-acre (two hectare) tract was all-consuming. "We have no money for forks, nor for linen," Milles' wife Olga once said, "but Carl can always afford columns!" The result is magnificent.

9. Roberta Settels

Shops in the Old Town purvey many a pretty objet d'art, but for some truly covetable creations, seek out Roberta Settels, tel: (46-8) 206 778. She sells sumptuous sandals and shoes for men, women and children, all handmade in Sweden with vegetable-tanned leather. The designs are timeless and, as the years pass, Settels' sandals are not worn out but in, with the leather deepening in color and character.

10. Nyfiken Gul

This open-air restaurant, tel: (46-8) 642 5202, borrows its name from Vilgot Sjöman's 1967 film I Am Curious (Yellow), or Jag är nyfiken — gul in Swedish, and nestles on Södermalm's southern shore, exuding nostalgic charm. A meal here is like a Sunday barbecue in a friend's garden. Start with the fresh beetroot with parmesan butter before grilling your own fillet of marinated lamb. Now you can sit back and let the day fade.