Sweden, more than Ikea and Meatballs

Sweden, more than Ikea and Meatballs

posted in: Articles, Europe, Sweden | 0

sweden-map-jpegOur ferry ride from Turku was at 8:40 AM and we had trouble getting a bus in the morning. We ended up walking around for about 30 minutes and I was getting nervous about catching the ferry but we made it on time. This was an 11-hour ferry ride and we got a cabin that had 2 bunk beds (4 total) with an ensuite bathroom and shower. It actually wasn’t bad for two people. We were still pretty tired so we napped, watched TV, and ate our groceries. I went up the deck for a little bit and it was really nice out and there were a lot of little islands all around. We spent most of the time on the ferry, though, relaxing in the cabin. It was a pretty nice way to travel and was pretty cheap, we paid [25€ total for the trip].

Stockholm City Hall
Stockholm City Hall

When we got to Stockholm it was around 7 PM. It was a nice clear day and as we walked from the ferry to the metro station we got a beautiful view of the Old Town (Gamla Stan) and downtown Stockholm. We took a train and a bus to our Airbnb place which was about 45 minutes from the Central Train Station. It was a long day so we just went to bed.

Stockholm calls itself the “Capital of Scandinavia” and is famous for its Viking history, its Old Town, and its archipelago. Sweden as a whole is also well known for Ikea, its bikini team, and Swedish Meatballs. On our first day in Stockholm we went downtown and walked around City Hall. City Hall is a beautiful building along the water on the eastern tip of Kungsholmen Island, next to Riddarfjärden's northern shore and facing the islands of Riddarholmen and Södermalm. From the garden in front of City Hall you get a great view of Gamla Stan and the rest of Stockholm. You can only visit the interior of City Hall as part of a guided tour which costs 100 SEK so we decided to just explore the beautiful exterior. After we walked around and took pictures, we went to get lunch in Gamla Stan. Unfortunately, the place we had in mind wasn’t open yet so we went nearby to Barrels, Burgers, and Beer which served craft organic burgers and beer. The burgers were actually pretty good but, like all things in Stockholm, they were a bit expensive.

Statue of Axel Evert Taube
Statue of Axel Evert Taube

Stockholm has a couple of companies that do free walking tours. The main ones are the Old Town tour and the Stockholm City Tour. We decided to do the Old Town Tour at 1 PM which took us all around Gamla Stan. The tour guide lady was pretty nice and had some interesting tidbits about the different cathedrals, buildings, and statues in the area. We actually saw a lot of the buildings ourselves just walking around before the tour, but it was nice to go back and get some history about what we saw. The island is pretty small so the sites were pretty close to one another but the streets can get pretty narrow and crowded in some spots. The tour guide noted that the names of the rivers, buildings, and the city itself weren’t very creative. For example, Stockholm comes from the words “stock” meaning log, and “holm” meaning islet. When Stockholm was first being constructed the different islands of Stockholm were connected using logs driven into the strait passing north of Gamla Stan. The city also used to use logs to prevent ships from invading.  After the tour, we had some time to kill and were a bit tired so we found a park to sit in and take a nap. We headed to dinner at a gastropub in Gamla Stan but the food wasn’t all that good. Diem had a fish and seafood soup and I had a salted salmon dish with potatoes. After dinner we grabbed some ice cream and headed back to the apartment.

Sights of Stockholm. Left: Old Town alley; Top Right: view of City Hall; Bottom Left: view of Old Town from Skinnarviksberget
Sights of Stockholm. Left: Old Town alley; Top Right: view of City Hall; Bottom Left: view of Old Town from Skinnarviksberget

Changing of the Guard and Swedish Meatballs
Changing of the Guard and Swedish Meatballs

Our second day we decided to do the free Stockholm City Tour which started at 10 AM and would focus on the more recent history and more modern buildings of Stockholm. Our tour guide was this Australian guy, Ryan who moved to Stockholm after he had a couple of kids with a Swedish girl. We started the tour in the main shopping area of Stockholm. I noticed there were a lot of H&M stores and the tour guide let us know that H&M is a Swedish Company and there were 7 separate H&M stores within eyesight. He also was a big IKEA fan so he told us some stories about his experiences putting together IKEA furniture. He also went over the history of Gretta Garbo, the current Swedish royal family, the bank robbery that started the term “Stockholm Syndrome,” the greatest conquering king, King Gustav III, and the worst Swedish king, King Gustaf IV Adolf, who shrunk the size of Sweden to smaller than its current size. The tour ended right by the Royal Palace and the changing of the guard ceremony which starts every day at 12:15 PM and 1:15 PM on Sundays. We watched the changing of the guard but we didn’t get close to the actual changing of the guards that happened on the other side of the Palace. That side of the Palace got too crowded for us to see but we caught the guards ride by in formation on their horses. Next we went to lunch at Husman’s Deli at Stulhall Market. This place was known for its Swedish meatballs and they were really good. After lunch we made our way to the Djurgården part of Stockholm which has the Nordic Museum, Vasamuseum, the aquarium, a large park and the Skansen open-air Swedish history museum. We rested in the park but it started raining so we made our way back to shelter. Diem wanted to find a jacket at H&M and I wanted to get a haircut so we went to the shopping district again. Neither of us found what we wanted and then made our way to dinner. We had dinner at the Hairy Pig Deli with our friend Kevin’s cousin Nicole who lives in Stockholm. Dinner was really good, lots of meat and cheese. It was good to talk to someone else and learn about her time in Stockholm and her travels.

The next day, we had to catch a 6:40 AM train to Goteborg then another train to Stromstad. It was a little rough getting up so early in the morning but we made it on time. The train to Goteborg got delayed on the tracks and we sat in the middle of nowhere for about an hour. There were announcements but they were all in Swedish so I didn’t know what was going on. Luckily we still had plenty of time to catch the train to Stromstad. When we got on the train in Goteborg to Stromstad, the attendant let us know that the train would not be going all the way to Stromstad because it was too windy and there were some branches on the track. We got off the train about half-way there and then got on a bus to take us the rest of the way. We got into Stromstad about an hour late but our Airbnb host was nice enough to pick us up from the bus station and take us to her place. We showered up and called it a night.

Top: Koster Beach; Bottom: Highest Point in Koster
Top: Koster Beach; Bottom: Highest Point in Koster

While we were in Ireland, a friend of Diem’s, Manuel, wrote her and told her that he was in Sweden and to stop by if we were in the area. Since we were heading that way, we made plans to meet up with him. As it turns out, he was staying with his girlfriend at one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sweden, the Koster Islands. The Koster Islands are made up of two main islands, the North and South, off the west coast of Sweden. Koster gets a little more sun than the mainland and has a number of small beaches and hiking trails. Only about 300 residents live on the two main islands and it just so happened that we were hanging with some long-term residents. The ferry from Stromstad to Koster is 130 SEK  roundtrip and takes about 45 minutes each way. When we left Stromstad it was cold, windy, and rainy. When we got to Koster, it was still cold and windy but at least it wasn’t raining. We met Diem’s friend and he took us on a little walking tour of the south island of Koster. Manuel is a tour guide in Iquitos Peru, taking groups out in the Amazon, so he was the perfect guide to take us around. He told us about the different beaches, the oldest house on the island, and gave us his impressions of Sweden and Koster. He told us that Swedish people were really hard working, similar to what we heard of Finnish people. He also said that they are not very social but once they accept you they would be very loyal and helpful, which was also echoed by our tour guides in Sweden and which is often said of Swedish and Norwegians. We met up with his girlfriend, Miriam, and had lunch at a nice vegetarian restaurant that had its own garden and really great produce. We then hiked to the highest point on the island which gave us a great panoramic view around Koster. By then, the sun had come out and the skies cleared so we had a beautiful view. After, we went to meet Miriam’s family for dinner. We ate at a seafood restaurant and had a seafood platter of crab, shrimp, mussels and a cheese pie. The food was good and the company was better. Even though it was cold out Miriam’s family told us that Swedish people love the sun so as long as it is sunny people will sit outside bundled in blankets just letting the sun hit their face. We grabbed some blankets and stayed outside until sunset then went to a nearby bar to have some more drinks. It was nice to speak to new people and learn about Swedish life, East vs. West Coast of Sweden, and have a couple of drinks. It was an expensive night but it was still good to socialize with some locals.

Cheers to Koster!
Cheers to Koster!

I really liked Stockholm but if we weren’t meeting Diem’s friend, I don’t think we would have made it to Koster. It was a nice enough island, but it was really small and it didn’t seem like there was much to do. The weather also wasn’t very good once we left Stockholm so that affected things too. Sweden is definitely worth seeing, especially Stockholm. The food is really good, the city is beautiful and accessible, and the surrounding islands are stunning. It is also expensive and may be difficult to really enjoy on a traveler’s budget. Still, it was a great stop in Scandinavia before we made our way to Norway.

See the full gallery of our time in Sweden here: Sweet Sweden

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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