Seeing Stockholm

| April 26, 2005

If you go on a Baltic Sea cruise, there's a good chance your voyage will end or begin in Stockholm, Sweden. If so, be sure to schedule some extra time there, because Stockholm is a beautiful city you do not want to miss.


Some cruise lines offer a hotel stay in Stockholm as part of the cruise package. Oceania Cruises docks in Stockholm the day before disembarkation, affording you 24 hours to experience the city before you head for the airport. If your cruise schedule does not include such accommodations, get a hotel and make your own plans. Stay an extra day or two if you can.

Stockholm, which spans 20-plus islands and is known as the city of bridges, is one of the most visually appealing cities you will ever find. It has the world's highest concentration of museums, including the unforgettable Vasa Museum and the Nobel Museum, so you can spend an entire day sight-seeing on foot.

Those less culturally inclined can shop for unique and unusual items such as Swedish crystal and art glass from Orrefors - Kosta Boda. Or you can spend the day people-watching in the medieval Gamla Stan (Old Town), with narrow cobblestone streets full of charming cafes and beautiful public buildings, until the summer sun sets around 11 p.m.

Approach to the City If you have the opportunity to sail in to Stockholm on your cruise,
it is well worth getting a good seat for watching the archipelago go by during the few hours it takes to reach the city after you leave the Baltic Sea. The landscape is reminiscent of the inside passage to Alaska, but with many more cabins and small towns dotting this historic waterway. I have sailed into the city three times, and each time I have a special memory of feeding the overly-friendly seagulls who flock upon every large vessel they see, hoping for a tasty tidbit. They will grab food right from your fingers, or if you leave it on the balcony they will come and steal it.

Historical Significance If you pay attention during your Baltic cruise tours,
you will soon learn that the history of Sweden includes the entire region from Latvia to Leningrad. King Gustav Vasa established the Swedish nation-state in the early 16th century, and 100 years later the empire also included Finland, Estonia, Latvia and parts of northern Germany (now Poland and Russia). The Baltic Sea was once a Swedish sea, entirely surrounded by its dominion.

The Great Nordic War of 1700-1721 brought an end to Swedish supremacy and led to the founding of St. Petersburg. A parliamentary constitution, adopted in 1809, began a national debate on whether to abolish the monarchy altogether. The monarchy still exists, but the debate continues - and this only adds to the charm.

Sightseeing in Stockholm

Today, the Swedish royal family of Carl XVI Gustaf prefers to keep a low profile lest the citizens get bored. An interesting way to see this principle in action is to tour the two grandest buildings in downtown Stockholm -- the city hall known as "Stadshuset" and the Royal Palace "Kungliga Slottet" a few blocks away. It is hard to say which is more impressive.

City Hall The Stadshuset, designed by architect Ragnar Ostberg, is an imposing homage to Renaissance style, but built entirely of red brick. It features long, ornamented hallways and palatial banquet rooms, including the "Blue Hall" where the Nobel Prize ball is held every year. This "Blue Hall" was slated to be plastered and painted royal blue in the blueprint, but when Ostberg saw the raw beauty of the bricks he left them exposed, and restored the few that had been painted. "The name stuck, but the plaster didn't," the Swedish say.   Web Site:

City Hall Sites
Nobel Prize Blue Hall Golden Hall Mosaic Moving Clock Prince's Gallery View

The Royal Palace is built on the remains of a previous palace, Tre Kronor, destroyed by fire in 1697. The new palace, completed in 1754 and first occupied by King Adolf Fredrik, is still used by the current king as his official workplace. It is the only working royal palace in Europe that is open to the public year round. The King and his family reside in another palace (Drottningholm) on the nearby island Lovän.

Vasa Museum
This gets my vote for one of the most interesting museums in the world. The wooden warship Vasa, built with the most advanced technology available in 1628, was the most expensive vessel ever built in its day. It was meant to set sail for the northern coast of Poland where the King Gustav II Adolph (who had ordered the ship and its specifications) and his troops waited to be rescued.

At nearly the last minute, the king had ordered an extra cannon deck to be added, but its weight only created instability. Thousands of local citizens turned out to celebrate the launch of this spectacular vessel, but what they actually witnessed was a disaster. After two mild gusts of wind, the Vasa listed slowly to port -- just enough for the extra cannon ports to fill with water; then it quickly capsized and sank from sight less than one nautical mile from the shipyard.

There it remained, preserved in the cold and relatively salt-free water of Stockholm harbor, until 1961 when it was raised and restored. The museum houses the entire vessel, and offers viewers the opportunity to walk around the outside of the ship at several different levels. This is Stockholm's most popular museum and is a "must-see" if you have any time in this city.


Official web site:

Nobel Museum Yes, Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, but his last will and testament provided for the establishment of the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Museum's permanent exhibits feature film and computer-aided displays to recognize the achievements of many prize winners' works and ideas. Special exhibits change every few months.

Official Web site:

Shopping and Other Fun Things to Do One can spend a day just walking through Old Town, past the Royal Palace to see the changing of the guard, to the City Hall waterfront with its abundant artists and street musicians. Old town is great for shopping, as is as Drottninggatan, the shopping street just across the bridge from the city hall.

Old Town (Gamla Stan) Sites
Narrow Street Shopping Street Sidewalk Cafe Viking Runes

For more serious shopping, try the city's largest department store: Nordiska Kompaniet (known locally as "NK"). Here you can find Kosta Boda and other local goods at the price the locals pay. Another option, if you want to get a feel for what the locals enjoy on a warm summer day, is a visit to the city's Tivoli Gardens or the nearby zoo. Not as famous or lavish as the one in Copenhagen, it boasts a fine roller coaster.

Okay, it isn't exactly culturally significant, but it is definitely a good time. The Absolut Icebar in the Nordic Light Hotel is exactly what the name implies, a bar featuring nothing but drinks made with Absolut vodka in a barroom where literally everything is made of ice. And we mean everything -- from the bar itself to the walls and even the drinking glasses. Is it cold in there? You bet! But they give you a parka with a hood and gloves before you walk through the airlock to get inside.

IceBar Web Site:

Summing Up Stockholm Be sure to visit: for all kinds of information before your visit, including recommendations for "If you only have one day." Port information, public transportation, daily weather and other information is available there. It has everything you need to know about Stockholm, including special sections for ship's crewmembers. Port information is also included on the Web site, which is more important than ever since the port facilities near the Old Town cannot handle the flow of cruise ships these days.

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