I had never been to Scandinavia before, so when my good friend Rima invited a group of girls to celebrate her birthday in Stockholm, Sweden this March, I jumped at the chance. I did not go with many expectations, except that it would be cold. And it was cold, as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit the days we were there. But I also found the Swedes to be unexpectedly warm, the food delicious, and the city of Stockholm beautiful.
Traveling with six women may sound like the recipe for a travel nightmare, but luckily for us, Rima has excellent taste in friends and we all had a great time. We stayed in a trendy hostel, City Backpackers. To call it a hostel really doesn’t do justice, as it was nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in. We had our own little apartment, kitted out with 6 bunks, clean linen, and plenty of Ikea furnishings. Most excitingly, we had our very own sauna! I had a good feeling about Sweden as soon as I saw that.
We were only a short walk from the prettiest part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan (Old Town). It is home to the Royal Palace, and the iconic colored street houses and pretty tucked away little alleys. We saw a changing of the guard outside of the palace, as well as people skiing down the snow-packed palace steps. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.
On our second day we took a boat ride around the city. The city of Stockholm sits on 14 islands, but is part of an archipelago of around 24,000 islands and islets. Our goofy guide was tough to listen to with a straight face, but when we ventured up into the cold of the deck we got some pretty views. The islands are a recreation spot for the residents of Stockholm, but in the winter they are deserted. They had an eery beauty to them, with pretty summer homes sitting silent and covered in snow, alone out on the water.
Because the weather was so bitingly frigid, we spent most of the rest of our time doing 3 things: visiting museums, sitting in cafes, and walking between museums and cafes. Stockholm has some amazing museums. We first visited the Nobel Museum. It is a small space, but is very well done, covering the history of the prizes and the achievements of previous recipients.
A little further of a walk sits an island that holds a bunch of other museums. We visited the Vasa Museum, a highlight of the trip. The whole museum is built to hold a massive warship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628, before it had even left the Stockholm harbor. When the ship was raised up in the 1960s, it was found to be incredibly well-preserved and a treasure chest of historical information.
There was another museum on the island that I was very excited to explore. Skansen was founded in 1891 as the world’s first open air museum, and it holds over 100 traditional Swedish homes and villages, with re-enactors to show visitors what Sweden once looked like. It is also a zoo, with a variety of Nordic animals. On our last day we all trudged out to the museum, payed our entrance fees, and walked through the park, only to discover that the whole place was deserted. We saw the old houses from the outside, and some animals, but mostly it was a Scandinavian ghost-town. We were dissapointed that they took our money without warning us that the park was essentially in hibernation, but at least we got to see some pretty scenes.
When we weren’t in museums, we were in cafes. And boy, does Stockholm know how to do cafes. We consumed so many delicious pastries, especially the famous cinnamon buns. Actually, we ate well the whole trip, trying elk and fish and, of course, delectable Swedish meatballs.
Stockholm is a very cool city, a perfect mix of history and cutting-edge modernity. I loved the romantic views of the islands and the cozy cafes, and I loved doing it with some awesome ladies. I would like to go back, but next time maybe I’ll wait until summer!