Stockholm: On Not Quite Falling in Love

I’ve already written a bit about Stockholm, discussing my affinity for Gamla Stan and my amazing culinary experience with Food Tours Stockholm. One thing I haven’t covered, however, is this: on the whole, I didn’t love Stockholm as much as I expected I would.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I had a tough time connecting with the city during my weekend there. Stockholm was lovely, yes, but somehow I had expected to enjoy it more. I found myself depressed by how expensive everything was, a problem I didn’t expect to have considering I was living in Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive cities, for the semester. Yet Stockholm seemed way more expensive than Geneva, and I was stressed about the cost of everything, constantly doing mental krona to dollar conversions in my head and inevitably winding up disheartened by my calculations. Beyond the obvious price tag shock, though, there was something else bothering me.

I visited in early April, and over the course of the weekend, I began to suspect that Stockholm might simply be more enjoyable in the summertime. It wasn’t so much that the weather was bad (though it was chilly), but rather that the city still seemed like it was in hibernation mode. The streets were quiet, and a lot of the attractions I wanted to visit had reduced “winter” hours, making it difficult to see everything within the shortened days. Overall, the city seemed to only just be emerging from the winter doldrums, and it lacked the vibrancy I had hoped for.

Typical of this problem was Skansen, Stockholm’s open-air museum. Skansen is the sort of place that seems like it would be so much fun in the summer: it houses a zoo and a replica 19th-century village, complete with silversmiths, bakers, tanners, and glass-blowers. However, as I walked through the “village,” many of the exhibits were closed, as were all the restaurants inside the park. In the summer, I imagine that Skansen would have a lively, carnival-like atmosphere. In April, however, it was mostly just…quiet.

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One thing that did not disappointment me about Skansen was the glass-blower’s workshop. Seeing the glass-blowers at work was pretty cool, but my favorite part was ogling the finished products. I wound up taking a few small vases home with me, despite the fact that – as with everything in Stockholm – they were pretty damn expensive. Still, some things are worth a splurge:

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Not far from Skansen, I found Stockholm’s most kitschy attraction: the ABBA Museum. I have never considered myself a fan of ABBA, nor have I felt any burning desire to learn more about their musical trajectory. For whatever reason, however, I felt compelled to make a visit to the museum. Where else in the world, I reasoned, would I ever find a museum devoted entirely to ABBA? When there is a place that sounds this absurd, wouldn’t it be wrong not to visit?

Just as I expected, the ABBA Museum was a colorful, trippy overload. It was jam-packed with information on the band’s history, displays containing their colorful (and tacky) costumes, and more than a few spots for enthusiastic Swedes to stop and karaoke. Naturally, ABBA music blasted through the museum’s stereos, and by the end of the afternoon, I could not get Waterloo out of my head.

(Regarding the above photo – haven’t we all felt like the girl on the right at some point in our lives?)

The ABBA Museum was not the only quirky museum I visited while in Stockholm. There was also a trip to Fotografiska, the Swedish Museum of Photography. Fotografiska was filled with several interesting photography exhibits and more than a few modern art installations that elicited a firm “huh?!?” from me. I can’t say it will go down as one of my favorite museums, but it was an interesting change of pace from the more traditional art museums I typically frequent.

Fotografiska was located in Södermalm, a neighborhood I often heard described as the “hipster Brooklyn” of Stockholm. This classification seemed accurate to me but, in full disclosure, I barely scratched the surface of Södermalm during my time in the city (though, if I return to Stockholm, it’s the area I would want to explore most). The main reason I visited Södermalm this time around was sugar-related: I went in search of Pärlans Konfektyr, maker of some seriously gourmet caramels.

Pärlans Konfektyr is a tiny but memorable little shop. From the store’s interior, a large glass window allows you to peek into the workroom and watch the caramel makers in action. As for the caramels themselves, Pärlans has a large selection of unique flavors: think salt licorice, coconut & lime, and peppermint, to name only a few. My favorite of all, however, were the more traditional vanilla and sea salt caramels – delicious, sweet, chewy caramel perfection.

Outside of sweet treats, I had a harder time tracking down affordable yet delicious food to eat in Stockholm. I confess to having my share of super cheap falafel dinners, but one place where I did find a good, reasonably priced meal was Bakfickan, a tiny restaurant tucked behind the Opera House. Not only did I enjoy my food, but I also loved the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, which felt surprisingly open and fresh despite how small the space was.

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After eating at Bakfickan, I headed to the waterfront, an easy trip given that the restaurant is no more than a minute’s walk from the harbor. Walking along the water, whatever the time of day, quickly became one of my favorite Stockholm activities. No matter how I felt about other aspects of the city, I found it impossible to deny that Stockholm was extremely beautiful, and never more so than when its buildings were silhouetted against the sparkling waters of the harbor.

Ultimately, I left Stockholm with mixed emotions. There were many things I adored about the city, from waterfront sunsets to cobblestone streets to Swedish meatballs, but there were also more than a few things that simply didn’t “click” with me. Nevertheless, I’m keeping an open mind about Stockholm. It might not have wowed me this time around, but I have a feeling that, with a subsequent summertime visit, I might just become a fan.

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7 thoughts on “Stockholm: On Not Quite Falling in Love

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