Scandinavian cruise journal: last port — what to see in Stockholm

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This post is the ninth installment in a journal of my cruise through Scandinavia and the Baltic states in 2012 on Norwegian Cruise Line for an overview of the entire cruise and a map of the itinerary, go here. Throughout the cruise, I’m highlighting each port, with photos and tips on what to see and how. Today, the sixth port: Stockholm, Sweden.

Day 8: The cruise was almost over, but not without one more great port: Stockholm. There’s probably no city more emblematic of Scandinavia than Stockholm, and probably none more Stockholm mapworthy of a few days to look around. We had just one precious day, and a short one at that. But if we wanted to stretch it out, we could get up early and watch as the ship navigated its way through the archipelago of wooded islands that protects the city — a fine sight to accompany breakfast.

We arrived in Stockholm on a Sunday, never a great bargain on a cruise since a lot of things are closed until noon at least. Even worse, the all-aboard today was at 2:30 — talk about being shortchanged! But frankly, I was a little tired from trekking around five cities in the past seven days, so I was just as happy to take the bus downtown and spend a few hours wandering and enjoying the Swedish sunshine.

I didn’t get to all of Stockholm’s sights, and frankly, it would be impossible to see them all in one day. But here’s a list of what to see in Stockholm if you’re feeling energetic:

Take a water tour: Downtown Stockholm is situated on a number of small islands, separated by channels, and some of the sights are quite a walk from the centre. So a good way to get around the city and see the sights at the same time is to take one of the boat tours on offer around town. A couple of companies, including Stockholm Sightseeing, offer Hop-On-Hop-Off boat service as well as HoHo buses, so for a fixed price you can see it all.

See Gamla Stan: The old centre of Stockholm is called Gamla Stan, situated on a relatively small island crowded with medieval streets. It’s the first place you come to on the way from the docks, and a great place to wander and take photos  on a quiet Sunday morning.

A street scene in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

It’s also home to some key attractions, including the Nobel Museum (this is the city of the Nobel Prize, after all), Stockholm Cathedral (seen at top) and the Royal Palace, or Kungliga Slottet.

The palace itself, built in the early 1700s, isn’t what I’d call beautiful, but it’s certainly imposing, and good for pictures, with the guards standing at their stations. There’s a changing of the guards every day at 12:15 (1:15 on Sundays and holidays).  There are also tours of the royal apartments, the treasuries and King Gustav III’s Mediterranean treasures.

Entrance to the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden

See the Wasa: This is a sight you won’t see anywhere else, a completely restored 17th-century Swedish warship in its own museum. The reason it’s here is that it was overbuilt and sank immediately after being launched. It sat on the seabed until 1961, when the Swedes decided to raise it and turn an old embarrassment into a tourist attraction. This museum is a bit removed from Gamla Stan, so it’s a good thing to see on a boat tour.

See City Hall: Stockholm’s City Hall, or Stadshuset, on the island of Kungsholmen, is an impressive sight from across the water. It’s just as impressive when you get up close, with lots of medieval touches, including the grave of Birger Jarl, purported founder of the city, in his golden robes (he’s actually buried elsewhere). You can view the hall where the Nobel Prize banquet is held and walk the same stairs the Nobel Laureates tread, or you can climb the tall tower for a great view of the city.

Stockholm's city hall, seen across water with a minstrel statue in the foreground

Wander the downtown: The city centre itself is a nice mixture of old and new buildings. An almost startlingly modern square called Sergels Torg gives way to a pedestrian-friendly district of old squares and churches, as well as the inevitable pedestrian mall, where you can stroll, dine or shop. If you’re looking for a horned Viking hat with the blonde pigtails already attached, this is the place.

Pedestrian mall in Stockholm, Sweden

Viking hats with blonde pigtails in a tourist shop in Stockholm, Sweden

While you’re at it, check out the street art. Downtown Stockholm is full of public art, with statues and fountains in both modern and traditional styles. Here or there it even takes a Hobbitish character.

Visit Skansen: If you just want an interesting day in the sunshine, you can spend some time at Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. Situated on the island of Djurgården, it’s got everything from historic houses, farmsteads and workshops to an indigenous Sami camp and a Nordic zoo with seals, bears, wolves and lynx.

Sailing out of Stockholm was a bittersweet feeling: we were bound for Copenhagen, the cruise was over. But there was still the sunshine, and everyone crowded onto the decks to watch as we sailed through the archipelago, getting great views of the coastline, which reminded me of the similarities between Sweden and Canada, my home: this landscape could have been cottage country in the rocky Canadian Shield.

Sailing out of Stockholm harbour

It was amazing to see the giant ship cruise sedately through what seemed like impossibly narrow straits between the islands, but we made it easily, like thousands of ships before us. However, the whole process took three or four hours before we were through the islands and out into the Baltic Sea again.

This was “dress up or not” evening, when you’re invited to spiff up a bit for dinner: in my experience, very few do. Next time, I think I’ll leave the suit jacket at home. Afterward, the Beatles Celebration, a very well-done Beatles tribute show — and for those who didn’t want the cruise to end, Norwegian’s trademark White Hot Party in the disco. Still some time for celebrating: we had a sea day before we hit Copenhagen.

Despite the short day in Stockholm, I thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. It was a great introduction to a less-visited part of the world, and one that truly shines in mid-summer. I saw an incredible number of amazing things in nine days, and enjoyed life on the Sun in the moments between.

I vowed to return and spend some real time in Sweden, Finland and Norway — after saving up enough money to pay those Scandinavian prices. But for the moment, I had three more days in Copenhagen before my flight left. Somehow, it felt like I was coming home.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

2 Comments

  1. I should have bought those tickets on sale from LAX to Stockholm round trip included tax for $400 usd. Scandinavia is on the top of our list to visit but the cost always push it back down on our priority list. Maybe in 2015. 🙂
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    • You missed a real bargain, Frank. Cost is a big problem when visiting Scandinavia; that’s why I chose to see it on a cruise, with a lot of the costs already paid for. However, the flight there is a challenge, too. Hope you make it next year.

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