Dawn broke as I stood on the stern of the ship and watched the sun emerge through the clouds as the ship navigated the narrow corridor into Stockholm. We were aboard MS Victoria, a fine and seaworthy vessel sailing overnight from Tallinn. It was early January and I was expecting everything to be white with snow and ice but there hadn’t been any snow for a while. The ship docked and the thousands of passengers made their way onto the street past police with sniffer dogs. We followed the crowd to the metro and caught a train into the city. We had booked a private room at ‘City Backpackers Hostel’. A clean, cheap and modern place to stay right in the centre of Sotckholm with great facilities. The sun didn’t hang around for long and it became overcast as we started to explore the city.
We made our way into Gamla Stan, the famous old town of Stockholm on an island connected by bridges. The narrow cobbled stoned streets wind their way around medieval buildings of North German architecture. You’ll find the famous colourful buildings in Stortorget Square, the oldest square in Stockholm. Their construction dates back to the 1700s and is where the Christmas markets are held. Gamla Stan is packed full of shops, cafes and restaurants and is a good place to pick up a cheap or high quality souvenir. We found ourselves at a bakery purchasing some baked goods for breakfast then ended up sipping café lattes at Café Kastanjen. Being winter, there weren’t as many tourists which made things a lot more enjoyable. Many of Stockholm’s tourists are also Russians, and with the collapsing Russian Rouble many had cancelled their trips or were restricting their spending.
After several hours exploring, we came across the Royal Palace which is also located on the island of Gamla Stan. The palace has been there since the mid 13th century and the changing of the guard can be viewed daily on the grounds outside the Royal Gift Shop. The Royal Guard can also been seen standing and marching around at various places around the palace at anytime of the day if you miss the changing of the guard. Darkness soon took hold and we began walking back into Stockholm city to find a dimly lit venue that served cold beers and good food. We stumbled upon and interestingly named establishment and were welcomed inside. The food, mainly of a seafood variety was quality and the beers were numerous.
In the morning we woke up to a beautifully white snow covered Stockholm. We cooked breakfast in the hostel kitchen and then decided to go and explore some more of Stockholm’s islands. On the way through we passed by the Royal Palace again to watch the changing of the guard which I can recommend. The soldiers perform drill and the band plays music for the audience. We then walked across to the two small islands to the west of Gamla Stan to explore. There is a small castle atop a hill on the southern most island overlooking the city and also dozens of boats moored along the docks.
We then made our way to the Vasa Museum, a huge building that houses a single 17th century battleship that sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage right in front of a large crowd in Stockholm harbour. Vasa was built in 1626 under the orders of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the war with Poland-Lithuania. The ship was salvaged in 1961 still containing artefacts and bones of her passengers and crew. Due to the mud the ship rested in when it sank, the hull and other features were preserved. The ship was restored and is now in a dimly lit and temperature controlled museum with other artefacts and history relating to the sinking. Vasa Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Stockholm and is definitely worth a visit. We then walked back into the city and decided to go and have a look at the Swedish Army Museum. The museum boasts an extensive collections of uniforms, weapons and equipment from Sweden’s wars in the middle ages up until modern times. There are also some interesting exhibits of captured flags and trophies from wars with Imperial Russia.