January 20, 2017

Calendar of Events & Festivals 2017

It is that time of year again... time to publish my annual list of events and festivals in Stockholm. Hopefully this will help you in planning when you want to visit or, if you have already booked your trip, what to do during your visit. In the list are the main events and festivals. There are of course a myriad of smaller sporting events, concerts and other happenings that aren't listed. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly and I can let you know what else is happening during your stay. Keep in mind that even though a certain event is going on during your stay which you are not interested in... it may affect your stay nonetheless. For example, a large sporting event (i.e. marathon) will mean road closures and traffic problems, a popular concert or convention will mean fully booked hotels & restaurants and a bank holiday will mean banks, liquor stores and certain shops will be closed.
It is still early in the year and I will be adding events as they are announced, so make sure to check back now and again ahead of your visit. Some of the links might not work yet for later events (or they direct to last year's information), just keep checking back to see when they update their websites. I have put in some of the larger fairs, but there are a plethora of them going on, covering all sorts of interests from gardening to design to boating. Check the Stockholm Fairground's website (Stockholmsmässan) to see if there is something that piques your interest.

July. This is generally a slow month with events and festivals as most Stockholmers have their summer vacation at this time and tend to leave the city.
  • until the 3rd- continuation of Sweden Horse Show (see above).
  • 10th- Nobel Day.
  • 13th- Lucia Day.
  • 24th & 25th- Christmas (the 26th is also a bank holiday).
  • 31st- New Year's Eve. 

January 13, 2017

What are those funny little squiggles on buildings in Gamla Stan?

In a follow up to my earlier article about getting lost in Gamla Stan... I thought I would explain what those black metal markings you see decorating all of the buildings in Gamla Stan are (as well as older buildings in other parts of the city).
These are called ankarslut or ankarjärnslut ("anchor plate" in English). From the Middle Ages up until the mid 1800's, large wooden beams or logs were used in building multiple story houses and these anchor plates locked (or anchored) the beams in place. If the beams were to shift, the building could collapse. They are often made of cast iron and their dark color makes them easily noticeable against the reds, yellows and oranges of the buildings.
If you have been in Gamla Stan, you will have noticed that these anchor plates come in a wide variety of shapes giving them a decorative quality... everything from straight lines to more cursive shapes. This is where they become especially interesting and you could say that they are a secret code to determine how old the building is. This is due to the fact that different forms were used at different periods through Stockholm's history. In some cases a particular form was only used during a specific decade while other times a form was used over an entire century. Click here and here to see diagrams explaing which forms come from which periods (website in Swedish, but you can see the dates).
Sometimes you will see buildings in Gamla Stan where the bottom half of the building has one type of anchor plate and the top half another. This is beacuse it was not uncommon to add on stories to preexisting buildings at a later date, so the top half of a building was built in another time period than the bottom.
If you see a building in Gamla Stan without anchor plates it more than likely means that the building was built after the mid 1800's. In some cases the anchor plates may have been covered during later renovations, however achor plates have become fashionable and more often than not these renovations have been reveresed to expose the beautiful and decorative plates.

January 6, 2017

Winter Art Exhibitions 2017

Marina Abramović, Stromboli III Volcano, 2002 Photo: Paolo Canevari
Courtesy Marina Abramović Archives (Moderna)
If you are not an outdoorsy person and therefore not interested in winter activities, then you might be interested in some indoor options... like visiting one of the many great art museums in the city. Here is a list of the ongoing and upcoming art exhibitions. There are, of course, many smaller art galleries and museums in Stockholm. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for information about them. And if you are more interested in history than art, click here for a list of Stockholm's best history museums.
Diesel advertisements- ongoing at Fotografiska.

Georg Baselitz, The Great Friends, 1965 © Georg Baselitz 2016

January 4, 2017

Winter Activities- Stockholm 2017

Recent snowfall. The Rival Hotel is in the background.
After a slight delay (i.e. no white Christmas), winter has finally come to Stockholm with temperatures below freezing and plenty of snow and ice. Of course, this means a lot of fun winter activities to try when visiting Stockholm!
Hammarbybacken. Photo: Skistar
As Stockholm is a seaside town with no mountains in the area, people really don't equate alpine skiing with the city. But we actually have a slope, called Hammarbybacken, located in the southern suburbs of the city. In fact, from the top of the hill you have splendid views of the city. Hammarbybacken is preparing to open for the season (check their website, linked above, to see when it opens) and it offers 4 pistes and 2 lifts as well a children's area. Ski equipment rental is available as well. Not exactly St Moritz or Aspen, but a fun activity to do when visiting Stockholm during the winter. To get there from the Rival Hotel, take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen to Gullmarsplan. There you switch to the tvärbanan (tram) to Sickla Kaj. From there it is only a 10 minute walk to the slopes! The whole trip (hotel to slope) should just take you about 30 minutes.
Colleague & friend Camilla with daughter Aisha
in Kungsträdgården. 
Besides alpine skiing you also have ice skating. You have the choice of skating on an outdoor rink or being adventurous and take a tour on the waterways around the city. For rinks, the best bet is the one located in Kungsträdgården. Centrally located, generous opening hours and skate available. There are several other outdoor rinks throughout the city, but generally skate rental isn't always available. The countryside around Stockholm is filled with lakes, inlets, canals and other waterways... not to mention of 30,000+ islands of the archipelago. This means you can also experience skating on natural ice. In this case, it is strongly recommended that you do this with a guide who knows where to go. One great company for this is Stockholm Adventures. Or Ice Guide.
Skating on natural ice. Photo: Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Bureau.
More winter activities can be found at the outdoor activity area Hellasgården. Here they have ski paths in the forests and are one of the few places in Stockholm to rent cross country ski equipment. Skate rental is also available if you want to take to the ice of the lake. Feeling particularly courageous? Try ice swimming! They do have a sauna for warming up before and after your dip (not for the faint hearted- literally). Hellasgården is located on the outskirts of the city but only requires a 15 minute bus ride from Slussen (near the Rival Hotel).
Cross country skiing with Green Trails.
Another great tour company which offers winter excursions in and around Stockholm that we like is Green Trails. For example, they offer cross country ski tours (with equipment) which is a wonderful way to get out and see the nature around the city and enjoy the outdoors. They also offer snowshoe hiking and ice skating tours. I think that it is great that these cross country ski tours are now available... only a few years ago it was hard to even find a place that rented skis for visitors. With any of these activities, keep in mind that winter is fickle and they often depend on the amount of ice/snow available. So keep an eye on the above linked websites or weather sites for up to date information.
Lots of winter activities! However, there is one that you can't find in Stockholm and that is dog sledding or one-horse open sleigh. Every winter I get requests from hotel guests for these types of tours. As I mentioned, winter is fickle in Stockholm. A dog sledding company, for example, needs months of guaranteed snow to be economically feasible. And in that vein, there is no reindeer sledding here either. For these types of activities, you have to travel north to the alpine areas of Dalarna and Jämtland or the far noth in Norrbotten. Definitely a fun, side trip when visiting Stockholm in the winter!

December 30, 2016

Happy New Year!

Just a short post to wish everyone a happy and safe New Year's and to leave with some last minute words of advice... click here for information on what is going on in Stockholm on New Year's Eve, click here for the opening hours for museums this weekend and click here for the opening hours for department stores and shopping centers. Skeppsbron on Gamla Stan will be a popular place to watch the midnight fireworks... otherwise any shoreline on the eastern half of the city will work well.
The Rival Cocktail Bar.
Or if you want to avoid standing outside with crowds, come by the Rival Hotel. Our Bistro is fully booked, however our bars are open between 1:00pm and 2:00am. No entrance fee and DJ playing from 9:00pm onwards. The square Mariatorget (in front of the hotel) is a popular place with locals to set of fireworks at midnight as well. Happy New Year... see you in 2017!

December 23, 2016

Don't Miss Getting Lost in Gamla Stan!

One comment I often get from visitors when I discuss with them what to see & do in Stockholm is that they are planning on avoiding the old town (Gamla Stan) because it is probably too touristy. But this is a mistake! Sure, it is popular with tourists... but that doesn't mean it is bad and not worth seeing. And while I apprciate the trend of "experiencing the authentic parts of the city", you can't really understand what Stockholm is all about without seeing where it all started 800+ years ago.
So, by all means, visit Gamla Stan and soak in the history and beautiful architecture. Perhaps avoid the pedestrian street Västerlånggatan if you don't like a high concentration of tourists and souvenir shops. I usually tell visitors to just get lost in narrow medieval streets. If the crowds turn left, you turn right... you never know what interesting things you will find around the corner. If you get the chance, take a guided sightseeing tour to hear some history and interesting stories. Free Tour Stockholm has guided tours year round as well as the company Our Way.
The little statue Iron Boy behind the Finnish Church with
an interesting story.
There is a lot to see on this island (yes, Gamla Stan is an island), like the Royal Palace, a couple of cathedrals, museums like the Nobel Museum and Royal Armoury as well as the narrow alleys and picturesque squares. You also have some of Stockholm's best restaurants and bars here as well as good opportunites for shopping. Besides souvenir shops, there are lots of Swedish design, arts & crafts and antique stores.
A real Viking runestone, used as building material by medieval Stockholmers.
Gamla Stan is at the very center of Stockholm and is easy to get to by subway... both the red and green lines stop at the Gamla Stan station. Otherwise it is only a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel! In this article you will find pictures I took the other day when I walked around Gamla Stan getting "lost". I hope that they will inspire you to do the same thing!

December 16, 2016

Holiday Opening Hours at Shopping Centers and Department Stores 2016-17

Christmas is almost upon us! I have already written about special opening hours for museums and sightseeing tours. Now for those of you who are interested in a little holiday shopping. Stores and boutiques all, of course, have their own individual opening hours during the holidays. But you can generally say that they close early on December 24th & 31st and are closed on December 25th and January 1st. There are always exceptions to the rule! Here are the special holiday opening hours (days that deviate from regular opening hours) for some of the larger department stores and shopping centers. Take a look at their websites for information about other specific dates. Interested in Christmas markets? The last day for these markets is December 23rd. Click here for a full list of markets and their opening dates/hours. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and want to know the opening hours of smaller independent stores, contact me directly!
  • NK department store: open from 10am to 9pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 5pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Åhlens City department store: open from 10am to 10pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 3pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 6pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Mall of Scandinavia: open from 10am to 10pm on the days leading up to Christmas, 10am to 4pm on December 24th, partially open on December 25th (but mainly cafés and restaurants), open from 10am to 4pm on December 31st and closed (?) on January 1st. Keep in mind that certain parts of the mall (restaurants, cinema) may have different opening hours. My recent visit.
  • Mood shopping center: Open 10am to 9pm on the days leading up to Christmas, 10am to 1pm on December 24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 4pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Gallerian shopping center:  open from 10am to 9pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 4pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st (ongoing renovations in certain parts of the shopping center).
  • Sturegallerian shopping center: open from 10am to 8pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December 24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 2pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Skrapan shopping center: open from 10am to 8pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December 24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 4pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Barkarby Outlets: closed on December 24th and 25th, open from 10am to 4pm on the 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Östermalms Saluhall (indoor food market): closed on Sundays and December 24th, 25th and 26th, open from 9:30am to 5pm on Dec 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Systembolaget (state run liquor stores): They are closed on Sundays, December 24th, 25th and 26th. On December 31st they close at 2pm and are completely closed on January 1st. So... plan your shopping wisely!
The days in between Christmas and New Year's are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are some of the biggest shopping days of the year. This is due to the sales! Keep your eyes open for signs saying rea ("sale") or mellandagsrea ("middle day sale"). Buying electronics is especially popular during these days.

December 10, 2016

New Year's Eve in Stockholm- 2016

Let us take a little break from Christmas and concentrate on New Year's Eve. It is just around the corner! If you are visiting the city during this holiday, then I hope you have already finalized your New Year's Eve plans because it's getting down to the wire. This is not an evening when you want to "wing it" when it comes to dining & dancing. Here are some things you should be aware of when making your plans. It might sound a little negative, but it is all about being forwarned and having a plan!
  • Restaurants- Many restaurants are closed on the 31st. The ones that are open generally serve a traditional multiple course menu called nyårssupé and nothing else. It can be anywhere between 3 and 9 courses and cost anywhere between 500 and 1200 SEK, depending on the restaurant. This means that going out for a simple dinner or quick bite will probably be problematic unless you are looking at pubs or fast food establishments. These dinners are quite popular and the restaurants tend to fill up, so don't leave it to the last minute! Most of these restaurants have two seatings during the evening... an early (5-8:30pm) and a late (8:30pm-12am). There are a select few that serve a regular menu. And it seems that there are more of these every year. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact us as soon as possible to make arrangements! Every year we have guests that contact us around 7pm on New Year's Eve for help in making restaurant reservations and are surprised that almost every restaurant is fully booked. Don't make the same mistake! 
  • Nightclubs- Here it is important to plan ahead as well. Tickets to the parties at the nightclubs can be pre-purchased in advance. If you don't pre-purchase a ticket, you can end up standing in long lines in subzero temperatures! Here are some of the larger nightclub parties this year: Stureplansgruppen (an umbrella group that runs several nightclubs), Café Opera and Södra Teatern. These are the more posh nightclub venues... there are, of course, many smaller parties going on at different venues. Click here for a list and more information about gay & lesbian parties on New Year's Eve.
  • Taxis- These are notoriously hard to catch on New Year's Eve... especially after 11pm. This is because of the huge demand. Most taxi companies don't accept prebookings because they don't want their cars tied up waiting for people who don't show up. You don't have to worry about being stranded though... the subways will be running all night long. If nighttime subways aren't your thing, just make sure that you are within walking distance of your hotel. Stockholm isn't that big so this isn't that hard to accomplish. And remember... be careful when catching taxis in Sweden!
  • Fireworks- Locals will be setting off their own fireworks throughout the city, especially in the parks & squares and at midnight. The official fireworks will be shot off above the harbor (eastern side of Gamla Stan). The best places to see the fireworks are along the waterfront, by the City Hall, on Fjällgatan or Monteliusvägen. Some places will be quite crowded, especially the Slussen area which will be cordoned off from car traffic, but you will still be able to see the fireworks!
  • Skansen- Once again, this is the center of Swedish holiday tradition. This is the spectacle that is televised and shown around all of Sweden... kind of like the Swedish version of the ball dropping at Times Square. There will be music and speeches and the official countdown. Skansen is also a great place to see the official fireworks! To be honest, I'm not sure how much someone who doesn't speak Swedish will get out of the event as most of the program is in Swedish... but it is an option. The program starts at 11:10pm and ends at 00:10am. Be aware that it is outdoors and the temperatures will probably be below freezing, so dress accordingly! 
The Rival Hotel- our restaurant is already fully booked on this evening! However... our bars are open until 2am and there is no entrance fee (rare on this evening). There will be a DJ playing and the square in front of the hotel is a popular place for the locals to light their fireworks.

December 9, 2016

Gamla Stan's Polkagriskokeri

And staying in the Christmas vein... make sure you don't miss visiting Gamla Stans Polkagriskokeri when in Stockholm, especially during the holiday season. The perfect place to buy Swedish candy and treats to take with you home or to enjoy yourself while you are here. But perhaps it would help if I explained what "polkagris" and "kokeri"are?
Polkagris is basically the Swedish version of a candy cane minus the hook shape. However, these days polkagris can come in a wide variety of flavors, shapes and colors besides the classic peppermint stick. And a "polkagriskokeri" is basically where polkagris is made. In other words, it is a candy cane factory! How is it made? It is sugar dough which is boiled (to "koka"), kneaded, pulled and then twisted into the desired shape before it hardens.
So much candy it is spilling out of the drawers.
Polkagris was first made in the town of Gränna back in 1859 and the town has become a tourist attraction with visitors coming from far and wide to watch them make polkagris. So it is important to note that this is the only polkagriskokeri outside of Gränna! Not only can you try and purchase the delicious treats, but you can watch them make it as well.
Post twisting, ready for cutting.
The shop/kokeri is located in Gamla Stan, making it easy to combine with other activities. Like maybe a visit to the Christmas market on Stortoget? At any rate, the shop is just a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. The store is, of course, open year round so you don't have to limit getting your polkagris fix to the month of December!