November 17, 2015

White Guide Nordic- Best Restaurants in the North 2016

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was because of the White Guide, which is a great annual guide to the top 600 or so restaurants in Sweden and based on the opinions of local journalists and restaurateurs. The trouble was that it was only available in Swedish and I thought it was great information which tourists would like to have. Last year the White Guide published a separate guide in English for all Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland & Iceland) which I reported on here. Now it is time for their next installment of the White Guide Nordic!
Sweden 2016 Esperanto, photo by David Back.
This year the guide covers the 300 best restaurants in the Nordic countries, with 92 of them coming from Sweden. As it was last year, 12 restaurants from Sweden, 6 of them from Stockholm, made the top 30 list (though there have been some changes in the rankings). I would be remiss not to mention that the restaurant ranked second is the Swedish restaurant Fäviken, located up in northern Sweden. Here are the Stockholm restaurants which made the top 30, including their ranking. Several restaurants shared the same amount of points which is why they have "tied" with other restaurants in their ranking.

Click here to see past White Guides as well as other guides and restaurant awards. And click here to see where you can buy your copy of White Guide Nordic 2016.
Sweden 2016 Gastrologik.

November 13, 2015

Mall of Scandinavia

Stockholmers have been anticipating the opening of the Mall of Scandinavia for a few months now... and there has been quite a lot of press about their big opening in the weeks leading up to it. The PR was apparently a resounding success as so many people showed up to the grand opening Thursday night that they had to close the doors after only 30 minutes or so. Fortunately I played it smart and decided to make my visit the morning after to avoid the crowds.
The mall complex seen from the commuter train station.
Apparently the biggest mall in Sweden and one of the biggest in Scandinavia, this shopping center is located in the northern suburb of Solna. It is right next to Stockholm's newly built stadium Friends Arena. Together they make up the core of a new Stockholm district called Arenastaden ("the arena city") which has big plans on being an ultra modern city suburb.
When I got there, shortly after they opened in the morning, the mall was already starting to fill with curious Stockholmers. It is quite enormous and very beautifully designed with many sleek lines and details. Fortunately there are several information desks spread throughout the mall where you can ask questions and get a map. The mall is triangular in shape with three floors and plenty of open areas connecting the floors.
There are currently 224 shops and boutiques as well as 22 restaurants and a 15 screen cinema multiplex that includes the first commercial IMAX theatre in the Nordic region. It feels a little silly to report on the different boutiques found there as there are so many. But I can say that it is a wide range of stores from large well known Swedish stores (like Åhlens, Kapp Ahl and H&M) to smaller boutiques that aren't found in many other shopping centers.
Entrance to the multiplex including IMAX thestre.
There are quite a few international brands like Disney, Victoria Secret and Tommy Hilfiger, but also many Swedish brands like Filippa K, J Lindeberg and Make Up Store. Besides fashion there are plenty of interior design stores and shops selling everything from accessories to hardware to cosmetics. There is even a liquor store, pharmacy, exchange office, spa and manicurist. Their website is currently only in Swedish, but it looks like they are planning other language options in the future. In the meantime you can find a list of the stores here.
A few of the stores found in the mall.
It is very easy and quick to get to from the Rival Hotel... just take the commuter train (pendeltåg) from nearby Stockholm Södra station, in the direction of Uppsala, to Solna station. This is just four stations away and a 13 minute trip. The mall is located right next to the Solna station. If you are doing other shopping in the downtown area then you can take the commuter train from the Central station as well.
I thought I would end with a few pictures of...
...a fountain where shoppers can walk under streams of water...
...which seemed popular with kids and adults. 

November 11, 2015

Christmas Markets in Stockholm 2015

Gamla Stan's Christmas market.
The first market opens for business already next week Saturday (Nov 21st), so this is a good time to list some of the Christmas markets in the greater Stockholm area and their opening hours/dates this season. Some are open daily, some just on the weekends while others are only open on specific dates. These markets can differ quite a bit from one another... some more traditional (decorations, local arts & crafts, traditional delicacies like jams, sausages and cookies), others a bit more modern (design articles). At any rate, you will have at least one open to visit if you are in Stockholm anytime between November 21st and December 23rd.
The Bakery boys at Skansen, photo by Marie Andersson.
  • Gamla Stan (old town)- the grand dame of Christmas markets. Traditional with historic atmosphere and centrally located. Recently named one of the top ten markets in Europe by The Telegraph. Open daily (11am to 6pm) between Nov 21st and Dec 23rd. Only a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel!
  • Kungsträdgården- another popular market! Their central location near the NK department store, downtown shopping district and outdoor ice skating rink make this a season must. Open daily (11am to 6pm) between Nov 27th and Dec 22nd. 
  • Skansen- take a journey back in time and visit a Christmas market as they were 100+ years ago. Skansen, located on Djurgården, is an open air museum of Swedish traditions as well as the city's zoo. Open Saturdays and Sundays (10am to 4pm) from Nov 28th to Dec 20th.
Traditional holiday ornaments/decorations for sale...
  • Konstfack- College of Arts, Craft & Design. Creative Christmas market put on by the students. Saturday and Sunday, Nov 28th & 29th (10am to 5pm). Located in the suburb of Telefonplan.
  • Royal Stables (Kungliga Hovstallet)- Combine a visit to the Royal Stables with some traditional Christmas shopping. Location. Friday, Nov 27th (noon to 7pm), Saturday, Nov 28th (10am to 6pm) and Sun, Nov 29th (10am to 5pm).
  • Farmers' Christmas Market (Bondens Egen Marknad)- in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this popular farmers' market in SoFo turns into a Christmas market. Laid back and local. Four Saturdays before Christmas with start on Nov 28th (10am to 3pm).
  • Beckmans- this College of Design has a popular annual Christmas market put on by the students. Location. Saturday & Sunday, Dec 12th & 13th (11am to 5pm).

There are also a few good Christmas markets just outside the city which are well worth a visit!
  • Sigtuna- The capital of Sweden before Stockholm was founded. Location. Traditional Christmas market on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (11am to 4pm) with start Nov 29th.
  • Drottningholm Palace- Royal palace, home of the royal family and UNESCO World Heritage site that has an annual Christmas market. Location. Saturday, Dec 5th and Sunday, Dec 6th (11am to 4pm).
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located outside the town of Märsta. Daily Christmas market from Nov 14th to Dec 23rd (weekdays 11am to 6pm and weekends 10am to 5pm).  
  • Vaxholm- called the capital of the Stockholm archipelago (location), this town has a Christmas market every year put on by the Lions' Club. Two weekends: Dec 5th & 6th and Dec 12th & 13th (11am to 4pm).
  • Utö- an island located in the southern archipelago. Two weekends: Dec 5th & 6th and Dec 12th & 13th. A bit difficult to get to, Strömma offers a package trip by boat including traditional Swedish Christmas meal (julbord) onboard. However, as I write this, the package trips are almost fully booked! They do also have many other julbord lunch/dinner cruises to choose from throughout the holiday season.
Skansen Christmas Market, photo by Marie Andersson.

November 7, 2015

Restaurant Söders Hjärta

While I often write here about hip & trendy restaurants or dining at Michelin star establishments, I do realize that this isn't everyone's cup of tea or in their budget when visiting Stockholm. It is good to give hotel guests recommendations for more local restaurants as well. Last week my colleagues and I visited a neighbourhood restaurant, right around the corner from the Rival Hotel, called Söders Hjärta. The name translates as "heart of the south" and is a reference to its location on the southern island Södermalm. The restaurant has been open for 40+ years but recently changed owners and we were curious to see how it was under new management.
...and interior.
In Swedish we call this type of restaurant "kvarterskrog" which is a casual neighbourhood restaurant much like your local pub in the UK and Ireland. The atmosphere is pub-like as well. In fact there is also a bar ("Hjärtats Bar") with a separate entrance from the street. The menu is made up of hearty, comfort food... mainly traditional Swedish but with some international favorites like schnitzel, cannelloni and moules frites. The portions are large and the prices very reasonable.
"Löjrom Toast"
We started with löjrom toast (bleak roe with accoutrements) and gubbröra (an oh-so-Swedish creamy salad made with eggs, anchovies, egg yolk and served on rye bread). For our main course we had the ox cheek bourgogne, biff rydberg and the steak tartare. And finally for dessert we took the classic marängsviss (a Swedish version of an ice cream sundae with meringue). All of it was very delicious and, as I mentioned, the portions are large. In fact, the marängsviss was huge!
Ox cheek bourgogne.
Steak tartare.
Söders Hjärta is quite well known as a classic Stockholm kvarterskrog and is a great restaurant to visit if you want to try Swedish comfort food and check out the locals... especially if you don't want to spend a crazy amount of money on dining in the city. To book a table, click on the British flag and scroll down to the bottom where you will find telephone and e-mail contact details. If you click on the hand with pen icon, you come to an online booking site (in Swedish). Otherwise, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact us directly for help. Click here for more restaurant reviews/recommendations.
A giant marängsviss.

November 2, 2015

Shakespeare's Macbeth by the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre

With the exception of opera, a good 98% of theatre here in Stockholm is in the local language... something that seems to surprise some foreign visitors. But the demand for theatre in a language other than Swedish just isn't high enough to justify a "supply" of a permanent theatre. Local theatre goers want to see shows in Swedish plain and simple.
However, all is not lost! There is a theatre company here in Stockholm that regularly puts on shows in English... SEST (Stockholm English Speaking Theatre). SEST has been around since 2010 and has done some great productions, several of them outdoors during the summer months. In fact, I reported on a "Shakespeare in the Park" variation they did in the summer of 2014. But this November they are definitely indoors. SEST is doing a production of Macbeth at Musikvalvet Baggen, which is located in Gamla Stan. Musikvalvet's historic atmosphere (old wine cellar, built long before Shakespeare was born) lends itself perfectly to this play. There will be a total of 8 performances throughout the month. The premiere for this "unluckiest" of plays is on... Friday, November 13th of course. To book tickets, send an e-mail to Be aware that you can only pay cash at the door. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, talk directly with me for more information/directions.

October 28, 2015

Halloween & All Saints' Day

Whether you celebrate the more commercial Halloween or the more spiritual All Saints' Day, this is a special holiday weekend coming up (Oct 30th-Nov 1st)!  Halloween does, of course, have its roots in the traditional All Hallow's Eve celebration... but the Americanized Halloween holiday has become more and more popular here in Sweden over the past 10-15 years. On the days surrounding the 31st, don't be surprised to see children and young adults dressed in costumes on the streets of Stockholm.
Last year they dressed up the Globe arena as a jack 'o lantern.
But if you really want to party like a ghoul then you shouldn't miss the Shockholm festival, especially their parade (which is the largest Halloween parade in Scandinavia). The parade takes place on Saturday, October 31st, starting at 5pm from Kungsträdgården park... directly after a pre-parade party (3pm-5pm) with costume contests and other activities. The parade route will go around the old town (Gamla Stan) before returning back to Kungsträdgården for the after party ("After Shock")!
Skogskyrkogården, photo by
(c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
For a more spiritual celebration of the holiday, head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Skogskyrkogården. This is the beautiful Woodland Cemetery, designed by architect Gunnar Asplund and located in the southern suburbs of the city. This site is a great place to visit year-round, but it is especially beautiful (and significant) on this weekend when thousands of people come to the cemetery to leave decorations and candles at the graves of relatives. There will be staff on hand on All Saints' Day (Nov 1st) to help with maps and grave searches and there will be music in several of the chapels. To get to Skogskyrkogården from the downtown area, take the subway (green line) in the direction of Farsta Strand. Exit at the station Skogskyrkogården. Just 7 stops from the Slussen station which is near the Rival Hotel.

All Saints' Day. Photo: Cecilia Larsson/
On Sunday, November 1st, there will be a torch walk along the lake Brunnsviken in located in Haga park. Start at 4pm and there is a program with music as well. And finally, to really get in to the mood... why not partake in a Ghost Walk sightseeing tour of Gamla Stan. This is the old medieval center of the city where many bloody events have taken place throughout the city's history (like the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath!). The guides on these walks really make this history come alive...

October 25, 2015

Bistro Rival - A Classic Södermalm Restaurant

Bistro Rival... pre service!
Over the past few years I have reported on many of my restaurant visits throughout Stockholm... but it is only fair that I write a report on a recent dinner I had at the hotel's own restaurant: Bistro Rival. My cousin was visiting from out of town, so I treated her to an evening in the Bistro. I suppose I don't have to report on how to get to the restaurant from the Rival Hotel like I do in other reviews? Well, at any rate, it is located on the first floor of the hotel with views of the Mariatorget square in front of the hotel. The restaurant also has a balcony which is open during the summer months and is perefect for dining al fresco.
Red velvet booths along one wall with movie star card artwork.
Close up of the artwork.
The Rival Hotel is in a building that once housed a movie cinema. These days the cinema itself is a popular theatre and the hotel has used its cinematic history as a theme for the hotel and adjacent public areas like the restaurant and bars. For example, our Cocktail Bar used to be the popcorn concession stand for the cinema. In the Bistro this is evident with a lot the decor... from the red velvet booths to the artwork and design touches. For example, on one wall the artist Carouschka Streijffert has created an artwork made up of hundreds of movie stare cards. In the US people collect baseball cards, but here in Sweden we used to collect and trade cards with movie stars on them!
We love an open kitchen... dinner with a show.
Our head chef is Håkan Carlsson. As I write this, he is actually preparing for the quarter finals of the prominent competition "Årets Kock 2016" (chef of the year- 2016). We are keeping our fingers crossed that he makes it all the way to the finals! Håkan told me that his philosophy is to use Swedish, especially locally produced, ingredients as much as possible and that he aims to have a vibrant and creative kitchen. This means that the menu has Swedish cuisine using seasonal ingredients. The entire menu can be seen on the website which you will find on the right hand side as you scroll down.
Löjrom (bleak roe) from Vänern with accoutrements...
...and Jerusalem artichoke soup with seared scallops.
My cousin started with bleak roe from Vänern and I opted for the soup with Jerusalem artichokes from Tollby Gård and seared scallops and autumn truffles. A great start! For our main courses my cousin had the pan fried hake from Skagerak with chanterelle mushrooms and baked beets and I had the wild duck from Österlen served with rillettes of duck leg and fried brussel sprouts. All of it was very autumnal and delicious. Instead of dessert we decided to take an after dinner cocktail from the bar, sitting in the entrance foyer to do some people watching. I should definitely mention that the Rival bartenders are great and have a drink list with some amazing signature cocktails. In fact, the bar was recently named as one of the top 5 hotel bars in Stockholm!
The hake with chantarelle mushrooms...
...and the wild duck.
The Bistro Rival is a very popular restaurant with locals and not only hotel guests, This is especially true on evenings when we have shows in our theatre. Then the restaurant can be particularly busy with guests eating dinner before the start of the show. It is therefore always smart to book your table ahead of time, either on our website or by sending an e-mail to The restaurant is open every evening, 365 days a year. There is also a popular brunch served on most Sundays. So popular that it requires booking a table at least two weeks in advance!
Hotel lobby with stairs leading past the Cocktail Bar to the Bistro.
Cocktails with a view... 

October 19, 2015

Martin Schoeller at Fotografiska

A luminous Cate Blanchett.
This past weekend I visited Fotografiska (The Swedish Museum of Photography) to see their latest exhibition: "Martin Schoeller - Up Close". Born in Germany and based now in New York, Schoeller got a great start to his career as assistant to the legendary Annie Leibovitz... queen of portrait photography (and the first photographer to be exhibited at Fotografiska). These days he is a well known portrait photographer himself with his work appearing in the pages of GQ, New Yorker, Time, Vogue and National Geographic among others.
Seymour Hoffman and Dench.
Douglas, Jolie and more...
This exhibition (running until February 7th, 2016) is actually the first time Schoeller's four photographic series are being exhibited at the same time. His style of detailed, close-up photography makes his portraits much more interesting than other variations of the genre. In his series you will find all types of politicians, sport heroes and movie stars. Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic even makes an appearance. Some other portraits are less up close, but still very interesting... Usain Bolt posing at the Met or Brad Pitt and George Clooney playing croquet for example.
Usain Bolt at the Met.
Clooney and Pitt.
I also took a look at another of their exhibitions while at Fotografiska... their Höstsalong ("Autumn Salon"). This is a collection of work from 24 amateur and professional photographers, chosen by a jury from among 2304 applications. The works represent of wide range of styles, techniques and subject matter. Showing until November 22nd.
I always find Fotografiska worth a visit and, located on the Södermalm waterfront, it is easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... just a 15-20 minute walk away. Or else you can take the subway to Slussen and then walk 10 minutes along the waterfront to get to the museum. One good thing to consider when planning a visit to the museum is that they are open until 11pm every evening and they have an award winning restaurant on the top floor with great views of the harbor. Make sure you don't miss their gift shop either... nirvana for anyone interested in the art of photography.
Entrance to Fotografiska.
Great gift shop and book store!