December 20, 2014

Museums and Tours During the 2014-15 Holiday Season

Nordiska Museum, photo by: Ingemar Edfalk/
It is always a little tricky with museums during the holiday season with many closing for a few days here and there. However, there is always something open so you don't have to worry about wandering the streets aimlessly. Here is a handy list that will help you plan your holiday visit better. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and can't find the museum you are interested in... contact me directly. Stockholm has 80+ museums and I am only covering the major ones here! Please note that the National Museum is closed for renovations and instead they have exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (listed below).

  • Skansen- open every day! Shorter hours on ceratin days.
  • Vasa Museum- closed on December 23rd, 24th, 25th and January 1st.
  • ABBA The Museum- closed only on December 24th!
  • Fotografiska (photography)- closed only on December 24th!
  • Moderna (modern art)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Center for Architecture & Design- closed December 23rd, 24th, 25th, 30th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Nobel Museum- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Historiska (history)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th and 31st. Extra open on Monday, Dec 29th.
  • Nordiska (nordic traditions)- closed on December 24th, 25th and 31st. 
  • Medeltids (medieval history)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Stadshuset (city hall)- closed December 24th, 25th, 26th and January 1st. Closes a bit earlier on other days.
  • Spritmuseum (alcohol spirits)- closed December 24th, 25th and 31st. 
  • Royal Palace- closed Mondays and December 24th and 25th.
  • Livrustkammaren (royal armoury)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Konstakademien (Royal Acad. of Fine Arts)- closed December 24th, 25th and 31st.
  • Millesgården (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th and 25th
  • Thielska Galleriet (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Liljevalchs (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Waldemarsudde (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th and 31st.
  • Drottningholm Palace- closed between the 15th & 30th of December. Open daily between December 31st and January 6th (Swedish school's winter break). 
  • Naturhistoriska (natural history)- closed Mondays and December 23rd & 24th.
Sightseeing tours, provided by the company Strömma, are offered everyday during the holidays... like the Panorama bus tour and the Winter boat tour among others! The company Free Tours have walking tours everyday and, as the name suggests, they are free. So, with this list you should be able to keep yourself culturally active every day of your holiday visit in Stockholm.

December 17, 2014

White Guide Nordic- Best Restaurants in the North!

White Guide Nordic 2015, cover.
The White Guide has been around for many years... annually listing the 600, or so, best restaurants in Sweden. It comes out every year in March and I have reported on it over the past 4 years. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I started writing this blog... I thought that it was great information for visitors but, unfortunately, was only available in Swedish. That has all changed! Yesterday they announced the publication of a new White Guide Nordic, covering all the Nordic countries, which is in English! If you were wondering... the Nordic countries are Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
The reason given for this new Nordic guide and the fact that it is in English is the continuing high interest internationally in Nordic cuisine. If you are interested in haute cuisine at all, then you know that Noma in Copenhagen has been ranked as the best restaurant in the world for several years in a row. The White Guide looks at several factors when assessing a restaurant and divides them up in different categories... High Class, Very High Class, Masterclass and International Masterclass. Here are the Stockholm restaurants that made the Nordic Top 30 and are considered International Masterclass. Sweden is well represented with 12 of the top 30 restaurants and 6 of them from Stockholm. Several restaurants shared the same amount of points, which is why they share placement on the ranking list. For the rest of the list as well as the top 225 restaurants in the Nordic countires... click here.

Click here to see other restaurant guides and rankings, both current and over the past 5 years. Congratulations to all of the restaurants that made the list!

December 16, 2014

Starbucks in Stockholm

Entrance to Södermalm Starbucks.
Ok. Now I know many readers will think "why are you writing about Starbucks? You usually write about museums, festivals and local restaurants". True. And this subject (the coffee giant's expansion in Sweden) is also not without controversy... with Stockholmers divided on the subject. As you may know, Swedes are very particular about their coffee (second largest consumers of coffee per capita in the world) and Stockholmers can especially be a bit pretentious about their java. For some, Starbucks is a multinational corporation squeezing out small cafés from the market, while others are happy that they no longer have to travel abroad to get their "pumpkin spice latté" fix.
So why write about it? Well, as a Concierge, I have been asked quite a few times by hotel guests where the closest Starbucks is located. I would usually just recommend one of the many great local cafés in the neighborhood (including the Café Rival), as the only Starbucks, until recently, has been located in the Central Train Station... a bit far away from the hotel just to grab a coffee. However, I was recently informed by a guest that the reason she wanted to find a Starbucks is to buy the Stockholm Starbucks coffee mug. Apparently people collect them in every city they visit much like Hard Rock Café merchandize. I learn something new everyday...
Starbucks' merchandize...
So I am writing this blog article as a public service announcement to inform visitors that Starbucks opened today on Södermalm (location), just a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. And they do have Stockholm merchandize! Otherwise, there are Starbucks located on Stureplan and, as I mentioned earlier, in the train station. More are planned as part of their Swedish expansion. It remains to be seen if they can find their place in the finicky Swedish coffee market.

December 12, 2014

Lucia Celebrations in Stockholm- 2014

Photo by Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
Lucia, the festival/celebration of St Lucia, happens on December 13th and is, along with Midsummer, the most Swedish of holidays and many of you have probably seen a picture of a young girl wearing a wreath of candles (Lucia). Basically, the celebration consists of a procession led by a candle wreathed young woman and followed by other young women (& men called stjärngossar) holding candles. Click here for video ("Lucia for Dummies"). They sing Lucia songs as well as other Christmas carols. The traditional places where this procession takes place is in Swedish homes on the morning of the 13th, where the procession is made up of the family's children, and during the evening in various churches. These days, however, you will find Lucia processions also at different businesses, shopping malls and retirement centers throughout the country. Because of the popularity of Lucia, you need to purchase tickets to see the procession in most churches. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and I will help you with tickets.
Lucia at Skansen 
These church services, while traditional and beautiful, might be a little problematic for foreign visitors as there is often a church sermon included in the celebration which is in Swedish. Another option, and a good one at that, is to visit Skansen, the open-air museum dedicated to Swedish culture and traditions. Here they will be celebrating Lucia for two days (Dec 13th & 14th) with processions, historical reenactments and concerts. The main Lucia concert at Skansen will be on the Solliden stage at 5:00pm (Saturday). Skansen also has a great Christmas market on Saturday and Sunday which you can combine with a Lucia concert during weekend. Skansen is located on the island of Djurgården and easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... with regular ferries (10 min trip) going from nearby Slussen.

December 11, 2014

Pharmarium Cocktail Bar

Photo: ©Erik Nissen Johansen, Pharmarium
I was out last week with my cousin who was in town on a business trip. He had heard of Pharmarium and was eager to try it... and, as it was on my list of (relatively) new places to visit, so was I! In fact, it has been high up on the lists over best cocktail bars in Stockholm since they opened a little over a year ago.
First round of cocktails...
We were actually planning on eating dinner and we both had assumed that Pharmarium was both a regular restaurant as well as cocktail bar. But after showing us to our table, the waiter explained to us what to expect for our evening in regards to food & drink. They are first and foremost a cocktail bar. When it comes to food, instead of your regular menu of starters and main dishes, they offer a series of medium-sized dishes... each designed to be paired with one of their signature cocktails. He explained that if we were interested in dinner, 2 or 3 of these dishes would satisfy our hunger. We were intrigued!
Scallop dish.
Pharmarium is located on the main square (Stortorget) in the old town (Gamla Stan), in the building that once housed Stockholm's first apothecary/pharmacy back in the 1500's. Not only does this explain their name, it explains the inspiration for their concept and interior design. The interior of the locale has elements that resemble an old apothecary... small wooden drawers along the wall, herbs growing at the bar and the black & white checkered floor.
Next round...
Many of the ingredients in both the cocktails and accompanying dishes follow the "pharmaceutical" concept... spices, plants, berries and herbs with medicinal value (or, like gold, were once thought to contain such properties). We started with a cocktail-dish pairing each and then we got a little wild and chose both cocktails and dishes randomly. Everything was delicious and the flavors were very seasonal. My absolute favorite dish was the sweetbreads with puré, cauliflower crisp and apricot & raisin chutney. Favorite cocktail? Hmmm... perhaps the Philosopher's Stone (Wild Turkey, Cynar & bitters, foam of smoked maple syrup, apple and gold powder).
Sweetbread dish.
As I mentioned, Pharmarium is in Gamla Stan and it is just a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. Currently, the square houses the Gamla Stan Christmas market. But the historic square is popular year round and buildings lining the square are some of the most photographed in the city. The entrance is a little hard to spot, but it is on the south side of the square... just opposite the Nobel Museum.

December 9, 2014

New Year's Eve in Stockholm - 2014!

New Years 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. Here are some things you should be aware of when making your plans:
  • 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 both the nyårssupé alongside a regular menu. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact us as soon as possible to make arrangements!
  • 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 OperaSödra Teatern and Berns. These are the more posh nightclub venues... there are, of course, many smaller parties going on at different venues.
  • 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.
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 2, 2014

Christmas at the NK Department Store

Like Harrods in London, Bergdorf Goodman in NYC or Galeries Lafayette in Paris... NK, or Nordiska Kompaniet, is the most famous luxury department store in Sweden. There are, however, several reasons, other than shopping, to visit NK during the holiday season.
To start off with, you have the holiday window displays and decorations throughout the store... especially the giant, hanging Christmas tree in the center atrium. The holiday window displays are eagerly anticipated by Swedes each holiday season and they are really geared towards children... very traditional with lots of moving parts.
Speaking of children, this is where you will find Santa Claus (or jultomten as he is called in Swedish) in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Children, either terrified or excited, line up with their parents for their chance to sit on jultomten's lap and give him their wish lists. Up until December 14th, he will be there on Friday, Saturday & Sunday afternoons, after which he will be found there daily, in the afternoon, until December 23rd. Click here for exact times (in Swedish).
NK is located in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is a 30 minute walk through Gamla Stan, 3 subway stops (red line to T-Centralen) or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. The department store will have extra long opening hours on the 19th through 23rd of December. They are open on Christmas Eve from 10am to 2pm for desperate last minute shoppers and closed on Christmas Day.

November 27, 2014

Outdoor Ice Rink Open for the Season!

A sure sign that winter is almost upon us: the popular outdoor ice skating rink in Kungsträdgården park has opened for the season... even if the temperatures haven't gone under the freezing point in Stockholm yet. It is open 7 days a week with generous opening hours (weekdays from 9am to 9pm, weekends from 10am to 9pm). If you have your own skates then skating is free. If you don't have your own skates, don't worry... they have skates for rent at the rink. Rental prices are also generous with adults paying 60 SEK per hour and children/youth under 20 only needing to pay 30 SEK per hour.
The central location of the rink means that you can combine ice skating with a visit to Kungstädgården's Christmas market (open daily from November 28th to December 22nd) or perhaps a visit to the NK department store or downtown shopping district. The rink is lit up in the winter darkness and they play music, so it is fun just to stop by and watch the skaters while sipping some glögg.To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is just a 30 minute walk through the Old Town (Gamla Stan), 3-4 stops on the subway or a 5 minute taxi ride.

November 25, 2014

Herb Ritts at Fotografiska

Madonna "True Blue"
Herb Ritts has always been one of my favorite photographers, so I have been eagerly anticipating the photography museum Fotografiska's retrospective exhibition on Herb Ritts: In Full Light. I was not disappointed! I'm sure I will return before the exhibition ends (February 15th, 2015).
Supermodel pile-up. 
Herb Ritts was one of the top fashion, editorial and portrait photographers of the 1980's and 90's. In fact, if you came to adulthood in the 90's or earlier, I am positive that you will recognize his work... even if you don't recognize his name. Many of his beautiful black & white photographs have become iconic, like the cover to Madonna's "True Blue" album. He was a favorite among the big fashion and fragrance companies and was often employed for their advertisement campaigns... Calvin Klein, Revlon, Chanel, Victoria Secret and many more.
The iconic "Fred with Tires"
Many of these works are featured in this exhibition as well as several of his celebrity portraits which are a who's who of 80's famous people.... supermodels, pop stars and  actors. It was only natural that Herb Ritts branched out into the world of music videos, bringing his black & white esthetic to videos for Madonna, Janet Jackson and, probably most famously, Chris Isaak. A compilation of some of Ritt's music videos and TV advertisements for Calvin Klein is also featured in this exhibition.
Series with Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
Fotografiska is located on the waterfront of Södermalm, just a 15-20 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. Besides the great photography, there are several reasons to love this museum... for one thing, they have generous opening hours; closing at 11pm, 7 days a week. They have also recently opened a restaurant that has been receiving rave reviews. This might be the beginning of a trend in Stockholm with museums having great restaurants on their premises (the first out was Spritmuseum). Dinner, art and culture all in one! As soon as I get a chance to visit the restaurant, I will be sure to report back here. Click here for other museum exhibitions this season.
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage.


November 20, 2014

Christmas Markets in Stockholm 2014

Gamla Stan's Christmas market.
The first market opens for business this Saturday, 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 22nd 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 22nd 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 28th 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 29th to Dec 21st.
  • Hornstull Marknad- have a happy, hipster Christmas! Located on Södermalm, in the popular Hornstull neighborhood. Open on Saturdays & Sundays (noon to 6pm) from Nov 29th to Dec 21st.
Traditional holiday ornaments/decorations for sale...

  • Konstfack- College of Arts, Craft & Design. Creative Christmas market put on by the students. Saturday and Sunday, Nov 29th & 30th (10am to 6pm). 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 28th (noon to 7pm), Saturday, Nov 29th (10am to 6pm) and Sun, Nov 30th (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 29th (10am to 3pm).
  • Beckmans- this College of Design has a popular annual Christmas market put on by the students. Location. Saturday & Sunday, Dec 13th & 14th (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 30th.
  • Drottningholm Palace- UNESCO World Heritage site that has an annual Christmas market. Location. According to Visit Sweden: Saturday, Dec 6th and Sunday, Dec 7th (11am to 4pm).
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located outside the town of Märsta. Daily Christmas market from Nov 15th to Dec 22nd (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. Saturday, Dec 6th and Sunday, Dec 7th (no opening hours mentioned yet).
  • Utö- an island located in the southern archipelago. Weekends, Dec 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th. 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.
Click here for some other important dates during the holiday season. Now we just have to wish for a little snow so that it looks like this...
Skansen Christmas Market, photo by Marie Andersson.