Fika, Vikings, and ABBA on the Archipelago: A 4-day Weekend in Stockholm

Stockholm: Stortorget or 'big square'
Stockholm: Stortorget or 'big square'  Angel Villalba / Getty Images


At the start of my most recent visit to Stockholm, I noticed about 100 cranes in my panoramic view—and no, I don’t mean the birds. I pointed this out to one of my guides, and she responded sharply: “A city under construction is alive. A city without it is dead.”

Stockholm is alive and evolving. If you haven’t been in a handful of years (much less ever), then your number is up. Fika-fied Södermalm is the heir apparent to Brooklyn’s reign as hipsterville. They’ve even got a Brooklyn Brewery equivalent: Nya Carnegiebryggeriet. The city center—which, until recently, was a brutalist wasteland—is now populated with Ace-like hotels, world-class dining, and nightlife that rages ’til sun-up. My favorite detail of all: Much of the city is cash-free. I didn’t hit the ATM once on my recent four-day visit, sparing me loose change and withdrawal fees.

The classic stuff is still there, too: the royal palace, museums about Vikings and ABBA, and even an open-air reenactment museum with baking, pottery, wolverines, and traditional music.

But don’t let my observation about the construction deter you: Sure, Stockholm is pristine, but it also has more grit than you’d expect (that’s a good thing) from the cobbled old town of Gamla Stan to crisp, blustery winters on the archipelago. Stockholm has long been the top Scandinavian destination, and they’re not looking to relinquish the crown any time soon.

If you’re heading there yourself, here’s what to do, where to stay, where to eat, and how to get there.

Where to Stay

While Stockholm’s goings on spread to all corners of the archipelago, you ought to stay near the center for easy access to it all. Public transit is a cinch, but so is walking. These four hotels, each 5 minutes on foot from the next, are your best bets for a convenient, comfortable stay.

Bank Hotel
Bank Hotel Courtesy of Bank Hotel

Brand new and sophisticated: Bank Hotel

Our money’s on the newly opened Bank Hotel to become Stockholm’s high-demand hotspot. It’s built in a former bank (hence the name), as evidenced by the grandiose, glass-ceilinged restaurant Bonnie’s (the former bank hall) and the mahogany-walled Papillon, a restaurant that’s ideal for a nightcap or happy hour (inspired by the bank director’s original office). You can inquire about a private event at the hidden Chambre Separé, a secluded bar up a winding staircase to the ninth floor. (Every good bank has its hideaways.) Or, retire to your wood-and-stone toned room or suite, outfitted with contemporary furnishings, Diptyque toiletries, and the classiest execution of carpeting I’ve ever seen. (I’m now convinced it’s coming back.)

Hotel at Six in Stockholm
Hotel at Six in Stockholm Courtesy Image

Hipster Heaven: Hotel At Six

The main critique of At Six is, in my opinion, its strongest selling point: It’s all very dark—the hallways, the detailing in each ultra-cozy room, and even the sun-soaked lobby has a black and gray motif. This moody, subdued color scheme’s actually a recipe for comfort—especially in a city with gloomy weather half the year. At Six feels like the center of the hipster world when you’re there, thanks to the co-owned neighboring rooftop bar, Stockholm Under Stars, and the vinyl-spun living room lounge Hosoi. But don’t get the wrong idea: It’s not in the least bit pretentious, either. If you want your hotel to feel like it’s ahead of the curve and on the pulse, At Six is your stop.

Berns Hotel in Stockholm
Berns Hotel in Stockholm Courtesy of Beatrice Bruteskog

Laid-Back Luxury, but FUN: Berns Hotel

In the same vein of At Six, Berns has a LOT going on. My jaw was on the floor at first glance of Asiatiska, its double-decked-out dining room with chandeliers, velvet seats, and the best Chinese menu in town (as well as a killer breakfast and brunch, too). It all turns into one of the wildest party spots on weekend nights, but its rooms and suites feel a hundred miles away from the commotion, with their pop-color textiles and quiet balconies—some of which even have terraces, jacuzzis, and, if you’re super fancy, a bathroom that converts into a sauna. There’s even a clock tower suite, a two-floor apartment fixed inside of, yep, you guessed it, a clock tower. Berns is on its own planet, in a good way: It’s above your expectations in every sense.

Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel Courtesy of Grand Hotel

Regal and Relaxing: Grand Hotel

Of all your options in Stockholm, the Grand Hotel is, quite evidently, the grandest. Every inch of it is stately: Just get a glimpse of the Cadier Bar, the 18,000-bottle wine cellar, Veranda waterfront dining room, and the Micheln-starred Mathias Dahlgren restaurant. (Seriously, all that is under one super long, high roof.) With Bottega Veneta amenities, many rooms and suites offer harbor views, separate baths, plush outfits, and fresh flowers. This is your idyllic Scandinavian honeymoon crash pad… and the moment life peaks.

How to Get There

Fitting for a four-day weekend, Scandinavian Airlines offers numerous long weekend fares, with direct flights to Stockholm from Newark, Chicago, Boston, DC, Miami, LA, and San Francisco round trip from $499. (Ditto for the same starting cities to Copenhagen or Oslo.) Flights arrive in their destination on Thursday or Friday, and return Sunday or Monday.

What to Do

Vasa Museum

Gander at a 17th-century Viking ship that capsized and was recovered some 300+ years later, then immerse yourself in exhibitions that showcase life in this era.

Skansen

This open-air museum reenacts and encapsulates life in old-time Sweden. Costumed workers bake bread, blow glass, practice pottery, and make music. Get a glimpse of wildlife from all over the region, too. This one you can’t miss—it’s not as tacky as it sounds.

ABBA Museum

This museum is so energetic in how it shows the rise and run of ABBA, with the chance to sing karaoke or dance alongside ABBA holograms as you belt out your favorite tunes.

ABBA Museum
ABBA Museum Courtesy of ABBA Museum

Fotografiska

The Museum of Photography has rotating exhibits encompassing the frivolity of fashion and the perils of planet Earth. Don’t miss the café upstairs—it’s a notch above most museum nosheries.

Stockholm Palace

Get a glimpse of life as a royal inside the official residency of the King. Tour the 18th- and 19th-century reception rooms, Museum of Antiquities, armory, and royal stables.

Sweden, Stockholm, View on the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, old town
Sweden, Stockholm, View on the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, old town Westends61 / Getty Images

Royal City Park

This park’s as royal as you’d expect. Have a swim, a bike ride, or a relaxing picnic in this body of green.

Nobel Museum

There are showcases on past and current Nobel Prize winners, with rotating exhibits that add colorful cultural commentary to your Stockholm visit.

Musikaliska

Catch a concert from the brass symphony orchestra or the Stockholm Country orchestra, among other visiting acts in this 19th-century music hall.

Moderna Museet

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, exhibiting works of modern and contemporary art…duh? (But really, they’ve got 140K+ works rotating in and out of viewing, plus exhibitions, so…)

Rooftop History Tour

This is a unique way to learn about the city’s history—from a bird’s eye view.

Gamla Stan

The cobbled old town is as charming and cozy as you’d hoped—with a bunch of great restaurants and shops for your discovery.

Stockholm, Sweden, Gamala Stan
Stockholm, Sweden, Gamala Stan Leonardo Patrizi / Getty Images

Södermalm

Boutiques, trendy restaurants, bespoke barbershops… this neighborhood is the heartbeat of Stockholm’s creative class.

Archipelago Day Trips

If your feet are tired and your history cap is capped, then consider any one of the archipelago day trips that take you just outside the city and to a handful of nearby towns. (Or just take a long cruise that demands nothing more than sightseeing and day drinking.)

Where to Eat and Drink

L’Avventura

Exquisite Italian fine dining in a renovated theater. Reserve sooner than later—it’s the hottest ticket in town these days.

Café and Bageri Pascal

We’d be remiss not to highlight the best place for Fika. (If you didn’t know, it’s the Swedish tradition of a midday coffee break.) Pascal is the perfect spot for it, and for a croissant break too.

Lykke

Nordic ingredients with top-tier execution. This is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner or winter whiskey, inside the newly renovated Nordic Light Hotel.

Nosh and Chow

Most items are grilled over charcoal and flames for a hearty, heartwarming menu that’ll please every appetite. Check the calendar upstairs at Bernies & Mono, a lounge bar that evolves into a nightclub a few nights each week.

Nosh and Chow
Nosh and Chow Courtesy of Nosh and Chow

Långa Raden

Have a drink in the garden of the Hotel Skeppsholmen, or make it a lunchtime destination for open-air fuel and A+ Nordic hospitality.

Indio Kitchen

This is Stockholm’s first Nikkei Kitchen, honoring Peruvian cuisine that employs Japanese recipes.

Café Nizza

Sea bass, razor clams, crispy octopus… Café Nizza is a seafood favorite among locals. Book ahead.

Hillenberg restaurant in Stockholm
Hillenberg restaurant in Stockholm Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

Nook

Korean dishes, local ingredients: Try the suckling pig feast, but call ahead at least three days so they can plan it for you. (Seriously, or else you’re out of luck.)

Bar Agrikultur

Farm freshness, mid-century décor, and an open kitchen. Cozy, tasty, perfect.

Hillenberg

This spot is worth visiting for its cocktails and wine selection alone, but dinner seals the deal: Dishes are inspired by the south of Europe, incorporating ingredients from the north.

Tyge & Sessil
Tyge & Sessil Courtesy of Mathias Nordgren

Tjoget

Housing the restaurant Line Ten and the wine bar Hornstulls Bodega, Tjoget’s corner of Södermalm might be the neighborhood’s buzziest.

Tyge & Sessil

This cozy wine bar serves pours from small-batch vineyards.