The Swedish capital and largest city in Scandinavia, Stockholm is often called a ‘Venice of the North,’ with lakes and inlets instead of canals. Even as the days grow shorter and the first breath of winter is in the air, it’s a place that richly rewards explorers on a long weekend, with its historic town quarters, inviting coffee shops, diverse museums, ever-present love of design and an archipelago on its doorstep.
1. The Walk
Stockholm is a city of islands, cliffs and lofty overlooks – a compact place, but not always a flat one. Luckily, walkers have plenty of spots to break for a coffee. At the core of the capital, Gamla Stan (‘The Old Town’) has an island all to itself, its humped shape hidden by tall, close-set houses three or more centuries old. Crossing the Vasabron bridge to its northwest corner, the first sight is the graceful 17th-century design of Riddarhuset, Sweden’s former House of Lords. Deeper into Gamla Stan, Västerlånggatan is a narrow but well-trodden shopping street, the closest thing Stockholm has to a tourist trap. Smaller alleys lead up to the left, towards the centre of the island, where you can find the best of the quarter’s small art galleries and craft shops. It’s quieter during the day than it would have been in medieval times, when this was the extent of the city and home to all its trades, recalled in names like Järntorget (Iron Square). But when the lanterns twinkle on at dusk, and people leave the cobblestones for the warmth of a tiny bistro, the old town looks truly ageless.
2. The Coffee
The aroma that best represents Stockholm is a waft of roasted coffee beans escaping from a doorway, chased by warm notes of cinnamon and cardamom from some new-baked buns. No day here is truly fulfilled without a ‘fikapaus’ or two, the time when people pause from their duties for fika – a good cup of coffee and, ideally, a sweet pastry to go with it. Fika is not a hasty shot of espresso at a stand-up counter, or a cup grabbed ‘to go’; it’s time marked off for slow appreciation. This is especially true at Johan & Nystrom; the business began 12 years ago as Sweden’s first speciality coffee roasters, selling to cafés around the city. It has since also opened a store of its own on a street corner in the Södermalm district. Windowside benches and attached wooden tray tables are designed for easy perching (a blessing for customers in bulky winter clothes) and tins of coffee and tea provide colour in the modern space. The aim here is to show an already keen nation the diversity of world coffees, not just in the chalked up menu, but in Friday tastings and home barista courses too.