What cheese is to France, in all its bewildering variety, herring is to Sweden. This little fish is a national favourite, served pickled or in mustard sauce on a smorgasbord table, and chopped up with beetroot and apple in a Christmas salad. In the north of the country, it’s fermented in a sealed can for several months before being eaten, usually outdoors, in a breeze. Standard Atlantic herrings grow smaller and less fatty when it lives in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. Swedes call the saltwater version ‘sill’, but use ‘strömming’ for herring caught north of the port of Kalmar. One of the simplest ways to try this staple is at Nystekt Strömming, a no-frills stall with a few wooden tables and benches on the plaza outside Slussen metro station, which overlooks the south side of Gamla Stan. Behind the counter, fillets of herring are fried and then served with a choice of sides. The texture of the slightly breaded fish is balanced with creamy mashed potatoes and a triangle of crispbread, along with red onion, pickled cucumber, dill mayonnaise, grated carrots and more. As in many other cities, food trucks have taken off in Stockholm in recent years, but herring has always swum ahead of the trend.
6. The Museum
The park-like surrounds of Djurgården are home to the city’s greatest concentration of museums, but none is quite like Skansen.
Founded in 1891 to record Sweden’s traditions before they were swept away by industrialisation, it’s a combined open-air museum and zoo, and possibly the world’s most tasteful theme park. Over its 125 years, more than 150 heritage buildings have been moved here from all over Sweden: lordly manor houses, turf-roofed cottages, a church and town quarters that include a working bakery and glass-blowing workshop. At one corner of Skansen, sheep and pigs surround prosperous farmsteads from southern Sweden. At the other, reindeer paw at the ground of a Sami camp, representing the far north, perhaps catching a scent from the park’s wolves. Outside Oktorpsgården farm, a woman in 19th-century costume pauses from chopping wood flakes off a birch log to answer questions from curious visitors. When later she wanders in to the 1930s convenience store to chat to the period-dressed staff there, it’s a pleasing moment of inadvertent anachronism.