9 Things to Do in Stockholm: Gamla Stan, Vasa Museum …
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 21 MAR 2021
Things to Do in Stockholm: Vasa Museum, Gamla Stan…
The city of Stockholm hosts the Nobel Prize ceremonies and subsequent banquets at the Stockholm City Hall. Moreover, Stockholm features a world-famous shipwreck museum, the Vasa Museum, and it has a unique spherical national arena building, the Ericsson Globe, served by modern glass gondolas and offering the Skyview on top.
As a visitor it is not hard to spend a couple of exciting days in the Swedish capital, also known as Venice of the North due to its spectacular beauty.
Explore the bohemian neighbourhood Södermalm, featuring a great cultural diversity, or chill at the popular hangout Kungsträdgården with a whirl of activity.
Discover the amazing subway art consisting of a blend of sculptures, mosaics, installations, paintings and engravings, or visit an inspiring gallery in Gamla Stan.
Where to stay in Stockholm? City Hostel (budget) with an excellent location, Hotel Tegnerlunden (mid-range) with modern rooms and within walking distance of Gamla Stan, Clarion Hotel Amaranten (top) in the heart of Stockholm.
Inspiration for your Sweden trip: 9 Unique Spots in Gothenburg
The Nobel Museum, or Nobelmuseet in Swedish, in Gamla Stan dedicates itself, as the name indicates, to displaying the Nobel laureates and their fascinating works.
There are indeed so many fascinating cultural things to do in Stockholm, and it is really just a matter of picking the ones appealing most to you, when you have the opportunity to visit the Swedish capital.
Below, we will suggest 9 interesting things to do, once in Stockholm. Get inspiration and decide which ones sound most enticing to you!
Visit Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s fascinating old town, Gamla Stan, consisting of three islands, Stadsholmen, Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen, is among the best preserved medieval city centres in Europe. This old part of the city was founded already in 1252, when the Middle Ages prevailed in Europe!
Today, the medieval reminiscence only adds to the atmosphere and authentic character here in the winding cobblestone streets.
Beautiful churches, Storkyrkan and the 96 m tall Tyska kyrkan with the copper spire, as well as a handful of intriguing museums and other significant buildings contribute to the special expression and charm of Gamla Stan. Although Stockholm’s foundation goes approximately 800 years back in time, the vast majority of the current buildings date from the 17th or 18th centuries.
The most significant constructions in Gamla Stan are the Royal Palace, which is one of the largest palaces in the world, and the impressive 14th-century cathedral, with a baroque appearance, Storkyrkan, the seat of the Bishop of Stockholm, has framed both royal weddings and coronations, as well as the annual opening ceremony of the parliament. Another absolutely noteworthy structure is the neoclassical Parliament House, Riksdagshuset, constructed around 1900 and covering most of the island Helgeandsholmen! It features a spectacular baroque revival style façade, as well as impressive Corinthian columns. There is notably free admission.
One of the real treasures in Gamla Stan is the picturesque Stortorget, an adorable square flanked by the most beautiful architecture, colourful aristocratic residential houses built between the 13th and 19th centuries. The plaza is also the location of the old Stock Exchange from 1776, as well as the Nobel Prize Museum where you can listen to the acceptance speeches by some of the former laureates, including Martin Luther King Jr. Also the Swedish Academy headquarters used for the announcement of the Nobel Prize winner is situated here.
In the centre of Stortorget there is a well, which was constructed in 1778, marking the centre of Stockholm. Stortorget is the vibrant heart of the city and the perfect spot if you feel like people watching!
Today, Gamla Stan is an enchanting part of Stockholm. Although remarkably idyllic today, it has not always been so. Stortorget was the epicentre of the dreadful Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520. The Danish King Christian II, known in Sweden as Kristian Tyrann, ‘Christian the Tyrant’, had 82 Swedish dignitaries beheaded precisely here in Stortorget! There is, though, not much in the picture-postcard square today, which directly refers to the gruesome event 500 years ago!
Explore the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, or Kungliga Slottet, on Stadsholmen in Gamla Stan is gigantic with its more than 600 rooms, many of these decorated in a rococo style! The building currently houses the offices of the Swedish Royal Family, as well as a number of museums open to the public, including the Hall of the State, the Tre Kronor Museum featuring medieval history and the Treasury showcasing the regalia. With its extraordinary gems from the last centuries, the Palace features both significant royal history and Swedish cultural heritage.
Besides being the Swedish Monarch’s official residence, he also uses it for representative purposes as a favoured site for royal official receptions.
Another castle was earlier erected here on the premises, preceding the current baroque-style Royal Palace. For several hundred years the medieval Tre Kronor Castle stood here – until it burned down in a devastating fire in 1697. Subsequently, the current structure was designed by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger. When he died in 1728, the Palace was then completed by Carl Hårleman, who also stood behind the design of the intricate rococo interior.
Rich ornaments adorn the façade constructions. The western façade includes ten amazing caryatids and nine medallions in relief, referring to former Swedish monarchs by appearance and names!
These years comprehensive façade renovations have been undertaken. The façade has turned out to be fragile and porous, and a large stonework project has been initiated to renovate the Gotland sandstone surfaces. Due to the extent of the works, the renovation is scheduled to be completed far in the future, not until 2050!
When visiting, you may also watch the traditional changing of the guard, which takes place at the Royal Palace on a daily basis.
Visit the Vasa Museum
An outstanding museum in Stockholm is the Vasa Museum featuring the famous Vasa ship, a warship built between 1626 and 1628. Sadly, the remarkable ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, just a few minutes after putting to sea. All this happened in front of the excited crowd expecting to be celebrating the launch.
Only much later, in 1950, was the warship located again right in Stockholm Harbour! After being raised and partly reassembled, the large Vasa ship is now, centuries later, on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Despite the 333 years on the bottom of the sea, the ship is strikingly well preserved. It is actually the best preserved ship in the world from that period!
It was on the orders of the former King Gustavus Adolphus that the ship was built. He needed it for the military expansion in the war against Poland-Lithuania (1621-1629). The mighty ship was equipped with particular bronze cannons for the warfare.
However, the powerful vessel was somewhat unstable with too much weight on the upper levels. It was therefore a big mistake that the ship received orders to set out. A fatal fate awaited the 30 people on board, as they lost their lives within twenty minutes of setting sail.
Since 1988 the Vasa hull has been housed in the Vasa Museum on the island Djurgården in the Royal National City Park. Not surprisingly, Vasa is a top museum in Scandinavia, visited by thousands of people every year.
Loads of artifacts have been detected in and around the hull of the vessel at the time of raising it. This included clothing, weapons, food and coins, all contributing to valuable insight into the life of the naval people on board and the vessel itself. For many years the Vasa ship has continuously been restored in the museum surroundings, striving to bring it to a state as close to its original state as possible.
Read in the City Library
For a spectacular piece of architecture, the City Library, or Stockholms Stadsbibliotek, is worthy of a visit. It is maybe just a public library, but by appearance it is one of the more unusual ones – really an unparalleled phenomenon!
The compelling structure was created by the famed architect Gunnar Asplund and is a wonderful example of the style Swedish Grace, and it is definitely among the most remarkable libraries in the World.
From outside it has quite an impressive cylindrical shape. Construction of the rotunda began in 1924, and Stockholm Stadsbibliotek was Sweden’s first public library to offer open shelves to the visitors. Here the citizens could access any book without asking for assistance.
Today, the library has become one of Stockholm’s top tourist attractions due to its outstanding beauty and uniqueness. Not surprisingly, it is also a favourite site for exclusive photo shots! Come and see it for yourself!
Have fun at Junibacken
Junibacken on Djurgården is a highly unusual museum, dedicated to Astrid Lindgren’s fairy tale world.
Astrid Lindgren (1907 – 2002) was the world-famous Swedish writer of captivating fiction and screenplays within a children’s universe. Famous for books such as Pippi Longstocking, Emil i Lönneberga, Karlsson-on-the-Roof, the Six Bullerby Children (‘The Children of Noisy Village’), Mio, My Son, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, as well as The Brothers Lionheart, she has achieved well-deserved world fame within her genre. She is the fourth most translated children’s author after Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm! With more than 165 million books sold worldwide, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1994.
Astrid Lindgren grew up in Vimmerby in Småland, and has used many of the locations, her childhood memories and impressions from the area in her books.
Although Junibacken is in essence a children’s attraction, it can as well be enjoyed by adults having a passion for Astrid Lindgren and her stories known in Sweden and abroad.
In the museum a Storybook Train will take you through the fairy tales, narrating a story in the magical world.
The whole idea was projected by playwright and director Staffan Götestam, who visioned the museum as a entirely new interactive attraction in Stockholm, catching children’s attention in a universe they loved. The ride is a complete fairy tale experience including sounds, music, trolls and the well-known characters from Astrid Lindgren’s stories. Also a number of actors and musicians make live performances several times a day in the spectacular museum.
Study art at the Museum of Modern Art
Moderna Museet, the Museum of Modern Art, is situated on Skeppsholmen. It is Stockholm’s renowned museum from 1958 featuring one of Europe’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art, including works by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. The artists Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol are among the artists who have had a close collaboration with the museum.
Other prominent artists contributing to the 20th and 21th-century collections, and whose works are showcased at the museum, include Henri Mattisse, Georges Braque, René Magritte and Joan Miró.
Both Swedish and a wide range or international artists are included at the museum, and the collections comprise approximately 6,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, and 100,000 photographs from 1840 onwards. All together there are many more works than possible to display, which means that the exhibits often change to be able to present as many masterpieces as possible!
The museum comprises a comprehensive collection of art works by Swedish artists with a recent focus on female performers. Also other Scandinavian painters are included with a considerable number of items showcased.
Since 1980 a new and an unusual collection of moving images has gradually expanded and become a central and refreshing part of the permanent exhibitions.
Join a guided tour at Stockholm City Hall
Stockholm City Hall is a popular tourist attraction and a characteristic landmark in the Swedish capital, which draws thousands of visitors every year.
The building contains spectacular ceremonial halls, which are used for banquets and official events in Stockholm.
Besides being used as a venue for conferences and serving as a public workplace, the City Hall is also the location of the Nobel Prize banquet held in December. The guests have an exquisite dinner in the Blue Hall featuring a marble staircase and colonnades, followed by dance in the sumptuously adorned Golden Hall, which contains no less than 18 million gold mosaic tiles.
The architectural style is national romanticism, and the iconic building is visible from many places in the city. Three crowns, Tre Kronor, the Swedish coat of arms, top the impressive 106-metre tall tower as a national symbol. Designed by the Swedish architect Ragnar Östberg in 1923, the City Hall fascinates by being constructed of eight million bricks!
Moreover, a series of frescoes by Prince Eugene Waldermarsodde, a striking 10,000-pipe organ, a number of mechanical figures of St. George, as well as an eye-catching dragon on the building front are all other noteworthy elements of the edifice.
What is also unique about the City Hall are the outstanding, lavish art treasures decorating the interior walls of the square brick structures. Visitors can seize the opportunity to view a plethora of magnificent art works and the remarkable halls on a public guided tour. Another option is to climb the tower for fabulous views of the Swedish capital.
Take a tour of Drottningholm Palace
Meaning ‘the Queen’s islet’, Drottningholm is the other royal palace in the Stockholm area, located a bit outside central Stockholm on Lovön Island.
Stockholm Palace is the official residence and workplace of the current Swedish monarch, while the southern wing of Drottningholm Palace serves as the royal private residence.
Since 1981, the current monarch has predominantly resided in this palace, and it has during this time been thoroughly guarded by the Swedish military!
The stylish palace was built in the 1600s by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Elder, by commission of Queen Hedvig Eleonora. It has elements of both French baroque and Italian classicism, and was, beyond this, influenced in its interior design by its residents througout the years. For instance Hedvig Eleonora, Lovisa Ulrika and Gustav III have, each at their time, all to some extent contributed with new ideas to the decoration of the beautiful reception halls.
The baroque gardens are lovely and they are designed in accordance with the trend popular in the European royal castles at the time.
In 1746 a palace church with an impressive organ was erected. A theatre was added in the 1760s, and this structure has later been transformed into a theatrical museum.
More or less continuously during the last 400 years have renovations taken place in the 220-room spacious construction. The majestic palace is today unique cultural heritage in Sweden.
Learn about Stockholm’s history at Skansen
The island Djurgården features numerous museums and attractions. Besides the Vasa Museum, another engaging open-air museum is Skansen. With more than one million visitors per year, Skansen is one of Stockholm’s top cultural attractions!
In fact, Skansen is the world’s oldest museum of its kind, showcasing farmsteads from everywhere in the country, even including livestock breeds, as well as a 19th century town. With its 150 historical buildings it is the perfect place to explore Sweden’s history, everyday life before the industrial era, as well as the festive traditions maintained both in the past and today.
Skansen opened in 1891 on Artur Hazelius’s initiative. Passionate about history and culture, he had previously founded the Nordic Museum in Djurgården, which Skansen in the beginning was an integrated part of. He found original houses all over Sweden and had them shipped to Djurgården where he reassembled them as part of the museum exhibits.
Sometimes the past comes alive with craftsmen dressed in the traditional way, demonstrating their skills as shoemakers, bakers, glass-blowers, silversmiths and more in authentic surroundings. In summer activities like folk dancing are arranged, and in December the annual Christmas market, existing since 1903, is the big draw with about 25,000 visitors every weekend!
Even a zoo can be found here with Scandinavian climate wildlife such as bisons, brown bears, wolves, moose, seals and reindeer.
Covering an area of about 30,000 square meters, Skansen is indeed an enticing place for an outing. Most conveniently, the visit can be combined with a ride on Skansens Bergbana, a funicular railway on the Skansen hill.
Other attractions on Djurgården include the Abba Museum dedicated to Abba, their music and success, and Gröna Lund, which is Stockholm’s beloved amusement park. A real exceptional museum on the museum island is the Astrid Lindgren museum Junibacken.
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