You’ll no doubt by now be well versed with the popular words that have become synonymous with this year of 2016 — post-truth, Brexit, hygge, or perhaps even coulrophobia (the extreme or irrational fear of clowns which spiked after the unnerving ‘creepy clown craze’) to name but a few. But the word I have decided to reflect on for 2016?
That’s right, earlier this year while visiting Stockholm I discovered the wondrous Swedish art of the coffee break — that time of the day Swedes diligently assign to savouring and indulging in a fine blend, perhaps accompanied by something sweet like a cinnamon bun. Yes please!
What I also discovered though, is that Fika is so much more than just a coffee break. It’s a warming social tradition ingrained in Swedish culture, a chance to set aside some quality time for oneself or to connect with friends and loved ones. So while staying in Stockholm I decided it would be rude not to join the locals in this blissful daily ritual and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Aside from this Stockholm is certainly a real treat for solo travellers; easy to navigate, safe, gifted with interesting neighbourhoods each with its own characteristic charm, and fantastic shops, bars and cafes where you can interact with locals if you wish, or sink anonymously into some quality you time.
Fika though was my favourite revelation from my weekend here, a simple but comforting concept. It represents for me a memory that I can look back on fondly from a year where comfort has not always been easy to find, especially in the 2016 world where post-truth is bestowed word of the year.
Until next time…
A meal at Woodstockholm is quite a remarkable gastronomic affair and in a city boasting some of the finest restaurants in Europe, it certainly holds it own. The space is intimate, sophisticated and the embodiment of Scandi minimalism (in fact many items can be found on sale at the adjoining furniture shop Woodstockholm AB). Solo diners can inconspicuously immerse themselves amongst the buzzing local crowd and their seating area at the bar is a prime location to relish the atmosphere, interact with the enthusiastic staff and even catch sight of Chef Elias and his team at work in the kitchen. Dishes are listed on a simple chalk board and change regularly with a consistent focus on sourcing sustainable ingredients — my waiter kindly translated and recommended options for my solo self!
Some highlights from my evening included a horsemeat tartare with brown butter crumb, artichoke purée and lingonberries, as well as a hazelnut and wild mushroom velouté topped with poached egg. The meal really encapsulated what a great dining experience should be for me; the opportunity to savour, experiment and even challenge myself to sample new flavours and pairings that eclipse my usual culinary repertoire, leaving satisfied memories not just of the dishes themselves, but of the entire event, a perfectly executed culinary showstopper.
Quirky and colourful interiors make this breakfast, brunch and lunch spot a comforting respite from sightseeing activities. The menu offers perfect quick-bite fodder with tasty salads and sandwiches all made to order. Make sure to sample something from the hot drinks menu — their tea and coffee cups are quaint, just like the sort your Grandmother might have in her kitchen cabinet. Yes, comfort indeed.
The Swedish version of Wholefoods but with an adjoining restaurant that is busy throughout the day, transforming into a thriving evening-time eatery that locals adore. Diners here are a trendy and style-conscious contingent, the menu is crowd-pleasing and the entire set up and atmosphere is a real doppelganger for New York’s meatpacking or Chelsea neighbourhood restaurants.
I happily discovered this little place just down the road from my hotel as I searched for somewhere to revive my sleepy and peckish self after an early morning London departure. The space here is small but the intuitive design makes the most of the interior on offer, with seating areas stretching up a level via wooden steps to accommodate small benches. On any given day it is popular with a loyal brigade of locals and true to neighbourhood hangout form, everyone seems to know each other. Run by a father and son team, Kalf & Hansen’s speciality is based on a Nordic organic and healthy fast food concept with dishes centred around staples of beef, fish or vegetarian quenelles. Fortunately they have an English menu and service is quick with cheery staff on hand to take orders. An authentic and tasty Scandi lunch recommendation if you are in the Mariatorget area of the city.
A little bit shabby and mismatched perhaps, Konditori Sturekatten is nonetheless a delightful alternative to some of the sleeker outlets dotted around modern day Stockholm. Climbing to the second floor café via a spiralled staircase, you are literally transported back in time to the traditional and ornate comfort of your grandparent’s home — think net curtains, antique china and ornaments. Lunches and afternoon tea are big business here and do try one of their delicious cardamon or cinnamon buns, they’re among the most satisfying of any their rivals.
Coffee and tea lovers rejoice, Johan & Nyström is the pinnacle of excellence amidst the city’s many other options. Not only does it serve as a showcase for the coffees of the Johan & Nyström roasters, its uniqueness stems from its design as a concept store that aims to educate people who want to learn more about coffee — it even has two in-house experts who teach courses, as well as daily tutorials anyone can attend at 3pm. For those who prefer tea the store offers a splendid selection of blends, all sourced from producers who treat their workers and the environment with respect. Fulfilling their mission to bring tastier, sustainable teas and coffees to the people, this place exudes a passion from its staff that is infectious, making it a daily destination for a superb Matcha Latte during my visit!
Fantastic coffees, teas and juices; irresistible homemade cakes and treats; delicious brunch and lunch plates; all within the backdrop of a stylish interior and soft furnishings — it’s no wonder Kaffeverkat is always buzzing with trade and a trendy clientele. If you can grab a seat you could happily set up camp here for an hour or more of reading, writing or just being and if you need a recommendation from the menu then do try their spicy turmeric latte for soothing comfort in a cup — go for it iced in the warmer months.
If time allows, a mini adventure to one of Stockholm’s 30,000 islands is a fantastic excursion out of the city. Vaxholm is one of the closest (around an hour by boat) and a quaint little town with pristinely restored wooden houses painted in typically delicate pastel tones. Strolling along the main waterfront area there are several charming shops and restaurants as well as the famous Waxholm Hotel, perhaps slightly dated but nonetheless a classic experience and a nice spot for lunch or dinner. For a real flavour of relaxed and rustic Swedish residential preferences, wander around some of the interior sloping streets which are lined with well-preserved and colourful homes. Don’t miss catching a view of the imposing fortress dating back centuries and which now houses a museum.
Visit waxholmsbolaget.se/visitor/archipelago-traffic/tickets-prices/ for details on taking a ferry to Vaxholm or elsewhere in the archipelago.
Every cosmopolitan city has its patch of green pride and in Stockholm it’s Djurgården. There is a plethora of museums located here ranging from the Nordiska Museet, whose magnificent exterior is built in the form of a Nordic renaissance castle, to the Abba Museum. With plenty of walking trails throughout, you can easily claim some quiet time the further inside the park you go with local joggers passing by for company. Its location right along the water means you can circle a lovely panoramic loop that takes in sweeping views stretching from the grand buildings lining the avenues of the Östermalm neighbourhood, back round to the prominent bay area. Most importantly your best chance for some excellent snacks, cakes and coffee can be found at the lovely Ektorpet.
A fantastic hub of contemporary art, this is an international meeting place that revolves around photography. Housed in a former industrial building, the waterside location affords visitors stunning vistas of the city scape. Around twenty small and four larger collections are exhibited annually with an emphasis on showcasing both well-established and unknown photographers under one roof. There is a fantastic bookshop on the ground floor and no trip here would be complete without a visit to the top floor restaurant. Operating under the helm of the renowned Swedish chef Paul Svensson, it was voted the second best museum restaurant in the world for 2016.
Located on a beautiful central square in Stockholm’s Old Town, the Nobel Museum is housed in a beautiful airy 18th century building and offers an excellent insight into the history of the world renowned prize as well as its founder Alfred Nobel. Although the literature and peace prizes are the more widely referred to in popular media, mainly because of their more widely recognisable recipients — Barack Obama and Bob Dylan to name just two — the Nobel Prize also acknowledges some of the finest contributors to the realms of physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine. The museum delivers an insightful journey for visitors through some of the most important ideas and discoveries of the last century and the faces behind them.
Library, book and architecture fans won’t fail to be impressed by Stockholm’s Public Library, designed by world famous architect Gunnar Asplund. The circular central hall is a stunning haven for thousands of books and is home to titles from every Nordic language. The white textured roof is designed to imitate a cloud filled sky and taking a few moments to absorb the tranquil atmosphere and savour some oft missing quiet time, is a lovely way to detour from the bustle of the city outside.
One for modern art connoisseurs, this wonderfully spacious gallery is the perfect place to satisfy your cultural inclinations with an expansive collection that includes Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Irving Penn and Meret Oppenheim. Given that Andy Warhol held his first solo European show here back in 1968, the walls simply ooze a rich history and passion for contemporary art, evident from its impressive amalgamation of some 6,000 paintings, sculptures and installations, as well as thousands of photographs, videos and films. The museum is located on a beautiful island in central Stockholm called Skeppsholmen that boasts panoramic views of the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and bay area.
Named Storkyrkan in Swedish, the cathedral is the oldest church in the Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town area. It boasts an interior with a genuine wow factor, crowned by an ornate baroque style and dramatically high ceilings. It has played host to many historic religious occasions, most recently hosting the wedding ceremony of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel in 2010.
The City Hall building, situated right by the water, is one of the most iconic landmarks of Stockholm’s cityscape. Designed by architect Ragnar Östberg, the entire place is built from eight million bricks and its tower is crowned in gold with the Swedish coat of arms. On any given day you can catch a glimpse of couples celebrating their wedding nuptials as they pose outside for photographs and the location also hosts the internationally renowned Nobel Prize banquet each year. There are daily guided tours and in the summertime you can climb up the tower to discover breathtaking vistas of the city.
The epitome of Scandi chic, Grandpa is appealingly stocked with tasteful collections of clothing, shoes, accessories, homeware and jewellery. There are several stores dotted around the city with its flagship located in Kungsholmen. If you plan to treat yourself Scandi style, this is the place to do it.
I’ve been enviously eyeing owners of chic and practical Sanqvist bags for some time now, so I decided a trip to Stockholm was the perfect opportunity to check out their store and purchase one of their simple, well-made and functional designs which embody Swedish heritage. Founded in in 2014, the Stockholm branches are located in Södermalm and Östermalm.
Stockholm isn’t the cheapest of cities and I struggled to find a decent Airbnb room that wasn’t listed at an extortionate price so after researching a few other options I stumbled across Hotel Hornsgatan, a fairly basic but beautifully decorated, comfortable and secure option for solo travellers. The staff were very friendly, the rooms all have a flat screen TV, there is speedy Wi-Fi throughout and the room rate includes breakfast as well as all-day tea, coffee, juice and snacks. It’s located in the Södermalm area of the city which hosts a wonderful array of restaurants, trendy shops and cafés all within walking distance. A top recommendation for your stay!