A Stockholm Portrait

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I was expecting the capital city of one of the world’s richest, cleanest and happiest countries to be another concrete jungle of towering skyscrapers and postmodern architectural monstrosities.

Yet the only entities breaking Stockholm’s skyline are intricate church steeples and stunning monumental towers. My first thoughts when doing this Stockholm portrait were “Where are all the skyscrapers?”

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Beautiful Stockholm is a medieval city of sea, lake and land built on 14 islands. In the heart of the city, ferries and yachts dock in the Norrström Channel — where one can even fish or swim in — waiting to fetch tourists for a breathtaking peek at The Archipelago, comprising an astounding 30,000 islets, stretching 80 km to the east.

Numerous historical buildings dot the city. The most famous of them is the massive city hall, Stadshuset, and its 106m square tower topped with three crowns, the symbol of Stockholm. Located just out of the main city area, this was one of Sweden’s biggest architectural projects of the 20th century and is today the venue for major events like the Nobel Prize festivities.

Most historical buildings are concentrated within Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. A walk along its cobblestone paths and narrow alleys — the narrowest is at 3 ft wide — with yellow-plastered townhouses lining their sides, reveals buildings and monuments of heritage that tell stories dating back 700 years.

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Looking on from a slight distance away, Riddarholmskyrkan with its unique latticed spire is the resting place of many royal figures, whose sarcophagi and graves lie within the church’s compounds.

With 100 or so museums here, this is one of the most museum-endowed cities in the world.

Even if you’re a museum enthusiast and bought the value-for-money Stockholm Card which allows entry to most popular museums and attractions, it’s impossible to see even half of them.

A relic in itself, the af Chapman, a 1888 freight ship permanently berthed off the island of Skeppsholmen since 1949, is a budget hostel where I stayed. The divine salmon and sausage dishes from the on-deck restaurant make this a worthy place to visit.

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Stockholm is also visibly artistic, and the city comes alive in a kaleidoscope of arts related events during summer. During my visit, there were nightly jazz concerts by the harbourside, art fairs and free activities at various art museums, as well as at Kulturhuset, the city’s cultural centre identifiable by a tall obelisk, which was hosting a three-day performance art event as part of the Stockholm Fringe Festival.

Taking in the Swedish arts scene, enjoying concerts in the park, sidewalk magic shows and even nude performances live in the middle of a public square are the highlights. These attracted not only a huge inquisitive crowd but also a couple of policemen who drove their police cars right up to the venue just to be part of the audience.

Written by guest contributor