From Gamla Stan in Stockholm, it is just 10 minutes by boat across the harbor to the island of Djurgården, once a royal deer park.
Much of Djurgården is still in its natural state, with paths and woods where you may spot small creatures, both everyday and rare, such as hares and the occasional deer. The island is part if Ekoparken, the world’s first city national park.
A good way to get around is to hire a bike at the bridge, which forms the road entrance (also the place to hire kayaks and rowing boats when the lure of Stockholm’s glittering waters proves overwhelming).
As the ferry slides into the Djurgården quay, there is no mistaking that this is an island devoted to enjoyment. On the right is Gröna Lund, an amusement park with 18th-century roots and up-to-the-minute rides, including its seventh rollercoaster, Twister new for 2011.
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Fans of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books should not miss Junibacken, a children’s attraction/theatre dedicated to her eccentric characters. An electrically operated indoor tram, with narration in English, allows the rider to experience Astrid’s World, floating over miniature scenes from her books with moving figures, light and sound, as familiar characters suddenly pop out of corners.
Heading south on Djurgården, where the island rises in steps to a hilltop, is Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world. In 1891, Arthur Hazelius decided to preserve the fast-disappearing Swedish way of life by collecting traditional buildings. Today there are some 150, including an 18th-century church, still used for services and weddings. In summer, costumed craftspeople meander round the steep cobbled town and demonstrate traditional crafts such as glassblowing in the little workshops.
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Skansen’s Zoo contains Nordic fauna, such as bears, elk, reindeer, wolves and wild boar; and its Aquarium holds some distinctly un-Nordic creatures such as monkeys and crocodiles.
While on Djurgården it’s worth visiting the lovely former home and collection of the “Painter Prince” Prince Eugens Waldemarsudde, which overlooks the sea.
On the far side of the island, fans of Nordic art should make time for the Thielska Galleriet. Ernest Thiel was pals with Carl Larsson, Edvard Munch and Bruno Liljefors, and accumulated a fine collection of his friend’s work.
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If you choose bus instead of boat and enter the island over Djurgårdsbron from Strandvägen, the first museum you come to is the Nordic Museum (Nordiska Muséet), which depicts Nordic life from the 16th century. It has peasant costumes, a collection of bridal gowns and the traditional silver and gold crowns worn by Swedish brides, exhibits on Lapland culture, folk art, and more.
To the west of the Nordiska Muséet on the waterfront is the huge, oddly shaped Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet). Inaugurated in 1990, the must-see museum houses the Vasa warship, built in the 1620s for the Thirty Years Wat, on the orders of Sweden’s warrior king, Gustav II Adolf. She was a magnificent ship, decorated with 700 sculptures and carvings, but her oak was too solid. In 1628 she sank in Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage. In 1956 the Swedish marine archeologist Anders Franzén found her and, in 1961, brought her up from the depths.
More than 24,000 objects have been salvaged from the seabed, including skeletons, sails, cannon, clothing, tools, coins, butter, rum and many everyday utensils.
A short walk across the bridge is the spectacular Guldrummet (Gold Room), an underground vault featuring more than 3,000 prehistoric gold and silver artefacts, inside the Museum of National Antiquities (Historiska Muséet).
The World’s First City National Park – in Stockholm, written by Tor Kjolberg
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