Nestled amongst an island cluster of “ye olden”-style, Diagon Alley-like passage streets and new age cityscape alike, Stockholm collides the modernity expected of a European capital with the quaint heritage of a medieval market town, in quintessentially Swedish style. Pleasantly hostel-heavy for the typical gap year inter-railer, yet humouring the venetian brickwork of a Room With A View grand tour, Stockholm combines pub crawl with wine tasting, the lads-on-tour mentality with a reclusive sensibility – It’s somewhat like eating cold left-over pizza from last night’s party with Italy’s finest caviar.
For the cheap and cheerful traveller, avoiding Stockholm’s central international airports is key. Opt instead for Stockholm Vasteras (VST), two hours and two hundred kronor, the best part of a reasonable twenty pound fare, from Stockholm City itself. Passing through the open grassland and farming territory of Swedish cliché, you arrive into the capital’s northern region having been integrated into the outside’s isolationism, only then to be greeted with the novelty of an urban culture thriving and peopled, alongside the inevitable ‘Eurovision: Stockholm 2016’ enthusiastic motorway banners.
With a relatively petite core, Stockholm City is an easily walkable destination, taking two hours tops to stroll from one corner of the capital (Stockholm Terminalen: coach and train stations) to the next (Ericsson Globen: the planet’s largest spherical auditorium). Very much a metropolis of the walker – one central high street, despite transforming in architectural form every quarter mile, connects all three segments of the city – you can establish the majority of its charm over a well-spent two day duration. From an aerial view, the town’s structure seems eerily similar to that of a spider; the backbone of Stockholm stretches inter-island for two to three miles, indie haven side streets flexing outwards into limb-like alleys housing themed pubs and record stores alike. Stockholm has the ambience of a British college in the 1980s: unironically-selected leather jackets are worn en masse, food options range from meatballs to hotdogs and posters advertising summer festivals (featuring vaguely recognised acts) cling to every other wall. Don’t miss interpret this analogy by any means, as Stockholm’s aura and distinctly student appeal, merging bars with semi-nightclub warfare, is an unexpected joy, juxtaposing with the civility of classical statues, educational museums and a grand palace.
Arriving two days later than my counterparts, both of whom urged me to bring sun tan lotion and Ray-Ban specs, the weather remained very much the passive aggressive cloud cover I’d left at Stansted: expect the changeable London forecast to which we’re accustomed. While the tour guide joked of Stockholm’s limited “fifteen days of summer a year”, a dreary grey drizzle left us unsure as to his sarcasm. I imagine this explains the aforementioned iconic status of rock ‘n’ roll leather jackets throughout industrial Sweden. It’s not to look cool: it’s to stay sufficiently dry during the spit, yet the swagger is removable when the European sun comes full circle.
Merging a restrained take on the teenage dream through pubs, clubs and vinyl hubs with the rich history attributed to every capital – you could wander past the Royal Palace without an inkling – Stockholm is both literally and figurative an island surrounded by the ocean. While you find most of your time will indeed be spent on bridges and ferries, the outlying countryside cements the capital as a form of lost city, the elegance and jazz of the islands simply stumbled upon by your coach party alone. If you land in Stockholm Arlanda, this novelty is lost entirely; if you want to discover the difference between the Stockholm and your Stockholm, the tension and wilderness of that one hundred minute bus is a necessity.
Words by George Somers