A day tour of Stockholm in which I explored Gamla Stan and The Royal Palace.
From 10 am until 5 pm, my friend Cassandra and I flitted about Stockholm – both of us for the first time – and discovered that it was quite impossible to see everything in one day. Stockholm is best handled in manageable chunks, in a series of weekends or similar. We focused our attention, then, on two attractions neighboring one another: Gamla Stan, and The Royal Palace.
We found Gamla Stan by accident. After disembarking from Centralstation, we had an aimless wander down whichever side roads looked most fascinating. I couldn’t tell you any definitive directions in terms of what streets on which we turned or buildings we passed, but somehow Gamla Stan suddenly rose up before us in a tangle of narrow pathways, roadside boutiques, and quaint souvenir shops selling tax-free items you can snag for friends and family (or yourself).
Close to, we stepped through this majestic gateway overlooking the harbor on the left and right.
The pathways constituting Gamla Stan are adorable in every sense of the word: narrow, stippled with rust-colored buildings, speckled with every sort of store and restaurant you can imagine. Gamla Stan translates to “Old Town,” and saw its founding in 1252 – and thus, Stockholm as we know it was born. The architecture betrays the sheer medieval vibe which must have hurried between the buildings back in the elder days. I kept imagining Viking warriors strutting midst the bustle, and may or may not have mentally pictured myself as one, garbed in their clothing with one of those stereotypical horn helmets covering my face and neck. You feel like you’re stepping into a time capsule, when strolling about Gamla Stan.
I believe the photo below was photographed similarly in post cards I encountered. I’m not entirely sure, though.
I’m absolutely horrid with names, but I bought a print at this beautiful gallery for 100 SEK – a worthwhile souvenir investment for myself.
After tooling around the area, we actually attempted to visit the Vasamuseet – a 30 minute or so walk from Gamla Stan, facing the beautiful harbor dotted with boat restaurants and even a floating chocolatier. The line to enter proved quite a deterrent, however. The Vasa Museum is one of Stockholm’s most popular attractions, and we had the intention to view it, but our rumbling stomachs enticed our brains to say: “We’ll come back for this another day.”
On our walk back to Gamla Stan, we passed by the Royal Palace just in time to see a few guards marching by, with a flawless stern rhythm, seeking some errand or another. This, I think, made us decide that Kungliga Slottet would be a quality focus for the day trip. I personally would have found it unforgivable to visit Stockholm sans a look into the quarters of the King, and all kings and queens prior. Seeing the guards so up-close was surreal: it boggles me to think that people who frequent Stockholm probably witness such a procession every day, and perhaps don’t think much of it. I, on the other hand, stood astounded for the few seconds they were near.
Real-life palace guardsmen.
One never witnesses that in the States.
Of course, the exterior of the Palace is watched as well by a dapper gentleman garbed in the deep blue uniform of a palace guard. Grim-faced and armed with a frighteningly large mechanism, the guard is placid in the face of giddy tourists. One can take a photo with him, but at a certain distance so to not disrupt his duty.
We pocketed the thought of entering The Royal Palace, and put lunch at the forefront. Our options were various, though some of the cafes had filled up at this hour (approximately noon) so we had to do a touch of hunting to find the perfect spot for a hot meal. At least the views never lacked, and we were kept in awe by the architecture of Gamla Stan.
The Hero of the Hour was Café Sten Sture, housed underground in a cozy cellar of brick and wood. Captivated by the 85 SEK lunch special advertised on a sign outside the entry, we allowed ourselves to be enticed into its halls, down the stairwell and beyond the posted welcome sign.
Interestingly, the quarters of this cafe once was a dungeon in which Jacob Johan Anckarström, King Gustav III’s murderer, was arrested and kept in 1792. Now, instead of villains rattling the bars of their prisons, one will find stacks of menus in several languages – I know Swedish, English, and French are printed – and candlelit tables nestled against the walls. A waiter took our order from the table, but you can also purchase your grub at the counter and wait for a worker to float by with your meal – they’ll call out a number as they pass.
I opted for a savory slice of vegetarian pizza, decorated with a small side salad and complemented prior with a basket of bread and butter.
Tummies satiated and feet rested, we wound our way back to The Royal Palace for our tour.
The price of entry is 150 SEK for adults, and 75 SEK for youth up to 17 years and students. Our first stop was The Royal Treasury, or Skattkammaren, where we purchased our tickets and had a look at some olden paraphernalia worn by the kings and queens of a bygone age.
Sadly, I did not take any photos of this area, for I was unsure if I was allowed – I don’t even know if they would have turned out well, anyway, for the rooms were kept dark. But within glass cases were elaborate crowns with jewels aglitter and in shades of blue and deep mahogany, a few swords longer than one of my legs and decorated in strands of gold and silver and gems, and a beautiful cloak which apparently symbolizes a sacred tradition in the coronations of the past, in which the queen was garbed before she was given anything of her other ornaments. Some of the gown was made of ermine fur, yellowing now with age but still no less magnificent to see.
Next we meandered over to Representationvåningarna, or The Royal Apartments, lavish quarters of silk and satin and woven tapestries depicting gods and goddesses or scenes of chivalry or sometimes nature. I was honestly most taken by the variety of old clocks set upon the mantelpieces and various shelves, all ticking the current hour.
We saw so many rooms that it’s admittedly difficult to keep track of their names. I remember best The Jubilee Room and Oskar II’s Writing Room – the latter I envied, for I wish I had a beautiful quarter devoted solely to focusing on my art.
Would you like a writing room for yourself? What would you put in it? Send me a comment describing your perfect writing room. Mine would contain candles of soothing scents, walls of a deep green, and shelves of books facing wide windows letting in an abundance of natural light.
The Writing Room was shielded by a glass separator, hence the strange flash-backs and darkness of the photo. Unfortunately, such was unavoidable.
We meandered through the various Apartments, some of which were for guests or former royalty, all adorned beautiful with rich coloring and smooth wooden furniture.
The White Sea, a banquet hall, marked the end of one of the passages. Below is a photo of the description attached to its viewing, but in short, The White Sea serves nowadays as a pre-banquet welcome area, and a post-banquet drawing room.
A key highlight in The Royal Palace is Riksallen, or The Hall of State, wherein sits Queen Kristina’s silver throne. The Hall of State is also the meeting point for the guided tours, in case one would rather experience The Royal Palace with the help of a knowledgeable worker.
Take a peek at the Ordenssalarna, Halls of the Orders of Chivalry, and view the various medals and decorations bestowed upon important figures in the Swedish monarchy.
By the time one finishes perusing The Royal Palace, he or she is bound to have a hankering for fika. Being rather sleepy from our early morning and subsequent hours of walking, we searched in Gamla Stan for the perfect coffee-and-cake nook.
Travel is all about trial and error, and though I’ve had much success so far finding exceptional cafés for a bite and a sip, the one into which we hopped in Stockholm is not one of my favorites. Tripadvisor gives it exceptional reviews, but I was not overly impressed – especially because they did not serve their cappuccinos or otherwise with soy milk, and I made the mistake of consenting to a beverage with regular milk, and presently my face is rebelling against that decision.
Café Gråmunken occupies a corner of Vasterlanggatan, and contains a main dining room along with a lower cellar lit by soft candles, but one must brave a precarious spiral staircase in order to reach it. The cappuccino was relatively tasty, and I’m guessing the warm food variety was much more expansive than the delicacies displayed for those with a sweet tooth. I ordered a slice of blueberry pie with vanilla sauce, and the latter was pretty underwhelming. The cappuccino was served with a little ball of dark chocolate, which was cute, but I cannot say I’d go out of the way to return here when I land in Stockholm again.
Fika’d nonetheless, we waved goodbye to Gamla Stan, but a glorious sight awaited us as we lugged ourselves back to Centralstationen: the sun. After being absent the whole day, Mr. Sol brightened the sky and sent the waters surrounding Stockholm into a fury of sapphire glitter. The evening was slowly approaching, marking the close of our day in Stockholm, but we captured the final moments of pure sunlight in our walk, and it was a beautiful and noteworthy conclusion.
When I greet Stockholm again sometime in late April or May, I plan to spend some time at the Vasa Museum, as well as Skansen, The Nordic Museum, and the ABBA Museum, all of which are located on the same island plot. Today served as a great first taste of Sweden’s expansive capital (literally and figuratively), and I am not unhappy that we skipped on the aforementioned attractions.
I may come back and edit this post within the next few days with some more facts and tidbits. It’s quite late here in Uppsala, and I think my brain is getting muddled up – but, I wanted to provide you all with at least a small hint of my travels before I called it a night.
Wherever you are in the world, I bid you a good morning, afternoon, or evening. If you are travelling, stay safe and well. If you are not, I hope you find peace in your hours, plentiful smiles, and beauty in every cranny of your little world.
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