If you believe its fraternity of crime writers, Sweden, and by extension, Stockholm, is the world capital of misery, murder and dysfunctional detectives. But, says Ruth Styles, the reality couldn’t be more different. With its spectacularly pretty seaside setting, a large dollop of design talent and a superbly naff ABBA museum, Stockholm is a paradise for style junkies and party addicts alike.
0700-0900. Founded in 1250, give or take a few decades, Stockholm is one of the oldest European capitals and is sprawled across 14 islands, all of which vary wildly in character. But of all of the city’s many isles, Djurgården is surely the loveliest. Unlike busy Norrmalm and historic Stadsholmen, Djurgården is devoted to pretty parks and engaging inlets and was once a royal hunting park. Dotted with fruit trees and firs, the public gardens are perfect for an early morning walk and are also home to the quaint Rosendals Trädgårds café (Rosendalsterrassen 12, Djurgården, 08 5458 1270) where you can breakfast on traditional cinnamon rolls in the shade of a grove of gnarled apple trees.
0900-1100. Although there’s no shortage of things to see in Stockholm, it’s worth lingering in Djurgården for a few hours longer, even if it’s just to sit and watch the ducks vying for space on the otherwise serene Isbladskärret Lake. For those with a little more energy, there’s Junibacken (Galärvarvsvägen, 08 5872 3000) an enchanting museum dedicated to all things fairytale. Most of the exhibits focus on Astrid Lindgren, the creator of Sweden’s favourite fictional character Pippi Longstocking, but there’s still room for displays dedicated to Treasure Island and The Jungle Book. There’s also a brilliant ‘Story Train’ which combines a funfair ride with a whistle-stop tour of children’s literature. It’s totally irresistible – whatever age you are.
1100-1300. With Skansen, Sweden’s biggest open-air museum and city zoo, just around the corner, as well as the magnificent Rosendal Palace and the ABBA Museum, it would be easy to spend the entire day in Djurgården, although that would mean missing out on Stockholm’s 13 other islands – all of which have much to interest the curious. Hop on a city bike (cycle stations are everywhere) and peddle the short distance to Riddarholmen. This small islet forms part of Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and is home to Fotografiska (Stadsgårdshamnen 22, 08 5090 0500), a converted art deco warehouse with one of the largest collections of contemporary photography in the world. It’s also a good place for lunch, courtesy of a café specialising in toothsome local fare.
1300-1500. Walk off the calories with a stroll round to the western end of the island for a spectacular view of Södermalm, an island perched at the other end of the picturesque Riddarfjärden Bay. Once you’ve looked your fill, wander through Riddarholmen’s 16th-century streets, many of which are lined with impressively vast palaces, and take a pit stop outside Bonde Palace, where you’ll come face-to-face with a bronze statue of Birger Jarl, the founder of Stockholm. The island is also home to Sweden’s answer to Westminster Abbey: Riddarholmskyrkan, a 13th-century church with a 19th-century spire that houses the remains of 15 Swedish monarchs.
1500-1700. Once you’ve had your fill of royal remains, hop back on your bike and wend your way through Norrmalm to the glamorous Östermalm, home to the Swedish glitterati and some of the finest shopping streets on the planet. Along with H&M and COS, you’ll find Acne (cheaper in Sweden), Filippa K, Whyred, Dagmar and just about every other effortlessly cool Swedish name you can think of. If wandering from shop to shop sounds like too much effort, head to Nordiska Kompaniet (Hamngatan 18-20, Östermalm, 08 762 8000), a seriously stylish department store that offers an edited selection of pieces by all the big names as well as homeware and make-up by another local favourite, FACE Stockholm.
1700-1900. With your shopping in hand, head back south to Södermalm, the hilliest of Stockholm’s 14 islands, for a sundowner with a spectacular view of Gamla Stan. Take the city’s easy-to-use metro to Mariatorget and take a stroll along Monteliusvägen, a pretty lane that boasts picture-postcard views of the Old Town and Stockholm City Hall. Afterwards, stop for an akvavit (eye-wateringly strong local moonshine) at the nearby Och Himlen Därtill (Götgatan 78, 08 660 6068), which boasts 360-degree views over the Old Town and an excellent cocktail menu.
1900-2100. Along with panoramic drinking sports, there’s no shortage of places to eat in stylish Södermalm. Most restaurants have one eye on design – among them Nytorget Urban Deli (Nytorget 4, 08 5990 9180), a slick modern effort that serves up Scandinavian classics made from ingredients sold on site. For remarkable views, not much beats Gondolen (Stadsgården 6, 08 641 7090), a restaurant located in a cabin suspended above Stockholm’s port at the northern end of Södermalm. The food is decent but no one really pays it much attention – they’re all absorbed in the stunning bird’s-eye view of the bay below.
After 2100. Once you’ve eaten, Stockholm is your oyster. The hardest part is deciding whether to settle in for the night in Södermalm or head north again. If you do choose to leave the delights of Stockholm’s southernmost island behind, you can’t go wrong with the Icebar Stockholm (Vasaplan 4, 08 5056 3520) – perfect for a short stop en route to the über-cool nightspots on Östermalm’s Sturegatan. Once you’re there, start the night at the Sturecompagniet (Sturegatan 4, 08 5450 7610), Stockholm’s biggest nightclub. By 1am, it’s unbearably busy, so nip across the road to the cosmopolitan Spy Bar (Birger Jarlsgatan 20, 08 5450 7600), where glamorous media types hobnob with students and a whole array of unusual local characters. If you want to keep the party going until dawn, head to the ominously monikered Hell’s Kitchen located below Sturecompagniet, which – eye-wateringly high door charge notwithstanding – is a surprising friendly spot to end the night.