Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is a city made up of numerous islands large and small, and our accommodation in Stockholm was the wonderful af Chapman on the west side of a small island called Skeppsholmen, about half-an-hour's walk from Stockholm Central train station. The af Chapman used to travel the world, and seeing its three tall masts and rigging it's hard to guess that the ship has been moored at Skeppsholmen for use as a youth hostel since 1949. As we weren't members of the hostelling organisation, we were charged an additional fee, and paid a total of £120 per night for a room of four bunk-beds, with shared shower and toilet facilities just along the corridor outside the room.

Perhaps the best known group of islands are those which constitute Gamla Stan, the old town. Though only about three-hundred metres directly across the water from the af Chapman, on foot it's about a kilometer, and you have to head north along the Skeppsholmsbron (Skeppsholm Bridge) onto Blasieholmen and then take the Strömbron (Stream Bridge) onto Stadsholmen, the largest of Gamla Stan's islands. Alternatively you can walk a little further and get to Stadsholmen by taking the Norrbro (North Bridge) which takes you through Helgeandsholmen, home to the Swedish Parliament Building.

Whether you reach Stadsholmen by Strömbron or by Norrbro, you'll end up close to Kungliga Slottet (Stockholm Palace) where we saw royal guards line up for inspection before marching out. Just to the south of the palace is the (externally) understated Storkyrkan, The Great Church. Nearby, in Stortorget, is the Nobel Museum, where you can learn about the Nobel Prize and its recipients. Before the south-eastern bridges that leave Stadsholmen, there are a couple of bars worthy of note. Järntorgspumpen, on Järntorget, is a classy bar and restaurant but we were stung by the price of beer there, 65kr (£6.17 based on the exchange rate we got for our Swedish kronor) for a glass of Mariestads. Far more to our taste was Restaurang Medusa Rockkrog which is just a little way south from Järntorget, and was offering Falcon Beer for 44kr (£3.85), dropping to 35kr (£3.06) during happy hour (23:00 until midnight the day we were there). The Medusa is a loud, busy bar which kept us amused with a TV over the bar (MTV's Fist of Zen is a strangely fitting background to a drinking session).

A photo of the hostel ship af Chapman, seen from the water.
The hostel ship af Chapman, seen from the water during a boat tour.
A photo of Royal Guards on parade at Stockholm Palace, stood next to a wheeled gun.
Royal Guards on parade at Stockholm Palace.
A photo of Sergels Torg at night, showing the illuminated glass and steel monument Kristallvertikalaccent.
Kristall, vertikal accent i glas och stål.

North of Gamla Stan is the Norrmalm district, where Stockholm Central station is. If you find yourself in Sergels Torg (Sergel's Square) you're bound to see Kristallvertikalaccent, a towering monument of glass and steel that stands in the centre of the square. Pretty ugly by day, it looks better at night once it's lit up. Just a couple of blocks east of Sergels Torg is NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), a century-old department store that had possibly the fanciest concessions I've ever seen. In the clothing department, each sales area was styled and dressed like an expensive boutique. The basement houses a food hall with a variety of fine fare.

To the south of Gamla Stan, over the Skeppsbron (Ship's Bridge), the terrain suddenly rises up. The easiest way to make the ascent is by taking Katarinahissen (the Katarina Elevator). This will take you up to a viewing platform that gives you very nice views over Gamla Stan, Skeppsholmen and beyond. From there you can just walk south into Södermalm, where you'll find plenty of bars and restaurants.

Djurgården is an island just to the east of Skeppsholmen. It's about a half-hour walk from the af Chapman, or a short boat trip, but it's worth it to visit Vasamuseet (the Vasa Museum, entrance fee 95kr / £9.01). The Vasa is a seventeenth-century warship which sank shortly after being launched and was preserved in Stockholm's gentle waters for three centuries. Raised from the water in 1961, the Vasa was lovingly restored and can be seen in full-size glory in the climate controlled environment of Vasamuseet. Alongside the stunning sight of the warship, there are many relevant exhibits such as items recovered from the ship, including the remains of sailors who couldn't escape before it sank, a model showing how the Vasa would have been painted originally, and a computer simulation that lets you specify your own warship and see whether your design fares better than the Vasa did so many years ago. Something else on Djurgården, which I wish I'd had time to visit, is Skansen, an open-air museum of life in Sweden before the industrial age, and a zoo which features animals native to Scandinavia.

A photo of the view from the af Chapman, looking towards Norrmalm and Gamla Stan on a sunny day.
A view from af Chapman, looking towards Norrmalm and Gamla Stan.
A photo of the salvaged warship Vasa, its preserved wood beams and gunports lit gently in the dark Vasa museum.
The port side of the warship Vasa, preserved in the Vasamuseet.
A photo of the Grand Hotel, lit in a warm yellow by the setting sun, a line of white boats on the water before it.
The Grand Hotel an hour before sunset.

A boat tour is always a nice, lazy way to get a good view of a place, and we took the Royal Canal Tour, 140kr (£12.25), from Nybrokajen, close to the Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern (the Royal Dramatic Theatre), but you can also start the tour from just outside the Grand Hotel, near Strömbron. The first part of the tour skirts along the northern edge of Djurgården and for most of this stage there's not much to see, as Djurgården sits a little too high above the water to get much of a view, but the views improve once the tour wraps around the eastern edge of Djurgården and heads back along its southern edge, towards Södermalm and Gamla Stan. On a sunny day, you could almost imagine you're in Monaco as you approach the boats moored outside the Grand Hotel.

Stockholm is rich with historic sights, museums, and landmarks, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, though the food and drink are pretty expensive to a British visitor. The ship af Chapman is a fitting place to stay in a city that is always so close to water, and it's a unique and comfortable hostel. Stockholm is a great city to visit, and I'd happily have stayed another couple of nights.

Prices from summer 2009.