Holm sweet holm

By on May 27, 2010

Here’s a question for you: which city is known as the ‘Venice of the North’? You might be surprised to learn that it’s Stockholm, but that’s the right answer, and it does live up to the title.  Built on fourteen islands where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea, Sweden’s capital is a thoroughly charming city, with a range of attractions for the whole family to enjoy.

First stop should be Gamla Stan, the picturesque old town.  The narrow streets here are lined with a lively jumble of shops, cafés, and restaurants, amongst which you’ll find the occasional quirky little museum, and cultural landmarks such as the Nobel Museum and the city’s handsome cathedral. It’s a pleasure just to amble around slowly here and enjoy the atmosphere; then, when hunger calls, you can head for the attractive main square and have lunch on a terrace in front of one of the restaurants there.

One Stockholm must-see is Vasamuseet, home to a wooden warship which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, but was miraculously preserved and raised intact from the harbor, then painstakingly restored.  The Vasa towers high over the main hall in jaw-dropping grandeur, and there are frequent English-language guided tours around the exterior where you can learn more about the ship and its ignominious fate.  The museum also holds entertainingly-presented displays about Swedish life at the time of the Vasa’s construction, and the kids will enjoy the interactive simulator which allows you to try and relaunch it successfully (or, if you’re a big kid like me, to see how quickly you can sink it again).

Vasamuseet is good for a rainy day, but good weather should take you to Skansen.  This spacious open-air history park features authentic old farmsteads and houses from all across Sweden, a time capsule brought to colorful life. The staff in period costume can explain the background of all the buildings, and in the workshops of the ‘town quarter’ you can watch glassblowers, joiners, and metalworkers plying their trades.  It’s nothing if not varied; there is also a children’s funfair and zoo, and landscaped enclosures inhabited by animals native to the region such as bears, reindeer, wolves, and bison.  You could spend a whole day there and still not see everything.

As well as these and other attractions, you’ll find the variety of cosmopolitan shopping and laid-back nightlife that befits a modern capital, but one with a spacious, unhurried feel. A trip to Stockholm might seem busy, but will be deceptively relaxing, just like the city itself!

Places to enjoy with the kids:

Tivoli Grona Lund, an amusement park that offers all kinds of fun from roller coasters, rides, a haunted house, etc.

Langholmen, a tiny island where you can see cliffs and inlets.   It has a stunning beach, quaint houses, and splendid gardens suitable for families with children.

Sydpoolen,  a water park complex where you can get mud or oil face/body treatments, spend a lazy summer afternoon in the jacuzzi and various kinds of saunas and sunbeds, or enjoy sports attractions.  There’s also the Pigge’s Lagoon, an indoor water park guaranteed to amuse your little munchkins.

Friluftsframjandet, a place for outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking, canoeing, mountainbiking for amateurs, ice-skating, etc.


Language:  Swedish, but the level of English is uniformly high. I started every conversation with “I’m sorry, I can’t speak Swedish” and everyone was courteous, friendly, and helpful.  Swedish people are great.

Access:  There are no nonstop flights to Stockholm from Narita, but you can fly indirect with airlines as diverse as Finnair, Air China, Air France, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot, making it an ideal destination for a two-center vacation.

Time difference:  Sweden operates Daylight Saving Time, so the difference is 7 hours from March to October, & 8 hours over the winter. 

Currency:  Swedish kroner (SEK)

Climate:  Winter is cold and snowy, summer warm and largely dry.

Tasty treats:  When you can tear yourself away from the smorgasbord, a hearty plate of meatballs with mashed potatoes and tart lingonberry jam will fill you up nicely.  Gravlax is tasty cured salmon from the lake, and palt are juicy pork dumplings.

About Peter Sidell