Things to Do in Sweden
With its arresting redbrick façade and 100-meter tall bell tower topped with the Three Crowns of Sweden, the grandiose Stadshuset or Stockholm City Hall is one of the capital’s most impressive landmarks, looming over the waterfront of Kungsholmen. Dating back to 1923, the City Hall is the masterpiece of architect Ragnar Ostberg and a celebrated example of Swedish National Romanticism, now home to the city's principal government offices.
Open to visitors via guided tour, the grand interiors are equally magnificent, starting with the famous Blue Hall, equipped with a 10,000-pipe organ and the location of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet. Next up is the Council Chamber, designed to mimic a Viking Longship and decked out with Carl Malmsten furnishings, and the Golden Hall, where the elaborate wall mosaics shimmer with over 18 million pieces of gold leaf and colored glass.
With a stream of new bars, restaurants and nightclubs springing up along the waterfront, the island of Södermalm, or ‘Söder’ as it’s known to locals, is quickly earning a reputation as one of Stockholm’s hippest districts, popular among the city’s younger residents. Entering Södermalm from Gamla Stan, the lively areas of Slussen and nearby Medborgarplatsen are the center of island life, interlinked by the principal shopping boulevard of Götgatan, and further south the affectionately nicknamed ‘SoFo’ district is know for its fashion boutiques, vintage stores and atmospheric cafés.
Although home to a cluster of museums, including the Stockholm City Museum, Södermalm has comparatively few tourist attractions and the scenic island is best known for its cliff-top lookouts and seafront promenades which offer dramatic views over the neighboring islands.
Stockholm’s Parliament House is the seat of parliament in Sweden, better known as the Riksdag. Built between 1897 and 1905, the building was designed in a neoclassical style, with a Baroque Revival style façade. Today, it consists of two wings. The east wing is the original House of Parliament, while the west wing used to be the head office of the national bank. Occupying nearly half of the island of Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm’s Old Town, Parliament House also houses the Riksdag Library, which holds a variety of parliamentary documents and international legislation and is open to the public.Visitors to Parliament House are welcome to observe everything that takes place in the parliamentary chamber, whether it is listening to debates and votes or attending public hearings or seminars. The public gallery to the Chamber holds 500 visitors, while the public gallery of the former first chamber holds 150 visitors and the gallery of the former second chamber holds 200 visitors.
The history of the world’s most distinguished awards ceremony is the subject of Stockholm’s ever-evolving Nobel Museum, with fascinating exhibitions chartering some of history’s biggest milestones. Located in the Old Town of Gamla Stan, the museum opened in 2001 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the prestigious Nobel Prize, which has been awarded to pioneers in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace since 1901.
Visitors can’t help but be inspired by the exhibitions on award recipients and Stockholm-born inventor Alfred Nobel, whose unique vision led to the foundation of the prize, along with multi-media presentations of the Nobel Laureates’ achievements. Gain a deeper insight into famous honorees like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr and Henri Dunant, then go behind-the-scenes during the candidate selection process and the annual Nobel Banquet held across the water in the Stockholm City Hall.
Skansen is an open air museum and zoo in Stockholm, and was founded in the late 19th century by Artur Hazelius as a branch of the Nordic Museum. Its purpose is to show the different ways of life in of Sweden before the industrialization. After scouring the country, Hazelius bought around 150 houses and had them deconstructed and shipped to the site of the museum, where they were rebuilt to illustrate the spectrum of life in traditional Sweden. Only three of the buildings are not authentic, but they were scrupulously copied in full detail from historical models.
Skansen expanded tenfold since its inception, and now features various houses and workshops where you can experience traditional craftsmanship, such as butter making, weaving, shoemaking, and glass blowing. There is also a zoo containing a wide range of Nordic animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, gray seal, otter, red fox, reindeer, and wolverine.
An oasis of greenery linked by the Djurgårdsbron Bridge to mainland Stockholm, Djurgården is one of the archipelago’s most visited islands, stretching along the picturesque Djurgården Canal. Dominated by scenic parklands and former Royal hunting grounds, Djurgården is a haven for walkers, cyclists and picnickers, but the island is also home to some of Stockholm’s top museums and attractions.
The top attraction of Djurgården is Skansen, an open-air museum and zoo devoted to preserving Sweden’s native wildlife and traditional craftsmanship, with over 150 reconstructed 19th century buildings displaying everything from glass-blowing to baking. The neighboring Vasa Museum is another popular draw - the world’s only intact 17th-century warship, which famously sank on her maiden voyage and now houses an impressive naval museum. Additional highlights include Tivoli Grona Lund, Sweden’s oldest amusement park.
More Things to Do in Sweden
The King’s Garden, also known as Kungsan, is a popular park in central Stockholm. It hosts open air concerts and other events in the summer and is home to an ice rink in the winter months. First of May demonstrations by Sweden’s left-wing parties also take place in the park each year. The park’s space can be divided into four distinct areas: the Square of Charles XII, Molin’s Fountain, the Square of Charles XIII and the Fountain of Wolodarski.
The origins of the park date back centuries. A royal kitchen garden was gradually transformed into an enclosed pleasure garden in the 17th and 18th centuries. The walls of the garden were demolished in the 19th century and, in 1821, most of the garden was replace by gravel, creating the square now named for Charles XIII. Molin’s Fountain was added in 1866, when it was the centerpiece of a Scandinavian art and industry exposition.
With a history dating back to 1874, the Feskekörka is Gothenburg’s oldest market hall, Scandinavia’s largest fish market and the much-celebrated focal point of the city’s legendary fishing industry. Owing its peculiar name (literally: the ‘Fish Church’) to its church-like appearance, the Feskekörka’s unique surroundings only add to its charm and a stroll around the lively marketplace is a popular pastime for tourists.
Today the busy market remains largely unchanged from its 20th-century heyday, with elaborate displays of fresh, seasonal produce and a steady stream of top chefs, local families and visiting foodies haggling over the morning’s catch. From fresh-off-the-boat cod and halibut, to live spider crabs and lobsters, seafood lovers will find everything they need here, but even if you’re only browsing, head to one of the food stalls or restaurants, where you can sample local delicacies like pickled herring, smoked salmon or seafood smörgås (open sandwiches).
One of the oldest buildings in Stockholm, Riddarholm Church is the traditional burial church for Swedish royalty. Originally built as a monastery, parts of the church date back to the late 13th century. It was transformed into a Protestant church after the Reformation and the congregation was eventually dissolved at the start of the 19th century. Today, it is used only for burial and commemorative purposes. Nearly every Swedish ruler from Gustavus Adolphus (1632) to Gustav V (1950) has been buried in the Riddarholm Church, as well as Magnus III (1290) and Charles VIII (1470). The interior of the church features dozens of coats of arms of the knights of the Order of Seraphim, a tradition that dates back to the middle of the 18th century. When a knight dies, his coat of arms is hung inside the church.
Once run-down and on the verge of demolition, Gothenburg’s oldest district underwent a much-needed facelift in the 1980s and today, the historic quarter is one of the city’s liveliest and most fashionable neighborhoods. With its cobblestone lanes and distinctive 19th-century artisan buildings, Haga oozes character and the largely pedestrianized district is crammed with vintage clothing boutiques, independent designers and quirky antique shops.
Join the city’s creative types for a stroll around Haga and once you’ve finished browsing the shops and admiring the unique architecture, stop by the legendary Café Husaren, famous for its giant cinnamon rolls – a Swedish specialty – or relax at the stylish Hagabadet Spa. Another popular pastime is climbing the nearby Risåsberget hill, where the 17th-century Skansen Kronan fortress offers stunning views over Haga below.
As the opulent home of the Royal Swedish Opera and the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Opera House (or Stockholm Opera House) has come a long way since its former incarnation as a tennis court. It was Swedish King Gustav III who founded the opera house in 1782, but just 10 years later the King was assassinated at a masquerade ball on-site, forcing the closure of the venue.
Fortunately, the historic Opera House was restored and reopened, with the present day building designed by architect Axel Anderberg in the late 19th century. Boasting a dramatic waterfront location opposite the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet), the striking neoclassical façade and spectacular Golden Foyer, make this one of Stockholm’s most celebrated designs, decorated with gold Carl Larsson stuccos, Vicke Andrén ceiling paintings, gigantic crystal chandeliers and a grandiose marble staircase.
With its dramatic perch on the Gota River waterfront and a façade inspired by its maritime surroundings, the Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan) is undoubtedly one of Gothenburg’s most impressive buildings. Inaugurated in 1994, the grand venue is the creation of architect Jan Izikowitz, and its ship-like silhouette and 26-foot tall Bård Breivik sculpture add a modernist edge to the industrial landscape of Gothenburg Harbour.
A large part of the opera house’s popularity is due to its varied roster of entertainment and the 1,300-seat stage plays host to an array of operas, musicals, classical concerts and ballets throughout the year. Behind-the-scenes tours are also available, offering visitors the chance to peek into the dressing rooms, watch the expert wigmakers, stage designers and costume tailors at work, and browse the extensive library, said to contain over 15 tons of sheet music.