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Stockholm syndrome

It’s very easy to develop an attachment with the Swedish capital. Sudeshna Ghosh shares a curated list of the top spots to visit in Stockholm.

Few cities straddle the historic with the future-facing as effortlessly as Stockholm. From ancient cobblestone districts dating back to medieval times, to contemporary design and cuisine, it’s all here, and it all coexists in a happy balance. Made up of an archipelago, with different neighbourhoods located on little islands, the picturesque city is trendy, atmospheric, and packs a punch in the food and shopping stakes – making up the perfect formula for a chic city break.

If you only visit one place for eating, sightseeing, shopping then Stockholm is for you.

Don’t-miss dining
Recent globalisation of new Nordic cuisine has firmly established that there’s more to Scandinavian food than meat and potatoes, and Stockholm’s trendy dining scene is no exception. Even though meatballs are still an integral – and delicious – part of the food landscape, the wealth of indigenous, seasonally changing produce gives local chefs the ideal canvas to unleash their creativity on. Combined with a rich repertoire of traditional techniques (of cooking and preservation) that owe their origins to the stark climate of the region, it makes for some seriously inventive food.

Nowhere is this better experienced than at Gastrologik (gastrologik.se) a hip Michelin star restaurant run by chef duo Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr who have a shared pedigree of top fine dining restaurants, having worked with the likes of Pierre Gagnaire and Mathias Dahlgren. What they also have in common is a singular passion for hyper-local, seasonal, high-quality produce, which is reflected in their food – I can’t say menu, because there isn’t one in the conventional sense of the word, each day’s dishes are developed according to what is available, and tailored to guests’ preferences.

The intimate restaurant is designed in a typically Scandinavian minimalist style, with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it signage at the door, and an open bar-style kitchen allowing diners to enjoy watching the army of hipster chefs practice their craft.

With such next-level dedication to quality ingredients – Jacob and Anton know all of their producers personally – the results are bound to be exceptional.

While I cannot predict what you will eat at this temple of gastronomy, you can be sure that each intricate course in the degustation experience will offer up an explosion of unexpected flavours, textures and combinations, with a good measure of playful whimsy.

Whether it’s cured reindeer with whey butter and (the quintessentially Swedish) lingon berries; Sea urchin with pointed cabbage and roses; Cod tongue with celeriac porridge; Rutabaga (Swede) with plums and pumpkin seeds; Guinea fowl liver with hazelnuts and apple; or locally reared hare with beets and blackcurrant mead, each dish is much more than the sum of its parts, and fittingly awe-inspiring.

Their desserts are no less impressive, with something as innocuous as honey being elevated to ecstasy-inducing levels, incorporating both beeswax and pollen alongside traditional honey in a sublime concoction; others range from spelt porridge with frozen buttermilk and apples, to grown up’s candy with resin (it’s like popping candy, with a shot of alcohol).

If you can’t snag a reservation at Gastrologik, try Speceriet next door, a casual bistro from the same team (one of many such restaurants in Stockholm, called backfikas, where big chefs and restaurants operate a casual outlet to make their food more accessible), where ingredients also play the starring role.

Also try>> A similar backfika concept is Oaxen Slip, adjacent to its famous fine dining counterpart, Oaxen Krog. Expect hearty Swedish bistro fare in a trendy, industrial-style waterfront setting on the edge of Djurgarden.

Stockholm is a cosmopolitan city, and as such, its dining scene also offers an international array of flavours. The perfect example of this is Paul’s, an elegant vintage-inspired American Brasserie located in the city-centric Haymarket by Scandic hotel, where you’ll find crowd-pleasing classics from Burrata to burgers and steaks, along with old-school charm in heaps.

Spectacular sightseeing
Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan, located on the Stadsholmen island, is a must-visit for many reasons. The panoramic view of this well-preserved district dating back to medieval times, and the picturesque Stortorget Square lined with colourful buildings – the oldest in the city – are probably the most widely circulated images of Stockholm for tourists. But, with its atmospheric cobblestone streets, historic architecture and plentitude of cafes, restaurants and shops, there’s a photo-op every step of the way in Gamla Stan.

While it is home to several important attractions, including the still-in-use Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum, it is also worth just wandering around the back alleys, stumbling upon your own discoveries as you’re wont to do anywhere this steeped in history (mine was a couple of basement cafes housed in cramped former cellars complete with exposed brick walls, that just beg to be Instagrammed!).

There are several walking tours available, which can offer a sense of orientation and historic context to the place, and also ensure you catch some of its more quirky attractions – such as Mårten Trotzigs grand, which, at 90cm width in places, bears the distinction of being not only Stockholm’s but one of the world’s narrowest lanes.

Also try>> The Djurgarden national park, an island of tranquility located close to the heart of the city, is sort of like the city’s museum quarter. Located a ferry ride (only available in the summer, as the waters freeze over in winter) or a short walk across a bridge over Lake Mälaren away, it’s as attractive to residents in the spring and summer for its leafy parklands, as it is with tourists. Don’t miss Skansen, a faithfully reproduced heritage village where historic houses and farmsteads have been relocated from various parts of Sweden, and people in traditional attire reproduce the ways of ‘ye olde’ life. Another important piece of Swedish history is the mysterious Vasa shipwreck, a homage to which can be found at the Vasa Museum, where the salvaged wreck can be viewed. Apart from the 30 odd museums, there are other nature attractions and amusement park rides, plus a range of restaurants and cafes, making for an ideal family day out.

Chic check-in
As far as location goes, you can’t beat Haymarket by Scandic (scandichotels.se/haymarket). Set right along Hötorget square, in the upscale Normalm neighbourhood, it is within easy walking distance to most of the city’s downtown attractions, with the Royal Concert Hall located right across the square.

Housed in a well-loved former department store, PUB, the building is an icon in Stockholm’s city-scape, and has recently been carefully refurbished to become a luxury hotel. While home to over 420 rooms and suites, it oozes an intimate, boutique hotel vibe.

The design pays homage to the site’s Art Deco heritage, many elements of which have been retained, while making it wholly modern. PUB’s biggest claim to fame is probably that Greta Garbo started her career here as a shop assistant, which narrative has also been artfully woven in. Touches such as a black and white movie showreel in the lobby, cinema projector artefacts, film-inspired art on the room walls, and rose gold and copper accents effectively evoke the 1920’s Hollywood glam theme.

Buzzing bar Americain, located right by the main reception, brings the whole Swedish-American ethos to life – and serves up some of the best cocktails in town (the cocktail culture is only now catching on in Sweden). Greta’s is a stylish, sunlight-drenched all-day venue where you can enjoy healthy breakfasts, bubbly sundowners, or the quintessentially Swedish ritual of fika (essentially coffee and cake, but necessarily with good company and vibes). The hotel’s mix of carefully planned and eclectic culinary offerings, quite unique for this city where hotel restaurants don’t tend to be a priority, is completed by Paul’s (see above).

A refreshing change from the ubiquitous minimalism of Scandinavia, with its plush and seductive yet undeniably Swedish atmosphere, this is one of Stockholm’s hottest hotels right now.

Stylish shopping
In Stockholm, you’re never too far from good design but a good place to start is Drottninggatan, a bustling street in the Normalm area, home to several Swedish chain stores (such as Granit and Indiska) as well as independent homeware boutiques where you can find the best of Scandinavian design. Over in adjacent Östermalm, head to Biblioteksgatan, where you’ll find leading Swedish labels such as Fillipa K and COS, as well as international luxury brands. This neighbourhood, around the Stureplan square, is also nightlife central, with many trendy bars and clubs located here. For a more hipster vibe, both in terms of indie shopping, and nightlife, the up-and-coming neighbourhood of SoFo in Södermalm is it.

For foodies, the Östermalm Saluhall, a historic market hall housing an endless array of food stalls and cosy little on-site restaurants offering market-fresh local dishes, is a must visit for culinary souvenirs (the original market hall is being renovated and is due to reopen in 2018, until then a makeshift space is operational just adjacent). And design aficionados shouldn’t miss stopping by the heritage interiors brand Svenskt Tenn’s flagship store on Strandvägen.

Much like Stockholm itself, it isn’t easy on the wallet, but is worth visiting for the aesthetic and cultural inspiration.

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