Gamla Stan is the “old town” section of Stockholm. It was a short walk over a bridge from our hotel (Hilton), and we went there every night for dinner and a stroll. There were tons of cute restaurants and shops, heavy on the charm. Lots of cobblestone streets.
In the center of Gamla Stan is Stortoget Square . One thing to understand about the Swedes (and the Danes) is that they have a loooooong history! This Stortoget Square is the site of one of the most famous and brutal days in their history. Incidentally, it is also extremely photogenic and appears in many guidebooks.
Stortoget Square is the sight of the 1520 Blood bath. The story goes something like this: The Danes had taken control of Sweden, and the Danish King was concerned about the Swedish nobles and clergy who didn’t support him. (Concerned is a bit of an understatement) So he invited them all to a “celebration” in this square… only it was a set up. The square was blocked off and the Swedes were all executed here. Interestingly, this incident only hurt the Danes and led the Swedes to unify and drive out the Danes.
The Royal Palace, Kungliga Slottet, is located in the Gamla Stan and easily reached on foot from most parts of the city. You can purchase tickets, and find tour and hours information on the palace website. It is a good idea to check the website before you go, because there are often Royal and State events held at the palace, and those will limit your access, or even close the palace altogether.
The palace faces the water and is quite lovely. The royal family, however, chooses to live at another palace out in the country, Drottingholm . I will take you there in a coming post. This 250 room palace is used today still for royal receptions.
This is a very fun and interesting place to visit, and a must-see for sure.
Stockholm City Hall is arguably one of the grander buildings in the city. It was built in 1923 and can be seen only if you are on a guided tour. You can obtain information about tours on the City of Stockholm website. The Nobel prize winners have their banquet here, and it is a popular sight for weddings as well. Interestingly, the public buildings in Sweden are far more ornate than the churches. Very different than, say, Italy.
This central hall of the City hall was meant to be a courtyard , similar to those in Italy. However as the building was under construction, they realized that the climate in Stockholm is not sunny and warm, as in Italy. (It seems to me they could have figured that out before construction began, just saying…) So a roof was built to cover the square and windows were placed to keep it bright and cheery. Interestingly, this hall is named the “Blue Hall”, even though it isn’t even a little bit blue. The story goes that it was to be painted blue, but the architect loved the brick so much that he changed his mind. This hall is where the Nobel banquet is held. The king and queen, as well as the Nobel Laureates all walk down that impressive staircase one by one.
The Council Room is where the Parliament meets. The Golden hall sure gets its name for a reason… lots of bedazzling going on there!
The Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) is at the top of almost everyone’s “must see” list for Stockholm. It is very cool. This ship, the Vasa, sunk in the early 1600s about 30 minutes after leaving port on its maiden voyage. The whole town had come out to watch this grand ship sail for the first time. The story goes that the King (Gustav) urged the shipbuilder to add an extra deck loaded with guns towards the end of the shipbuilding process. This poorly thought out request, and the rush to get the ship to sea led to some serious engineering flaws. Top that with the King’s quick temper and the ship builders’ fear of getting him angry and you had a disaster waiting to happen. The ship could not withstand a few small gusts of wind and capsized almost immediately. It lay at the bottom of the harbor for about 300 years. It was resurrected in the 1960s and this very interesting, and carefully climate controlled museum was built around it. The ship is in amazing condition. Nearly fully intact. This is because the water in the Baltic Sea has a very low level of salt, and the worms which usually eat wood under sea can not survive here. I hear the museum gets quite crowded, so it is best to come either early in the day or close to closing. We were very fortunate to visit as part of our Tauck tour of the Baltics. We had the museum to ourselves after closing, with a bar and catered dinner right there next to the ship. It was very impressive. These special events are a hallmark of Tauck tours, by the way… If you wish to visit the Vasa Museum you can see prices and hours on their website. I would recommend the guided tour, because this place is really intereting!