Filled with ancient squares, medieval buildings, cobblestone lanes, Gamla Stan (Old town) is one of the 14th islands that make up Stockholm and is the site of the original city. Its heart is the main square of the Stortorget, and surrounding it, on the narrow streets of Vasteranggatan and Osterlanggatan, you’ll find dozen of popular restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. Stockholm’s history is revealed through Gamla Stan’s impressive variety of architecture, culminating with the KungligaSlottet, or Royal Palace, one of the largest in Europe. Built in the 16th century fortress, the 608-room structure features a lavish interior, from state apartments dripping in 18th- and 19-century decor and paintings to a royal chapel and a museum exhibiting the castle’s original defense walls. It is used today mainly for ceremonial occasions, as the royal family now lives in Drottningholm, just outside the city.
For an interesting overview of the history of the Nobel Prize, which is presented each year in Stockholm (with the exception of the Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo), and its inspiring array of recipients, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Martin Luther King, visit the well-curated Nobel Museum in the old Borsen (Stock Exchange) building.
Gamla Stan’s hotel choices may be limited, but a handful that marry the historic with the new are the most inviting. The refurbished waterfront First Hotel Riesen features 144 contemporary rooms, a sleek bar, and a basement pool crowned by a 16th-century arched ceiling. The past and present also commingle at the handsome, nautical-themed Victory Hotel, originally built in 1642 on 14th-century foundations and named after Lord Nelson’s ship (it is also the flagship of a mini-chain of privately owned hotels in the Old Town that includes the nearby Lady Hamilton and the Lord Nelson).
Round out your Gamla Stan night with a meal at the unabashedly luxurious restaurant Operakallaren, which is housed within the Royal Opera House and faces the royal palaces. Dress up and expects to pay for a night out at one of Scandinavia’s most famous eateries, an instant landmark since it opened in 1787 by decree of King Gustav III. It has since evolved into a complex of many dining rooms that vary in formality and price, but the main one, Belle Epoque, is the draw, a handsome space with carved oak walls and ceiling panels, murals once considered risqué, extravagant crystal chandeliers, and service as impeccably polished as the silverware. A tender filled of reindeer and other seasonal dishes are highlights. So is Stenborgare, the restaurant’s own schnapps.
If you can splurge on only one dinner, consider Mathias Dahlgren, the namesake of one of the country’s most forward-thinking chefs. It is housed in the Grand Hotel, a bastion of Scandinavia refinement just beyond the Old Town, in the Norrmalmneighbourhood. In both the dining room (Matsalen) and food bar (Matbaren), the chef puts forth a “natural cuisine” that wows diners with such pairings as scallops with cucumber foam and foie gras with licorize.
BEST TIME : May – Sep for nicest weather.