Our visit to Stockholm reminded us of how much influence the Swedes have had on the history of pop.
Some of the coolest, most influential sounds of commercial music have come out of this area (home of Eurovision) and the locals are rightly proud of that fact.
The excellent ABBA Museum isn’t just a nod to that particular fab foursome, but also to the history of Swedish pop, dance and rock music.
It really had us stepping back in time, remembering melodies of youth.
This experience got me curious about what we’ve forgotten about the history of Swedish pop, so I did a little research while waiting for a flight, and discovered 14 music acts from the 80s through to now that pop and dance music fans might be surprised to know are Swedish.
The history of Swedish pop
14 acts from my childhood to now, that you might be surprised to know are from Sweden:
Europe – they enjoyed number one status in 26 countries around the world with the classic anthem, The Final Countdown.
Roxette – Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle gave us some of the best pop of the 80s and 90s, including their debut hit, The Look, classic soundtrack songs and massive world tours for the albums Look Sharp and Joyride.
Ace of Base – that song about a ‘sign’ that we couldn’t get out of our heads in the early 90s.
The Cardigans – released one of the biggest tracks from Baz Luhrmann’s wonderful Romeo + Juliet back in 1996. The movie’s soundtrack was equally as successful as the film.
Dr Alban – producer of some of the most fun dance tracks of the 90s including the massive Sing Hallelujah.
Robyn – Show Me Love is a song I remember was played a lot on commercial radio – as far away as Australia. This was back in 1997, when Robyn was just 17.
Rednex – Responsible for Cotton Eye Joe back in 1994. Don’t know why I expected these guys were from America! Guess again.
Eagle Eye Cherry – another act I never would have thought hailed from Europe. Save Tonight was huge on radio and featured on television soundtracks in 1998/99.
Alcazar – we all raved to Crying at the Discoteque back in 2000 (right?!).
Eric Prydz – a popular DJ who famously produced Call on Me which was accompanied by a video set in a raunchy aerobic class that made most men pretty happy.
Icona Pop – they had a pop-dance hit we liked, I Love It, which was heavily played in clubs around 2013/14.
Tove Lo – in 2014 she released a successful pop album, Queen of the Clouds, featuring neat releases like Talking Body.
Swedish House Mafia – an electronic music super-group.
Avicii – currently one of my favourite producers of dance anthems.
On the topic of the history of music – here’s a display I got a kick out of at the ABBA Museum – who remembers…?
Aoife Nowell lived the expat life in Sweden for around a year. She left a little of her heart there, and before our trip to TBEXshe was quick to offer Cooper and I some excellent advice on where to drink and eat like a local in Stockholm.
You might like to jot these tips on awesome bars, cafes and restaurants down before your own trip…
Where to eat like a local in Stockholm – Aoife says:
My two favourite coffee shops are literally within 100 metres of each other and both near the square that I lived on. The first is called Il caffé and the second is Gilda.
They are completely different but both do amazing coffee and lunch and are great places to sit and chill. Il Caffé in particular will allow you to properly indulge in ‘Fika’ which the Swedes have every afternoon – it basically means a time to relax with each other and coffee and cake! The ‘cake’ for me should always be a cinnamon bun and Il Caffé 100% do the best we ever tried, it is known locally as Kanelbulle.
For a cocktail before dinner, there’s a bar called Gondolen which is at Slussen, just as you come on to Sodermalm from the old town. From here you’ll get some of the best views of the city. It can be a bit touristy but the view is worth it even if just for an hour.
Past that, my favourite bars were little local ones around where I lived, like one called Snottysand Bahnhof. Generally you can wander around anywhere and find plenty of great bars, I would just avoid Gamla Stan (Old Town) if you want something more authentic, as they’re naturally geared up for tourists and cruise ship trade and tend to be more expensive. There are lots of great options if you are in that area though.
There is a great bar / restaurant in Stureplan that I’d highly recommend called Riche – the food is really good (although it’s not in my top listed five below), however definitely a good place to go for a drink before or after dinner.
And five of my favourite places to dine, drink and eat like a local in Stockholm are:
1. Matsbaren – This place is just amazing! It’s pretty pricey but absolutely worth it. In the basement of the Grand Hotel, it is a Michelin starred restaurant run by Mathias Dahlgren. There are two restaurants, Matsalen and Matsbaren – it is Matsbaren I would recommend – my husband and I ate there the night we got engaged.
2. Pelikan – Has the best meatballs in town! Pelikan is a must for a typical Swedish meal. Set in an old Swedish beer hall, you can tell that it’s hundreds of years old. It is a terrific experience and the staff are great too. If you go here you have to have the meatballs with mashed potato and lingonberries. You can’t book this one but there is a large bar where you can wait, and it doesn’t take too long to get in.
3. Bar Central – Not really Swedish but just a great and unusual menu, good wine list and lovely environment to relax in. You won’t get a single tourist in this place either.
4. Miss Voon (pictured) – Not Swedish either, but combines Asian and European foods perfectly. Really nicely done inside, and if you like this kind of food then this place will be right up your street. Being positioned by the fresh Scandinavian waters, this is the best for amazing fish too.
5. Urban Deli– Urban Deli Nytorget is perfect for brunch or lunch. I wouldn’t pick it for dinner over the four above but it wouldn’t let you down. The concept is great – it’s a really nice mini food hall, with a cool bar and tables for breakfast, lunch or dinner and seating outside in the warmer months. They also have a bakery close by where they make everything fresh! Breakfast or brunch would be my recommendation for here, I lived literally next door – love it!
The government set this up, in the hope these chains will minimise alcohol-related health problems. The idea is to sell alcohol in a responsible way, without the incentive of making a profit. They are strict about checking ID too.
You need to be 20 years old to purchase alcohol at Systembolaget stores. In bars, clubs and restaurants the drinking age is 18.
How to buy alcohol in Sweden: Systembolaget open hours
Monday to Friday 10am – 6pm
Saturdays 10am – 1pm
Sundays and public holidays: closed
Do you have tips or questions on how to buy alcohol in Sweden? Let us know in the comments.
All I can say about Stockholm is that you really should add the city to your travel bucket-list – at least 2 days in Stockholm, if not more. I insist.
Travel itinerary: 2 days in Stockholm
From the moment you arrive at the airport (Arlanda, in our case), the fresh, contemporary vibe is obvious and alive.
I gazed around the deserted airport and was instantly impressed by its creative, interesting spaces.
Stockholm is one of those neat, efficient cities too, and I’m glad because it’s one expectation I had.
We landed late at night (well, it was the wee hours of the morning actually), but regardless of the time, taxis were on hand, as was a speedy shuttle bus that makes the rounds every ten minutes to collect travellers who are destined for one of the surrounding hotels.
Stockholm, capital of Scandinavia, was the first of our 2016 summer destinations because we were headed to the TBEX conference (my fourth), and we’re so glad the city hosted us!
To be honest, we may have put it off because countries in this region have a bit of a reputation for being expensive.
While the majority of costs we came across as travellers (accommodation, food, alcohol, tours, taxis, transfers etc.) were on par with London prices, I would say that yes, most visitors might feel a bit of a price pinch.
However, there are economical ways to experience Stockholm, and I’d definitely not let the exchange rate determine whether you visit this very magical city.
Stockholm is …
Built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges and the very first European Green Capital, Stockholm really is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve been to.
It probably is up there within the top five prettiest capitals in the world (as the customs officer proudly boasted to us).
Other things we love about Stockholm include the decent, free WiFi (particularly important for digital nomads and bloggers, but then there are plenty of business travellers here too); transport is straightforward and easy to navigate, the people are really helpful and friendly and there’s no language barrier for an English speaker. The purchase of alcohol can be a bit tricky, but it’s ok if you’re organised (video coming on this topic soon).
Stockholm is a city of music, art, fashion and technology, not to mention being the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and annual awards.
If you’re on a budget, consider planning for two to four days to really get a nice taste of what Stockholm is all about.
We were in town for five days, but I’d booked flights and accommodation well in advance in the hope that I’d secure the best price.
Day one of our adventure (pre-conference) was a trip to Sweden’s oldest town, Sigtuna (post coming soon). By the time the conference ended, we really did only have a couple of days to see and do as much as we could. I felt happy by the end of the trip that I’d scraped the surface of this pretty city, and touched upon some terrific, highly-recommended experiences.
Here’s my best tips for you on how to spend 48 hours in Stockholm.
48 hours in Stockholm
We were staying near Central Station in Stockholm, and while I understand there are plenty of other options in other areas, if you can find accommodation near here it is very convenient for access to and from Arlanda airport, as well as being an easy point to explore from.
There’s also a mall that forms part of the station which includes supermarkets and convenience amenities.
When we are short on time we tend to head straight for a hop-on-hop-off tour bus option which enables us to get our bearings and work out our priorities for the rest of the trip.
On the ground, you can buy a pass that offers 48 hours in Stockholm for exploring and doubles as a transport ticket.
There are three main tour-operators of this nature in Stockholm, and all include a boat tour option. It’s an easy place to start and provides an excellent overview of Stockholm which is actually a much bigger city than I imagined.
This place is a real treat – built around a huge old war ship which was destined to sink back in 1628.
The king at the time insisted that a double row of canons be built along each side, despite engineers’ pleas that it would never hold up. Within twenty minutes of the ship setting sail, it had capsized taking crew with her.
The ship sat preserved under the water in Stockholm’s harbour for over three hundred years. By 1961 Stockholm had the right combination of skills and post-WWII enthusiasm to raise Vasa to the surface, and because the water is low in salt here, the ship had hardly deteriorated (within reason, of course).
As such, you can walk around her now, and touch a little (or a large) bit of intriguing history. It really is very cool, and this attraction is listed in many top 10 lists of the best museums to visit in the world. Find out more here.
The ABBA museum
Just up the road from the Vasa Museum is a place not just dedicated to one of the world’s most famous pop groups, but to the evolution of modern music too: the Abba Museum.
It’s worth walking here from the Vasa Museum because this area of Stockholm (on the island of Djurgården) is filled with pretty parks and waterways, so the entire experience is just lovely!
Inside the glittery world of the ABBA museum, you’ll discover fun disco and music rooms featuring memorabilia and hits from different eras over the past 80 years or so. If music is your thing, and/or if you’re a child of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, in particular you’ll probably (secretly) love this place.
Top tip: Visit late in the afternoon, because there’s a nice bar and restaurant attached to it, and it’s a feel-good excursion so you’re likely to want to take that energy into a night out in Stockholm…
One of the city’s charms is that everywhere you look there are mesmerizing bodies of water, so we didn’t want to leave without taking in the views from this perspective.
In one day we enjoyed two delightful options. This included a quick trip out to the archipelago to the Fjäderholmarna islands (a mere few of the area’s thousands of pristine islands). Also a more localised tour (linked with the hop-on-hop-off coach tour) which presented views of the Old Town (Gamla Stan), Nordic Museum and Vasa Museum, Gröna Lund (Stockholm’s amusement park that’s lit up the waterfront since 1883) and all of the city’s steeples and colourful buildings in a way that’s impossible to experience on land.
Photography museum (Fotografiska)
We found this creative oasis was most easily accessible via one of the local boat hop-on-hop-off tours, when you can step off your ride and walk right in.
I’m a fan of photography (even over art) and found the exhibits at Fotografiska beautifully presented and engaging.
My favourites (exhibiting in 2016) were the stunning portraits of famous Swedish actress Greta Garbot from the earlier part of last century, and Bryan Adams’ showcase, ‘Exposed’. Yes, the Canadian singer-turned-photographer (I had no idea!) is actually wonderfully talented and his exhibition includes candid celebrity shots as well as thoughtful images of young injured returned-soldiers.
Top tip: Make your way to the top of the museum to its large café, and for the price of a cup of tea, you can indulge in amazing views of the city and waterways.
Old town (Gamla Stan)
Gamla Stan is a large, wonderfully preserved old city center, and one of the most popular medieval spaces in Europe.
Ideal for exploring on foot, it is a photographer’s dream brimming with narrow alleyways, old churches, cobbled streets, grand central squares and tall, brightly coloured buildings that seem untouched by time (this region hasn’t seen war in over 200 years, so the city is in pretty good shape).
The Nobel Museum which presents information on the Nobel Prize, Nobel laureates from 1901 to present, and the life of the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel, is situated in the heart of the area.
The Old Town is also a good spot to top up on any gifts or souvenirs – there’s plenty of stores targeting visitors.
Alternatively, you might simply choose to enjoy a fika (coffee and cake break), or a treat from one of the specialty ice-cream stores producing very large, freshly-made waffle cones that smelled mouth-wateringly good. My favourite!
We actually utilised the Stockholm Pass to access every one of these experiences, and with loads more on offer (including longer boat trips and a whole host of excellent museums and attractions) this is definitely worth considering if you have time and the inclination to take in as much as you possibly can.
Do you have tips or questions? Let us know in the comments.
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