In association with Gatwick Airport: avoid making a dent in your holiday cash before you even get on the plane with these tips for a troublefree start to your holiday
A weekend in...Stockholm
Beautiful, chic and romantic: three words that describe Stockholm, as well as many of the city's 1.2 million residents. The 700-year-old city is spread over 14 islands, part of the vast Stockholm archipelago, giving it a rather unique, majestic feel.
Each of the islands has its own identity - from the cobbled, narrow streets, leaning honey, cinnamon and vanilla coloured buildings and the grandness of the Royal Palace on Gamla Stan to the park and museum-covered Djurgåden to the city's regenerated Södermalm, now the city's breeding ground for designers, artists and general 'cool cats'.
Stockholm is a pedestrian's city; nothing is too far away either by foot, bike or the eco-friendly public transport system. And although this city looks magical covered in snow and surrounded by frozen ocean during the winter, it's really a summer city; when the days seem to last forever and everywhere you look there is some kind of event, party or attraction going on.
Arrival and transport
Travel both to and within Stockholm is easy, made even easier by the fact almost every Swede, no matter their age, speaks impeccable English. You can fly from the UK with SAS, BA, Ryanair, Norwegian and easyJet, but bear in mind there are several different airports and Ryanair flies to the furthest from central Stockholm. The main city airport is Arlanda. From the airport you can take the airport train or shuttle buses, which are cheaper but slower. Taxis are incredibly expensive so don't take one unless you have to.
The city has a comprehensive metro system, as well as plenty of buses. In terms of ticketing, it's best to either get a Stockholm card, sold in 24, 48 and 72-hour formats or a one, three or seven-day travel card.
You don't need to spend a single Kroner idly walking through Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town area. The island of the same name is jam packed with medieval and pre-medieval buildings that fall into one another in warm shades of reds, browns, creams and yellows.
A simple stroll around these beautiful, maze-like streets will amuse you for a couple of hours.
The Old Town (photo: From EU Audiovisual Library)
The main places to focus your attention are on the streets Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan. Aside from just ambling around, Gamla Stan is also where you'll find the Nobel Museum, Stockholm Cathedral and the Royal Palace.
One of the highest rated museums in Stockholm is Fotografiska. It is one of the largest contemporary photography galleries in the world and showcases at least 20 exhibitions of various sizes throughout the year. The bar and café on the top floor also boats spectacular harbour views.
The Vasa was an ill-fated warship that sunk just a few hundred metres from where it started in 1628, not even making it out to the open sea. It has been painstakingly restored along with its treasures of hundreds of carved sculptures at The Vasa Museum, the most visited museum in Scandinavia.
When it comes to modern art, Stockholm's Moderna Museet is world-class. Cutting edge exhibitions find a home is this minimalist, sleek gallery and the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Dali all find hanging space.
Sweden's National Museum contains collections of art, design and furniture from throughout the country's history. The modern section, from 1900 to 2000 is particularly interesting as this is when Scandinavia developed as the world's leader in interior design.
Spend, spend, spend
Shopping in Stockholm is a delight. Like in the UK, fashion ranges in price from the best bargains to be found on the high street to exclusive luxury pieces from both domestic and foreign designers and fashion houses.
Most of the shopping is concentrated along Drottninggatan, Klarabergsgatan and Hamngatan and Östermalm is Stockholm's equivalent of Knightsbridge. However, the trendiest, coolest place to shop is now on the island of Södermalm on the other side of Gamla Stan. Götagatan is the place to be right now and local designers are fighting for space along this narrow, pedestrian filled cobbled street.
Fun for all the family
Gröna Lund is an amusement park dating back to the 1880s. It hangs on to the edge of Djurgården so aside from offering 30 or so different rides - including a new wooden rollercoaster for 2011 - it boasts spectacular views back towards Old Town, Södermalm and central Stockholm.
Astrid Lindgren's stories of Pippi Longstocking, Emil and Karlson are ingrained almost to memory in every Swedish child's mind. Junibacken is a storybook museum and funpark full of these characters in their fictional surroundings; a great place to learn more about Swedish culture, whilst messing around and having fun.
Skansen is Sweden's first open-air museum. It takes you back in time through various stages of Sweden's past and is set amid beautiful manicured gardens. There is small zoo, housing animals indigenous to Sweden and the park regularly doubles as a concert venue for national and international acts of all kinds.
Skansen's midsummer celebrations around 24 June are famous, with Maypole dancing, singing and drinking; definitely worth checking out if you're around.
Stockholm's archipelago is extensive. It is made up of 24,000 islands, ranging from mere lumps of eroded-smooth rock to populated islands of some note. It is like nowhere else on earth. Rocky and bare or covered in dense forest, this place is just begging to be explored.
Stockholm archipelago(photo: Thinkstock)
Traditional wooden houses perch on the landscape, vying for the best view of the open expanse of the Baltic Sea. During the summer, this pretty picture is best explored from the water. You can take your pick from self-powered kayaks to organised cruises, complete with commentary and food.
Scandinavia is developing its reputation as a foodie's heaven. There are dozens of world-class restaurants to choose from, but before you tuck into a full three courses, stop off at one of the city's coffee shops, of which there seem to be limitless numbers of. Coffee and cake, known as Fika in Swedish, is a national institution and weekend ritual.
Gamla Stan and Södermalm have the best cafés, not run by large chains or big corporations, and Starbucks is surprisingly absent. Chokladkoppen at Stortorget Square on Gamla Stan is a perfect example.
For an affordable lunch option, Östermalm Food Hall is a good bet. This huge food hall is over 130 year's old and the whole place is jam packed with fresh food and budget friendly restaurants. It's a great place to sample Swedish delicacies and local cuisine without spending a fortune.
For more upmarket dining and views to die for head to Gondolen, a huge gondola suspended over the Stockholm skyline. The cocktails are first rate and the international menu is sumptuous.
However, when in Rome. or in this case Stockholm, it's a good idea to eat where and how the locals do. Frantzen/Lindeberg is a two-Michelin star restaurant and specialises in Swedish food using local ingredients. Expect high class dining in chic, plush surroundings.
Stockholm's best-looking residents beeline straight for Sturecompagniet. This is the city's most lavish and extravagant nightclub, sadly, with prices to match. For a more retro and relaxed feel, head over to Le Bon Palais on Barnhusgatan or for a taste of Swedish Lappland, the Absolut Ice Bar near central station is a must. Not only is the bar made of ice, but so are the glasses and all the furniture. It's a little chilly inside though at just five degrees Celsius.
by Sarah Benton