Stockholm: Travel beyond ABBA
Love them or loathe them, ABBA remain one of Sweden’s most successful exports with a special place in the heart of many a dancing queen. As ABBA fans beat a path to the new ABBA museum which opens next May in Stockholm, Simon Forrester, founder of FURTHER AFIELD, takes a look at what else you can do in what they call ‘the world’s most gay friendly city.’
I have been travelling to Stockholm for over 20 years and watched it grow into a world centre for design and style but for as long as I can remember, it’s reputation as a cosmopolitan city where everyone is welcome has been very real.
Sweden is way ahead on LGBT issues and they legalised same-sex marriage in 2009, which can include a religious ceremony ordained by a priest. So you won’t find a gay district in the city but as anyone will tell you, it is all totally gay friendly and you will see gay couples holding hands across the entire city. There are of course some gay hot spots, of which more later, and in recent years the lesbian scene has really blossomed. Stockholm Pride in August is Sweden’s biggest party and now attracts over 50,000 visitors.
Stockholm is a stunning city consisting of 14 islands where natural beauty sits bang up alongside the coolest urban designer boutiques and cafes. There aren’t many places in the world where you can kayak in the Summer or ice skate in the Winter actually within a city. The islands are well connected by bridges and the underground train network so you don’t have to kayak or ice skate between them in case you were wondering!
THE DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE CITY
Arriving in a city with 14 Islands can be disorientating so we recommend that getting your bearings by climbing the majestic 106m high City Hall to get 360 views across the city and its islands. The Golden Hall within the same building is worth a look – its camptastic glittering walls contain pieces of mosaic made from glass and 10kg of goldleaf.
For hardcore shoppers we recommend the chic shopping area around Stureplan square and Norrmalmtorg. You can get your designer brand label fix here. Everything from Acne to Design House Stockholm but the big new thing is the Södermalm district which is the SoHo of Stockholm. Known as SOFO, this is the bohemian quarter stuffed with funky cafes, bars, galleries and boutique design shops. A great place to just hang out and watch the Swedish go about their business. My favourite coffee hang out in Sofo is the CAFÉ RIVAL and bakery serving lunch, delicious pastries and cookies. With its pavement dining area its perfect for alfresco dining and a good gawp at the locals.
One of my favourite shops in SoFo is Pitstop – a small, well chosen collection of menswear, including Spalwart, a Swedish footwear label that uses 1950s molds and machinery from Eastern Europe to give their sneakers appealing imperfections.
Good design is just part of how the Swedes live and I particularly love how they express their design ethos – so simply, clearly and beautifully.
Gamla Stan (The Old Town) is on its own nearby island connected by bridges. As you might imagine it is a tourist hot spot but don’t miss the picture postcard medieval cobbled streets, churches and squares. Those cobbles can be hard on the heels so don’t forget to stop for the classic Swedish ‘fika’ – coffee, lemonade and a choice of buns, cakes and cookies.
BARS, CLUBS AND RESTAURANTS
No one knows a city like a local so we asked Sean Naughton who is Further Afield’s Scandinavian reviewer and concierge at the Rival Hotel in Södermalm (owned by Benny Anderson previously of ABBA) for his top tips.
Roxy Bar and restaurant. Gay owned and located in the SoFo neighbourhood. He says its cozy, bohemian with multi-cultural cuisine leaning towards Spanish and great service.
Göken. Gay owned restaurant in a quaint neighbourhood on the island of Kungsholmen. Open for lunch and brunch.
Torget Located in Gamla Stan (Old Town). Good for dinner or just drinks. It gets quite crowded in the evening, especially on weekends, with people pre-partying before hitting the clubs. Clientele tends towards the younger and trendier.
Mälarpaviljongen A floating Summer restaurant & bar on the waterfront of the island of Kungsholmen. Very popular on sunny days. Mot people come for the drinks, sunshine and atmosphere. The crowd gets “gayer” as the evening goes on with DJ’s and events.
Sidetrack bar in the Södermalm area, a bit of an older gay crowd. Great staff with DJ’s too and they also serve dinner. Can get quite crowded.
Patricia (gay club)- The Sunday club that has been around for ages… 20+ years! Located on a boat that is moored on the waterfront of Södermalm near Slussen on a boat which was used as Queen Victoria’s royal yacht.
You should remember that the gay nightlife scene is fickle… gay clubs come and go! All the bars and clubs in the above list have been around for a couple of years, but before visiting Stockholm you should check for updated information. A good place for that is the STOCKHOLM VISITORS’ GAY & LESBIAN website.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels in Stockholm tend to be on the larger side but we found some smaller boutique hotels and some larger ones where clever design and hands on owners have created a feeling of intimacy and personality. Take a look at our two choices
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
The main air carriers into Stockholm from the UK are BA, Easy Jet and SAS.
Getting from the airport is easy. Sweep into Stockholm city from the airport on the speedy (20 minutes) and regular (at least every 15 minutes) ARLANDA EXPRESS and take in the quality of the ‘design’ of everything right down to the carefully molded birch window trim. No tacky plastic here and those comfortable train seats could grace any fancy restaurant. This train runs totally on electricity from renewable sources too so stop worrying about the carbon footprint that you flew in with.
Getting around a round Stockholm is easy too. No where is far and we walk for the most part or use the underground but hiring is another popular option.