When we think of former colonial powers in days gone by, we tend to think of European states Like Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands and perhaps even the Austro-Hungarian empire. But a Scandinavian country? Surely not! Sadly, most people’s knowledge of European history tends to be seen through the prism of what British historians have written about and thus an important chapter of such history in which the Kingdom of Sweden played an important role, is largely forgotten. The fact is that for more than a century (1611 to 1721), Sweden was the dominant military power in northern Europe. During this period, Sweden held sway over large parts of Norway, northern Germany, Denmark and all of Finland. One only really begins to appreciate this fact when one spends a bit of time walking (or sailing) around Sweden’s extremely photogenic capitol — Stockholm.
The city, which is built on 14 islands and which is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ does indeed enjoy a hugely symbiotic relation with water — whether it be Lake Maleran, the Baltic or the canals that join both but the comparison with Venice is unfair on Stockholm as it doesn’t really require comparisons to begin with. It is, in its own right, a majestic, architecturally rich and culturally abundant city which can more than stand on its own merits. It is immediately evident from the eclectic mix of architectural styles in the city which span many centuries that here is a place that deserves a bigger reputation as a world-class city than perhaps it does. The plethora of public spaces, squares and beautifully maintained parks that dot the city also deserve mentioning as these, in addition to its maritime resources combine in such a manner as to make Stockholm one of the most alluring and aesthetically beautiful cities that I’ve ever visited in over 40 years of global wanderings.
I had two and a half days to try and explore the delights of this northern capital and I have to admit that I failed miserably, and not for the want of trying either! The fact of the matter is that there is simply too much to see and do in Stockholm that you would need at least twice that long and even then, you’d only be ticking off the top ten or fifteen attractions. It is also perhaps the most non-foreign city that English speakers could hope for in that practically every local speaks impeccable English and has impeccable manners. The streets are embarrassingly clean and there is zero sense of one having to look over one’s shoulder, as is so often the case with most other destinations nowadays.
Stockholm isn’t cheap but it is far less damaging on your wallet or credit card than is neighbouring Norway. Having visited all the other Nordic countries in recent years, I would have no hesitation in suggesting that Stockholm is clearly the jewel in the Scandinavian Crown and a city that you simply must visit before the exchange rate changes!
I travelled to Stockholm directly from Dublin with SAS (which could be an acronym for Simply Ace Service) and if I had to choose one word to describe the experience, it would be ‘civilised’! Indeed, I have so much to say about the experience of getting to Stockholm that I feel it deserves a whole blog of its own, so until next time — watch this space!