Head to Stockholm’s Old Town, Gamla Stan, one of Europe’s largest and best preserved medieval city centres in Europe. Founded in 1252, it’s no wonder that it is a stunning, atmospheric part of the city, steeped in history, with narrow streets and grand buildings. Read our guide to exploring the highlights of this beautiful neighbourhood.
Currently housing the offices of the Royal Family, the Swedish Royal Palace stands on the same ground as its predecessor, the medieval Tre Kronor Castle, destroyed in a fire in the 17th century. There are five museums now open to the public, showing the Hall of the State, the silver throne of Queen Kristina, the Treasury and more. The palace has several hundred rooms decorated in the Rococo style. The Change of the Guard is a spectacular ceremony that occurs daily, so be sure to stop by and see it.
The tiny island of Helgeandsholmen is home to the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdaghuset, which takes up about half of the island in its totality. There are free guided tours of the Parliament that last around an hour. The building is built in the Neoclassical style, with a Neo-Baroque façade and two Neoclassical wings and large Corinthian columns. There is a large glass gallery located above the hall, through which visitors can observe the ongoing parliamentary sessions.
One of the most famous maritime museums worldwide, the Vasamuseet shows the salvaged remains of a 17th-century ship. The warship Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, just a few minutes after launch. It was subsequently raised and slowly reassembled. The enormous ship can be viewed from six levels, although nobody is allowed on board. There are various exhibitions explaining Sweden’s maritime history as well as elaborating on the Vasa’s history in greater detail.
The Royal Cathedral of Sweden, the Storkyrkan, is the oldest church in Gamla Stan, first built as a chapel in the 12th century. It was rebuilt as a basilica after a fire destroyed it in the 14th century, and has since gone through several changes and reconstructions. The exterior is a fine example of the Baroque style, whereas the interiors are done in a Gothic style. The greatest highlight of this beautiful cathedral is, without doubt, the life-size sculpture of St George and the Dragon.
The Nobel Museum (Nobelmuseet in Swedish) dedicates itself, as the name indicates, to displaying the work of Nobel laureates. The acceptance speeches of the various laureates can be heard, including Martin Luther King Jr’s speech. Attached is a bookstore with biographies about the Nobel laureates, as well as books written by winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
An exhibition presented by the Royal Armoury, the Theatre of Death depicts royal funerals from the 16th century to the 20th century. There are pictures of the ceremonies following the death of a king, as well as the adornments and processions of the funeral. Somewhat off the beaten track, visit this exhibition to learn more about the elaborate arrangements made following the death of Swedish kings and the artefacts preserved from various funerals.
The Museum of Medieval Stockholm shows the finds of a massive archaeological dig in the 1970s. It tells the medieval history of the city from the 13th to the 16th centuries. There are several artefacts on display: from brick houses, workshops, the harbour to the gallows, every facet of Swedish medieval life is carefully depicted.
Once the scene of a bloodbath, the charming square of Stortorget is now frequented by tourists for its quaint and colourful buildings. Stortorget used to be the political heart of town until 1732, when the city hall was moved to the Bondeska Palace. In 1520, it witnessed a large execution as the Danish conqueror Kristian II had 82 Swedish dignitaries arrested and beheaded at Stortorget (all those who had opposed his rule). Today, filled with bustling cafés and benches, Stortorget is one of Stockholm’s greatest attractions.
If you’re not afraid of heights, be sure to do a rooftop tour in Stockholm. A unique way to see the city, this tour lets you walk on the rooftops of Gamla Stan with guides. As well as helping you out whenever necessary, the guides are also well versed in the history of Gamla Stan. An unforgettable experience, it’s well worth the expense.
The House of Nobility, or Riddarhuset as it is known in Swedish, was built in 1640 and was the meeting point of Swedish nobility. It is a fine example of Baroque architecture, now owned and maintained by a private institution. The walls of the Session Hall are particularly stunning: they are decorated with around 2,300 coats of arms, which represent the Swedish aristocracy.