Stockholm’s enduring style
Skansen is just one example of the way Sweden stays in touch with its roots. Handicrafts such as knitting, weaving and carpentry are still taught in most schools, and even in downtown Stockholm, city dwellers can still indulge their nostalgia for Sweden’s pastoral past thanks to ‘hantverk’ shops such as Svensk Hemslöjd, which sells traditional goods such as lovikkavantar (woollen mittens), tennträdsarmbande (leather wristbands woven with silver thread) and dalahäst (hand-painted horses carved from birchwood). ‘For Swedish people, these links with the past are very important,’ Björn muses, sanding a chunk of fragrant oak. ‘They remind us where we came from, and also tell us something about who we are today.’ He turns back to his bench as soft morning light filters through the workshop’s windows and the smell of sawdust fills the air.
Discover the secrets of Gamla Stan
Night is falling over Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s tangled old town, and its cul-de-sacs and courtyards are pin-drop quiet. The hordes that throng the thoroughfares of Västerlånggatan and Stora Nygatan have evaporated and the medieval city has fallen quiet for another day. Old gas lanterns bathe the streets in a fluorescent glow, and apart from a couple of cats stalking along the cobbles, Gamla Stan seems deserted. However, the silence is only skin-deep – somewhere in the old city, deep beneath the streets, the party at Baggen is just getting into swing.
Hidden away behind a nondescript doorway on the tiny backstreet of Svartmangatan, this secret folk music club is impossible to find unless you happen to be looking for it. It’s reached via a steep stone staircase that leads down from street level into a cramped, brick-vaulted cellar, part of a network of subterranean tunnels rumoured to lie beneath Gamla Stan. Framed by rough stone and hefty beams, lit by candles and alcove lamps, it makes a wonderfully intimate setting for a concert – especially when packed with people, the old walls echoing to the sound of flutes, cellos and accordions.
Built on a natural island, Stockholm’s old town has a history stretching back more than 1,000 years. Laid out during the Middle Ages, it’s a jumble of cobblestone squares, arched lanes and back alleys that seem to run into one another and never quite allow you to get your bearings. Around one corner, a tiny courtyard café sits among shuttered townhouses; around the next, a great Gothic church looms up behind cast-iron gates. It’s a place that seems full of secrets – as Renata Broda, manager of Story Tours, explains. ‘Like many old cities, Gamla Stan is a story that’s written in stone,’ she says. ‘If you know where to look, you can discover many secret things that most people, including most Stockholmers, never get to see.’
On the busy square of Stortorget, surrounded by cafés, Renata points out a cannonball lodged in a wall since a medieval siege, and bullet-holes left by one of the city’s periodic revolutions. Nearby, there’s a hidden garden that once belonged to members of ABBA, and an underground bathhouse housed in the stone vaults of a church cellar. Our coffee stop is at the 300-year-old restaurant of Den Gyldene Freden, where the 18 Swedish Academy members meet in strict secrecy once a year to decide the winners of the Nobel prizes. ‘You could visit Gamla Stan every day for a year and never get bored,’ smiles Renata. ‘I’ve been exploring it for years, and I only know a fraction of its secrets.’