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Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is one of the most favored cruise destinations among travelers who like to blend a little sightseeing and culture on land with relaxation on board their ship. The approach to the city by ship is spectacular. Rather like Venice, Stockholm is built on a series of islands – fourteen of them – which are part of a larger archipelago of over 24,000 islands ranging in size from substantial areas of land with settlements on them to tiny outcrops of rock.

The other thing Stockholm has in common with Venice is its relatively compact size. Because of the limitations on building space the city has not been able to sprawl like so many modern capitals, and is therefore very easy to explore on foot. This makes it an excellent destination for cruisers.

Stockholm City CenterThere’s a wide variety of things to do and see in Stockholm. It’s a place steeped in history, and the architectural standards and styles it has established over the years have spread all over the world. At the same time it’s a very trendy place – younger cruisers will appreciate the very large number of bars and clubs. A night out in Stockholm is an experience to remember. Although prices are not cheap – this is Scandinavia, after all – there is always an excellent atmosphere. The other attraction of an evening of socializing in Stockholm is that, in common with most other Scandinavian cities, it has a very low crime rate compared with cities of similar status in the US and even the rest of Europe. So if it’s excitement you’re after, head to the island of Södermalm – this area is just a short walk south from the city center, and at night it comes alive with the sound of DJs mixing the latest tunes and the smells of Swedish cooking from wonderful street cafés.

If you feel like spending a rather more tranquil time in Stockholm, you might consider visiting the equally nearby island of Djurgården. It was the first officially designated National City Park in the world. Stockholm is hardly a hectic and bustling place by the standards of New York or Milan, but if you do feel the need to get away from buildings and traffic, Djurgården is the place to go. It’s very popular with local families and is a great place to go and chill out.

Stockholm Old TownIf you want to soak up some of the city’s history, have a walk around Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic center. Although some of the buildings are very ancient indeed – the oldest, Birger Jarl’s Tower, dates from the 1200s AD. But the city is famous for later developments than medieval fortifications. Stockholm has always been at the cutting edge of European of many different art forms – but in the field of architecture it has, arguably, dominated the last century. Most of this reputation comes from the particular style of architecture that English writers called ‘Swedish Grace’ – as the name suggests, it’s a finely-drawn, elegant style of building. It stresses the importance of quality expressed in the smallest detail of a building’s design. Carl Bergsten’s art gallery is a prime example.

After trudging for a few hours around the center of this delightful city, you’ll probably find yourself in need of some refreshment before heading back to your ship. During the long hot summer – temperatures can soar to Mediterranean levels – many local Swedes can be seen soaking up the sun in one of Stockholm’s many open-air cafés. They are dotted around all over Gamla Stan, and there are also many to be found in the city center proper. Probably the best cafés in this area are in the Kungsträdgården. This lovely park is yet another great place to chill out and relax over coffee and cakes in this greenest of cities. You’ll find a huge range of delicacies on offer. The Swedes tend to like their coffee on the strong side and espresso is very popular – as are the kind of small, sweet pastries that you might come across in Vienna or Istanbul.

Stockholm WinterIf you’re thinking of having a beer or a glass of wine be prepared to pay a high price: Sweden has a very high duty on alcohol. The money is worth it if you want to savor some of the excellent local beers, though. Brewing in Sweden has had something of a checkered history, but these days the industry is going strong. If you’re a connoisseur you’ll want to try the excellent Carnegie Porter, a rich dark stout similar in many ways to Guinness. If, on the other hand, you simply want to sink a couple of cool ones after a long day’s sightseeing, it probably makes better financial sense to wait until you’re back aboard ship.

Stockholm is one of the most elegant and well-balanced cities in the world. The locals like to say that the city is divided into three equal parts: buildings, water and trees – and this is strikingly obvious when you sail into the city’s port. It’s a beautiful city, but a warm and welcoming one, too.

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