We suggest that you get lost…
in the less travelled backstreets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is linked by fifty seven bridges that span its fourteen islands; only a few of the 30,000 islands in this vast archipelago on the Baltic Sea. Like any modern city it’s colourful, stylish and smart; enjoying a unique and beautiful setting where Lake Malaren’s crystal waters meet the Baltic.
Since its revitalisation boom in 1897, set off by hosting the World’s Fair, Stockholm seems to have been under constant rejuvenation – so much so that when we visited recently much of the city still appears like a very clean building site.
The results will be worthwhile but in the meantime we decided to avoid the log-jammed roads and thoroughfares of the new city and explore the lesser trodden paths of the old town – Gamla Stan.
The virtually car-free cobblestone streets and ochre-coloured buildings of the medieval old town, are themselves a picturesque delight to stroll around, with many little cafes and curios even in the main areas.
Many walk just the main routes through Gamla Stan and quickly move on to the next island; especially if you’re intent on covering most of Stockholm – but if you confine yourself to a walk around Gamla Stan and the adjacent island of Skeppsholmen then you’ll discover all sorts of little curiosities during the course of an easy day’s walk – and there are plenty of places to stop, rest and refresh as you stroll.
Its easy and fun to become distracted and just to follow your nose as a stairway or alleyway reveals itself – and its really part of the charm of Gamla Stan.
If you stay within the small island you’re never going to get really lost and will frequently crisscross your path as you meander the streets and alleyways.
Gamla Stan is home to the Nobel Museum, the 13th-century cathedral (Storkyrkan), the royal palace of Kungliga Slottet with its underground armoury and the German church; not to mention the literally hundreds of interesting four-storey properties and homes tightly packed within this relatively small area that by a small miracle dodged the ‘modernising’ tendencies of the early 20th century.
Ever inclined to be nosy, we ventured down one narrow alleyway where the sun was creating a pool of light at the end of it.
We were amazed to walk out into a completely circular terrace of buildings with covered walkway.
This turns out to be Brantingtorget as an ‘annex of the chancellery’; built in 1945 it nevertheless blends surprisingly well with the surrounding architecture and the alleyways that reach it are all that remains of the original slum passageways of the block.
In pride of place in the middle of the square is the bronze sculpture Morgon, or ‘Morning’, a nude bronze by Ivar Johnsson.
In Vasterlanggatan we wander into Mats Jonasson’s Concept Store – unusual, as we’re not accomplished ‘shoppers’ and are intrigued by his collection of dramatically lit crystal sculptures with eerie faces and forms. His details are at the end if you want to see more.
We’re sure that, despite meandering at length during the day we spent in Gamla Stan, we saw only a selection of the wonderfully quaint alleyways, hidden and secret passageways and courtyards with little foibles, statues and architectural details that have stood the test of time.
It’s surprising that in such a busy city you can find yourself completely alone in some of these tranquil backstreets away from the more popular thoroughfares, which adds a charm and timelessness of its own. We wandered down Svartmangaten, a quiet and secluded street, pausing on the way to peep through the iron grill into a secret garden and to photograph the terrace opposite, before heading down to Osterlanggaten, which is one of the busiest streets full of little restaurants and boutiques.
Joining the road from a slightly elevated position, it highlights the narrow nature of many of the buildings. Here, we feel as though we’re part of a thriving medieval town and many of the building facades are decorated with plaques above street level.
On Köpmanbrinken we come across a bronze-copy of the George & Dragon sculpture from 1912-13. It is a very close copy of the original (in Storkyrkan, the Great Church, in Gamla Stan) but some of the parts have been arranged slightly differently: The knight is wearing his helmet and the body parts below the dragon are placed differently but nevertheless it presents a dramatic centrepoint to the street junction at this point.
From Gamla Stan we walk around the Blasieholmen waterfront and cross the Skeppsholmen bridge with its ornamental golden crowns onto the island of the same name that could be in another world instead of a capital city. We wander almost alone through the leafy parkland surrounded by water and on into Kastell Parken which is another adjoining teardrop-shaped island.
On these two, if we’d wished, we could visit a couple of museums including the museum of modern art but by this time we’re of a mind simply to enjoy the uninterrupted views of old Gamla Stan, the tall ships docked alongside and the ‘chocolate box’ houses surrounded by blossoming trees and well kept gardens.
All-in-all a stroll around the old town and these two islands will leave you at peace with the world, a gentle escape from the rigours of hectic modern daily lives and an insight into a more rugged but uncomplicated way of living.
We feel as though we barely scratched the surface of the charming city that is Stockholm (even in Gamla Stan) and certainly haven’t ticked it off as ‘done’ on our wish list of places to visit and re-visit.
A walking tour of the area of Gamla Stan can be achieved as a level or gently sloping walk for the most part, much of it on cobbled streets but there are alleyways with steps and stairs.
If you’re so inclined, there’s a ‘roof hopping’ tour for the more adventurous, which sounds great fun and will certainly give you a different perspective on the old town.
We haven’t done this as we didn’t have the time, so can’t recommend it from experience – but here’s the link to Takvandring if you’re interested:
We happened across Mats Jonasson’s Concept Store where we saw the intriguing crystal sculptures. The crystal looks far more appealing in the store than it does on his website but here’s the link for it:
It’s on Vasterlanggatan 23, 111 29 Gamla Stan
The official website for Stockholm Tourist Information is: