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Nordic and Nice

Nordic and Nice
Melanie Leyshon shares her new-found enthusiasm for all things Scandi on a walk-around weekend in Stockholm
 
Got a new-found enthusiasm for all things Scandi. Tick. Have good walking shoes. Tick. Stockholm City map. Tick. Then you have all you need for an affordable walk-around weekend in one of the most attractive and unspoilt Nordic cities. It’s known as ‘the beauty on water’ or Venice of the North, but admire the waterways from the pavement and avoid the tunnelbana (underground) and you can enjoy a budget-busting weekend while getting the measure of Scandinavia’s largest and most regal city made up of 14 picturesque islands.
 
Temperatures plunge to -5 degrees in winter and early spring, but come prepared with warm clothing and you can cover this flat, compact city without breaking sweat. In two days you can tour the Fotografiska for contemporary photography, the Royal Place for grandeur and the Nobel Museum for intellectual stimulation, fuelling en route with fragrant cinnamon buns and hot chocolate. And if you just want to chill, book yourself in for the afternoon at the glorious Sturebadet day spa for a dip and Swedish sauna, followed by a nutritious lunch at its restaurant Curman. It’s in a glamourous mall, so plenty of shopping opportunities, too.
 
What’s on the menu?
 
Breakfast
When you’ve only got a weekend to acclimatise, forget tracking down breakfast. The main coffee chain around town, Wayne’s, does a decent brew, but it’s not the most inspiring place to start your day. Book a chic hotel offering a breakfast buffet instead. At the minimalistic Nordic Light Hotel,
Nordic and Nice
complete with snazzy techno bedroom lighting, at central Vasaplan, you can slip out of bed to a sumptuous self-service breakfast in the stylish lobby, with the quality of food you’d get at a Whole Foods or Planet Organic. Their options of cereals with seeds, nuts and yogurt, rye bread and lingonberry jam, fresh fruit, sausage and egg, plus smoothies, juices and coffee on tap, will set you up nicely. It’s sister Hotel the Nordic Sea, opposite, is home to the Absolut Icebar, where you can drink ice-cold vodka cocktails at sub-zero temperatures later in the evening.
 
Lunch at Ostermalms Food Hall
On weekdays, restaurants offer good-value lunches of the day called Dagens lunch or Dagens rätt. At weekends, a main event has to be the indoor food hall to see prime Swedish produce in the grandest of settings, before pitching up at any of the market’s counter bars with the locals to enjoy Swedish meatballs or a venison stew with a glass of wine. There’s strong competition for seats, so arrive early. Like most Scandi countries, wine is expensive, costing around £8 a glass, but even the cheapest is a world away from the plonk you pay £6 in some London bars. You can’t take the live lobsters and venison meat joints back home or lug prime Swedish vegetables around, but it’s worth buying pastries at the Robert Paulig stall for a snack in your hotel room later.
 
Tea break
Don’t miss Chokladkoppen, Stortorget 18, the city’s cutiest coffee shop on the pretty main square in Gamla Stan – the surrounding quaint-coloured doll-like houses look like an outtake from Coppélia. The coffee shop is minute, but the cinnamon buns and hot drinks make it well worth the discomfort of sitting on diddy chairs at tiny tables. Alternatives in the area are Café Art and the Hermitage, or buy takeaway glogg from one of the souvenir shops off the square.
 
Dinner
This can be an expensive affair, but for a good-value bistro-style supper of hearty fine food and service book the Kryp In, Prästgatan 17, Gamla Stan. You won’t be disappointed. The bread basket and glorious butter will suffice as a starter, order two generous main courses, such as a beef casserole or the fish stew, and two glasses of wine each and you’ll pay £80 (half what you’d pay in some of the city’s slicker venues).
To sample the best of traditional home-style Swedish dishes such as herring and meatballs, head south to Sodermalm and Pelikan, Blekingegatan 40. You can’t book, but there are always tables at this vast high-ceilinged, wood-panelled restaurant. Expect to pay £60 a head. Keep costs down by sticking to the house wine – don’t give in to the hard-sell waiters plugging expensive bottles of Chilean wine.
 
Getting there
Norwegian Air Shuttle www.norwegian.com operates some of the cheapest flights from London Gatwick to Stockholm-Arlanda Airport (around 2 hours).  The Arlanda Express train takes you from the airport to the city centre in 20 mins (it’s cheaper if you book online in advance). Or take the Flygbussarna coach (cheaper again). Taxis are expensive.
Getting around Stockholm by tunnelbana is also pricey unless you buy a Stockholm Card. This covers your city public transport (not the Arlanda Express or Flygbussarna) and free admission to 80-plus museums, plus discounts at other tourist attractions, for around £20 a day.
For more information, see www.visitstockholm.com
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31 January 2013
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