Stockholm and Helsinki
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 106C
In Stockholm, Sweden's capital, we browse in the old town, see an opera at the baroque Queen's Theater, and commune with earlier centuries of Swedish life in a vibrant open-air museum. We then board a ship for a scenic overnight cruise through the Baltic Archipelago in order to explore 19th-century sights in modern Helsinki, Finland.
- Read the script from the show.
The queen's 17th-century summer castle and present royal residence has been called "Sweden's Versailles." Touring the palace, you'll see the queen making the point: She's divine and belongs with the gods. Below the clouds are her earthly subjects...and you. But she was a divine monarch on a budget: Test the "marble" doorways. They warm to the touch...painted to look like marble. You'll see three crowns on the Swedish coat of arms, a reminder of Sweden 's aspiration to rule Norway and Denmark. The Room of War — with kings, generals, battle scenes, and war-trumpet-like candleholders — is from the time (1600-1750) when Sweden was a superpower (call 08/402-6280 to reserve free-with-admission palace tours in English).
The 18th-century Drottningholm Court Theater (Drottningholms Slottsteater) somehow survived the ages — complete with its instruments, sound-effects machines, and stage sets. It's one of two such theaters remaining in Europe (the other is in Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic). Visit it on a 30-minute guided tour (tel. 08/759-0406). Or check their schedule for the rare opportunity to see perfectly authentic operas (about 25 performances each summer). Tickets for this popular, time-tunnel musical and theatrical experience go on sale by phone, fax, or mail each March.
The Stockholm Card, a 24-hour pass, includes all public transit, almost every sight (75 attractions), some free or discounted tours, and a handy sightseeing handbook. An added bonus is the substantial pleasure of doing everything without considering the cost (many of Stockholm's sights are worth the time but not the money). This card pays for itself if you do Skansen, the Vasa Museum, and Millesgården. You can stretch it by entering Skansen on your 24th hour. Cards are sold at the Sweden House, airport TI, many hotels, hostels, larger subway stations, Pressbyrån newsstands, and at www.stockholmtown.com.
This is Europe's original open-air folk museum, founded in 1891. It's a huge park gathering more than 150 historic buildings (homes, churches, shops, and schoolhouses) transplanted from all corners of Sweden. Skansen was the first in what became a Europe-wide movement to preserve traditional architecture in open-air museums. Other languages have even borrowed the Swedish term "Skansen" (which originally meant "the Fort") to mean "open-air museum." Today tourists still explore this Swedish-culture-on-a-lazy-Susan, seeing folk crafts in action and wonderfully furnished old interiors (tel. 08/442-8000).
Stockholm turned a titanic flop into one of Europe's great sightseeing attractions. This glamorous but unseaworthy warship — top-heavy with an extra cannon deck — sank 20 minutes into her 1628 maiden voyage when a breeze caught the sails and blew her over. After 333 years at the bottom of Stockholm's harbor, she rose again from the deep with the help of marine archaeologists. Ironically, this Edsel of the sea is today the best-preserved ship of its age anywhere — housed in a state-of-the-art museum. The masts perched atop the museum's roof — best seen from a distance — show the actual height of the ship.
For a thorough visit, plan on spending an hour watching the 25-minute video and taking the free 25-minute tour (in either order), then explore the boat and wander through the various exhibits. From June through August, the English-subtitled video generally runs at the top of the hour. Displays are well described in English. Learn about the ship's rules (bread can't be older than 8 years), why it sank (heavy bread?), how it's preserved (the ship, not the bread), and so on (Galärvarvet, Djurgården, tel. 08/5195-4800).
STF Vandrarhem Af Chapman
In the park across the street from the TI is my favorite café in northern Europe, Café Kappeli. When you've got some time, dip into this old-fashioned gazebo-like oasis of coffee, pastry, and relaxation. In the 19th century, it was a popular hangout for local intellectuals and artists. Today the café offers romantic tourists waiting for their ship a great coffee memory.
For up-to-date specifics, see the latest edition of the Rick Steves' Snapshot: Stockholm travel guide or the Rick Steves' Scandinavia travel guide — or join us on one of our free-spirited Scandinavia tours.