“People dress differently on this island,” whispers my guide Gabriela, as we drive across the bridge from central Stockholm to trendy Sodermalm, one of 14 islands making up Sweden’s capital.
Mooching around the funky second-hand shops and treasure-filled antique troves of Sofo, I quickly understand what she means. Outfits are a bit more daring (yet always sophisticated) and hairstyles have been coiffured into all sorts of angular cuts.
But wherever you are in this relaxed, waterside city, a ‘go as you like’ attitude prevails.
Even the daily commute is a breeze on a metro network where more than 90 stations are brightly decorated in outlandish and abstract designs. Stretching 110km and featuring the work of multiple artists, it’s often called ‘the longest art gallery in the world’.
I’m mesmerised by the swirling harlequin ceiling of the Kungstradgarden stop, created by artist Ulrik Samuelson in 1977 to represent a royal 17th century garden. So much so, in fact, I manage to miss several trains. But who cares?
Unlike so many capital cities, there’s no pressure to hurry in Stockholm. After all, people like to do things a little bit differently here...
BEST FOR NATURE LOVERS
Step down a set of rickety wooden steps to board the historic ship MS Ostana I, built in 1906. From Strandvagen in central Stockholm, you’ll chug along for twenty minutes before reaching Fjaderholmarna, the first small group of islands in Stockholm’s archipelago (260 SEK - about £23 - for a three-hour cruise; www.stromma.se). Hear about archipelago life from the on-board guide, while eyeing up the tiny red cabins peeking out from clusters of forest.
BEST FOR COCKTAIL AFICIONADOS
Trendy new urban spaces are popping up in downtown central Stockholm, such as the luxurious Hotel At Six. Head upstairs past the marble statues for a Punch Bowl in the bar. The pineapple-shaped bowls come with a generous ladle, so you can share the cocktail out amongst yourselves (from 795 SEK - about £70; hotelatsix.com). Go for the Sneaky Six - liquid white chocolate with flavours of strawberry and green tea. The hotel only opened in March, but their tipsy afternoon tea - with teapots of gin cocktails - is already popular with young Stockholmers (395 SEK - about £35 - per person).
BEST FOR CULTURE SEEKERS
Fotografiska holds 25 exhibitions a year in a beautiful art deco building on the waterfront. You’ll definitely feel Stockholm’s fashionable vibe if you visit on a bustling Saturday morning (130 SEK - about £12 - for adults; fotografiska.eu/en). Short on time? Fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier’s Lumiere is the current must-see exhibition (until May 14) - some of his most famous muses include model Kate Moss. It’s worth a quick look around the gift shop too, as many of the photos you’ve pored over are on posters for a reasonable 146 SEK (about £13).
BEST FOR SHOPPERS
On bohemian Sodermalm, you’ll also find the vibrant Mosebacke Design District. This collection of edgy independent stores is a fascinating mix - there’s Snickars Records, a record store with a gallery attached, and vegan shoe shop-cum-tattoo studio Green Laces - both are on Hokens Street. For typically sophisticated Scandinavian clothes, head to APLACE in the nearby Bruno Galleria shopping centre.
BEST FOR BRUNCHING
If you have one meal while on Sodermalm, make it brunch at Scandi-chic Urban Deli, a nifty combination of restaurant and food store. After browsing groceries, plump for the Swedish chuck steak burger (195 SEK - about £17) and sip on a brunch cocktail (from 120 SEK - about £10). The Hugo consists of cava, lime and tonic and has a strong alcohol-to-tonic ratio for a tangy kick.
As it gets warmer, fake grass and seats are placed outside so Urban Deli stretches to Nytorgsgatan, the park across the street. It’s an eclectic and trendy crowd here - think designers, art directors, hipsters and celebrities.
BEST FOR ARCHITECTURE
Around 3,000 lucky people call the enchanting district Gamla Stan their home. Exploring the city’s Old Town - founded in 1252 - feels like being on set for a live-action remake of a Disney fairy-tale, with cobbled streets and the Baroque-style Royal Palace.
Make sure you visit Stortorget - the city’s most famous square is perfect for people-watching. Walking tours are available through Stromma.se (180 SEK - about £16 - for 75 minutes). Guides will take you to Marten Trotzigs Grand, the narrowest alley in Gamla Stan, which can be pretty hard to find by yourself - it’s only 90cm wide at one point.
BEST FOR MUSIC FANS
It wasn’t always cool to like Abba in Sweden. But head to the island of Djurgarden, and that’s a long forgotten memory. ABBA - The Museum proudly exhibits memorabilia, including the band’s most famous outfits (195 SEK - about £17 - for adults).
Hone singing skills in karaoke booths and pluck up the courage to perform on stage with holograms of Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Bjorn and Benny.
Scan your ticket before singing and your version of Dancing Queen will be available online for you to watch at home.