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Originally published in the May 2010 issue ofOut.
Hit the cobbled ground running and start in the Old Town (the Gamla Stan). Sitting on its own island, Stadsholmen, and billed as Europe?s largest intact medieval city center, the district is one marathon photo op of pistachio- and rose-colored townhouses. There?s nothing quaint, though, about its centerpiece: the 600-room 18th-century Italian baroque Royal Palace, where the Royal Armoury features the world?s biggest walk-in closet of royal couture.
Take a break at the Muren (08-10-80-70), a caf? built into the old city walls where the regulars nurse their blueberry cheesecake, a feathery thing, while watching the promenade outside.
Check into the Lydmar Hotel (Lydmar.com), across the harbor from the Old Town. The 47 boutique rooms feature a sleek but quirky blend of world-class documentary photos, tufted headboards, velvet settees, and some cherry-picked kitsch (tin toy ships, plastic laser guns, antique globes). At night, stylish locals gather at the first-floor restaurant-cum-clubhouse for revolving art exhibits and heady dishes like tarragon-fried scallops.
Devote your second day to ?stermalm, the largely 19th-century heart of Stockholm that sprawls behind the Lydmar. For a sense of streamlined Swedish design, stop by Asplund (Asplund.org) where the easy-to-pack wool blankets and throws balance hot and cold color blocks. Then make a pit stop at the ?stermalm Food Hall to ogle the pastries and the big-boned fishmongers standing behind mountains of fat pink Nordic shrimp.
The requisite culture stop is the National Museum (NationalMuseum.se) where the undervalued Scandinavian landscapes, lit by a pearly Northern light, make the collection?s better-known Watteaus look overwrought and soulless.
Head back into the center of ?stermalm for dinner, a nightcap, and people-watching at Sturehof (Sturehof.com) where the waitstaff wear braided epaulettes on their coats, the Dalaro sandwich (smoked herring, roe, and egg yolk) is the Swedish larder on a plate, and everyone races to the terrace tables to watch the Swedes glide by.
Start off in the artsy S?dermalm district, lined with boutiques, art galleries, and more boutiques. Grandpa (Grandpa.se), a typical example, mixes clothes (including Swedish brands Whyred and A.O), trendy doodads, and sometimes DJs.
Head to the edge of the Old Town to Torget (Torgetbaren.com), one of the city?s venerable gay landmarks. The vibe here is an understated Nordic camp that favors crystal chandeliers, red velvet banquettes, and live performances, including the popular drag show Tollie & Dolores, fueled by vodka tonics and strawberry daiquiris.
For a corresponding lesson in Swedish swank spend your last night in the Grand H?tel Stockholm (GrandHotel.se), the city?s recently renovated grand dame. Finish the day at Mathias Dahlgren (Mdghs.se), the hotel?s restaurant where Stockholm?s top chef dishes up master-class plates like lamb with sweetbreads, morels, and a bright green nettle sauce. If the price is too haute, Dahlgren also offers a much more affordable caf? across the hall.