A metro station built in 1977 seemed like an odd start for my guided walking tour of Stockholm, a city filled with centuries-old palaces, among other historic landmarks. But as we reached the platform of Kungsträdgården station, it began to make sense. A permanent art installation unfolded in the form of elaborately painted ceilings, vivid floors, and a sculpture garden created from pieces rescued from the castle that had once stood above it. Beginning in the 1950s, almost all of Stockholm’s metro stations have been similarly transformed, arguably making the metro the world’s longest art exhibit.
In May, Stockholm welcomed its newest venue, the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, with its most popular wing, ABBA the Museum. Through its extensive collection of objects — costumes to cars, mixing boards, and gold records — ABBA the Museum gives visitors a rich history of the world’s most popular super group. Interactive exhibits let guests sing in the famed Polar Studios or appear on stage as the group’s fifth member.
The city is full of museums and show spaces, their exhibits dedicated to a vast array of subjects. The Moderna Museet (ModernaMuseet.se) regularly mounts large-scale exhibitions in addition to its notable permanent collection of modern art, which includes pieces by de Kooning, Rauschenberg, and Kandinsky. The family-friendly, popular Vasamuseet (Vasamuseet.se) houses a 17th-century war ship recovered from the bottom of the sea that’s spectacular up close. And for fans of 20th century photography, legends like Helmut Newton and Henri Cartier-Bresson appear in regularly rotated exhibits at the Fotografiska Museet (en.Fotografiska.eu/The-Museum). But, of course, there are plenty of things for LGBT travelers to do outside museum walls, too.
Stockholm has earned its reputation as one of the world’s gay-friendliest cities and will play host to the EuroGames in 2015. Same-sex marriage has been legal throughout Sweden since 2009, with the Church of Sweden giving it its blessing the same year. Perhaps this incredible openness is the reason Stockholm lacks any discernible gay neighborhoods; its LGBT residents have instead settled across the city.
That said, many of the establishments catering to the LGBT crowd can be found in either the hip Södermalm district or Gamla Stan, the Old Town. After a visit to the Royal Palace, stop by Chokladkoppen, a charming café with outdoor seating famous for the warm and creamy cup of hot chocolate for which it’s named. Torget, another popular hot spot that resembles a chic living room, is a great place to start the night with dinner or a cocktail.
Of course I would have been remiss not to experience one other Swedish institution. So on my last day in town, I headed through the upscale Östermalm district, with its myriad luxury boutiques, for lunch with design and trend expert Stefan Nilsson. He took me to Clas på Hörnet (ClasPaHornet.se), a charming old inn and restaurant whose specialty is Swedish meatballs. “They are the best in town,” Nilsson told me. As I scooped them up with the creamy gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, and lingonberries, I couldn’t see a reason to disagree.
As talk turned to his work with Trendsgruppen, a design-focused PR agency, he told me of the monthly exhibits hosted in the firm’s storefront offices. In September, graphic designer Sandra Isaksson shows her work on porcelain, fabric, and wallpaper; in November, Swedish team Form Us with Love will have its designs on display.
Stockholm is a city built on 14 islands; its grand architecture and swaths of lush greenery connected by a series of 57 bridges. I suddenly started to wonder if all of them did, in fact, lead to an exhibit.
Courtesy Hotel Skeppsholmen
STAY Housed in converted military barracks built around 1700, Hotel Skeppsholmen offers chic rooms with modern Swedish décor and shares its tranquil island with the Moderna Museet and the Arkitekturmuseet. You’ll find it hard to believe you’re in the middle of a major city. HotelSkeppsholmen.com
Photo: Udo Schröter
Every Sunday, Stockholm’s gay set climbs aboard the Patricia, an old boat docked at Stadsgårdskajen Quay, to take over the seven bars, restaurant, and nightclub that have become an institution. Patricia.st
The relaxed atmosphere, attractive patrons, and spectacular view across the Riddarfjärden Bay make Mälarpaviljongen a summertime must, the perfect spot to grab a glass of wine or casual Swedish fare like salmon pudding, a hearty dish of potato, salmon, cream, and dill. Malarpaviljongen.se
High ceilings, ornate woodwork, and massive crystal chandeliers provide a dramatic backdrop for the confident, modern menu of pan-Asian cuisine at Berns Asiastiska. Berns.se/en/Restaurant/Berns-Asiatiska
The Livrustkammaren, Sweden’s oldest museum, currently houses “Images of Christina,” devoted to the controversial 17th-century queen. The collection of objects, manuscripts, and portraiture shed light on her complex story, including her refusal to marry, a penchant for cross-dressing, and abdication. Open through January 5, 2014. Livrustkammaren.se/en