It’s the coolest place in Scandinavia but don’t take my word for it. With it recently being voted best destination in the British LGBT awards – beating off the likes of other nominees like Amsterdam and Key West – Swedish capital Stockholm is one of the most happening gay destinations on the planet. This is even more the case now with it (alongside Gothenburg) once again being the host of EuroPride in 2018.
And yes, cool it might be, but with Stockholm Pride in July followed by the EuroGames in August, the city had one scorcher of a big gay summer. And now that Sweden’s won this year’s Eurovision, its odds-on to host the Contest in 2015, and, let’s face it, it doesn’t get gayer than that.
Situated on 14 islands, the city is defined by the water and its location between the shores of Lake Malären and the entrance to the Baltic Sea. Each of the city’s islands has its own distinctive character and they’re all linked by 57 bridges earning the city the nickname of the Venice of the North.
The Sofo area on the island of Södermalm, known locally as Söder, with its narrow winding streets, and laid-back urban vibe, is hipster central and home to some of the city’s trendier eateries and independent shops. If you’re into vintage clothes then an afternoon here will make you think you’ve died and gone to retro heaven. Grandpa (Södermannagatan 21, grandpa.se/en) has been selling stylish Swedish fashion and cool accessories and home décor to those in the know since 2003, and if you don’t leave here without a groovy shirt or a funky accessory then there’s something seriously amiss with your gay shopping gene.
While you’re there, don’t forget to pop around the corner to Pärlans Konfektyr (Nytorgsgatan 38, parlanskonfektyr.se), an old-style confectioners, whose melt-in-the-mouth caramels will convince even the most confirmed chocolatophobe.
The spiritual heart of Sofo, and its local canteen, is arguably Urban Deli (Nytorget 4, urbandeli.org), a trendy and right-on New York-style deli, restaurant, whole food shop and bar all in one. Proudly proclaiming itself anti-violence, anti-homophobia and anti-racism, it’s always packed with a great range of ages and types and is a fantastic place to rest your feet and enjoy a smörgåsbord of charcuterie and cheese. Be prepared to share a table, as this place gets really packed especially at the weekends. Most Swedes speak perfect English so use that as an opportunity to chat up that sexy Sven or gorgeous Elsa.
A short walk away, housed in a massive art nouveau building and former customs house, is Fotografiska (Stadsgårdshamnen 22, fotografiska.eu/en), Sweden’s national museum of photography and one of the world’s foremost centres of the contemporary image. In the five years that it’s been open it’s rapidly become one of the city’s coolest (yes, there’s that word again) cultural attractions, showcasing major retrospectives of the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibowitz and Andres Serrano. Currently on show are the iconic black and white portraits of African wildlife by British photographer Nick Brandt. Fotografiska also has an excellent bar and restaurant with some of the best views over Stockholm.
Just across the water is the tiny island of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town and home to the nation’s parliament as well as the Royal Palace (Slottsbacken 1, kungahuset.se), the official residence of the royal family, much of which is open to the public. The daily changing of the guard takes place just after noon on weekdays and at 1.15pm on Sundays and holidays.
Gamla Stan is an enchanting medieval maze of former merchants’ houses and twisting cobbled streets, including Marten Trotzigs Freant, at just one metre wide the narrowest (and steepest) street in the city. Craft shops, galleries and quirky bars and restaurants are clustered just off Stortorget, the main square, which is a great place to relax and people watch on a warm summer’s day, especially at the very gay-friendly Chokladkoppen (Stortorget 18, chokladkoppen.se/en) and its next-door big sister Kaffeekoppen (cafekaffekoppen.se).
The square is also where you’ll find the Nobel Museum (Stortorget 2, nobelmuseum.se), celebrating Stockholm’s son, Alfred Nobel, who on his death bequeathed his huge fortune to the Prizes that bear his name. Turn your chair upside down at the Museum’s bistro and you’ll find the signature of one of the Nobel Laureates who have visited the building from author Mario Vargas Llosa to Barack Obama.
Stockholm is best appreciated from the water so take a leisurely cruise on one of the regular ferries to Djurgården, a massive expanse of park and woodland and a favourite getaway for Stockholmers and tourists alike, as well as the home to the city’s oldest amusement park (Gröna Lund, gronalund.com/en) and some of Sweden’s most important museums and galleries.
The Vasa Museum (Galärvarvsvägen 14, vasamuseet.se) is the final resting place of the Vasa, a 17th-century wooden warship which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. The vessel was salvaged 333 years later and was found to be remarkably well-preserved and has now been restored to its former glory. Even if maritime history isn’t your thing this is an absolute must-see; it’s Scandinavia’s top museum and the size and grandeur of the Vasa are quite simply breath-taking. (That’s what the designers of Pirates of the Caribbean thought too: the ships in the movie were directly inspired by the Vasa.)
Close by and in its own secluded grounds, the Thiel Gallery (Sjötullsbacken 8, thielska-galleriet.se/en) houses a magnificent collection of 19th- and 20th-century Scandinavian art including works by Edvard Munch. The house is worth visiting for its own period elegance alone: it was the home of banker and art collector Ernest Thiel and has remained largely unchanged since the 1920s. To celebrate the forthcoming Euro Games the gallery will be presenting works of art featuring the male nude.
“Walk in, dance out” is what they promise you’ll be doing at the quite frankly fabulous ABBA Museum, and they’re not far wrong. This is a fantastically interactive and fun museum where you’re encouraged to discover what it feels like being the fifth member of the Swedish supergroup. As well as seeing all the band’s gold records and videos, you can try on their costumes, visit a replica of their studio, sit in the helicopter from the cover of Arrival, have a go at mixing and recording tracks yourself, and even sing along live on stage with holograms of Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida. The most popular track of choice is Dancing Queen. Funny, that. If you can, visit mid-week as it gets packed at the weekend.
Unlike most capital cities, Stockholm doesn’t have a main gay village or “gaybourhood”. There a few gay bars and cafés dotted around the islands, but Stockholmers are an open and accepting people – homosexuality was decriminalised here way back in 1944 – and gays, lesbians and straight all mix together with no problems.
There is a gay vibe in Söder, however, which is where on Saturdays you’ll find King Kong at Guldapan (Mariatorget 1A, facebook.com/kingkong), a basement party place hosted by drag queens with a packed dance floor and a Schlager room. When King Kong closes, the friendly and up-for-it crowd head off to Wonk (Kungsgatan 15, joeswe.wix.com/wonk,), a frenetic late night club with topless barmen and DJs, open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Another main attraction is Patricia (Söder Mälarstrand, Kajplats 19Söder Mälarstrand, Kajplats 19Söder Mälarstrand, patricia.st) a Stockholm party institution held on a boat where every Sunday Stockholm’s gay and lesbian party come to eat, drink, dance and be seen.
Across the water is another hotspot, Mälarpaviljongen (Norr Mälarstrand 64, malarpaviljongen.se/en), a huge restaurant and bar built on floating pontoons overlooking the lake. It’s open from April to September and is the perfect place for enjoying those long Swedish summer nights chilling out with friends over a glass of rosé, or even taking a dip in the crystal clear waters of the lake.
The summers are always hot in Stockholm but it’s going to be even hotter this year with hundreds of thousands of LGBT visitors coming from all over the world for two of the biggest gay events in Europe.
Stockholm Pride (stockholmpride.org/en) is the biggest Pride event in Scandinavia, a week long mix of parties, politics and culture, when the entire population comes out to paint the city in the colours of the rainbow flag.
The week-long celebrations (27 July – 1 August) end with over 50,000 joining the parade, which kicks off at Mariatorget in Södermalm, and parties it way through the streets of the city. Roughly 500,000 spectators lined the route and joined in with the party.
Then, of course, they had the EuroGames Stockholm (eurogamesstockholm.com), a hectic week of sporting, cultural and political events (5 – 9 August).
The EuroGames are open to any one regardless of sexual orientation or ability, and 5,000 participants will be took part in a programme of 29 sports including volleyball, track & field, same-sex dancing, rugby, swimming and much more.
The EuroGames’ cultural programme will include a film festival, and the political programme will be hoisting a conference with seminars, workshop and lectures.
Swedish cooking isn’t all about meatballs, although you must have them at least once, as every restaurant has a different recipe. The city has some great restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines. As well as Urban Deli and Mälarpaviljongen, here are three more culinary favourites.
Where To Eat
Much loved by Stockholmers, this French bistro gets packed at the weekends.
Biblioteksgatan 5, zinkgrill.se/en
Open and airy Nordic bistro with great service and very dog-friendly.
Beckholmsvägen 26, oaxen.com
Friendly neighbourhood restaurant with a delicatessen and its own bakery.
Karlavägen 76, http://bromskarlaplan.se
Where To Stay
Housed in what used to be an old cinema, this four-star and funky art deco boutique hotel in trendy Södermalm is a bustling meeting point for stylish Stockholmers, with its three bars, bistro, café, and even a theatre, showcasing live and local talent. It’s also owned by Benny Andersson of Abba which probably explains the Abba Gold CDs in every room. No one knows Stockholm better than handsome concierge Sean who will happily give you insider tips on Stockholm either in person or on his blog stockholmtourist.blogspot.co.uk
Mariatorget 3, rival.se/en/the-hotel/rival-and-the-rainbow
Boutique hotel in the centre of the city with a modern design, over the years Berns has welcomed the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Rufus Wainwright and even the Dalai Lama. Look out for their huge breakfast hall with crystal chandeliers and mirrors, which at the weekend hosts some of the hottest parties in town.
Näckströmsgatan 8, berns.se/en
This magnificent art nouveau hotel stylishly dominates the water front on Stockholm’s main street. The hotel has been in the same family for four generations and is full of old-fashioned charm and elegance.
Strandvägen 7C, diplomathotel.com/en
Prince Van Orangien
A tiny wooden sailing vessel from 1933 that has been turned into a small and unusually elegant hotel. Individual cabins are available but the whole boat can also be rented for larger groups
Beckholmsvägen 26, prince-van-orangien
Nordic Light Hotel
Handy for the main station, the Nordic Light is known for its design and friendly atmosphere.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines (sas.se) have regular flight to Stockholm from all major UK airports.
On arrival at Stockholm Arlanda airport, the quickest way into the city is on the Arlanda Express train arlandaexpress.se
Tourist info: visitstockholm.com
Gay info: gaylesbian.visitstockholm.com
Swedish language gay magazine QX is a great source of gay info and is freely available in bars, hotels and tourist centres
Local info: thelocal.se Set up by Brits living in Stockholm, this English language website provides a news service for expats as well as some features on life in the Swedish capital.
Stockholm Pride. Go to: stockholmpride.org/en
EuroGames Stockholm. Go to: eurogamesstockholm.com
And for our last tip….
Buy a Stockholm Card either online or once you’re arrived in Stockholm. It gives you free admission to more than 75 museums and attractions as well as free travel by public transport.