Stockholm – Strolling and shopping

It was my last day in Stockholm – and I’d deliberately only made a loose plan. After days of hectic sightseeing in Helsinki and the day before in Stockholm, I just wanted to have a bit of time to chill out and generally stroll around.

I’d slept like a baby the night before – the bed in my suite was so comfortable. Being honest it was always a bit of a struggle getting out of it – but I managed, and was out the shower and ready to go pretty early. Right next to my hotel was a massive shopping centre called Gallerian, so I nipped in as Google told me there was a Pressbyrån inside where I could grab a soft drink.

Unfortunately Google couldn’t tell me exactly where in the mall the convenience store was – and I couldn’t find it. I walked the length of the mall on two separate levels. Venturing outside to see if it was actually on the outside of the mall, I was greeted by more construction work underway. The mall was being expanded – it really seems like the whole of Stockholm’s a big building site at the moment.

Heading back inside, I did eventually find the shop – thankfully it was open at ten to nine – the rest of the shops didn’t open until ten. I managed a sneaky snap of the counter to remind me of what Pressbyråns look like!

Not terrifically exciting, but there you go. Navigating successfully back to the hotel, I put everything on charge for an hour or so and sorted out my blog, before hitting the streets. I’d been lucky to score a late check out time of 2pm at the hotel, so I decided to come back later to collect my stuff.

I wanted to spend the morning exploring Stockholm’s most affluent district – Östermalm. I thought I’d just wander about a bit and soak up the atmosphere, but I did have one place I wanted place in particular I wanted to see – a food hall which has been situated there since 1888.

It was just a short stroll from my hotel to Östermalm, and when I arrived, the architecture was pretty impressive.

The area just looked wealthy! Side streets were full of little restaurants and boutiques, and with the sun shining, it was a pleasant spot to walk around.

The cranes in the background were a sign of yet more construction underway.

After strolling up that street in the picture above for about ten minutes, I eventually came across the food hall… which, it turned out, was the site of those cranes 🙁

Yup! I couldn’t get in. It turns out the Saluhall’s undergoing a complete renovation, and won’t be back in business until the Spring of 2019. Apparently it will be worth the wait though – there’ll be covered courtyards, and the hall’s original star-shaped floor plan will return.

It turned out to be not a completely wasted journey though – the hall’s vendors have set up stall in a temporary food hall just across the street.

So I popped in for a nosey.

It wasn’t enormous – but then I’m not sure how big the original hall was / will be. There were plenty of independent merchants – mostly selling fresh food – and little restaurants. I had thought about grabbing breakfast there, but no place really took my fancy, so I just wandered around looking at all the food.

Even the simplest looking of dishes were beautifully prepared. I think if I was lucky enough to live in Stockholm, I’d be doing quite a bit of my food shopping there! After a good wander around, I headed back outside, and decided to go for a bit of breakfast.

Turning to my trusty Foursquare, I went and had a look at one place that sounded right up my street, but it turned out to be a vegan place focussing on really healthy food, and I fancied a traditional Swedish baked good for breakfast. So I turned back and headed to a bakery I’d spotted en route.

I thought it was a little independent place, but it turns out not only are there a fair few of them scattered around Stockholm, but they’ve also opened a couple of branches in London – you can find them listed here.

I had my pick of seats inside the cosy space.

I ordered a cardamom roll – or kardemummabullar – and a mocha, and sat down to enjoy it. There was just a little heat from the cardamom, but it was perfect for a (fairly) light bit of breakfast.

I might have to try recreating them at home, though they do look a bit intricate!

Back on the streets of Östermalm, there were plenty of signs indicating I was in the expensive part of town. Such as a McLaren showroom in the middle of a street.

Rounding a corner, I came to a tree lined boulevard that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Paris – it was full of shops like Chanel and Prada – stores that were a bit out of my financial reach!

My last stop in the area was the waterfront street of Strandvägen – and here it was Monaco that came to mind. The street was lined with expensive looking hotels, apartments and stores on one side…

…while on the other, mini cruise ships seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

By this point, it was about quarter to twelve – still a bit early to head back to the hotel, but I felt I’d seen everything I wanted to see in Östermalm. So I did a quick search to see if there were any other sights I could quickly visit before checking out of the hotel. The only one that seemed relatively close was Stockholm’s City Hall. It has a tower you can climb for a good view of the city, so I decided to head there and hope I could get a ticket for the 12.30 entrance (tower tickets are on a first come, first serve basis – it’s not possible to reserve them in advance online.)

The City Hall was a good half hour walk away, so I decided to save a bit of time by jumping on the metro again. I worked out where the nearest stop was and headed off, passing by a pretty little park…

where an artist was busy painting a picture. You don’t see that very often!

I give that four out of ten. Joke!

I’d read that Stockholm’s metro stations were known for their unusual decor, but the ones I’d visited so far hadn’t really been any different from those in other cities. The one I arrived at however certainly was. There was some kind of piano inspired mural on the ceiling as I descended the very long escalator….

While the station’s exposed rock was decorated with more art on the way to the platform.

After a quick metro ride, I arrived at the Bolinders Plan station. There was plenty of exposed rock on show there too…

… and the escalator hall was pretty dramatic!

I’ve got to say every metro station I visited was absolutely spotless – just like the rest of the city.

Outside, I picked up the pace a bit as I headed towards the City Hall. It was about twelve o’clock by now, and I was conscious of the fact there was probably a long line of people ahead of me who’d be hoping to take a trip up the tower.

When I arrived, I made my way under an archway into a big, open courtyard. It doesn’t look that busy in the picture, but there were loads of tourists milling around.

Eventually I found my way to the ticket counter for the tower, only to find a sign showing the 12.30 tour was sold out. Bah! There were spots available on the 1pm tour, but I felt that wouldn’t give me time to get back to the hotel in time for my 2pm check out, so a bit gutted, I decided just to leave it.

Now in less of a hurry I headed on to the lawns in front of the hall…

…which offered a great view of Gamla Stan.

It was time to get back to the hotel, so after a quick look around the town hall’s small shop, I walked across a bridge to get me back to the city centre, stopping for one last picture of the hall – and the tower I never got to the top of.

On my way back to the hotel, I spotted another church – the Church of St Clare – or in Swedish S:ta Clara Kyrka.

Just out of curiosity (you never know when a building will hold something truly spectacular inside) I stuck my head in, but there were people chatting just inside the doorway, so I decided just to grab a quick photo from the entrance.

Then I was back on Klarabergsgatan. A main shopping street, it’s home to the Åhléns department store which I’d visited on my first night in the city. Again – the roads were a bit of a mess with construction work…

The store was sadly the sight of a terrorist attack not too long ago. Just three months prior to my visit, in April 2017, a man drove a truck down another shopping street, and crashed into the store. Just senseless.

I took a detour via a stroll through the Designtorget store looking for some souvenirs, then walked through the Gallerian mall to get to the hotel, where I checked out and left my bags. If you ever find yourself in Stockholm, I would recommend At Six – it’s perfectly located, and the service was great! I’d definitely return.

The plan for the afternoon was to check out the city centre – and do a bit of shopping. First on my list was Weekday – a chain owned by H&M that’s just opened it’s first store in London – on Regent Street.

I liked it! It sells kind of fashionable but decently priced stuff. I ended up picking up a pair of shorts, a shirt and a top, which came to about £65. Next, it was time for a late lunch – and feeling lazy (and pretty hungry by now) I decided just to have one last trip to a Scandinavian McDonald’s – it was handy!

I had the Maestro burger again, but it wasn’t nearly as good as last time – the dressings were all over the place.

Back on Stockholm’s streets, I headed off to visit some more shops I’d read about. Just up the street from McDonald’s was homeware shop Granit.

It sells storage and home organisation stuff, and reminded me a bit of Muji style wise.

Thankfully, given my funds by now, I didn’t really see anything I wanted, but I did take a couple of photos of some items I liked as reminders.

Next I headed off to Mood Stockholm – a small mall that’s home to cafés and restaurants, individual clothes shops, and some chain stores.

I don’t think I explored it properly really – the picture above suggests there was more than one floor, but I only saw a ground level while wandering around.

I had a quick look inside Samsøe & Samsøe, where I’d bought some jeans from in Helsinki, but apart from that just wandered around the mall.

Just across the road from Mood Shopping was designer store APLACE.

I had a quick look around, but again nothing tempted me to part with my money.

Walking down a side street, I soon found myself back on that tree-lined, Parisien looking boulevard in Östermalm – obviously I hadn’t quite got my bearings in Stockholm! I kept stumbling across streets I’d been down before without working out I’d be coming across them.

Heading back in the general direction of my hotel, I came across Kungsträdgården – a big park and plaza. In the winter, it’s the site of an ice rink, but today, under the cloudy skies, it was just full of people chilling….

Towards the back of the park, there was a dance lesson going on which I thought was pretty cool – you wouldn’t see that in Belfast!

After standing to watch for a while, I had a quick look in another home shop, Illums Bolighus, which I’d visited on a previous trip to Copenhagen.

Then crossing the street, I headed into the NK department store again.

I wanted get some reindeer flavoured crisps I’d seen in Helsinki for my sister as a souvenir, but the food hall didn’t really have any unusual crisps at all. So I just picked up some dip flavourings for my family instead, as I hadn’t seen those at home. Then it was off to find NK Korv & Glass – NK’s hot dog stand which had eluded me on my first visit to the store. This time, success! It’s actually on the outside of the store, just beside one of the entrances. Ordering I got a bit confused – both over the type of bread (bun or wrap) and the kind of hot dog – there is quite a large menu! But eventually I got my basic dog served up in a bun with some mashed potato – as my sis’ had recommended.

That was a healthy sized dollop of mashed potato! It was tasty, but perhaps a bit filling, coming so soon after my McD’s lunch!

By now, it was nearing time to leave Stockholm behind, so I headed back to my hotel, passing through Gallerian one more time…

And stopping off for a quick look in the electronics store Media Markt on the way.

Just like the branch I’d visited in Berlin earlier in the year, this one was enormous, and reminded me of the cavernous Bic Camera stores I’d visited in Japan. Electronics stores in the UK (I guess that means Currys / PC World) don’t have anything like the range or choice.

After collecting my two large and heavy bags from the hotel, it was time to catch the train to the airport. Which meant dragging my suitcase down hill, along pavements full of roadworks, and down the flight of stairs that had caught me out on my arrival…

Gotta say – getting a suitcase up that was not pleasant! But it was a bit better going down.

Crossing the road, I entered Centralstation…

followed the signs for the Arlanda Express…

And was soon on the train to the airport.

There was good solid wifi, and plug sockets at every seat, so I was able to charge my phone a bit on the 20 minute journey.

I arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport a good two and a half hours before my flight, as I thought I’d check out the airport and its shops before heading to the lounge.

Truth is though, there isn’t really that much to see – or do – at Arlanda. I was intrigued by the sound of the airport’s SkyCity  – which seemed to be a big shopping mall, so I made the trek from terminal 2 to that part of the airport, which is between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.

When I eventually got there though, it wasn’t anything exciting. Just a dull selection of souvenir shops and a couple of restaurants really.

So after walking the length of that building, I just turned around and headed back to Terminal 2. At least I was getting my step count up for the day! The Finnair check in area was completely deserted…

… so at least I didn’t have to wait to check my bags in. There wasn’t anything to see landside in Terminal 2, so I headed through security and made my way to the Menzies Aurora lounge, which is what Oneworld elite members have use of in the terminal.

I had a bit of a fight to get in for some reason. I was on a Finnair flight but had status through BA which seemed to baffle the slightly hostile woman on the counter. I’m not sure it was worth the argument to get in to be honest! The decor seemed fairly new…

But the food offering was pretty grim! I wasn’t really sure what I was eating.

All in all, I’d say it’s not worth paying to get in to the lounge. Apart from that food, it’s just a slightly nicer space to sit in than the main terminal. I did a bit of work on my blog, before making my way to the gate for my flight back to Helsinki.

My Finnair flight (operated by a subsidiary, Norra) was due to get me into Helsinki at 22:50. The first of my flights home the next morning was at 7.45, so I’d booked myself into the Hilton  hotel at Helsinki Airport. I reckoned I was probably looking at not much more than six hours sleep.

But it turned out I’d have less time in bed than that. After our plane (operated by Norra for Finnair) started taxiing, the pilot noticed a problem with the nose wheels, so we had to head back to the gate. I was worried we were going to get offloaded, but after about 20 minutes of an engineer checking everything over and presumably fixing the problem, we were on our way.

It was a pleasant enough flight, and we touched down just under 70 minutes after taking off.

Annoyingly, it took forever for our bags to arrive, so it was just shy of midnight by the time I cleared arrivals. I wanted to grab a sandwich to have in my hotel before going to bed, but the convenience store in the airport was closed. The only places that still seemed to be open was a restaurant serving over-priced sandwiches, or a hot dog stand.

Hot dog it was then – my second in one day! 🙁

It wasn’t as good as the one in Stockholm, but the toppings were maybe slightly more adventurous.

Of course, after eating that and walking around the corner, I found a supermarket that was still open, so I could have had my sandwich after all. Grumbling to myself, I started the walk to the Hilton. I’d read it was a three minute walk from the terminal, but it took me a good ten minutes, and I ain’t slow at walking!

There was a fair queue at check in, but it moved pretty quickly, and checking in was hassle free.

I got to my room at half past midnight, and laid out my things for the morning. While the room was alright, what I did find a bit annoying was that there were so many bits and pieces like leaflets and stuff scattered about the place – it was hard to see where I’d put my own things. And the alarm clock for some reason had about twenty buttons on it, which meant setting it took me a good ten minutes.

I guess I got maybe four and a half hours sleep before I was getting up, checking out, and making my way back to the airport.

Check in was pretty manic but after dropping my bags off I headed to security. Note British Airways doesn’t pay for fasttrack security at Helsinki – no matter what your status or class of travel. I joined a very, very long security queue – I think it took me a good fifteen minutes to reach the front of the queue, and then another ten to get through security.

Once I’d done that, I had a look around the terminal’s shops, picking up a couple of souvenirs for people at home. Then I headed to Finnair’s non-Schengen lounge.

There’s two parts to the lounge – one is for business class holders, while the better, “Premium Lounge” is available to Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire (BA Gold or Silver) card holders. I thought that was a bit unusual really – usually silver card holders would get in to a more basic lounge than business class travellers, but I wasn’t complaining!

Inside was stylishly decorated…

… and hot and bar drinks were made for you by smartly dressed assistants. There was also a fairly decent buffet on offer as well. I sat down with a coffee and pastry, and checked out my credit card balance – just keeping an eye on how much I’d spent!

There was one feature of the lounge though that I really wanted to check out. As far as I know, this Finnair lounge is the only one in the world with its own sauna! I’d even packed my swimsuit in my hand luggage in anticipation of being able to use it, but the lengthy security queues and my souvenir shopping meant I didn’t have time. Instead I just had to settle for a quick look at it.

It was pitch black inside, so that was really the best photo I could get. I really wished I’d had time to try it out though, and have a refreshing shower afterwards in one of the shower suites!

Next time! I’m hoping when I’m next heading to Japan, I’ll be going via Helsinki and Finnair – so hopefully I’ll get to check it out then.

It was soon time to head to the gate for my flight home to Dublin, via Heathrow. I’d had a great time in Sweden and Finland, and was returning feeling really refreshed. While it can be expensive – Sweden in particular – there’s no shortage of things to see in the countries’ capitals. The people are friendly, and the Finnish countryside – what little I’d seen of it anyway – is stunning.

I was sad as always that my holiday was over, but I had checked another three countries I’d never visited before off my list 🙂

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