Stockholm has been Sweden's capital since the nation became independent in the 16th century. This is a walking tour with a showcase of historical locations, from Gamla stan, (literally "the Old Town"), to Norrmalm.
- See also: Nordic history
|“||Sådan vånda avvärjde han, Birger Jarl, den vise man
Han lät Stockholms stad att bygga
med digert vett och mycken håg,
ett fagert hus och en godan stad,
alla gjorde som han bad.
Det är lås för den sjö
Så att karelarna gör dem ingen oro.
Such fear averted he, Birger Jarl, the wise man
He had Stockholm City built
with plenty of wit and much thought
a fair house and a good city
everyone did as he asked."
It is lock for the lake
so the Karelians make them no worry.
—The Eric Cronicle, from the 1320s, in modernized Swedish
Due to post-glacial rebound, today's Stockholm used to be under water some thousands of years ago; the land still rises around 5 millimeters per year. During the Viking Age of the 9th and 10th centuries, lake Mälaren was part of the brackish Baltic Sea, and today's Stockholm was a waterway for the first Swedish cities; Birka, Uppsala, and Sigtuna. As Sigtuna was sacked by pirates in AD 1187, the Swedes needed to fortify the strait.
Birger jarl (jarl is a title corresponding to British earl), had a fortress built on an island later known as Gamla Stan, which has been known as Stockholm since 1252. As the rising land transformed Mälaren to a freshwater lake, cargo needed to reload at Stockholm. In the 15th century Stockholm replaced Uppsala as the effective capital, and since its liberation from Denmark by King Gustavus Vasa in 1523, Stockholm has remained Sweden's most important center of commerce, and the base of the Swedish Empire, which nearly encircled the Baltic Sea in the 17th century.
The inner city plan was laid out during the 19th century industrialization. Since 1901, Stockholm draws the world's attention with the Nobel Prize. The city was untouched by the World Wars, but around the 1960s, hundreds of old buildings in Norrmalm were demolished to build a metro (known for its art) and a new business district. As of 2020 Stockholm is one of Europe's fastest growing cities, known for pop music, a bustling IT startup scene, and sustainable development.
The tour is around three kilometres, and can be completed on quick feet within an hour; excluding visits to museums and other venues. People who move slowly, and those who want to enjoy the surroundings, need more time.
The streets through Gamla Stan is pedestrian, and bicycles and electric scooters are not a fast option. They can be more useful in Norrmalm.
Stockholm has some organized walking tours which follow similar waypoints.
The tour is roughly chronological, from prehistory to present day; with a few skips back and forward. Blue for waypoints; green for landmarks visible from a distance, and read for interesting places for eating and drinking.
First, you will take notice of Stockholm's natural location at the outlet of Lake Mälaren (which was part of the Baltic Sea until the 13th century). Gamla Stan has a few buildings from the Middle Ages; most of them are from the height of the Swedish Empire during the 17th century. Norrmalm was rebuilt during the 1960s.
Södermalm heights tour is an optional prologue, with a showcase of pre-industrial buildings, as well as an astounding view of the Old Town.
Part I: Gamla stan
The Old Town has the largest concentration of historic buildings; many of them erected during the Swedish Empire, during the 17th century. This tour avoids thoroughfares such as Västerlånggatan, which can be crowded during summers and weekends.
- 1 Stockholm City Museum (Stockholms stadsmuseum), Ryssgården. The museum displays the history of Stockholm from 1523 to present day, with special attention to construction and architecture.
- 2 Slussen. Slussen literally means "the sluice"; referring to the lock that drains the freshwater lake Mälaren 70 centimetres down to the brackish Baltic Sea, and used to be one of Sweden's most important commerce hubs. Over the centuries, Slussen developed to a complex transportation hub for boat, rail adn road transportation, with Europe's first cloverleaf interchange in the 1930s. As of 2020, renovation has closed down much of the area, with re-routed walkways, and crowds at rush hour.
- 1 Riddarholmskyrkan. Riddarholmen literally translates as the "Knights' Island"; dominated by nobility palaces, which are today used by the judiciary. The church, Riddarholmskyrkan, is from the 14th century, and thereby Stockholm's oldest surviving building. Fifteen Swedish monarchs are buried here, from Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) to Gustav V (1858-1950). One notably absent monarch is Queen Kristina, who abdicated in 1654, converted to Catholicism, and is buried in St Peter's Church in the Vatican.
- 2 Kastellet. A citadel from the 17th century, which flies the naval flag, and is used for gun salutes. The building exploded in 1845 and was rebuilt in 1848.
- 3 Järntorget. "The Iron Square" has been known as such since 1489. Since then, iron has been one of Sweden's main exports; shipped from Bergslagen on the lakes to the Baltic Sea.
- 3 Södra Bankohuset (Southern Bank House). Built in the late 17th century for Riksens Ständers Bank, later Sveriges Riksbank, the world's first central bank. Since 2018, the building hosts a video game studio. A statue in front of the building commemorates Swedish songwriter Evert Taube (1890-1976), known for his ballads about his adventure as a sailor and a gaucho in Argentina.
- 4 Mårten Trotzigs gränd. Stockholm's narrowest street. Mårten Trotzig (1559–1617) was a German merchant who became one of Stockholm's wealthiest citizens through metal trading.
- 1 Den Gyldene Freden, Österlånggatan 51. The members of the Swedish Academy (famous as the jury for the Nobel Prize in Literature) eat here every Thursday. Old traditions (traced back to 1722) in the old town. The reputation allows "The Golden Peace" to charge high prices.
- 5 German Church (Tyska Kyrkan), Svartmangatan 16A. Officially named Sankta Gertrud, this church is the home of the first German-speaking parish outside Germany, giving some clue to the importance of German merchants in the history of Stockholm. On the site of the church, a German merchants' guild was founded in the 14th century. In the 16th century, the headquarters was converted into a church, which was later expanded. The interior is baroque in style, with large windows and white vaults. The church belongs to the Church of Sweden, but holds services in German at 11:00 every Sunday.
- 6 Uppland Runic Inscription 53, Kåkbrinken 1. While the Vikings travelled the waters that became Stockholm until AD 1000, most of their artifacts have been lost to time. Their most lasting remnants are runestones; one of them which happened to be built into a wall of a 17th century building. The laconic inscription says Thorsteinn and Freygunnr had this stone [raised] in memory of [...] their son.
- 7 Stortorget. The main square of the Old Town since the 15th century. Famous for the 1520 Stockholm Bloodbath, where Danish king Kristian II had a hundred Swedish noblemen and dignitaries executed for heresy.
- 8 Nobel Prize Museum (Nobelmuseet), Stortorget. Located in the old Stock Exchange building from 1776. The Nobel Prize Museum has lots of material on the Nobel Prize, including videotaped speeches by laureates. Since 1914, the upper floor is used by the Swedish Academy (famous for selecting the Nobel Prize laureates for literature).
- 9 Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan), Trångsund 1 (next to the Royal Palace). Storkyrkan is the oldest church in Gamla stan. Built in the 13th century in the Gothic style, the exterior was remodelled in Baroque style around 1740. The church is the seat of the Church of Sweden bishop of Stockholm. It contains two pieces of famous artwork: the 15th-century wooden statue of Saint George and a copy of the oldest known image of Stockholm, Vädersolstavlan ("The Sun Dog Painting"), a 1636 copy of a lost original from 1535.
- 10 The Obelisk at Slottsbacken. Erected by King Gustav III as his gratitude for Stockholm's citizens, for defending the city in the war against Russia from 1788 to 1790. As of 2020, it is absent for renovation.
- 11 Karl XVI Johan statue. Karl XIV Johan, born Jean Bernadotte, was a Napoleonic field marshal, who became Crown Prince, and later King of Sweden. The House of Bernadotte has been on the Swedish throne since then.
- 12 Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet). Built between 1697 and 1754, dominating the north-eastern part of the Old Town, the Royal Palace is the official residence of the king of Sweden. The 13th century castle Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) was on the same location until it burnt down in 1697; the remnants are on display in the basement. The reigning king Carl XVI Gustaf (who lives in Drottningholm in Ekerö) has "For Sweden, with the times" as his motto; as an avid environmentalist, he has had solar panels installed on the palace roof. It is open to the public unless being used for a state ceremony. Entrance ticket includes The Royal Apartments, the Tre Kronor Museum, the Treasury, and Gustav III's Museum of Antiquities. The Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren) is a separate museum in the palace's basement. The Royal Guards (Högvakten) do a ceremonial changing of the guard every day during summer and major holidays.
- 13 Swedish Parliament (Sveriges riksdag). The parliament building was finished in 1905, and contained a two-chamber parliament; which was reduced to one chamber in 1971. Re-opened in 1983 following a major renovation. Free-entrance guided tours in Swedish and English.
- 14 Museum of Medieval Stockholm (Medeltidsmuseum). As the Parliament was renovated in 1978, a garage was planned here. As archaeologists found remnants of medieval Stockholm including parts of the city wall, a museum was built instead. The Middle Ages are considered to begin with the christianization of Sweden around AD 1000, ending with the breakup of the Kalmar Union and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
- 4 Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset). The 1923 city hall with the iconic Three Crowns spire, where the Nobel Prize Banquet takes place every year.
This neighborhood was mainly built during the 19th century; when nationalism was strong, and Sweden's self-image was formed; with plenty of statues and monuments commemorating past times.
- 15 Norrbro. Built from 1787 to 1807 (vith the first stone laid by Gustav III), this is Stockholm's oldest surviving stone bridge. The width of 19 metres In 1853, the bridge was equipped by Stockholm's first gas lights, and in 1881 the first electric arc lamps. A renovation was finished in 2010 (with the first stone laid by Crown Princess Victoria).
- 16 Gustav Adolfs torg. This square has a mounted statue of Gustavus Adolphus II (reigning 1611–1632). Flanked by the Royal Opera and the Foreign Affairs Department. Stockholm is traversed by a ridge, Brunkebergsåsen, which has been removed over time. The lion statues with the hieroglyphics are copies of statues in the Vatican Museum.
- 2 The Royal Swedish Opera (Operan) (T-Centralen). This 1898 building, stages classical operas in original language or Swedish, as well as classical ballets and concerts. An older opera house was built in 1782, commissioned by King Gustav III, remembered as a patron of the arts. As he lost a war against the Russian Empire and stripped the nobles of their privileges, he got domestic enemies; and 10 years later he was assassinated at a masquerade ball in the Opera House (which was torn down in 1892). The current Opera House offers daily guided tours in English. Strömterrassen is a café with an astounding view of the Royal Palace. Within the same building is Operakällaren and Café Opera.
- 17 Kungsträdgården. The name "the King's Garden" bears witness of the original function as a closed-off royal park, open to the public only since the 18th century. Today it is used for festivals and other public events. The two statues, depicting king Charles XI (reigning 1660-1697) surrounded by four lions, and his son, king Charles XII (reigning 1697-1718), surrounded by four cannons, have jokingly been referred to as en kruka mellan fyra lejon ("a coward between four lions") and ett lejon mellan fyra krukor ("a lion between four pots"). Out of several redevelopments of the park, the most controversial was a metro exit, which was to be built in 1971, requiring the destruction of thirteen elm trees. Public protests forced the government to back down, and relocate the exit to a nearby building. In the late 2010s, another controversial tree-related plan was cancelled; Apple Computers purchased the property in the northern part of the park, and intended to build a flagship store there.
- 18 Kungsträdgården metro station. The Kungsträdgården metro station opened in 1977, and is known for its art, with elements from demolished buildings in and around Kungsträdgården. Due to the aforementioned protests, the eastern exit was finished as recently as 1987.
- 3 Grand Hôtel, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8. A Grand Old Hotel opened in 1874 overlooking the Royal Palace, and considered to be one of the most luxurious in Scandinavia. This is where world celebrities and leaders stay. The first Nobel Prize ceremonies were held here, and room No 702 is the astounding Nobel Room, where the literature prize winners stay overnight. The restaurant gives an excellent Swedish smörgåsbord, one of the very few establishments in Scandinavia that still does so. Check out the piano bar, a delightful end-of-the-evening place to get a sophisticated drink.
- 5 National Museum of Fine Arts (Nationalmuseum), Södra Blasieholmshamnen. Sweden's national museum for European art opened in 1866, exhibiting works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya, Renoir, Degas and Gauguin, as well as Swedish artists such as Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, C F Hill and Anders Zorn, and interior design.
- 6 HMS af Chapman. A full-rigged ship launched in 1888 under the name Dunboyne, later G.D. Kennedy. She ran freight between Gothenburg and Australia. From 1915 to 1934 she was a training ship, and since 1949 she is used as a hostel.
- 19 Nybroplan. Remember that the land rises 1 metre for every 200 years? Nybroplan was for a long time a bay of the Baltic Sea. Over the centuries, the bay transformed to a stinking swamp. The quay was built in the 19th century, creating a traffic hub for steamboats to Stockholm archipelago, as well as streetcars. Sweden's first traffic light was set up at Nybroplan in 1924.
- 7 Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), Djurgårdsvägen 6-16. A museum of cultural history from 1520 to our days, in an impressive 1907 cathedral-like building on Djurgården. Exhibitions focus on Swedish handicraft, customs and traditions.
- 20 Raoul Wallenberg Monument. A monument near the Stockholm Synagogue commemorates Raoul Wallenberg, a diplomat who rescued 10,000 Jews in Budapest from the Holocaust. As Sweden was neutral during World War II, they had a diplomatic missions in Axis countries including Hungary, and could provide refugees with diplomatic passports. Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet Union in January 1945, and was never found again.
- 8 Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet). The Swedish Empire was at the height of its power in the 17th century. For the Thirty Years War, a warship named Vasa was built at Blasieholmen. In 1628 it sank outside Södermalm at its maiden voyage. While most of the expensive bronze cannons were salvaged in 1664, the ship fell into obscurity. She was rediscovered in 1956, and the lengthy salvaging process was completed in 1961. Since 1990, Vasa is on display in a museum on Djurgården, as the only preserved 17th century warship.
- 4 Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten), Nybroplan. Sweden's national stage for spoken-word drama, opened in 1908. The building is impressive in its own right. Guided tours in English. The building has a restaurant.
- 21 Hallwyll Museum (Hallwyllska Museet), Hamngatan 4. A museum of antiquities, many of them owned by Swedish royals and nobles. The atrium has a bar open at summer.
Part III: Stockholm City
Now we enter the new business district, rebuilt during the 1960s. We will recall Sweden's most dramatic events of the last few decades; two assassinations, one terrorist attack, and a hostage crisis.
- 22 Norrmalmstorg. This square used to be on the waterfront until the 19th century. Norrmalmstorg is surrounded by high-end offices, and is the most expensive property in the Swedish edition of Monopoly. Sweden switched from left to right-hand traffic in 1967, which required dismantling of Stockholm's streetcars. Line 7, to Djurgården, was restored in 1991 as a heritage line, but is a regular line since 2009.
- 5 Nobis Hotel (Kreditbanken). The 19th-century Kreditbanken building is known for the 1973 Norrmalmstorg robbery; a bank robbery which turned to a five-day hostage crisis, which brought the world's attention since the captives began to sympathize with the Robbers; coining the term Stockholm Syndrome. Since 2009, the building is a hotel.
- 6 NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), Hamngatan 18-20. An upmarket department store opened in 1915, with classic fashion and Nordic furnishing. Well known for the clock tower, and the elaborate Christmas display window decorations. In 2003, a few days before Sweden's national referendum to adopt the euro, Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh was assassinated here. NK has several cafés; one on the top floor, and NK Art Bakery at Regeringsgatan.
- 9 IKEA Showroom, Regeringsgatan 65. IKEA was founded in 1943 by 17-year old travelling salesman Ingvar Kamprad. The first store opened in Älmhult in 1953, and the second one in 1965 in Kungens Kurva south of Stockholm. Today IKEA is the world's largest furniture retailer; and while they advertise their Swedish origin intensely, their headquarters is today in the Netherlands. They have a showroom in central Stockholm, with various themes (kitchens, as of 2020).
- 10 Spotify headquarters. At Regeringsgatan 19 is the main office of Spotify, a Swedish tech company founded in 2008, which is the world's largest music streaming service as of 2020.
- 23 Sergels torg (Plattan). Stockholm's busiest city square, and the epicenter of the 1960s redevelopment. The black-and-white Harlequin concrete floor design remains controversial, and while the place was for a long time plagued by antisocial behaviour, it attracts thousands of people daily for meet-ups, political demonstrations, flash mobs, and merchant stands. As of 2020, many of the 1960s buildings are again under redevelopment; mostly to improve energy efficiency.
- 24 Drottninggatan. One of Stockholm's busiest pedestrian streets. In 2017, a terrorist drove a lorry along Drottninggatan and killed five people and injuring several, before crashing into the Åhléns department store. Pedestrians soon took the street back; especially since a renovation of the surrounding streets was finished in 2018, improving walkability.
- 11 Klara church (Klara kyrka). Built in the 16th century, this is Scandinavia's second tallest church, at 116 metres. One of few buildings to survive the redevelopment, it is a base for charity to the homeless and others in need.
- 7 H&M headquarters, Drottninggatan 56. Hennes & Mauritz, H&M for short, is the world's largest fashion retailer as of 2020. Founded in Västerås in 1947, they are today seated in Stockholm, with several stores around the city. The headquarters building has a café with typical Swedish furnishing.
- 25 Hötorget. Literally translated as "The Haymarket Square", and has been known as such since the 17th century. Traded commodities have changed over times; today the square is known for its produce stands.
- 8 Haymarket by Scandic. The building to the west is a former department store, named PUB for its founder Paul U. Bergström; and together with other buildings nearby an example of Swedish Grace; the local interpretation of Art Deco, with a flair of classicism. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin passed through Stockholm on his way home to Russia, buying a new suit here. In 1920, Greta Garbo began work here. Since 2016, the building is a hotel, with 1920s furnishing restored in the lounge.
- 26 Stockholm Concert Hall (Stockholms konserthus). A Swedish Grace building opened in 1926, the home stage of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the place of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony, as well as the Polar Music Prize.
- 27 Olof Palme assassination scene, Sveavägen 42. On February 28, 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth made a spontaneous plan to go to the Grand cinema with their son and his fiancée, without calling in their bodyguards. On their way home, an unknown man came up behind Palme, shot him to immediate death with a revolver, and escaped along Tunnelgatan. The crime shocked the country, and the police led several failed investigations. As Palme was a well known and controversial world leader, the suspects included South African spies, the Kurdish resistance movement, and the police themselves. In 1989, the lone criminal Christer Pettersson was found guilty by the Stockholm City court; though the Svea Court of Appeal later found reasonable doubt and acquitted him. As of 2020, the case is open, and remains an inspiration for novelists and conspiracy theorists. Palme's grave is at the nearby Adolf Fredrik church, and the street nearby was renamed Olof Palmes gata to commemorate the victim.
Epilogue: Modern landmarks
We conclude the tour in a rooftop bar, with a view of Stockholm's tallest buildings, representing different stages of Stockholm's history.
- 9 Urban Deli rooftop bar, Sveavägen 44. Thulehuset is a 1942 functionalist office building. Today, it houses two Swedish "unicorns" (tech startups worth billions): payment handler Klarna, and game developer King Digital Entertainment (known for Candy Crush Saga and Bubble Witch Saga). Urban Deli is a trendy grocery chain with a rooftop bar.
- 12 Johannes kyrka (S:t John's church). Church from 1890, in neo-Gothic style; the free-standing bell tower is the only remaining wooden building of Norrmalm.
- 13 Kungstornen. From 1924 to 1925, inspired by Manhattan buildings, represent the city's prosperity during the 1920s. Johannes' church and Kungstornen stand on the Brunkebergsåsen, the north-south ridge through Stockholm; which is barely visible today.
- 14 Hötorget skyscrapers. The postwar economic expansion brought the 1950s and 60s redevelopment of Norrmalm, visible through the five Hötorget skyscrapers in international style.
- 15 Kaknästornet. A TV tower from 1967. Known for its observatory deck, which is indefinitely closed down.
- 16 Wenner-Gren Center. An office tower which was Europe's tallest steel skyscraper when finished in 1961.
- 17 Norra tornen. Residential skyscrapers finished in 2020. Between Wenner-Gren Center and Norra tornen, a new campus district named Hagastaden is being built during the 2020s, around the Karolinska Institute (famous for handing out the Nobel Prize in medicine), with the intention to develop Stockholm as a science cluster for the future.
- 8,000 BCE: Icecap melts in the area which is now Stockholm, leaving behind a freshwater lake
- 2,500 BCE: First land surfaces in the area which became Stockholm
- AD 900: Viking Age. Christianization. Stadsholmen first settled
- 1252: Stockholm is mentioned in a letter by Birger jarl
- November 7-9, 1520: Stockholm bloodbath
- June 24, 1523: Gustav Vasa liberates Stockholm, making Sweden independent since then
- August 10, 1628: Vasa sinks
- May 7, 1697: Tre Kronor Castle burns down, to be replaced by the Stockholm Palace
- March 16, 1792: Gustav III is assassinated
- 1860: Railway connects Stockholm to Södertälje
- December 10, 1901: First Nobel Prize awarded
- July 6, 1912: Opening of the Summer Olympics
- October 1, 1950: First Stockholm Metro line opens, from Slussen to Hökarängen
- August 25, 1956: Vasa is re-discovered, and salvaged five years later
- June 29, 1958: Sweden hosts the FIFA World Cup, and the Swedish national team plays the final in Solna north of Stockholm. Brazil wins 5-2.
- September 3, 1967: Switch to right-hand traffic
- May 12, 1971: The Elm Protest
- August 23-28, 1973: Norrmalmstorg hostage crisis
- February 28, 1986: Olof Palme is assassinated
- September 10, 2003: Anna Lindh is assassinated
- 2008: Spotify is founded. The hackers behind The Pirate Bay are prosecuted. The global financial crisis rocks Sweden.
- April 7, 2017: A terrorist attack on Drottninggatan kills five people
- Drottninggatan, Västerlånggatan and Götgatan: 4 kilometres of shopping and dining
- Södermalm heights tour: Stockholm's greatest photo and art walk
- Millennium Tour: Stieg Larsson's crime drama