- darkometer rating: 1 -
The capital city of Sweden
– and in my view one of the most glorious cities
on the planet. As a dark tourism destination it may be comparatively low key, but it does have a few minor yet intriguing special sites of a dark nature.
What there is to see: Easily the number one specific dark attraction in Stockholm is the famous Vasa Museet. It's named after, and everything inside revolves around, its one prime exhibit: the 15th century warship Vasa, whose fate was as tragic as it was hilarious. Intended to be the fearsome cannon-studded flagship of the Swedish royal navy to scare the shit out of any opponent (the Thirty Years' War was raging at the time), the Vasa became a disastrous failure of a magnitude that beggars belief. She was so top-heavy (with all those cannons and lack of ballast) that on her maiden voyage in 1628 she only managed to sail less than a mile after being launched: with the first gust of wind in her sails she capsized and sank, still in Stockholm harbour. The cannons were salvaged but the rest of the ship was quickly forgotten (a shame suppressed, more like).
In the 1950s the wreck was rediscovered and in 1961 lifted from the seabed to undergo restoration and finally put in the present museum in 1987. The complete, intact hull with all wooden carved adornments put back in place is now on display in a purpose-built huge museum hall in the centre of Stockholm. It's one of the most popular museums in northern Europe (they recently received their 30 millionth visitor!). Admittedly, the Vasa tragedy should fall way out of dark tourism's normal time frame (see the concept of dark tourism
), but you can argue that it is also a contemporary dark place, even literally: the interior of the museum hall is kept in very low light, as well as at a constant temperature and humidity, to expose the precious wooden beauty to as little detrimental environmental influences as possible.
Furthermore there are some interesting aspects, such as the stories of some of the women who were onboard, that link into modern times too. Moreover, it's just the strange, spookily brooding presence of the 230 foot (70 m) wooden hull that makes for a dark atmosphere overall. The museum is located just south of Galärparken opposite the imposing Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), behind which a bridge provides access to Östermalm and the city centre. There are also ferries (from Slussen, Gamla Stan) allowing for a thematically more fitting approach over the water … Opening times: daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays until 8 p.m., in June, July, August from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission: 110 SEK (students 80, under 18-year-olds free), which is expensive but really worth it! There are also guided tours in English (25 minutes) offered for free several times a day.
The Army Museum at 13 Riddargatan in Östermalm has some pretty grisly displays illustrating the horrors of war (no glorification here, for once), but the focus of the museum is much more on eras well before the 20th century, and thus also falls outside the regular dark tourism historical framework, strictly speaking. It may be worth a look too, though. Opening times: Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission: 80 SEK (seniors/students 50, under 19-year-olds free).
Another museum that may be of secondary, vaguely dark interest (it is at least clearly 20th-century-focused) is the Nobel Museum
in the middle of Gamla Stan in the Börshuset. The link between the Nobel Peace Prize (see Oslo
) and so many dark episodes in world history of the last 100 years perhaps just about justifies the museum's inclusion here, but don't expect this aspect to be particularly highlighted for specialist dark tourists. (Opening times: mid May to mid September open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays until 8 p.m., mid May to mid September Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays; admission: 70 SEK, under 18-year-olds free, students, seniors 50SEK).
The actual Nobel Prize award ceremonies and gala dinner take place in the grand brick edifice of the Stadshuset, which is one of the prime landmarks of Stockholm. You can visit it too, and in particular climb the tower for some outstanding views of the city. The inside of the tower has a bizarre oversize dark statue to add a little spooky gloom.
Decidedly darker as a site is certainly the spot where Olof Palme was assassinated
in 1986. He was shot dead in central Stockholm as he walked home from the cinema he had been to with his wife – without any bodyguards, as that just was his style. The murder of this popular (though also controversial) non-aligned liberal politician out in the open street shocked Sweden and the world. The case has never been solved. Various conspiracy theories blame a number of extremist organizations ranging from the left-wing terrorist movement the R.A.F.
(see below) to different fascist organizations and even governments such as those of Apartheid South Africa
, Vietnam-War USA
, or Pinochet
(which may have borne Palme a grudge due to his outspoken criticism of those countries). At the assassination site, however, there is nothing much to see apart from a brass plaque marking the spot on the corner of Sveavägen and Tunnelgatan.
Of similar interest (and possibly even linked) is the site of the German embassy hostage taking
of 1975 (in which two embassy staff and one of the R.A.F.
terrorists were killed). Again, you can only view the building from the outside – to my knowledge there is no commodification of the events that took place here. It's located a bit out of the city centre to the east between Gärdesgatan and Skarpögatan.
Thematically similar is another site of a hostage taking, though in this case not of a political, terrorist nature but simply during a bank robbery, namely at the former Kreditbanken on Norrmalstorg in 1973. The positive feelings towards the hostage taker that his hostages developed during the six-day stand-off have been widely studied as a psychological phenomenon that has henceforth been known as "Stockholm syndrome". Norrmalstorg is right in the centre of Stockholm just a few hundred yards north of Gamla Stan.
Finally, there is also a Jewish Museum
which has a small permanent exhibition about Jewish life (including circumcision knives!) as well as space for temporary exhibitions, which have included themes like the Holocaust
as well as the role of Sweden as a safe haven during that dark period, and not least through the help of diplomats such as Raoul Wallenberg
who at Sweden's embassy in Budapest
, saved thousands of Jewish lives by handing out false IDs (he is one of the best-known 'righteous amongst the nations' – cf. Yad Vashem
). So it might be worthwhile for dark tourists to check what's on at this museum when in Stockholm. Opening times: Sunday to Friday 12 noon to 4 p.m., address: Hälsingegatan 2.
All in all, there's not that much for dark tourists here but there's much to be said for combining a visit to those sites with the general splendour of Stockholm. And it also makes for a natural base for explorations further into Sweden
, especially up to the north (see in particular Boden Fortress
at the northern end of the southern quarter of Sweden
, ca. 350 miles (550 km) north-east of Malmö and Copenhagen (Denmark
), some 450 miles (700 km) south of Boden
and 600 miles (1000 km) south of Kiruna – but only less than 12 miles or so from the Baltic Sea coast.
Google maps locators:
coming from further away, you would most likely want to fly to Stockholm, and there are indeed various good connections to European hubs such as London
, etc. including some bargain fares if booked early enough. The sleek transfer train to the city centre can avariciously eat up some of those savings for the single ride fare, though.
You can also get to Stockholm quite easily by train, namely via Copenhagen, Denmark
(just opposite Malmö at the southern end of Sweden
) which has good connections to Central Europe (including comfortable sleeper trains down to Cologne in Germany
). Copenhagen is linked to Stockholm by the X2000 high-speed train, which makes the journey in just over five hours. There are also train links to Oslo
, as well as (rail) ferries (via Malmö) to northern Germany
(with further access to e.g. Dresden
Getting around the city centre is best done on foot – the places mentioned here can in principle all be done by walking, if you give yourself enough time. If you need to use public transport, then Stockholm's metro system (called "tunnelbana" here, with stations hence marked "T") is fast, clean and efficient. If you intend to use it a lot, then a three-day "Stockholm Card" pass, which also includes discounts for some museums etc., may be worth considering.
Being a tourist in Stockholm tends to be expensive overall – hotels, entrance fees, ferry fares, eating out, taxis, etc., etc. are all very dear in general. But you can find surprising bargains too (I had a sumptuous enough meal from a canteen-like lunch place by some church mission on Södermalm with a splendid view over the harbour and the city thrown in for good measure, and it cost next to nothing!). Price levels are generally not quite as ridiculously inflated as they once were (before Sweden joined the EU). Also the tight alcohol restriction laws (as still in place in other Scandinavian countries such as Iceland and Norway) have been relaxed, so there are plenty of pubs now that stay open late and offer tipples at prices not much higher than in other European capitals.
Accommodation options are plentiful, though the lower mid-range bracket is a bit slim here. At the budget end there are several hostels, at the top end the sky's the limit (both in price and levels of luxury offered for it).
On the food & drink
front the full range is covered, from fairly affordable street food and a plethora of ethnic restaurants (thanks to Stockholm's multicultural population) to outstanding high-quality expensive gourmet feasts. The local Swedish cuisine is surprisingly interesting – and goes way beyond the cliché of Smorgasbord. I particularly liked the use of forest mushrooms and berries, and of course the fish. Also it need not be as expensive as other things in Sweden
, as long as you chose local delicacies such as the tastiest fish of all fish: the vastly underrated herring! (Well, that's good at the end of day, because it's precisely this underrated status that keeps it cheap!) If you want to dine gourmet-style in upmarket haute cuisine temples, expect to pay a small fortune – as everywhere. The quality levels are usually extremely high, though.
Time required: For the dark sites, a day might do, but it would be a shame not to soak up the atmosphere of this fantastic city a little longer and at a slower pace. A long weekend is easily filled, add excursions and you can spend a week here without getting bored.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Sweden
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Stockholm as such is one of the best city holiday destinations to be found on the entire planet. It has a glorious setting, spreading from a few central islands surrounded by open water inlets from the Baltic Sea nearby. There are so many fantastic views that even some of the 1960s/70s architectural crimes can hardly tarnish the overall impression of just sheer urban beauty.
The Old Town, or "Gamla Stan" in Swedish, is at the heart of the city and it's indeed a marvellous olde-worlde ensemble of narrow cobbled streets and houses, bordered by the Royal Palace and linked to the rest of the city by bridges as well as ferries.
South of Gamla Stan is a steep escarpment which pedestrians can get to using the quaint steel structure of the Katarina Lift (the enclosed part of the bridge to the land is occupied by the fantastic Gondolen restaurant). From up there you get another glorious view over the city, and beyond, southwards is the district of Södermalm, with quirky shopping streets and the idiosyncratic Globen (a large concert hall in the shape of, you guessed it, a globe).
North of Gamla Stan is the main part of the modern city centre with shopping streets, the central train station, theatres, grand administrative buildings, and so forth. Many of Stockholm's museums are also located in this part of the city – too many to list them here.
A particularly popular museum complex is Skansen on Djurgarden. It's the world's first open-air museum with traditional houses, farmsteads and a 'Sweden in miniature' (in case you find the real thing too big – which it is, really). Next door is the Tivoli amusement park overlooking the harbour (always busy with ships – including huge cruse liners, berthing right in the city centre … also something you don't see in too many places!).
The shopping opportunities in Stockholm are a particular incentive for many to come here in the first place – and indeed, there is a lot of individuality still prevalent here that in too many other places around the world has been pushed out by the fashion dictatorship of the uniform large international chains.
There is a general relaxed atmosphere about in Stockholm, especially during the first rays of spring/summer when the city's parks fill up with people basking in sun.
On top of all that there's always the option of going further, out of town. The tranquil shores of the Baltic Sea are little more than a stone's throw away, and many Swedes too flock to the sea once the weather gets nicer and they have a day or two to spare.
- Stockholm 01 - capital city of Sweden
- Stockholm 02 - glorious city
- Stockholm 03 - Nordiska museet and Vasa museet
- Stockholm 04 - the Vasa
- Stockholm 05 - Stadshuset
- Stockholm 06 - classic view of Gamla Stan from Stadshuset tower
- Stockholm 07 - Gamla Stan
- Stockholm 08 - square in Gamla Stan
- Stockholm 09 - Royal Palace
- Stockholm 10 - spiky spire
- Stockholm 11 - Globen in the distance
- Stockholm 12 - Katarina Lift and Gondolen
- Stockholm 13 - ship traffic in the city
- Stockholm 14 - Skansen
- Stockholm 15 - TV tower and giraffe cranes
- Stockholm 16 - watery city centre
- Stockholm 17 - art down in the water