Although I was always attracted to the mysterious North, it took a while before I first visited Sweden. Actually, it was my editor who asked me to go there. In 1990 I attended a conference near Stockholm, and fell in love with both the country and its capital.
Since then the city has become a dear friend of mine. Maybe even a relative, as every new visit feels like a sort of homecoming. Stockholm never lets me down.
Nevertheless, my love for the Swedish capital does raise an eyebrow when I mention it to others. Most people simply don't know anything about Stockholm, except that it's the capital of Sweden.
So let's clear things up. Here is a Top-10 of reasons why I love Stockholm - listed in no particular order.
- Stockholm is blue. If there is one thing that makes Stockholm stand out, then it is its relationship with water. The city was built on 14 islands, all connected with bridges for cars AND pedestrians, and you never have to walk far to get a stunning view over the water.
- Stockholm is like Swedish design: it's functional and almost defines the latest trends, yet it looks great and shows respect for history. The city is very easy to navigate, has everything a big city should offer - excellent shopping facilities, a vibrant nightlife, great business opportunities - but never loses its beauty.
- The city has an atmosphere that is so calm and relaxed compared to other capitals. I don't know why, really. Maybe it's the mentality of the people. Most Swedes are friendly, patient, quiet - and helpful. Maybe it's because there are so many open spaces, water and parks. Or because the houses are so colorful. Maybe it's all of this together.
- Stockholm has great tourist attractions, but never feels touristy. Even in the most popular part of town - the historical Old Town or Gamla Stan - there are enough quiet streets to make a relaxing stroll.
- Stockholm is green. About one third of Stockholm consists of parks. One third! It is the first city in the world to have a national park within the city borders. Yes, a nature reserve right in the heart of a capital with 1.5 million people. And all of these parks are accessible.
- With around 90 museums to choose from, visiting Stockholm is a cultural feast. And there's a museum for every one. The city has some of Europe's best art museums, but also the world's first open-air museum (Skansen), several museums that display all aspects of Nordic history, an old warship on display (Vasa Museum) and even special places for kids (Junibacken, toy museum). The state-run museums have free admission.
- Stockholm is safe. OK, crime rates have gone up in recent decades, like everywhere in the Western world. Still it's one of the world's safest capitals. There are no neighborhoods you should avoid and it's usually no problem to walk outside at nights.
- Art is an integrated part of Stockholm city life. On the pavement along Berzelli Park a worker pops out of the ground, lifting a manhole cover. From a distance you won't notice it, but it's a statue ('Humor’ by KG Bejemark). There are sculptures and statues all over Stockholm, often at unexpected places. Many stations of the Stockholm underground (tunnelbana) are decorated with paintings, sculptures, mosaics, installations and engravings. And architecture is incredibly eclectic. Italian, German, Dutch, French style - it's all there, and often in one design.
- Which city has 24,000 islands and rocks in its backyard? Stockholm. A huge archipelago connects the city with the Baltic Sea and you can visit it by boat. Spend a day or so on one of these attractive islands - you won't regret it.
- Stockholm is so clean . . . If you've been to Paris, London, Amsterdam and then visit Stockholm, you wonder: Where do these Swedes leave their garbage?
Every modern city has negative aspects. Too much traffic, pollution, drunks, criminals . . . I don't believe a city built by humans will ever become perfect. But compared to other capitals, Stockholm comes very close.
The author Marc A.de Jong is a Dutch journalist currently living in Antwerp, Belgium. He is the owner and editor of http://www.stockholm-sweden-travel-guide.com - a unique online travel guide based on personal experience.