Spring comes later to Stockholm and the Nordic nations than it does to the rest of Europe, but when it arrives it’s every bit as special. When the sun finally returns, you’ll see Stockholmers repeatedly crossing the street to keep out of the shade; rushing to buy ice cream in temperatures people from warmer climes would consider positively freezing; and enjoying picnics in parks and squares across the city. Stockholm’s location on a cluster of islands between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea is stunning whatever the season, but the piercing Nordic light that comes in spring has a particular magic. Here are some of the best places to enjoy the season.
“The King’s Garden” – situated just across the water from the Royal Palace in central Stockholm – is where locals go to revel in the white and pink blossoms that explode from an avenue of cherry trees from the start of April. From early spring right through to autumn, the park is the site of almost daily concerts and other events. Near the Opera House, close to the water’s edge, there’s a patch of grass where Stockholmers come to take their lunch break in the spring sun.
This square situated on the hipster island of Södermalm, is one of the best places in the city for a pavement fika, as the coffee-and-cake ritual beloved by Swedes is known. It fills up with sun-seekers the moment winter is over, some sitting at alfresco tables outside the cafés, other just grabbing a takeaway coffee or lunch and perching on the steps or the rectangular lawn at its centre. The square is a good base from which to explore the nearby thrift stores, and on the weekends, there’s a great flea market at Hornstull, situated a 30-minute walk away on the other side of the island. The island is also home to the popular Fotografiska museum a 15-minute stroll to the north.
You could spend an entire week-long break in Stockholm and never leave this tranquil, leafy island of parks and museums next to the city centre. Rosendals Trädgård, a garden showcasing biodynamic cultivation practices, has a popular garden café selling pastries and sandwiches made from bread baked in its wood-fired oven. The Skansen open-air museum, with its zoo, collection of old Swedish houses and cast of actors re-enacting Swedish historical life, also makes for an entertaining outing on a sunny spring day. A highlight of the zoo is the adorable bear cubs who will have just woken from their winter hibernation.
4. Rålis Kayak
One of the best ways to see central Stockholm is from the water, and Rålis Kayak near a park on the island of Kungsholmen is a good spot to rent out a kayak. You can paddle past the City Hall, under the bridges around the city’s medieval centre, Gamla Stan, and over to Djurgården. It’s very popular, so book in advance. An added bonus is that the next-door Boulebar Rålambshov will have opened up for the season, so you can pretend you’re in the French Riviera as you relax post-paddle with a glass of pastis and a game of boules. Other options for kayak rental include Långholmen Kajak across the bridge or Brunnsvikens Kanotklubb (although then you’ll be paddling alongside the beautiful Hagaparken rather than around Gamla Stan).
One of the fantastic things about Stockholm is the way the suburbs are located in pockets surrounded by lakes and forests, so you can easily catch a metro ride into nature. The Björkhagen underground station marks the start of the Sörmland trail, which at 1,000km is one of Scandinavia’s longest nature trails. The first section is an 8.5km hike through pristine forests to a historic villa and café, from where you can catch a bus back to Gullmarsplan. Just follow the orange markings painted at regular intervals on the trees. If you’re feeling more ambitious, walk the second 6.5km section to Alby Friluftsgård and take the underground back to the city centre from Nyfors.
The Millesgården sculpture park, set up by the late Swedish sculptor Carl Milles and his wife, Olga, is a beautiful place to visit in spring. Built on the site of the couple’s former home at Herserud Cliff on the island of Lidingö, the sculptures are displayed in an Italianate garden with terraces, fountains, stairways and columns, with a spectacular view over the Värtan inlet towards central Stockholm. Millesgården Lanthandel, the restaurant and café in the centre of the park, is an excellent spot to eat, serving Italian-influenced cuisine made from seasonal local vegetables.
7. The Archipelago
Whether it’s the tiny Fjäderholmarna islands 20 minutes on the ferry from central Stockholm, or somewhere further afield like the islands of Nåttarö, Grinda, Sandhamn or Utö, the archipelago is Stockholm’s favourite getaway. Indeed, Sandhamn, in the outer archipelago, is best visited outside the peak summer months, when it gets packed with tourists and locals alike. Stora Sand on the island of Nåttarö boasts the archipelago’s largest sandy beach, while Grinda has a beautiful nature reserve and a great traditional inn where you can eat seafood by the water. The old iron mines on Utö are also worth a visit, and the island itself is perfect for a cycle tour. All of these islands are accessible within a couple of hours’ journey on the Waxholmsbolaget ferry from the Strömkajen terminal near Kungsträdgården.
Sprallen, an open-air dance floor located right on the water on the southern tip of Södermalm island, is one of Stockholm’s best-kept secrets. From the very first day it opens on the first of May, there’s a packed schedule of dance events covering a range of styles such as rock ’n’ roll, kizomba, zouk, forró, Lindy hop, salsa, tango and more. It’s a great place to let your hair down and meet Stockholmers both young and old. After an energetic evening spent refining your dance moves, you can end the night with a juicy steak or a traditional Swedish prawn sandwich at the Nyfiken Gul restaurant next-door.
This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine