Hej y’all! Ever since my family returned from their one-week trip to Stockholm to visit me while abroad, my mom has been wanting to share a detailed diary of our time together. I thought the best place to share her story would be on my blog. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting her trip diary in installments, complete with new pictures and lots of insight into Stockholm. Enjoy Part One! – Lily
…From the moment Lily told us she was planning to study abroad during college, we knew we would do what we could to visit her wherever she ended up. We were delighted when she chose Stockholm, Sweden. Since she was admitted to the fall semester program, this meant that a trip over Thanksgiving break would most likely be the best option for our visit. While this would mean taking a break from our tradition of visiting family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, we were excited to see Lily after so many months apart and explore her adopted country. Side note: My great-grandmother Alice’s family emigrated to the United States from Sweden at the beginning of the last century, so visiting her also meant connecting with part of my heritage, too.
We started planning our trip at the beginning of the summer before Lily left, working around Max’s school schedule for Thanksgiving break. We decided to maximize our time while minimizing our jet lag hangover by leaving on a Friday afternoon to arrive in Stockholm on Saturday just after lunch, and then return on the following Sunday, landing at 3 p.m. local time. Since we flew out of Atlanta, a 2.5-hour drive from our house, this meant we would get home in the early evening and have time to chill out before resuming our regular routines the Monday after Thanksgiving. Flying out of Atlanta also minimized the number of flights we would need to get to Arlanda in Stockholm, and we ended up having to change planes only once each way.
When searching for a hotel, I started with lists of recommended hotels for families. Right away, one hotel in particular jumped out: Downtown Camper by Scandic. It was reasonably priced, there was room for the four of us to stay together if Lily decided to join us for a few nights — bunk beds pulled down from the wall! — it had an eclectic vibe with a funky outdoorsy theme, and it looked like it was centrally located. Like many hotels in Stockholm, our stay would also include breakfast. Downtown Camper features a rooftop pool and spa on the top floor of the hotel called The Nest, which was also intriguing. After realizing that Arlanda airport is a good 30-minute train ride from central Stockholm, I booked our last night at the Radisson Blu hotel, located inside a terminal at the airport. (This later turned out to be a great plan as we had to check into our flight at 5:30 a.m. — it took a lot of stress off knowing that we just had to walk out of the hotel and we were there).
Once Lily arrived in Sweden and began exploring, she started noting where she would want to take us during our visit. We started a shared Google doc where we added ideas and links of things to do and events we might want to check out. I found some ideas on the Visit Stockholm website and through Downtown Camper’s collection of tips from locals. Since Lily would still be attending classes during our visit (no official Thanksgiving holiday in Sweden), we would be planning around her schedule and doing some things on our own while she was in class.
We managed to pack in quite a lot during our week in Stockholm, with the added bonus of spending some quality time with Lily’s gracious host family, which we were very excited to do. Here is a recap of our daily itineraries. A big shout out to our amazing daughter who embraced the Swedish language and culture from the get-go. Her astute observations and language skills helped us acclimate more quickly than we would have otherwise without her experience. There is really not one thing we would have changed about what we did — and we are already looking forward to another chance to visit someday!
Friday, November 22
We departed Evans for the Atlanta Airport at noon. I highly recommend prepaying for parking at ATL – this added up to big savings, plus we had a guaranteed spot in the parking garage right at the international terminal. We flew to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm via Frankfurt on Lufthansa airlines. Little did we know when we booked our flights, you have to pay separately for assigned seats or wait until 24 hours before the flight to choose your seats. We elected to prepay for seats because we knew we wanted to sit together.
German airports are like mazes, with lots of stairs and busses to get from terminal to terminal. If you have to connect to another flight in Germany, be sure you have at least an hour and a half or more between flights (though this may change with COVID-19 precautions) and plenty of stamina.
Saturday, November 23
We arrived! Lily met us at the airport and we got to squeeze her right away 🙂 She had already purchased our SL travel cards for the week, which included unlimited subway, train, ferry, bus and tram rides. There was a separate ticket from the airport to the city center, which Lily helped us purchase at a kiosk on the platform. Brandon also downloaded the SL travel app on my phone (the designated international phone), which made it easy to figure out how to get around on public transportation when Lily was not with us.
November is one of the darkest months of the year in Sweden, with the sun setting around 3:30-ish every day. The temperature was fairly mild for most of our week, and we were quite comfortable walking around with our winter coats. The temperature dipped on our last day, and we had to really bundle up, but it wasn’t unlike anything we had experienced in the Midwest or Northeast on a really cold day.
The city of Stockholm is made up of 14 islands. Downtown Camper is in the Norrmalm section of town. We walked from the train station and rolled our luggage directly to the hotel to check in. The room was not quite ready when we arrived, so we headed to the lobby bar for refreshments, where the kids got to sit on the swings by the window.
Our room did not disappoint. It was just like the photos we had stared at online for so many months and then some. The window seat added more space to spread out, and since we were on the 8th floor, we had a great panoramic view of the city rooftops. The bathroom was quite roomy too. The kids loved the bunks, and our bed was very comfy. Once we cleaned up and rested a bit, we headed out for dinner and to walk around.
All of us were excited to discover just how centrally located our hotel was — exiting on one side of the hotel, you are across from a busy shopping mall. Exiting on the other side, you are right by Sergels torg square, which is just above T-Centralen, the central train station in Stockholm. Busses and tram lines were just around the corner, too. Lily’s school was only a few stops away on the subway, which made it easy for her to plan to stay with us. Down another side street, we were only a couple of blocks from the Parliament buildings, and just past that one of the pedestrian bridges to Gamla Stan.
Lily wanted to take us to MAX burgers knowing everyone would find something to eat there, plus it would be fast (and our Max would appreciate the name ;). Every meat entree has a vegetarian alternative. You order and pay at self-serve stations when you walk in and then watch for your order number on the screens above the counter to know when to get your food. MAX is a popular choice in Stockholm, especially on a Saturday night, so finding a table for the four of us took as much strategy and fleet feet as any other busy dining room. It was very tasty and satisfying after a full day of travel!
After dinner at MAX, we walked to nearby Kungsträdgården, one of the many parks in Stockholm. Since it was near the end of November, the park was decked out with loads of twinkling lights and holiday decorations, along with the rest of the sparkling city. At the center of the park was a big public ice skating rink, complete with lively pop music and colorful lights. It reminded us of the ice rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City. We didn’t get on the ice, but we walked around the entire park on a beautiful brisk evening.
Lily left us at the hotel and made her way back to her host home in Taby, a suburb of Stockholm about a half hour away by train and bus. She was wrapping up a few things for school and planned to meet up with us the next morning for breakfast.
Sunday, November 24
While COVID-19 has since curtailed the breakfast option at Downtown Camper for now, during our stay we enjoyed a daily smörgåsbord (literally, “sandwich table”) buffet of fresh fruit, fresh breads with butter, pastries, eggs, fish, meats, cheeses, juices, and a wonderful cappuccino machine. Breakfast was busy, but we never had any trouble being seated right away every morning.
Our big plan for the day was a 3-hour brunch cruise around the Archipelago aboard Stromma’s S/S Stockholm, departing at noon. This was one of the only reservations we booked ahead of time, which turned out to be a good idea as this date quickly sold out. Our table was in a cozy nook by the portside window. We enjoyed some delicious cocktails while we waited to depart and then feasted on a generous buffet of traditional Swedish dishes and desserts. We were the only Americans as far as we could tell, and it was fun to people-watch as we cruised around, a birthday celebration at one table, a family with small kids at another, and listening to Swedish being spoken all around. We enjoyed a great vantage point and took in some marvelous views, leaving the bustling center of the city to wind our way through other islands all the way to Vaxholm and back. By the time we returned to the dock, it was almost dark.
After we disembarked, we decided to stroll down Strandvägen, one of the main boulevards in Stockholm, since the weather was mild to make our way to our next stop, the Nordiska Museet on the island of Djurgården. We wandered in and around centuries of Swedish stories, art and culture until the museum closed. Max completed a museum mystery while we were there, earning a token badge for his efforts. Most of the signs in the museum were in Swedish and English, and the short film presentations also had subtitles. It was easy to figure out the lockers in the coat room, too.
The museum closed at 5 p.m., and even though it was dark, we were not ready to call it a night. We decided to take the tram back to T Centralen, and then the subway to Gamla Stan to check out the Christmas Markets, which opened for the holiday season that weekend.
Gamla Stan translates to Old Town, and is the oldest section of Stockholm. Many of the buildings are from the 17th and 18th century, including the official Royal Palace. The streets are narrow and uneven, but we loved exploring all the shops, cafes and restaurants.
After checking out the Christmas Market stalls, we walked around a bit and decided we were getting hungry. We had passed a couple of restaurants and decided to circle back to a cute little place that serves pizza (and wine!), Sallys Restaurang. We were seated at a table in the front window, and devoured every morsel.
We walked to the subway station after dinner and rode together to T Centralen. We left Lily to return to her host house, and made plans to meet up with her the next morning for breakfast.
Tune in next Sunday for Part 2 featuring: the Ice Bar and Thanksgiving in Sweden!