If you are not coming to visit Stockholm, this is definitely the place to go! Stadsholmen, literally “Island of the City”, is the historic center of the Swedish capital, where most of the monuments, religious and political buildings are located. In fact, it is a set of three islands: Gamla Stan, the main one, Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen.
This island is certainly the main point of interest in Stockholm. And, therefore, this is where the hordes of tourists are concentrated! Besides, there is no shortage of shops with occasional terraces and shop windows, especially in Västerlånggatan streets for souvenir shops, Stora Nygatan and Österlånggatan for restaurants. However, by moving away from these highways (suddenly blocked), you instantly immerse yourself in a characteristic Scandinavian atmosphere, with the paved floor and the ocher yellow and red facades.
Strolling through this maze of narrow streets is the best solution to discover the little things of local life. Sometimes the ivy falls and the trees protrude from between the stones. And, at the corner of building angles, the charming square Köpmantorget and his sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon, Mårten Trotzigs gränd, narrow passage invested by street artists next to Järntorget, Kornhamnstorg, place very very in place with very lively terraces.
The postcard of Gamla Stan is in the heart of the island, on Stortorget, Stockholm’s oldest square. A veritable crossroads of Stadsholmen, all the lanes designed like a spider web converge or revolve around this charming little square. So, in the middle of the day, it is literally invaded! Around an Rococo fountain from the 18th centurye century, the numerous buildings bear witness to the different architectural styles over the ages: the medieval ones in red, yellow, green (reminiscent of Bruges or Amsterdam) and, more modern, gray as well as the Börshuset (former stock exchange of Stockholm) now hosting theSwedish Academy, its library and the NobelMuseet.
To add a touch of historical ambience, the square was the scene of the “Bloodbath” in 1520, when members of the Swedish nobility were executed on the orders of the King of Denmark Christian II. Another era, another manners … But it was at nightfall that Stortorget appeared to me the most charming. As surprising as it may seem in the light of the day, it is then almost deserted. Only passers-by or locals left on the terrace. Sitting on one of the benches (arranged no matter how it should be said!), Resting my calves after a full day of visiting, I had room (almost) just for myself.
Unmissable on Gamla Stan, the Royal Palace is the huge monument that occupies a large part of the island, right next to Storkyrkan Cathedral and its vast Slottsback forecourt going down to the water’s edge. Built in the XVIIIe century on the ruins of the old castle Tre kronor (Trois Couronnnes) partly burnt down in 1697, the architecture of Kungliga Slottet is as massive as it is austere. The complex has housed the royal family since 1754 and has… 608 rooms!
The interior tells the story of Sweden through the royal rooms and apartments, the Tre Kronor Museum, the cabinet of arms and the Antikmuseum. But if, like me, you don’t necessarily want (and the time) visit the Royal Palace, the large central courtyard and the first room are accessible and provide a very slight glimpse of the royal splendor.
For those who, from an early age, love to paint mini-soldiers in lead and dream of wearing a uniform, take a walk in the outdoor courtyard southwest of the building. The Yttre borggården is the (folk) watchtower royal guards. Significantly more relaxed and friendly than in London, they are more willing to accept photography (even if they do not pose either, we are not at Disneyland!). Assuming their taste for spectacular folklore, the changing of the guard is not confidential and is done with fanfare. Much more conspicuous than the one at Copenhagen how I heard it from the opposite island!
This small island, annexed to Gamla Stan, deserves the hook. In the central square stands the eponymous church Riddarholmskyrkan, built in the XVIIIe century in Gothic style. Its splendid bell tower with its iron spire dating from 1835 (replacing the original which was struck by lightning). The interior houses the royal necropolis with numerous tombs of members of the sovereign family.
The other interest of Riddarholmen is its large esplanade named Evert Taubes Terrass. This exhibits a splendid panorama over the Riddarfjärden lake bay, from the Södermalm hills to the Stockholm Stadshuset on Kungsholmen. During my stay, I saw the Swedes meet there at the end of the day to have an aperitif while watching the sunset (must also say that they don’t see it much in winter).
On the small islet north of Gamla Stan towards Normalm, the only Helgeandsholmen houses the Riksdagshuset, seat of the Swedish Parliament. The Riksbron Bridge and the passage at the back of the palace are worth a look with its two imposing carved stone doors. No idea what was originally used for this place but it is really impressive, we feel crushed by the material of the walls that compress us.
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