Gamla Stan is undeniably one of the most attractive parts of Stockholm, but the most touristy, too. Is there a way to see the old town and dodge the hordes? Katharine Trigarszky offers her tips for how to enjoy it while avoiding the crowds.
There’s one thing you can say with certainty about Gamla Stan: it’s popular.
In the warmer months, the streets are packed with visitors, eager to traipse up and down the claustraphobic Mårten Trotzigs Gränd and buy souvenirs in the many shops that line Västerlånggatan. And the narrow streets are equally charming in the winter months, as tourists flock to the cafes around Stortorget for a warming glögg in the candlelight.
Stortorget is among the most trafficked parts of Gamla Stan, with tourists lining up to photograph the narrow red and yellow houses that adorn so many postcards from the city. It is also home to Grillska Husets Konditori, a great cafe that is equally popular with locals and visitors.
If you head away from the square and down onto Lilla Nygatan, the crowds will thin out, since this street has few tourist shops to draw in visitors. Postmuseum is on this street and is a great museum that covers more than just the postal service. One current exhibition, running until September 2020, looks at the role of postal codes in hiphop music. And if, like me, you are a stationery fan, then the museum’s giftshop might be the spot for you.
Almost opposite the museum you’ll find the Victory Hotel, which is home to a food and drinks mecca. Here you’ll find a cocktail and drinks bar called Tweed and a wine bar called Burgundy, along with three different restaurants. Both the bars offer cosy hideouts.
Another nearby street that is less trafficked is Prästgatan, which has no shops at all along its length – just a narrow row of beautiful old buildings. The northern end of Prästgatan is the least busy section, since the southern end is home to one end of Mårten Trotzigs Gränd – listed in every single guidebook to the city.
A couple of blocks away from the German church on Prästgatan, you can find the charming Under Kastanjen cafe. You might encounter some crowds outside as it is located on a picturesque little square called Brända Tomten. If you visit outside the lunch hours, however, you’ll have a greater chance of seeing the building and square with fewer unintentional intrusions into your pics.
Although Österlånggatan is not as busy as its counterpart, Västerlånggatan, it can also get popular. One of its main draws though is the alleyways along its length. Each one is different, but my favourites are Ferkens Gränd and Pelikansgränd/Lilla Hoparegränd.
Last, but not least, is my favourite spot of Gamla Stan: Livrustkammaren (the Royal Armoury). This museum is tucked away under one corner of the Royal Palace and is probably overlooked by many because of the images its name conjures up. But there is far more to it than swords and suits of armour.
It is also home to some of the most beautiful dresses and costumes worn by the Swedish royal family over the centuries, including the outfit that Gustav III wore to the fateful masquerade ball where he was assassinated.
And a bonus: although it is not really part of Gamla Stan, Evert Taubes Terrass on Riddarholmen is worth a visit for its amazing views of Södermalm, Västerbron and Stadshuset (the City Hall). Most visitors don’t wander further than Riddarkyrkan and its distinctive spire, but a brief visit to the terrace is definitely worth the few extra steps, especially if the sun is shining.
Katharine has written a two-day walking guide to Stockholm, available as an ebook on Amazon. The guide takes you to the best spots and offers advice on where to eat, drink, and enjoy the best of Stockholm.