Fairytales, trolls and the Nobel Prize

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Sweden's culture is steeped in the dark forces of nature,yet Stockholm shines with alight all its own. Frances Farrer reports.

Here are six reasons to go to Stockholm, in no particular order. Its fascinating history, entwined with our own, is the first. The Viking invasions of north-eastern England are well documented and, amazingly, you see faces in Stockholm that remind you of ones in north Yorkshire.

The city's scenery is the second attraction. Stockholm is built on 14 islands and has dramatic rushes of water, where the Baltic Sea meets Lake MAlar.

A variety of natural environments offers a third attraction. The strong pound is a fourth.

Most Swedes are bilingual and this is my fifth reason for enjoying its capital. You need only two words: Tack, which means both please and thank you, and Hej! (hey) - almost shouted - which means hello.

Tourist attractions combine in my sixth reason for liking the city. Fine museums and galleries, big spaces, ferries, street markets, fun fairs and, in winter, an ice rink in the town square.

Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid have lent costumes, silver discs and ephemera to the Abba exhibition within the Nordiska Museet on Djurgarden. This building fuses German fairytale gothic with municipal Victorian and houses everyday things such as folk costumes and hunting equipment. Another bonus is that the cooking exhibition is live.

Swedish culture is lose to nature. Darkness, forests, the proximity of the cold and hostile sea, have formed the lifestyle and legends. Sirens, trolls, giants and household spirits are central.

Djurgarden, once a royal hunting ground, is an island of woodland countryside with an amusement park and several museums. The jewel in its crown is the Vasa, a fully restored warship which sank as it was being launched in 1628 and was raised in 1961.

Skansen is further along the island, a tremendous, open-air collection of 150 historic Swedish houses and farmsteads, aquaria and animals, including wolves and bears. Established in 1891, it is one of the earliest such reconstructions in the world and so popular that it is best visited by arrangement. Back by bus to the ferry quay and the Biologiska: mammals and birds in natural surroundings.

The City Hall, which has hosted the Nobel Prize ceremony for the past 100 years, is also well worth a visit.

Gamla Stan, the old town, has restaurants, cafes and the National Museum, which contains collections of classical paintings and modern (Fifties and Sixties) Swedish furniture.

Exploring Stockholm requires delightful, reasonably-priced ferry travel between the islands. Day trips to places such as Uppsala (with Scandinavia's largest cathedral) and Birka, the Viking city, are easy to arrange. The Swedes are hospitable and their command of the English language exemplary.

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