Traveling to Stockholm, Sweden you’ll experience a wonderland of unique experiences, delicious meals, swanky spots for cocktails, and friendly locals who embrace visitors of all backgrounds.
I’ve traveled to a little over 50 countries around the globe. If you asked me a few months ago for a list of the top cities that I wanted to visit next, Stockholm would fall somewhere right in the middle of that remaining approximately 110 countries. There are places that I have absolutely no interest in traveling to. Sweden wasn’t that. But it also wasn’t at the top of my list.
Two months ago I took a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark for wifey's birthday and one of the day trips available from the city was a quick 30 minute train ride to a small city in the southern region of Sweden called Malmo. I did lots of research on the day trip and still wasn’t sure if it was the move I wanted to make. There was information about a “Turning Torso” and other tourist photo opps, but I didn’t know what else to expect. Off of instinct, I decided for us to just go for it. And we are sure glad we did! As soon as we got off the train we realized that Malmo, Sweden was a whole vibe from nearby Copenhagen! The people moved and dressed differently, the food was amazing, and the charming little city had a kick back but magnetic energy that was right on time. We spent the time roaming through streets randomly, looking at people laid out in the botanical gardens having picnics, cool architecture and it was just… a vibe. We left the day trip thinking, “oh, we need to see more of Sweden.” So a few weeks later when I received an email from my friends at Norwegian Airlines about a partnership with Visit Stockholm to bring a group of African American writers to the city, I did everything I could to make it.
Before I get into the experience, I have to commend both organizations for putting together an ALL BLACK PRESS TRIP. For those of you who aren’t clear on how travel media works, I’ll break it down for you. Airlines, tourism organizations, hotels etc. host groups of content creators: writers/editors, photographers, videographers and social media influencers, to share their experiences with their platforms and audiences. Typically, I am the only Black person on a press trip, or one of two. In an effort to support diversity in travel, basically why I started Soul Society 101, this all Black press trip was one for the books!
Some quick things to know about Stockholm
We visited mid-May. That time of year each day gets about 20 hours of sunlight. The sun rose about 3:30am and was still up when we were traipsing back to our hotel around 10pm. Extended sunlight is between the months of May and September, but note, the other half of the year is extended darkness with the sun setting as early as 3pm. Hence #SummerInStockholm
It’s beautiful, it’s clean, the air is crisp, the food is good.
Parents get a combined 1.5 years of maternity leave/paternity leave to split, that they can use up until the child is 8 years old. Even freelancers/entrepreneurs get paid leave based on the money you made the previous year.
Because of the above point, it’s a common sight to see dads pushing strollers midday, having meet ups with other dads and kids.
Because of the above few points, in addition to healthcare and college tuition being free, people seem very happy and less stressed than most cities I’ve been to. Work is a part of life. Work is not life.
The city is made up of 14 islands, each with their own things going on. There are clear pockets of sub-culture within each, which makes it relatively easy to map our travels based on what you’re interested in doing – making it easier to navigate the eight centuries of history to choose from.
Stockholm is known for being innovative and design-forward – known for its clothing brands (H&M, Nudie Jeans, etc), technology (Spotify), music, film, design and more.
Generally, Scandinavia is viewed as a very homogenous region of the world, but diversity is celebrated here in a way I was not expecting but was pleasantly surprised by. From the eclectic mix of music at bars and restaurants (we would randomly hear Classic Soul, Afrobeats and Hip-hop throughout the trip) to the fact that diversity is physically integrated within the city (there is no “gay area” or “Black area” like you typically see in other cities), there is a sense of openness that can’t be photographed for Instagram, but rather felt.
Where to Eat & Drink
I was not expecting much from the food scene here in Sweden, but boy was I wrong. I should have known from my amazing food on my quick trip to Malmo a few weeks ago. At large, this region of the world has been signed off for having bland food. If I had to guess in advance, I would think the food would consist of bland starches, steamed fish with that lacked seasoning and hearty meat concoctions to keep people warm and sleepy during the cold winter months. But on the contrary, I didn’t have one bad meal in all five days of the trip, actual Swedish meatballs taste NOTHING like Ikea’s version, and the food scene is modern, fresh and keeps up with some of the best in the world in my opinion. I don’t know if this is consistent across Scandinavia, but I can say this firmly about Sweden. Here are some of my favorite restaurants from the trip to Stockholm:
Urban Deli – a fusion of market/grocery and rooftop bar with sick views. I had lobster, and many drinks.
Mälaepavilijongen – sexy, airy, outdoor spot on the water with amazing eats (drools at the thought of the Swedish meatballs) and drinks. A really cool note about this place that goes a bit under the radar: the owners have gone out of their way to hire LGBTQ refugees of all ethnic backgrounds to work here, so eating here is supporting a larger cause.
Restaurant Smak – 5-7 course gourmet small plates that you select from a menu of about 15, each paired with wines
Tensta Konsthall – the best Eritrean food I’ve had. Period.
Tak Stockholm – upscale Japanese dining experience attached to a panoramic rooftop bar
Where we Stayed
Downtown Camper hotel in Downtown Stockholm is an eco-friendly, beautifully designed hotel amidst the pulse of the city. It’s walking distance from central station, shopping, restaurants and made it easy to walk to our adventures or hop on a nearby train or bus to get there in a matter of minutes. It’s a great base to explore the city and they offer a full breakfast spread to charge up for your day. The vibe was so fitting that we found ourselves hanging at the bar some evenings just unwinding over nightcaps and conversation. I’d definitely stay here again.
The metro system works extremely well in Stockholm. We took trains, buses and trams and found it very easy to navigate. Fun fact, there are art installations all over a bout 90% of the train stations in Stockholm which make it an experience anytime you enter or exit a train station. Uber also works in the city adding to the ease of access.
If you’re coming in from the airport, I highly recommend using the Arlanda Express which takes about 20 minutes from the airport to downtown Stockholm, a few blocks away from Downtown Camper hotel.
Other Things To Do & See
Fotografiska is a really cool museum for the edgy creative type. Installations swap out a few times a year so you never know what you may get. When we were there, they had an exhibit called “Truth Is Dead” on the topic of society’s obsessions with celebrity, social media and photoshop. A notable photographer creative directed and developed and recreated images of iconic figures with look-a-likes that mostly in compromising situations, making either a statement about that celebrity and/or society. It was quite entertaining. There’s actually a Fotografiska is opening its New York City this summer that I'd love to check out.
The vibe in the streets of the Södermalm district is relaxed, creative and trendy, especially in the Sofo area. This neighborhood offers a myriad of vintage stores, shops, local fashion, art galleries and design stores, with an abundance of places to eat and drink.
Award-winning writer, speaker and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström has lived in Stockholm since 2006. She took us around some cool scenic spots.
I was trepidatious about this rooftop tour but it ended up being one of the best experiences of the trip! We scaled the rooftops of Gamla Stan which was quite the adventure. It’s a unique, fun way to learn history and take in amazing views on a beautiful sunny day.
Tensta Konsthall is a a contemporary art gallery in the suburb of Tensta. Although this location was just 20 minutes on the train, it is off the tourist grid. Tensta a neighborhood where you’ll find a lot of immigrants dwelling and also is where a lot of the spirit of music and culture connects in the city. This area truly showcases the diversity of Stockholm but could easily be missed if you don’t intentionally visit this way. I’m so glad we did!
In a nutshell, Stockholm blew my expectations out the water and I would gladly return. If I had to choose three words to describe the city I would use sophisticated, chic and upbeat. I can’t stop thinking of my waterfront drink spots, decadent dishes, shopping and frolicking in the daylight even though it’s nighttime. Summer in Stockholm is a hit. Norwegian Air is has direct flights to Stockholm with premium service available at affordable rates.
Huge thanks to Anders Lindström who was the most fun to hang with and our fave, Birgitta Palmér, who we affectionately called Miss B, for allowing us to soak up her beautiful city. Because of you two we have these amazing memories and I can share my love for Stockholm with everyone!
For more, check out Instagram story highlights on @kingronthedon