Stockholm – the capital of Sweden… home of IKEA, Volvo, Nobel prizes and of course, ABBA. Scandinavia as a whole is renowned for its high standard of living, coupled with a famously tolerant liberal lifestyle.
But as my friends and I recently explored this gorgeous gay-friendly city, little did I realise how indelible the footprint of the flamboyant Fab Four is here.
With no time to waste, we headed straight for leafy Djurgården, one of the many beautiful islands that make up the city; and this one boasts more museums and monuments than most, including Skansen, the Swedish museum and zoo, the world famous Gröna Lund amusement park, harbours, forests and meadows. It’s not hard to see why it attracts over ten million visitors a year.
Talking of ‘The Visitors,’ ask to be allowed inside Julius Kronberg’s studio, which is where the album cover for ABBA’s ninth and final album was shot in 1981.
There’s no shortage of other ABBA sights in the city, but the ABBA Museum aside (covered in part two), you won’t find a local tour guide to show you. Oddly, the Swedes seem to have forgotten to write this section of their city guidebook, but help is at hand from Rafael and Stefan. They’re a couple of flamboyant Swedish ABBA nuts, who have dedicated their website (raffem.com) to everywhere that the quintessential quartet have been.
Without their invaluable guide, we would have never found the steps Frida slipped over on in the Head Over Heels video, or the station platform Agnetha stood forlorn on in The Day Before You Came (it’s called Tumba). And if you want to recreate the cover from the Eurovision-conquering Waterloo then the boys have done it already and have the pictures to prove it.
Not an ABBA fan? Of course, there’s so much more to Stockholm. There are romantic snowy winters and long hot days in summer (night city, natch). Svelte, super-stylish people and a plethora of places to see, partying and shopping on a scale any capital city would be proud of, and a level of friendliness that reminds you how bad service is back home.
Oh,and everyone speaks perfect English, which, if you haven’t mastered your long and short vowels, is certainly useful. Look around and you won’t see any litter or graffiti. Stockholmers are proud of their city – and rightly so.
Try a boat trip around the islands, shop in the narrow pretty streets of the old town, where label queens will have a veritable schmorgasm at the designer delights on offer or frolic (hello J Lindeberg, one of my favourite labels) in the snow at the city’s TV tower (at Mörka kroken) – one of Scandinavia’s highest buildings with amazing views and some mean meatballs in the cafe, and I’m not talking about the post-gym clientele.
Stockholm is incredibly gay friendly. You must sample Babs Kök for eating and drinking (Birger Jarlsgatan 37). Just hungry? Always keep an eye out for Kök – it’s Swedish for restaurant. And Babs is a must, boasting the kitschiest toilet you will ever see.
But for the ultimate in chilled out drinking, it has to be Stockholm’s Icebar (at the Nordic Sea Hotel, Vasaplan 4), where everything from the glasses to the bar itself is made entirely of ice. They’ll give you mittens and a parka to stay warm while you down your sub zero vodka shots and wave via webcam link to guests at the famous Ice Hotel in northern Sweden.
And finally, what better way to end a Nordic weekend than the Patricia yacht, the legendary Sunday night venue for food and dancing. Moored at Slussen, it once belonged to the Queen Mother so naturally it’s the place to be seen. Digging the dancing queens indeed. Mamma Mia!