Jane Memmler raises a glass of glögg to Stockholm’s Old Town
Mostly pedestrianised, there are hundreds of little nooks and crannies which spread out from the main streets like tentacles. Narrow cobblestone streets, some barely the width of a doorway, lead to pretty houses with neat metal window boxes bursting with pink heather, and to courtyards filled with old-fashioned bicycles chained to antique lamp posts.
Buildings, stooped like old men, lean precariously over the streets and shop doorways lit by flickering lanterns evoke a past era, when people travelled on horseback wearing thick capes.
Visiting Stockholm in winter is sublimely atmospheric. It can conjure up all manner of dreamy cenarios. It is my preferred time to be there, when there’s a dusting of snow on unadorned Christmas trees tied to street poles and when Advent calendars and illuminated paper stars in the windows cast a beckoning cozy glow over the streets.
In Stortorget Square, the flat-fronted buildings with their clover-leaf-shaped gables in rich hues of gold, terracotta and olive greens lining the pretty square, offer a glimpse into the city’s 18th-century past. Its centrepiece is an ornate, monumental well around which the handful of Christmas stalls are dotted.
The sweet aroma of glühwein fills the square whose grandest structure, the Old Stock Exchange Building, is a perfect exercise in French Rococo style, complete with a cupola. Now it’s home to an offshoot of Nobel Prize Museum. The market may be Stockholm’s oldest and smallest what it lacks in size it more than makes amends for with stylish, well-chosen trinkets and traditional festive food.
Baubles galore at Stortorget Square in the capital’s old town, Gamla Stan
Unsurprisingly, most shoppers begin and end their shopping forays at the glögg stand, Scandinavia’s mulled wine. Fur-clad women rest bags on wooden barrels under portable heaters alongside tourists in Puffa coats to fuel themselves before browsing.
Traditional jul hallbrod (crackers) come in many guises in beautifully wrapped round wheels. With flavours such as cinnamon, cardamom, bitter orange and saffron, they make fab stocking fillers.
Most stalls have something you think would make innovative gifts – whether it be honey from Sweden’s north or sheepskin bicycle seat covers, £8, and adorable baby’s booties, £30.
Salong Pottan offers an array of beautiful ceramics decorated with birds and fauna. From cereal bowls with small robins perched on the lip, £22, to pretty cups featuring delicate sprays of fern, £11. Many Swedes take honey as a medicine and you can try before you buy at the tiny stall on the steps of the Nobel Museum. From £4.50.
Candles are a poignant part of Christmas in Sweden dating back to the 1800s and the Falu Ljusstoperi’s candles are irresistible.
Three-pronged white candelabras, £20, to the adorable Jultomten – the traditional Swedish version of Santa Claus, which you’ll see all over the city – £23. Teen girls will love the Ylva Maria at the Roses of Sun stall. Bracelets feature precious stones with wood and silver, £17, as well as a thick, natural beeswax salve, also £17.
The Swedes stick to traditional colours of red and white in their decorations. The pretty baubles painted with stars, reindeer and holly are no exception. Three for £14. They also do gingerbread houses, £14, and felt reindeer tree ornaments, £4.
The shopping doesn’t end at the markets, the cool, clean lines of Scandi-design are very in-vogue and the surrounding streets offer an array of further opportunities. Beautiful homewares at Designfirman on Västerlånggatan, for intricate metal bookends, £34, and scented ceramic candle pots, £31.
At E.Torndahl, at number 63 Västerlånggatan, pick up a pretty mini Rodini Panda backpack for children, £70, and lovely Danish Hay waffle guest towels, £17.
Party like it’s 1979 at Abba The Museum
Stockholm pulls out all the stops at Christmas time. Houses, streets and stores are hung with garlands of lights.
Skansen (skansen.se) is a living, open-air museum which encompasses a series of houses and farms set over several acres. Staff wear traditional dress embracing Swedish traditions over the centuries. Wander through the enormous, ornate houses where you’ll see people go about their daily lives.
The farmhouses, with animals and workshops, are a reminder of how simple rural life once was. Here you can make your own decorations and take a sleigh ride and, of course, there’s an enormous Christmas market for further shopping at weekends.
Those with greenfingers will love the stupendous Christoffers Blommor’s Florist on Södermannagatan in Gamla Stan. A veritable Garden of Eden with floor-to-ceiling plants and beautiful pots. What doesn’t fit inside, spills (artfully) out on to the cobblestones.
The country’s greatest export, Abba, finally have their own place in Swedish history. Fans won’t be disappointed at Abba The Museum (abbathemuseum.com) where there’s a reconstruction of the Viggsö writing hut where many of their hits were composed, with footage of Benny and Björn playing guitars.
There are dozens of gold records, the helicopter used in the Arrival video and you can even line up alongside band members on stage, with the help of holograms and footage of Agnetha and Frida warming up their vocal cords. Of course, costumes galore offer a trip down memory lane.
The Lydmar Hotel (lydmar.com) on the waterfront is one of Stockholm’s hottest places to stay. The foyer is super-welcoming with leather butterfly chairs strewn with faux fur throws and potted plants.
The sweeping staircase extends into the reception, a homely atmosphere of velvet sofas, low lighting and everchanging artworks. It offers views across the water to the Royal Palace and the old town.
Inside the rooms, the windows are enormous and an eclectic mix of furniture prevails; glass cabinets with quirky collections of pottery and cameras, armchairs, leather bedheads and deep-pile rugs and, of course, artworks. It’s all very comfortable.
Their restaurant could also be in a large country house with beige chairs, low tables and banquettes against walls lined with bookcases and vases.
Simple, nourishing fare is served such as moules frites, £24, and ribeye steak, £32. At brunch at the weekend the place throngs and there’s a DJ who spins very cool tunes.
British Airways (0344 493 0125/ britishairways.com) offers two nights at the Lydmar Hotel from £339 (two sharing), B&B. Price includes return flights from Heathrow to Stockholm. Holiday Extras (0800 1313 777/ holidayextras.com) offers three days parking at Heathrow from £27.
Stockholm tourism: visitstockholm.com The market runs from November 18 to December 22.