An Afternoon in Gamla Stan: Stockholm’s Old Town

So far, my favorite part of Stockholm has been the island of Gamla Stan. As the city’s Old Town, Gamla Stan is rich in history, including stories of ghosts, which can be heard if you take the Stockholm Ghost Walk tour.

Gamla Stan is the location of the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum, the home of the Nobel Prize and a showcase of the award’s history. Gamla Stan has several other museums, including the Medeltidsmuseet (Medieval Museum), which was unfortunately closed when I visited the city (I guess Swedes hate Mondays as much as we do) and my personal favorite: the Runstenen, or Wooden Horse Museum.

In every souvenir shop in Stockholm, you can find these small wooden horse figurines, called ‘Dala horses’, which, according to the Runstenen, are, “an ancient and genuine work of Swedish folk art.” They are all very beautiful and each has a different design. A banner outside the Runstenen describes a subset of the figurines, called ‘The Little Star,’ that was commissioned for the birth of the Crown Princess Victoria’s first child, Princess Estelle, of which part of the profits go towards the ‘Save the Children’ Foundation.

The Nobel Museum (left), the Runstenen (top right), and a map of Gamla Stan (bottom right).

To write this post, I decided to return to Gamla Stan for the afternoon, after my morning class. It was only a short ride on the tunnelbanna from the Royal Music College to the Gamla Stan Station. Once there, I took advantage of the island’s many restaurants and got lunch at the Old Town Bistro, then dessert at one of the many ice cream shops along the main road of the city, Västerlånggatan. I couldn’t help but walk this street multiple times, enchanted by the vibrant colors of the buildings, the great variety of shops (everything from a fine art shop, to a science fiction book store, to a toy store, amongst a further variety of restaurants and dessert shops), and the vivacious crowd of fellow tourists and residents. The smells were also amazing, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a fair or festival in America.

The streets of Gamla Stan. The width of the streets varies in places, sometimes being wide enough for cars to pass through, other times being so narrow that only a few people could pass through at a time.
Some restaurant fronts in Gamla Stan. Some of the shops have no glass in their windows and have converted the windows into extra seating.

After exploring Västerlånggatan, I toured the Nobel Museum using their free audio tour, then explored the less densely occupied areas of Old Town. Despite the packed main road, the town also has several peaceful court yards scattered around, including one directly behind the Nobel Museum.

If you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet while visiting Gamla Stan, I also recommend finding a seat near the water. The view from any part of the island’s edge offers a fantastic view of the Baltic sea inlet and the nearby islands, including a view of the cliffs and the Gröna Lund Amusement Park. On one of my previous trips to the area, I even saw several swans swimming in the water near the Royal Palace. I finally had to make my way back to the metro when rain started to fall, but even the rain could not spoil my wonderful experience. Overall, Gamla Stan provides everything I could hope for in a travel destination: delicious food, plenty of souvenir and gift shops, cultural exploration opportunities, history, and beauty.

A (haunted) clock tower (left), a view from the island’s edge (top right), and a court yard behind the Nobel Museum (bottom right).

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