Magnus Ek and Agneta Green used to own a little restaurant on an island in the Swedish archipelago, consisting of 30,000+ islands outside Stockholm. During the last decade, it ranked among the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” for five years in a row. In April, Ek and Green moved their Oaxen Krog & Slip restaurant to Djurgården Island in the center of Stockholm. It’s housed inside a corrugated metal ex-shipwright shop with 30-foot high, wall-to-wall windows facing the marina.
Ek and Green epitomize Stockholm meetings where the seaside environment meshes seamlessly with Scandinavian cultural venues, innovative hotels and sublime restaurants.
The smoked herring from Norröna with browned butter, herbs and a warm potato salad is simple, fresh and utterly delicious. But the thing you notice most in Stockholm is how comfortable and relaxed everyone is, and how much water there is everywhere. You’re always surrounded by water in Stockholm. There is no other major European capital so viscerally connected to nature, with the rhythms of the sea embedded so deeply in the recesses of the national psyche.
Oaxen is actually two restaurants, serving dishes with ingredients from small local farms. We ate at the 75-room Slip bistro, with a wooden fishing boat hanging from the ceiling and school chairs around the communal tables. Krog is more formal and there’s a 14-pax Club Room for VIPs. I want to say Oaxen is an absolute must when visiting Stockholm, and it is, but everywhere we visited felt like a “must see” experience.
And all of it was very, very Swedish.
For example, Hotel Skeppsholmen is consistently ranked the #1 hotel in Stockholm. It’s located on the tree-covered island of Skeppsholmen in the center of 13 other islands that make up the city, near the historic old town of Gamla Stan. That makes it really convenient to explore some amazing museums and experience Stockholm’s waterfront lifestyle.
Hotel Skeppsholmen was originally a row of army barracks built in 1699. Today the 81-room historic hotel is protected under Sweden’s “Extremely Protected” category.
“Hotel Skeppsholmen is one of the 100 most historic buildings in Sweden, with the same layout since 1710,” says Joachim Olausson, managing director. “It’s the only hotel in Stockholm where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner outdoors, and all of the food is local food. We know which chickens the eggs came from.”
As we walk through the quiet rooms, he points to plaques on the wall describing the lives of people who once lived here. I can tell Olausson is really proud of this.
“Each room has a unique story,” he says. “It required a lot of research but it was exciting to learn so much about the history of the hotel.” The spare, yet charming rooms have blonde wood floors, white linens/drapes, modern furnishings and working windows facing the heavily treed park or water.
I stopped by for breakfast every morning during this 4-night summer trip. It’s that perfect. For groups, private dining/meeting space hosts 150. There’s also the Skridskopaviljongen (skating pavilion) at the marina, built in 1882 by the Royal Skating Club. The elegant brick building seats 50.
It’s a 3-minute walk up the sloping hillside of Skeppsholmen to Moderna Museet, Sweden’s best modern art museum. Presently there’s a Pop Art exhibition with paintings by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Ruscha. About a 5-minute walk along the water, the magnificent Chapman clipper ship has a fun outdoor restaurant up on the wooden decks.
HOTEL J & THE ARCHIPELAGO
Located on the outskirts of Stockholm at the gateway to the Swedish archipelago, the 158-room Hotel J epitomizes the duality of Stockholm. It is infinitely comfortable here at this quiet intersection of new and old, city and sea.
It’s here where all of the historic steamer ferries stop as they transition between the city and outlying islands. The theme is entirely nautical, designed in partnership with Sweden’s Gant clothing company, who have a thing for the whole Kennedy-era New England yachting spirit. The hotel is nicknamed “Stockholm’s Newport.”
The lobby inside the 1920s brick building has a large kitchen pantry and homey living room. Models of wooden sailing sloops decorate the window sills, and a few guests are lounging contently reading books about shipbuilding, seafaring and Swedish cooking.
A garden path leads down to the Tornvilla and Fabrikörsvilla buildings on the shoreline dating back to 1889. The historic buildings are used for special events, and there’s a simple, absolutely beautiful, farm-style restaurant with white-washed wood tables and large windows facing the sea.
In 2011, Hotel J added two modern accommodation wings. Inside the new guest rooms, there’s a nice play between the black plank floors and white wood plank walls. The Americana-themed fabrics are supplied by Gant, and there’s a work desk with super fast in-room WiFi. Book the top floors for the largest balconies, which are almost the size of the rooms.
For lunch, the indoor/outdoor J Restaurant juts out into the channel next to the ferry dock. The outdoor patio is extremely popular for locals during the warmer months so it’s a great place for people watching and chatting with the locals.
Plan to spend more time here than you anticipate. The seafood is exquisite, like my salmon caesar with sharp parmesan and jumbo homemade croutons.
Hotel J is just a 10-minute boat ride to Fjäderholmarna Island where locals and guests go for shopping and seaside restaurants like Fjäderholmarnas Krog. The bucolic island promotes itself as the entrance to the archipelago, and it’s a shame, but these islands are vastly undiscovered by U.S. visitors. You really have two destinations in one in Stockholm, completely removed from each other in attitude, and Hotel J is perfectly situated as a bridge between the two.
We also hopped aboard one of the Navy SEAL-style rigid pontoon boats operated by the Öppet Hav company, based on the island of Kastellholmen, next to Skeppsholmen. It’s a crazy 50 mph, 30-minute sprint across the water to the island of Grinda and Grinda Wärdshus Hotel, which was originally a large summer house built by the first director of the Nobel Committee in 1906. There’s a warm fireplace in the cozy foyer and a dining room for 100 pax with wraparound windows facing the native forest. The seafood buffet with crisp white wine and crunchy bread was a highlight of this trip.
SWEDEN 101: ABSOLUT & ABBA
When the sun is out on the weekends, the locals head for Djurgården Island and its wealth of museums, attractions, restaurants and large parks with a wide walking path bordering the water.
Spritmuseum was an incredible surprise. Celebrating the history of Sweden’s Absolut vodka company, it offers marketing professionals an eye-opening lesson in one of the smartest branding coups of the 20th century.
Absolut exploded on the scene in America after New York bartenders started dumping Stoli in the streets following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. To spur demand, Absolut created innovative advertising using commissioned art works from the leading pop artists of the time. Over 850 original paintings by 500+ artists such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring that were used in Absolut’s ad campaigns hang in Spritmuseum.
There’s also some interesting exhibits examining the “corruption” of art when it’s used for commercial purposes. There’s also a whole gallery showing the evolution of the famous Absolut bottle with no label. Event capacity is 200.
You can’t begin to imagine the anticipation locally that led up to the opening of the ABBA Museum this summer. Everything you could possibly want to know about the four singing Swedes is examined indepth with state-of-the-art video installations. The museum is also planning a “Mamma Mia!” dinner and show for group bookings later this year.
The Vasa Museum nearby is worth checking out too. It’s the #1 most visited museum in Stockholm, housing a restored warship that sank in the harbor in the 1600s.
NOBIS HOTEL STOCKHOLM
A 10-minute walk behind the picturesque Nybroviken harbor, the 201-room Nobis Hotel is located in Stockholm’s most upscale shopping district. Its 19th century facade is in sharp contrast to its edgy modernist interior, anchored by a courtyard lounge with 90-foot ceilings.
This is where the fashionable crowd comes for espresso in the afternoons and pre/post dinner cocktails in the evening. Nobis isn’t showy but there’s an underlying drama in the public areas, where businesspeople in suits mingle with creative industry types.
The rooms are very subdued with a butter/beige palette and residential Scandinavian furnishings. There are five elegant meeting rooms for 2-24 pax, again sharing the historic/modern synergy everywhere else in the hotel. And I love the lobby bistro opening out to the sidewalk facing Norrmalmstorg Square, which is very popular with locals. Everything works about this hotel, and the staff throughout is exceptional.
“It’s a true Swedish hotel that makes you feel like you live in Stockholm,” says Charlotte Mangborg, director of sales, MICE.
From Nobis, it’s a short walk to many of the best restaurants in the city. New this year, Nosh and Chow is one of the most talked about restaurants due to a wonderful blend of modern industrial design elements, speakeasy art and upscale farmhouse-chic furnishings. The restaurant resides in a 4-story townhouse with different vibes on different floors. The ground floor and two bars host 150 seated, and the menu incorporates cuisines from all over the world reinterpreted with Swedish ingredients.
GRAND HOTEL STOCKHOLM
Situated midway between Skeppsholmen and Gamla Stan, the 368-room Grand Hotel Stockholm is the city’s most luxurious hotel. Opened in 1874 overlooking Strömmen harbour, it has welcomed the world’s elite, and it is the #1 requested hotel for incentive travel programs and top-tier meetings.
When you walk into the lobby, you’re greeted by a massive oak table covered with a forest of flowers. To your right, the Cadier Bar is drop dead gorgeous with its long plaster coffered ceiling and chandeliers. This is Sweden’s ultimate power bar and it’s where you want to bring your best clients.
The array of meeting venues at the Grand will make you dizzy with both their variety and opulence. Some of them have been artfully restored back to their original Venetian Renaissance splendor, while others are more subdued and Scandinavian in tone, decorated with early 20th century period furnishings. There are 16 banquet rooms in total. The largest is the 8,800-sf Vinterträdgården seating 650 diners.
The Verandah restaurant just completed its renovation. With front row views of the harbour, it is one of the most in-demand dining spots for special events, and it’s fantastic for breakfast when the sun is low, painting the city different shades of amber. It goes without saying that he breakfast buffet is out of this world with 124 options from which to chose.
Downstairs with a private entrance off the street, there are two side-by-side Michelin restaurants operated by Chef Mathias Dahlgren, one of the most highly regarded chefs in Scandinavia. The formal, intimate Matsalen offers a tasting menu with eight courses and paired wines. Next door, the Matbaren bistro is super fun with a modern country house ambience and seasonal menu. Butcher boards and mason jars are everywhere, and plates are served on wooden trays. Try the Matjes herring with apple, horseradish and almonds, which pairs well with a French Macon-Chaintre chardonnay.
As mentioned, it’s cosmopolitan and ever so comfortable.