Extreme heat and wilting humidity may have compelled tourists in many countries to make like bats and only come out in the dark shade of day or the prayed-for cool of night, but on our early July trip to Sweden and Denmark, we sidestepped predicted rain and donned light jackets for the sunny breeziness of 60s to low 70s.
This was our first overseas vacation in years without being a part of a small tour group. Instead of the on-the-go frenzy requisite on tours (which we enjoy because we are not responsible for any of the planning or transportation and which usually provides easy access to all the most popular attractions), this trip was to explore Stockholm (long on the bucket list), and then head to Denmark for a promised return to visit dear friends who live in a small city about a half-hour’s express train ride from Copenhagen.
We had three priorities for this trip other than spending quality time with our friends. One, pander to my husband Russ’ train fascination by visiting train museums in both countries and to ride the new express train from Stockholm to Copenhagen. Two, tease my palate with before-unknown foods (but thank goodness, herring was crossed off that list years ago!). Three, admire historical architecture and increase our knowledge of the areas’ past.
Tip 1: If you want to avoid large crowds in Denmark, visit in July. Denmark shuts down the same way many European countries’ shop owners, museum and restaurant workers, and families do in August for their own vacations. Sure, some attractions were closed, but on the more positive side, overcrowding was not an issue. I can’t say the same about Stockholm.
Stockholm is a sophisticated hub of multicultural attractions, visitors and populace. Countless islands and distinctive neighborhoods add panache to even the vibes emitted. When we first made plans to visit, Russ (my in-house tour director/planner) had already scoped out some of the most popular attractions, a hotel that was centered around activity, and that we would have to take a train from the airport to Central Station, and from there, catch a cab to the hotel.
As fate would have it, my longtime Danish friend Else Kaaber, asked her lifetime friend Sven Grützmeier (a Dane who became a Swedish citizen and lives in Stockholm), if he was available to guide us. Thanks to his most kind acceptance, and availability for the final three days, we had an insider’s perspective on what to see, how to get there, what and where to eat magnificent meals, and what to do before we met up with him.
FROM STOCKHOLM ARLANDA AIRPORT (ARN) TO NOBIS HOTEL STOCKHOLM
The Arlen Express takes 18 minutes to travel from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to Central Train Station in Stockholm. A digital board and voiceover announcer directs you when to depart and how far to the next station.
We went to the Taxicab stand area. Russ’ research said to only take cabs with the yellow license plate that proves they are licensed and legit. We were assigned to one with a trunk large enough to hold our two larger bags and our two carry-ons. Just because a cab is “legit” doesn’t mean you won’t be ripped off. We were. We thought it odd to be going through so many side streets. Our fare to the hotel was $40. Returning to the train station was $15.
Tip 2: Tipping is not common. 10% at most for exceptional service or if you feel guilty if you don’t tip.
Tip 3: Cash is unnecessary. Since the pandemic, everything is done by credit card in both countries. Even a 10 zek fee for the toilet (free nearly everywhere else) was paid by credit card.
Tip 4: American music, especially celebrating the 50s through the 70s, played in pretty much every hotel and restaurant we visited.
Nobis Hotel Stockholm is an upscale sanctuary in the center of downtown. Easy walking to local attractions, restaurants, and local transportation when needed. When we first arrived, too early for check in, we sat in the enclosed Nobis courtyard that serves as a lounge. Enjoyed a respite of coffee and our first open-faced sandwich of the trip. Ingredients were fresh. The bread pillowy in the center and crunchy outside.
NOI restaurant is downstairs from the lobby floor. During the summer, the upscale restaurant is closed for dinner, but offers the hotel’s expansive breakfast buffet all year. Servers act as an attentive team, seating and taking any special orders. When I mentioned the (surprisingly) weak coffee served in small pots laid on each table, the server immediately asked if we wanted Café Americano. It was machine made, but much more flavorful and stronger. I counted at least nine types of fresh juices, some of which were mixtures of several types and included ginger, as well as the abundant assortment of breads, pastries, deli meats, lox, cheeses, and fruits. There were also crepe-thin pancakes, triangular omelets with a thin layer of cheese and herbs, an assortment of dried fruits and nuts, and even a bowl of tangy, fresh pickled cucumber slices.
WHERE WE ATE MEMORABLE MEALS:
After nearly 24 hours of travel and then walking around the city while waiting to check in, we were much too tired to wander any farther than Bino’s Patio, just outside the hotel’s front door. An intimate restaurant indoors at the top of the stairs serves the same menu, but we relished enjoying the temperate outside air. Point of fact: no matter what time of afternoon or evening, that restaurant was packed. The excellent food must be why! What an introduction to the fantastic meals we would enjoy in Stockholm. I devoured lamp chops cooked perfectly and a salad with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and thin slivers of radishes. The lamb chops were so wonderfully seasoned I didn’t need the accompanying tzatziki. We drank a 2021 Katherine Goldsmith (Alexander Valley, CA) cabernet sauvignon that balanced with the flavors of my lamb.
Brasserie Vau de Ville sits across the street from Nobis Hotel Stockholm. We’d witnessed crowds dining inside and on the outside patio day and evening. Must be good, right? The server said their most popular meal was Steak Minute, a chargrilled sirloin steak that covered nearly an entire plate. It was topped by a red wine sauce and served with Béarnaise, a tomato salad with minced onion, parsley and vinegar, and crispy Truffle French fries with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. We delighted in our choice of Achaval Ferrer, a 2020 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Mellow for a Malbec, but fruit forward. Lingered on our tongues. The server encouraged us to try the house special dessert, a rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream. Russ ate the ice cream, and I ate what I could of the bowlful of crumble. I have had rhubarb, though am not familiar enough to identify its taste. It’s popularity in Sweden (and Denmark) was evident, appearing in juices, sides and desserts. The crumble tasted like sugar cookie bits over soft bites of shredded rhubarb.
Karamellan Café & Restaurant at Drottningholm Palace – The café, located just outside the palace, was raved about by Sven from his previous visits with friends, and judging from the lack of empty tables, he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the meals. We wanted a light lunch, knowing we’d have dinner at a restaurant highly recommended by Sven and local food critics. You ordered the food inside and a server brought it to our patio table. Our light lunch was superb. I had to stop myself from overeating my baked goat cheese on brown bread toast with beetroot and roasted walnuts, and a small rocket salad with balsamic dressing. Russ had smashed avocado with two poached eggs and salad. The portions were surprisingly large, plated beautifully, and delivered on taste.
Dinner that evening was the elegant, palate-pleasing delight to the senses as promised. Never would Russ nor I have imagined finding a fine dining experience being found inside a train station, yet we did with Restaurang Luzette. I had Char (a flaky fresh water white fish only found in Sweden), served with fried onion rings, baby potatoes and carrots, all swimming in a delicate herb sauce. A side bowl bearing a mix of green veggies laced with a hint of licorice was so good I could have made a whole meal of it. Russ had Veal Entrecoute (ribeye) with a smear of melted cheese and a jus of tarragon butter with black truffle oil, and of course, Béarnaise. It came with fried potatoes, tomato with onions. We didn’t “need” dessert, but rationalized by saying three people sharing two desserts wouldn’t mean overstuffing ourselves. We shared a creamy chocolate panna cotta with homemade caramel sauce, poached berries, and crumbles as well as a lemon tiramisu made with limoncello.
The night after we dined elegantly at Restaurang Luzette, we had another incredible meal at Luzette’s sister restaurant, Sturehof. Same owner, comparable classic brasserie with French influences menu, same wine list, but located in the heart of downtown Stockholm. Both nights we drank a bottle of Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Tempranillo (because it was sooooo good the first night).
In Part 2: CASUAL JAUNTS THRU SWEDEN and DENMARK, a look at What We Did.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of International Live Events Association and Meeting Professionals International and is now serving on the 2022-2023 MPI Global Advisory Board for Small Business Owners. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events in her blog, Hotel Happenings & Program Promotions. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. Karen@KarenKuzsel.com; www.KarenKuzsel.com; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady. She is also active with Experience Kissimmee CVB and Wedding Venue Map. Food photos for this series by Karen Kuzsel. All other photos by Russ Wagner, a retired government planner/builder who has a passion for historic architecture, wine, trains, travel and taking photographs.