If you thought the Brits were obsessed with the weather, then come to Stockholm, where there are whole festivals devoted to the passing of the seasons, from Walpurgis Night in April to Lucia Day in December. And long may it continue – in these days of wildly unpredictable climate change, there is something very refreshing about a country that still clings to its clearly defined seasons.
Sunlight & seasons
Stockholm’s shortest day (22 December) sees the sun rise at 8.44am and disappear again at 2.49pm, a miserly six hours and five minutes of light therapy, while the longest day (21 June) stretches for 20 hours and 37 minutes, with sunrise at 3.31am and sunset at 9.08pm. What this means for locals and, indirectly, for visitors, is that this is a city whose modus operandi is ruled by the heavens. Visit in March and you might catch a ski race around the Royal Palace (the equivalent of a schuss down the Mall), but come back in midsummer and it’s all crayfish parties on the beach, park theatre and midnight marathons.
Space & fresh air
Whatever time of year you visit, though, you will notice that Stockholm offers that rarest of urban commodities – space to think. Sweden covers an area the size of California, but its population is smaller than that of London, and the capital itself is made up of one-third water and one-third green space, which means just one-third urbanity. And if you still can’t get enough fresh air in your lungs, then you can hop on a ferry to the archipelago, a playground of more than 24,000 islands starting just a few miles east of the city.
All that thinking space might just help to explain the roll call of homegrown success stories: from Strindberg and Bergman to H&M and Ericsson, this is a place positively bursting with creative genius. But that creativity is first and foremost born of functional simplicity – a mantra at the very root of Sweden’s soul. Ikea owner Ingvar Kamprad may be worth $33 billion, and ten per cent of Europeans currently alive may have been conceived in one of his beds, but he still drives an old Volvo and takes the metro to work. The local word for it is lagom, or ‘just enough’, and it sums up principles of fairness, equality and modesty.
Unfortunately, lagom is not a word that applies to Stockholm’s price tags, and however crafty you are with your holiday kronor, there’s no getting away from the fact that the city makes a pretty expensive weekend getaway. From tucking into a large beer and a plate of meatballs to finding a hotel room, nothing comes cheap in the Venice of the North. But in return you get a triumph of substance and style, with over 100 galleries and 70 museums, northern Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval city, plus more than enough Nordic chic to fill your baggage allowance on the way home.
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