I’ve only had that love at first sight moment with a city a few times in my now 28 years on the planet. Of course, London will forever be my first great love, heck how could I ever forget first exploring Shoreditch as a teen or marvelling at the white town houses in South Kensington when me and my parents first visited the city when I was 8. New York was another instant great love moment, I remember walking around the East Village straight off the plane wondering how had gone so long without having visited this magical place and never wanted to leave (though having been twice has had to suffice so far).
That instant warmth and feeling of belonging is also what I felt on my first visit to Stockholm. I can’t say exactly what it is that I love so much about the city but the open minded friendly people, amazing food and beautiful city itself certainly play a part.
Our first trip there flew by in a second (read my guide here) and ever since then I had an urge to go back. Turning a very “meh” 28 years old served as perfect excuse to escape London for the weekend and return to the Swedish capital and I have to say I loved it even more the second time. I would even go as far that, alongside London and New York, I could really see myself living there.
I mean it would probably bankrupt me, prices are steep even for a Londoner that is used to paying £4 for a coffee, but I would probably be a less neurotic, overworked mess than I am as result of the British working culture. It may not be as hip and happening as Copenhagen but I’ve left a big chunk of my heart in Stockholm and urge anyone that hasn’t been to make 2020 the year for a city trip there. The mix of amazing food, welcoming Swedes and a forward thinking city like no other I have been to, make it a place very special to me and trust me you will be won over in a heartbeat.
As on our last trip we flew into Skavska with Ryanair (as I mentioned in my first guide be prepared to endure a 90 minute coach ride if you choose this “budget airport) but chose to fly out of their main airport, Arlanda, when it came to getting back to London and boy what a difference that made, with a 20 minute super fast train that gets you from the main station to the airport in no time. I would say spent the thirty odd pound more and avoid Ryanair and the middle of nowhere airport, you will end up with a much longer city trip, less stress and actually get to sit next to the person you are traveling with (my biggest pet peeve when travelling with Ryanair)
We pretty much hit jackpot with our hotel on this trip, with the Downtown Camper by Scandic being for sure one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed at. It’s stylish, with lots of dark scandi wood elements, without being gimmicky, and the facilities could not be better with an incredible spa area that includes a rooftop swimming pool, sauna and gym.
It’s a 5 minute walk from the main station and about 10 minutes away from the “Mayfair” of Stockholm, Östermalm, where you can find the best spots for fancy wine, people watching and shopping, and about 35 minutes walk away from the hip part of town, Södermalm, with its cool shops and cafes which means the location is hard to beat.
Our room was super spacious and though a little dimly lit (I guess adding to the hygge vibe of the whole hotel) had everything you would want from a modern hotel room, including just about the best selfie light in their bathroom.
We had access to their amazing spa on the top floor, The Nest, which costs around £25 for a four hour session when you are staying at the hotel and I cannot recommend it enough.
The whole space is an oasis of calm, with watermelon infused water and fresh fruit waiting for you, a beautiful modern sauna and an even better heated outdoor swimming pool that Maddie and I could have spent hours in, admiring the Stockholm winter skyline.
It was the perfect spot to sweat out my birthday hangover and really gave the Camper by Scandi a special edge over any other European city hotel I have stayed at previously. Even better, all of this came without an ounce of pretentiousness and staff, though constantly helpfully, were never obnoxious, giving you all the time in the world to completely unwind.
The hotel breakfast buffet, included in the room rate, is incredibly varied, I mean you can even make your own waffles, and was way above average compare what you usually get at hotels with its sheer selection, even having an entire table dedicated to dairy and gluten free alternatives.
Overall I can only give the Downtown Camper by Scandic a 10/10, showcasing hospitality done in a modern, forward thinking way without compromising on luxury and I would hundred percent return. Simply the perfect base for a weekend in the city.
Sturehof is a decades old infamous restaurant specialising in fish which attracts Stockholm’s high society and thus makes for excellent people watching at the weekends and evenings.
Skip the high prices and main restaurant and perch by their bar where handsome waiters in fancy uniforms will still make you feel pretty special. Their fries are out of this world amazing and wine is poured by the glass. The perfect place for an afternoon wine and carb pick me up and one we went back to twice during our weekend there.
Skeppsbro baggeri, a bakery right by the sea, came recommended by a local and did not disappoint. It’s a pretty new spot so there are no tourists, just an amazing selection of cinnamon buns and if you time your visit right their famous fusion of a semlor bun and croissant.
There is plenty of seating space so Skeppsbro is the perfect spot for a Saturday coffee and bun to start your day right!
Another local tip, Rolf’s Kök was a culinary highlight of the weekend. They serve the kind of elevated bistro cuisine that gets you a bib gourmand and which I love because it means experiencing incredible flavours but in a way less stuffy and expensive environment than at your classic Michelin starred spots.
Reservations are a must as this place is no hidden gem but wow would I go back in a second. Maddie’s braised ox cheek came with the most incredible truffle mash while I went for one of their most iconic dishes, a huge potato rosti, topped with vendace roe and creme fraiche..it may sound simple but here it was sheer heaven. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT skip dessert. Their madeleines served by half a dozen or the dozen are freshly baked and served with a caramel sauce and I kid you not were one of the best things to ever touch my palette.
A must visit in Stockholm, just make sure you book that table.
Eataly has a collection of Italian inspired food halls around the world, most prominently in the USA, and have a brand spanking new one in the heart of Ostermalm.
There is a beautiful main dining space area centred around a huge chandelier with several stands from which you can order wine, pizza and past as well as an adjoining well stocked food hall / delicatessen to get your hands on real artisanal Italian ingredients.
ITALIAN APERITIVO AND INTERIOR HEAVEN @ CAFÉ NIZZA
Even though we only popped by Café Nizza for a glass of prosecco and some olives, though these were spectacular olives I do have to say, Café Nizza left a lasting impression with it’s retro inspired, Wes Anderson-eque interiors and judging by the hearty Italian fare served around us not only the atmosphere and drinks are great here. Instantly welcoming, chic and not too crowded, it is a place I want to return to for dinner and would also go back to for a crisp glass of bubbles and some deliciously juicy olives.
Now, Tossebageriet is not cool. It’s not a cool cafe and the interiors are the kind of old school that is unintentionally appealing to us hipsters because, well, it just hasn’t been renovated in a while. Not that it matter. Tossebageriet does traditional Swedish cakes, no thrills and is pretty good at that.
Don’t expect modern twists but if you are after an excellent princess cake or a reliable bun go here and embrace fika alongside the old ladies having a break and not giving a toss (yes I am the queen of puns) whether you get a good instagram snap of your table set up or not and that is a bloody good old thing!
Thanks to storm Ciara, quite literally stealing my birthday thunder, we ended up staying an extra night in Stockholm but with plenty more culinary recommendations (there seems to be no end to amazing foodie spots in this city) it didn’t take us long to find a place to forget about the flight drama and 45 minutes spent on the phone to Norwegian Airlines and make the most of our extra hours!
Taverna Brillo is by many deemed as THE place for pizza in Stockholm and even for a Sunday night the dining room was buzzing with diners. It reminded me a little of a parred down, less crazy version of the Big Mamma operations, with lovely dark furniture, wine bottle lined walls, and some gold brass, sophisticated yet cosy vibe and perfect for hiding away from the rain and wind that had even reached Sweden at this point.
Our truffle pizza, topped with moorish pickled onions, was unusual but one of the better truffle pizzas I have had in my life and all the food that went past us, particularly a stunning looking truffle risotto, looked equally enticing.
Despite having heard so many good things without the extra night we wouldn’t have ended up at Brillo, in a way too spoiled by the Italian options we have in London but having been I can only recommend Brillo if you are after a brilliant pizza in a great dining environment as it very much held its own weight when compared to some of the most hyped Italian spots back home.
It’s hard to sum up my evening at Punk Royale and in a way I don’t want to give too much away. It was in one sentence the most memorable, utterly bonkers and fantastic dinner of my life.
It was bizarre, a culinary delight and a bit too much at the same time and a birthday dinner I will never ever forget. This is true event dining at an haute cuisine level and though far, far from cheap, around £140 a head for me worth every. Single. Penny (or Swedish krona in this case).
Why? Well I can’t show you an pictorial evidence because anyone dining at Punk Royal has to deposit their phones in a metal box which is locked and hidden away.
An instagrammer’s nightmare but here wonderfully liberating and forcing you to fullly immerse yourself in the craziness the evening will entail, and there is a lot of that. I mean let’s start with the dining room or lack of, indeed it feels more like you are at a squat rave than a restaurant, with bare concrete walls full of graffitis, smoke machines on constant blast out and a mix of techno and hip hop being pumped out of the speakers.
This utterly bizarre set up however some works when the young crew serving you are covered in glitter and so enthusiastic that you can’t help but think “fuck it let’s see how it will go” and let’s not forget that Punk Royal also, and this is where the biggest juxtaposition comes in, also is a fine dining establishment.
After all, in all this utter madness you also get served an outstanding 25 course dinner that will tantalise all senses, paired with so many different kinds of booze you’ll struggle to keep up. I won’t ruin the magic of each course, the caviar served straight onto your gloved up hand, the vodka shots, the ale brewed in house that even this beer hater didn’t mind, the lobster bite coated in truffle shoved straight into your mouth, the fois grass macaroons and the game of jenga that served as table centre piece, because I not only sound slightly mad but could never do justice to the unforgettable experience I had that evening.
Punk Royale was like no where I have ever been before, a once in a lifetime experience that is so worth booking even months in advance for to get a table because even London and New York have nothing quite like it. Is it worth going to Stockholm for a visit to Punk Royal alone ? I would have to say yes but for my birthday weekend it was truly the icing on the cake and one of the most defining and unforgettable dining experiences of my whole life that everyone should taste and experience for themselves. You can spend that kind of money on many mediocre meals or one that truly brings the PUNK into haute cuisine. I would do it any day again.
Still my favourite buns in Stockholm and a lot of ground research has been conducted by now! Their cardamon bun, with caramelised bottom, is simply to die for and worth the slight trek from the centre of town. They don’t have seating so grab your bun and head for a coffee at nearby hipster coffee shop
A lovely delicatessen and neighbourhood wine bar. The guy serving us a keenly priced and amazing tasting cava even remembered us from our last trip and I can’t recommend this place enough for a little drink to start your evening in Sodermalm.
Still a hilarious high society spot to watch ladies of a certain age with too much surgery and rich people buying champagne and oysters. Go on a Friday night when its bursting with people, mingle around the bar and be prepared to meet some real characters!
I mean we know me! A weekend would not be complete without a little Barry’s and to make things even better they do an intro offer for around £11 for a class which is ridicously low compared to London - a bit of barry’s does indeed mean more space for those Swedish buns…
The crisp game has never been the same since I tried these, seriously addictive. Semlor bun - in the run up to easter these fluffy buns filled with whipped cream and almond paste can be found in almost all bakeries and cafes and are a must try if you come during their season!
Booze and marzipan, what’s not to love! These cakes, reminiscent of an old school vacuum cleaner, may be a very “granny” baked good to like but me and Maddie are low key obsessed with them and even better most supermarkets in Stockholm sell pretty decent versions in their bakery sections. They may look weird but do not mock them until you’ve tried them, trust me!
As most of you know by now I love going to Barry’s Bootcamp, a pretty intense hour long workout class with studios all around the world, which combines treadmill running intervals with weight and HIIT style floor and bench work.
Their classes aren’t cheap (a single class without a package or membership deal will set you back £23) but your body, and to an extent mind, gets worked like no other way of exercising has ever done for me before and my mental health has never been better since I have started going regularly.
Yes, the idea of a darkly lit room with red lights, loud music, stacked trainers that aren’t afraid to (encouragingly) shout at you and being pushed to your physical limits might sound scary at first but honestly there is an amazing community of regulars and fantastic trainers that, as stupid as it sounds, makes Barry’s East, my local studio, something like a second home, a place where I can lock away my phone for 60 minutes, forget about a bad day at work and just have some time to completely switch off from the outside world.
I have done hell week, 7 days of straight classes, a few times by now, and after the first time where completing it literally felt like hell, I got pretty ok at making it through which meant I was ready for a new challenge so 30 classes in 30 days it was!
And honestly it made me fitter, more resilient and energetic than ever before without having to having to give up my social life, I even got pretty used to getting up at 5am every weekday.
Here are my top 5 learnings from the month and though I might not be going quite as much in February there is no way you won’t see me in the red room a good amount every week. Give Barry’s a go even if just for one class, for me it’s been a great addition to my life that is here for the long run.
YOUR BODY IS A RESILIENT MACHINE AND CAN DO WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK.
After the first two weeks your body quite literally may be a bit like WTF but pushing your body that little bit past comfortable will show you how capable and adaptable of a machine it truly is and how little we make use of it fully in daily life.
YOU AREN’T ALWAYS GOING TO RUN YOUR BEST AND THAT IS OK
At Barry’s trainers will always give you three different speed options while on the treadmill - beginner, intermediate and advanced, and while I usually stick to intermediate speeds throughout, there were of course days when my legs felt heavy (especially during some rather nasty incline runs) and I went for beginner speeds which is fine!
The 30 day challenge is all about endurance and making it through the 60 minutes on days where I could have easily stayed in bed was even more of an achievement than a class on a good day after a weekend lie in.
FIND TRAINERS YOU LIKE AND STICK WITH THEM
Barry’s is known for their world class trainers and I can vouch for how consistently amazing they programme classes, get to know their regulars and push them in each class and encourage as well as help cultivate a great training community that makes it so fun to go and also means you have the chance to meet some awesome people that become friends outside the red room.
Everyone of course will have their personal preferences when it comes to trainers depending on your music taste and training style but for me I couldn’t have made it through the month without Alex Castro (who got to see me in some very sorry states when wine was in the picture the night before), Sam (who is the queen of elastic bands) and Chris whose evening classes managed to somehow energise me even if I had the most draining day at work.
Of course, there is a whole roster of well qualified trainers across all their studios (Jay C will forever be the one trainer to make me the run the fastest and longest with his distance challenges) but these guys are world class in my eyes and really care about the people they train while also always delivering unique programmes on a daily basis as it is never the same session no matter how many times you go… so book yourself in with them, you won’t regret it!
YOU CAN TRAIN AND STILL HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE
I didn’t quit drinking or seeing my friends during the month but knowing I had a 10am class booked on a Saturday that I HAD to go to for the challenge made me more mindful of my drinking.
I also didn’t waste a single day during the month hungover in bed because even when I felt a little ropey after a glass too many the night before I sweated it all out during my session and that way had so many productive weekend days proving that you can do both and that more often than not even the slightest wine headache had previously served me as a convenient excuse to be lazy when really, I could have gotten my ass out of bed!
PEOPLE WILL QUESTION YOU AND YOUR CHALLENGE BUT WHO CARES!
You are crazy! How much money are you wasting on this? Isn’t it hard work? People will always have their opinions especially if they have never been to Barry’s before or have built up an aversion to any kind of exercise but you know what.. fuck them! I did this challenge for me and the consistently better sleep and near disappearance of my anxiety are more than enough proof that it was worth every second for me and if people judge that then let them!