Maybe they’re fueled by their sophisticated coffee culture. The key Swedish vocab word here is fika, a coffee break with a sugary treat. Maybe they make it look easy thanks to the unimpeachable, practical-meets-good-looking design for baby gear. Think Stokke.
Whatever the reason, we’re over the moon for this hip northern town.
Add a museum devoted children’s fiction author Astrid Lingren, who penned Pippi Longstocking, and we may never leave.
Where to set up family base camp: Södermalm
Stockholm is an archipelago (skärgård) of 14 islands situated between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. Södermalm, the city’s southern island, is our pick for base camp when exploring as a family. Saffron yellow buildings line narrow cobblestone streets. Around the next corner you may be rewarded with a view of sparkling Baltic sea and the compact old town known as Gamla Stan.
Like all cool-kid neighbourhoods, Södermalm was once a working-class district, and before that, farmland for Gamla Stan. An influx of creatives starting in the 1990s resulted in a happening hood. Södermalm is brimming with interesting non-chain boutiques, bars, restaurants and galleries. We love it because the generation of bohos who reinvented neighborhood have gone on to have kids. Södermalm is a utopia for cool families.
Modernity is all very well and good but you need a dose of context too. Södermalm has easy pedestrian access to Gamla Stan via Slussen, so you can cross over quickly without having to live in the clogged tourist section. Wandering around Söder will also be rewarding; the hilly streets have their share of quaint 17th century wooden buildings as well as some of the best waterfront viewpoints of the Stockholm archipelago via Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen.
More fun facts: The Millennium Trilogy was filmed here. Vogue even went so far as to proclaim it the coolest neighbourhood in the world in 2014.
Accommodation: We partner with travel companies that we use for our family trips. Rent a cool Söder flat via Airbnb and get a travel credit through our family account. Check out Booking.com‘s Stockholm hotels and rental apartments.
Field trip 1: Shopping and eating in Söder
Every Swedish mum who lives in Sodermalm will direct you to Mini Rodini, the simultaneously whimsical meets practical clothing store for babies and kids age 0-11. Founded by Swedish illustrator Cassandra Rhodin, who is a descendant of a circus artists, the mix-n-match separates have fun prints (clowns, robots, pandas, zebra stripes) and come in bright and basic colours. When it’s time to gussy up, Mini Rodini also delivers, providing the well-placed frill on pieces that are chic without being precious.
Aesthetics are important. When they adorn utility gear, even better. You’ll find sturdy waterproof rain overalls with the same fun designs. Best of all, the Rodini line is made with ethical, eco-friendly materials that are soft on skin and easy for parents to keep clean.
Nytorgsgatan 36, minirodini.com
Not far from Mini Rodini, our pick for kids’ clothing design, you’ll find Grandpa, a scaled-down department store of Scandinavian clothing and accessories design for parents. Grandpa emphasizes quality over brand. They have a small collection of items with some labels you’ll recognize, and some you wont.
You can fit a double stroller inside, the staff is friendly, and overall, it’s a laid-back shopping experience that feels more like hanging out in a living room than browsing a hipster boutique. You’re as likely to find the pair of jeans you wear everyday as you are to find a cocktail dress for date night. Must buys for both parents? Neuw denim and handknit Swedish raggsockor. Translation: cozy wool socks.
Södermannagatan 21, grandpa.se
Drop Coffee Roasters
No one needs coffee more than the parents of small folks. The Swedes are on board. The average Swede drinks four cups of coffee a day. Fittingly, there’s a growing specialty coffee subculture to match consumer demand. Grab a mid-exploration pick me up from Drop is the hippest and the most skilled of the single-origin roasters.
You can try their beans at the bright Mariatorget cafe where award-winning baristas turn out beautiful pour overs and espresso caffeine fixes. Get your little one a cocoa or a milk. Pair your fix with a squishy Swedish bullar (sugar bun) or a plump semla — a cardamom bun filled to the brim with marzipan and whipped cream.
Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 10, Dropcoffee.com
Around the corner from Drop, Sandqvist will sort your how-to-pack-for-kids-and-still-look-good dilemmas with their functional and attractive totes, rucksacks, messengers and other accessories. Founded in 2004 by Swedish brothers who like to play outside, all the lines – leather or nylon – are sturdy.
Swedenborgsgatan 3, www.sandqvist.net
Urban Deli Nytorget
Let the kids can romp at the park (with swings and sand box) across the street while one parent shops for Swedish dinner supplies such as shrimp salad, cooked crab, freshly foraged forest mushrooms, and lingonberries at the specialty grocery store which includes a butcher shop, fishmonger, deli and greengrocer. The parent babysitting will probably see well-dressed Swedish parents having a craft beer from Urban while pushing a kid on a swing and simultaneously catching up on gossip.
Alternatively, wear your small folk out at the park then sit down at the always-buzzing restaurant for family dinner. Although it looks like a bar, the friendly staff wont bat an eye latching high chairs onto the tall tables. The fare is a combo of Swedish comfort food (husmanskost) such as cured salmon, sausage and cabbage, peel and eat shrimp and fish stew, alongside a more international interpretation of charcuterie and mains. The craft beer and cocktail list is a good intro to small batch Scandinavian makers.
Nytorget 4, Urbandeli.org
Field trip 2: Exploring Soder’s geography and history
View point walk from Fåfängan, Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen
The cool thing about sticking an capital city on a string of islands is the potential for great vistas. Söder has a stunning vantage point for checking out the the islands of Gamla Stan, Riddarholmen, Skeppshomen and Djurgården. It will take you about 40 minutes to see them all by walking from Monteliusvägen to Fjällgatan and Fåfängan, a series of spectacular viewpoints on the northern waterfront edge of of Söder.
We managed the footpaths, planks and cobblestones with a stroller the first time but found life much easier and more fun when we did it with baby carriers. The small folk enjoyed pointing out boats, bridges, and seagulls.
The Monteliusvägen portion of the path has a view of Lake Mälaren, City Hall, Gamla Stan and Riddarfjärden. Make sure and snap the Instagram-worthy view through the historic buildings, and cool footbridge located at the intersection of Skolgränd and Bastugatan.
The blocks around Fjällgatan, Stigbergsgatan, Mäster Mikaels Gata, Fiskargatan, and Södra Teatern are lined with well-preserved wooden buildings from the 1700s on one side and a magnificent view of the Gamla Stan from a slightly higher vantage point.
At Fåfängan, the mountain top is decorated with with rows of linden trees. It’s a good resting spot for a picnic. Here you get a clear view to Djurgården island. There’s a cafe at the Fåfängan viewpoint if you’re in need of more sustenance.
It’s also worth noting that the footpath continues past Monteliusvägen to the west, and past Fåfängan to the east, so if you’re having fun, press on.
Hikers need fuel. Good thing the Swedes like their carbs as much as their coffee. Traditional forms worth trying are sweet rye bread, crunchy, hearty knäckebröd crackers and bullar, — soft, dense, chewy and slightly sweet buns enhanced with everything from pearl sugar, cinnamon and walnuts to saffron and cardamom. Bageri Petrus is where the locals will tell you to go for best-executed mix of Swedish traditional breads and innovation. They also do pleasant, fruity cup of drip coffee and have a decent sandwich selection.
Swedenborgsgatan 4B, Instagram.com/bageripetrus[/read]
Field trip 3: Playing in Djurgården’s museums and park
10 minutes by car, 30 minutes by bus or a little less than an hour walking from Söder, you’ll come to Djurgården, Stockholm’s remarkable island park. Genuinely beloved by Stockholmers, it’s a beautiful play outside space in the form of garden, forest and harbours. It’s also overstocked with galleries and museums, an amusement park and even a zoo. You can easily spend a week here. But if you have to choose just one museum, we recommend Junibacken, a children’s museum dedicated to fiction, in particular the work of Astrid Lingren.
We grew up wishing we were as brave, clever and naughty as Pippi Longstocking, and reading the Astrid Lindgren books aloud to our kids has only increased our respect for the craftmanship of these classic stories. At Junibacken, kids get to play dress up in Pippi’s house, ride her horse, cut out their own gingerbread cookies and more. In addition to having a true-to-life replica of casa Longstocking, complete with a slide from the second floor, there’s also a story train you can ride as a family that takes you through the rest of the magical fairy tale world of Astrid Lindgren.
As for other famous Scandie kid characters, you’ll find the Tove Jansson’s Moomin family who are in residence through 2017.
The finale at Junibacken is rewarding both for parents and small folk. Us adults were in awe of the books (in many languages) and toys at the giant and well-stocked bookstore. The kids lose it when they see the circus-style decor and piles of cakes and other Willy Wonka-worthy treats at the restaurant. Note that the restaurant does serve real food, but you’ll be hard-pressed to get your kids to try it when they see the cherry topped iced buns, ice cream, chocolate marshmallow sprinkle popsicles and so on. Make sure and take them for a sprint in the vast parkland afterwards if you want to wear them out for naptime.
Galärvarvsvägen 8, Junibacken.se
Walk 25 minutes east from Junibacken and you’ll reach Rosendals. This biodynamic farm is a large expanse of beautiful orchards, flower gardens and vegetable plots. It’s free to enter and stroll around the gorgeous grounds. They only ask that you support their agricultural educational efforts by eating at the cafe. Stockholmers come here on the weekends to lunch on organic fare under the apple trees. Lunching here is a far cry from charitable work. The minimal black board menu will have three or four reasonably-priced, simple, satisfying options featuring produce that’s in season. They sell it until it runs out, and it always runs out.
Whatever you order, you get to mop up the remainder with a slice of their talked-about bread baked in the stone hearth on the farm. They also serve beer and wine. Note that there are picnic tables, but when these fill up a picnic blanket comes in handy. You don’t have to worry about kids behaving in restaurants or highchairs because kids roam free. This is the friendliest of child friendly venues. Your small folk will probably make some friends.
You and your kids will both win at Stockholm’s modern art museum, which is located on Skeppsholmen, another gorgeous island in the Stockholm chain tucked in the cool, blue waters between Gamla Stana and Djurgården. Once you finish gawking at the beautiful natural scenery from the bridges connecting Skepps to its neighbours, you can explore the the substantial permanent collection which works by Pcasso, Matisse, Derkert and Dali.
Moderna is among the most child-friendly art we’ve met: they have baby tours, family Sundays with kid tours and art activities, holiday programs, and rotating scavenger hunts based on current exhibitions. The restaurant serves pleasant, seasonal, healthy fare (with child portions) and has one of the best views in Stockholm.
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm, www.modernamuseet.se
Restaurant Den Gyldene Frede
If you want to truly understand the Swedish culture, you must try their home cooking. Traditional Swedish cuisine, known as husmanskost, is a far more sophisticated pleasure than the dining room at Den Gyldene Frede than the Ikea cafeteria would leave you to believe. The refined-rustic tavern in the heart of old town (Gamla Stan) has been in the business showcasing Swedish natural inputs, from ocean’s bounty to wild flora and fauna, since 1922.
With a candle light dining room, creamy table cloths and sombre wood decor, it doesn’t seem to be a child-friendly place, but they rolled out two high chairs for us without batting and eye. Most things in Sweden are child-friendly, they just don’t go out of their way to use signifiers, like place mats you can colour. We recommend getting there before the adult dinner rush, say 5-6pm, with an advance reservation.
Yes, meatballs (köttbullar) with cream sauce and lingon berries feature on the menu. So does creamy langoustine soup, a deceptively simple scallop tartar with bleak roe and verbena, calf sausage with wild mushrooms from Hällestad, and poached cod with crispy skin and wild garlic. Whatever you choose as your main, you must start with their housemade Swedish herring (sill) with s with aquavit seasoned “Västerbotten” cheese. Then you’ll understand why so much of Swedish celebratory life revolves arount these tiny silver fish. Pair it with housemade Scandie schapps (Aquavit). A few tipples of the water of life and you won’t even notice if your kids are getting stink eye from the other guests.
Fun fact: This restaurant has been a centre for Swedish literature since the 18th century. It’s been immortalized in song by Swedish poet Carl Michael Bellman. The Swedish Academy, who nominate the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, meet here for their weekly dinner.
Österlånggatan 51, www.gyldenefreden.se