A whistlestop tour of Stockholm

Stockholm states boldly that it’s ‘the capital of Scandinavia’, probably much to the chagrin of Denmark and Norway, but following a whirlwind tour of Sweden’s capital city, it’s only fair to say that its claims are broadly borne out. Clean, welcoming, compact and gay friendly, Stockholm deserves to be on every discerning gay traveller’s wish list, and with Stockholm Pride, which also happens to be the country’s biggest festival , fast approaching the time has come to pass on Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin and head north to this exciting city and try somewhere new for a change.

After a comfortable two and a half hour flight with super gay friendly airline SAS, which incidentally carried out the first same-sex marriages during a flight a couple of years ago, I made my way to one of the many up market hotels in the city, The Hilton Slussen, which was to be my home for this whistle-stop trip to the city.

Five star elegance seeps from every pore and my room had a fantastic view of the Old Town. As the city is built upon an archipelago of islands, I was actually staying in Sodermalm, which is the trendy Bohemian quarter.

First port of call in the evening was gay bar and restaurant Torget which was in Gamla Stan, where a few other gay venues are located, but unlike London, there’s no specific gay area or ghetto in Stockholm. The Swedes pride themselves on their tolerance so you can be gay wherever you go as no one bats an eyelid.

The food was delicious and as I was in Sweden I was going to eat like a Swede so had a plate of juicy mussels to start followed by Wallenbergare – which roughly translated means veal burger with clarified butter, mash, peas and lingonberries. I also had cheesecake for pudding. Well it would have been rude not to.

Although the weather was a bit iffy, at 1030pm it was still light so we headed to Patricia – a disco boat that’s gay on a Sunday to check out the crowd and the vibes and both were more than satisfying, although we left before the foam party got started.

Given that I’d gone to town in Torget I was up at 7 the next morning and in the fully equipped gym at the Hilton – just as well as I went slightly over the top at the buffet breakfast. My Scandinavian hosts looked puzzled when I proudly stated that I’d had meatballs and lingonberry sauce for breakfast – maybe this was a step too far in my quest for Swedish assimilation!

My guide for the day was the lovely Linda and our intention was to do something arty so we headed over to Millesgarden - the park, home and studio to the famous sculptor Carl Milles and mightily impressive it was too, especially his monumental outdoor works which cast a benign eye, in the case of Poseidon, over the waters to the city centre.

No rest for the wicked as we then headed to Fotografiska, and met up with the lovely Amy Lame and her partner Jenny who were also in town to check out the lesbatious side of the city. This photographic gallery has become one of the most popular attractions in Stockholm, displaying works by some of the world’s most important photographers. There’s a terrific view of the city from the top floor restaurant, and I even tried some herring. But I suppose you have to try everything once.

In hindsight that wasn’t such a good idea considering that I was about to embark on a rooftop tour of Riddarholmen. I’m not great with heights but I was in safe hands as Lars, one of the city’s gay ambassadors, was on hand to take my mind off the drop, and the taste of herring. It’s quite safe as you’re all harnessed-up and attached to a wire, so if you do trip you’ll just dangle ungainly but according to my guides no one has ever fallen in all the years they’ve been doing the tours. But there’s a first time for everything. The views are spectacular and it’s definitely worth doing – if I can muster up the courage to wear a hard hat and look like a plonker, then anyone can.

Lars rewarded me with some more cheesecake at Chokladkoppen, a gay café in the Old Town, before we met all the ambassadors at Malarpaviljongen, a floating bar and restaurant that’s only open during the summer. The aforementioned ambassadors are part of the tourist board’s initiative to welcome more LGBT visitors to the city and they can be found at the Win A Date With Stockholm website, where you can choose which ambassador you most want to show you the sights.

Dinner took place at the wonderfully glamorous Berns Hotel. The food was Asian and to die for – every course from the sashimi salad to the quartet of desserts was a triumph.

We just managed to squeeze in a tour of the Royal Palace the following morning and lunch on the balcony of the stunning Royal Dramatic Theater before it was time to head back to the airport. There was a lot to take in over a short period of time but it certainly gave me a flavour of what this beautiful city has to offer, so even if you’re not lucky in the competition, Stockholm should be top of your list when it comes to choosing you next city break. Stockholm Pride takes place 31 July – 4 August.

With special thanks to Linda, Christina, Stina, Anders, Lars, Amy and Jenny.

Picture: The super-sexy ambassadors - who wouldn't want a date with them?

Win A Date With Stockholm

Lesbian and gay Stockholm

Hear my thoughts on Stockholm on Amy Lame's podcast

Keith McDonnell

Keith flew Economy with SAS and was a guest of the Stockholm Visitors Board.

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