Welcome to the ‘Open City’: 12 Reasons for the Gays to Hit Up Stockholm in 2019
For the many gay men around the world who love to traverse the globe, here’s a city that should be placed at the top of your new year’s itinerary. Referred to as “The Open City,” Stockholm truly welcomes all, no matter their color or creed, which in 2019 is something fewer and fewer international destinations can rightfully proclaim.
As one of Europe’s most progressive nations, particularly with regard to LGBTQ advances and civil rights, Sweden is an overdue stop for many in the queer community. Let’s make 2019 the year that changes.
Boasting mild, sunny weather for much of the year, Stockholm is a city made up of 14 islands and connected by more than 50 bridges. When not gliding down the cobblestone streets of “old town” Gamla Stan or stopping into a café for the afternoon tradition of “fika,” you’ll make your way through the city by all means possible — on foot, by car and bike, aboard a boat or ferry.
The lack of any language barrier for English speakers is surprising to some. (Most Swedes speak nothing short of perfect English.) Even currency exchange, which can prove exasperating in other parts of the world, is a non-issue here, as the city is largely cash-free. (More on that later.)
Someone once penned an open letter to travelers on behalf of Stockholm, and it ends with this: “I don’t know who you are, but I would love to get to know you better. I’m fueled by new ideas and influences from around the world. Consider this as your open invitation. You are always welcome here.”
So what are you waiting for?
Here are 12 reasons for travel-savvy gays to hit up Stockholm in 2019:
1. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more stylish city than Stockholm.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years, the stylish minimalism that has become a Swedish calling card has made Stockholm one of Europe’s — and the world’s — most fashion-forward destinations. “Simple and clean” best describes Swedish style, in terms of both design and fashion, which isn’t news to fans of IKEA and H&M, two brands that exude Swedish flavor.
Once on the ground in Stockholm, the clotheshorse is wise to hit up the fashion district of Bibliotekstan, only a few square blocks but home to plenty of the industry’s big-hitters (Prada, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren). The international high-end brands you know and love mingle alongside local boutiques, like HOPE, a “Stockholm fashion success story.” A label that’s able to claim mentorship by Acne Studios’ Frida Bard, HOPE mixes utility and minimalism with punk edginess, and every piece of clothing inside is gender-neutral and features both men’s and women’s sizing.
2. Seriously, even the hotels in Stockholm are stylish.
Stockholm is of course home to many accommodation options, and wherever you stay during your 2019 trip, you’re bound to wake up each morning well-rested and completely comfortable in stylish digs. Some of our favorite hotel options include:
The Courtyard by Marriott Kungsholmen, located in one of the most lush parts of the city and featuring oversized windows with views of the nearby lake and park. You’re never too far from the center of action in Stockholm, but as the Courtyard is only a brief walk to Malarpaviljongen — the city’s finest dining experience, profiled below and which you’ll surely want to visit more than once — you can’t go wrong with a stay here.
Hotel Diplomat is a luxe property offering a truly elegant Stockholm stay. Located in the literal heart of the city, near one of the city’s many waterfronts, you’ll be steps away from many of Stockholm’s cultural sites, great shopping and stellar dining opps. But while staying here, you may not want to leave, instead opting to take in this Art Nouveau palace’s Scandinavian art and design. It’s truly debonair.
Located on a peaceful, lush island and connected by a bridge to the city’s center, Hotel Skeppsholmen is a posh oasis that was formerly a 300-year-old house. And what a history: Royal Marine soldiers once bunked here in the tightest of quarters, and an on-site recording studio once saw ABBA record some of the band’s biggest hits. It’s ultra-modern and sophisticated, yet casual.
And Pop House is the perfect Stockholm hotel for the traveler seeking a mix of serene landscapes and pop culture kitsch. The hotel itself is located in the city’s Djurgården area, surrounded by walking trails and nature. But pop fans in particular will go nuts over the junior suite that has been transformed into the ABBA Gold Suite, honoring the 30-times-platinum greatest hits album with the band’s private gold and platinum records, on loan just for this plush room. And right downstairs is the ABBA Museum, which brings us to reason number three….
3. The ABBA Museum is one of the world’s most enjoyable museum experiences.
You’re undoubtedly familiar with ABBA, perhaps the world’s most famed pop group (and Sweden’s most iconic musical export), but how much do you really know about the band? There’s no better place to self-educate than at the ABBA Museum, one of the world’s most expertly accomplished interactive exhibition experiences. Once inside, thanks to the magic of technology, you’ll mix your own ABBA singles, use augmented reality to dance in an ABBA music video and even sing karaoke onstage alongside holograms of the band.
Plus, nowhere else offers a collection of musical memorabilia quite like this, from the most spectacular costumes of the disco era to gold records and original items belonging to Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Annifrid (who you know as Frida). And maybe coolest of all, inside the museum sits a red telephone that has been known to ring every so often — which means one of the band members is looking to chat with a fan!
4. Stockholm is home to a ton of other amazing museums, too.
With four major exhibitions per year (and more than a dozen minor exhibitions), Fotografiska isn’t just a museum of photography (one of the largest in the world, actually) but an “international meeting place” where you can grab a bite or a drink, enjoy live music, take a photography course or splurge in the gift shop. Current exhibitions continuing into 2019 include Jonas Bendiksen’s The Last Testament, Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland and Arvida Byström’s Inflated Fiction.
Home to the royal flagship Vasa, the world’s only intact 17th century royal warship, the Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in all of Scandinavia. Having sank in 1628 in the Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage, the ship was salvaged from the sea bed 333 years later, and now you can tour it while also learning about the culture and history of the era.
5. You’ll eat well in Stockholm.
There’s no shortage of gorgeous restaurants and delicious meals awaiting you in Stockholm, but here are a few suggestions:
Located in Södermalm, Södra Teatern, Stockholm’s oldest theater, pretty much has it all: stunning views, live concerts, parties you won’t soon forget and vegetarian comfort food in its outdoor patio restaurant that will leave even the most carnivorous of your friends singing its praises. It’s been called “a palace of entertainment with an intellectual bite” by one of the local papers (it does house two restaurants and seven stages), and we can’t think of a better description.
Offering a Swedish take on Italian eats, Taverna Brillo is your go-to pizza place while visiting Stockholm, though it’s open from early morning to late-night, which means you can stop by whenever you’re ready to eat. Early morning, opt for a breakfast sandwich or breakfast pizza, while later in the day don’t pass up the most Swedish pizza you’ll ever encounter — fish roe, crème fraiche, parsley, dill and lemon. You’ll find more classic pizza combos on the menu as well.
Surely you’re familiar with Sweden’s most iconic dish, beef meatballs served with mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers and lingonberry jam. A plethora of restaurants throughout the city offer their own take on the classic meal. Meatballs for the People, located in the city’s Södermalm neighborhood, offers a modern spin by serving at least five types of meatball on any given day. So whether you’re looking for the classic dish or a tweaked take on it, you’ll leave here happy (and full).
6. Mälarpaviljongen offers one of the world’s most unforgettable dining experiences.
Mälarpaviljongen is a restaurant and lively bar that sits on three floating docks off the island of Kungsholmen. Open only during warm months (April through September), on a gorgeous day it’s where you’ll find the city’s posh, fun-seeking gays, as this spot has long been a public face of the local LGBTQ scene. The bar’s own brand of rosé wine raises money for queer causes around the world, and the staff is actually composed of many LGBTQ asylum-seekers escaping persecution in their home countries.
While the menu offerings at Mälarpaviljongen are downright delicious, including a number of local specialties (like those Swedish meatballs you can’t get enough of), it’s really the overall al fresco atmosphere, great music and buzzing energy here that make it one of our favorite spots in the world. Few restaurant/bars are more picturesque than Mälarpaviljongen, all at once a waterfront party barge and a cozy oasis tucked among lush greenery and quaint pathways.
7. Fika is sure to become your favorite new tradition.
What’s fika? It’s the Swedish tradition of meeting up at a “fik” (a café, bakery or pastry shop) — which you’ll have no problem finding in Stockholm, as they’re scattered throughout the city — in the afternoon around 3 p.m. Once there, all you’ve gotta do is grab a coffee, tea or juice, pair it with something sweet and … well, just enjoy yourself!
8. Even the subways in Stockholm are works of art.
Sure, Stockholm doesn’t have a monopoly on art in its subways, but it’s said that this city’s subway system is the world’s longest art exhibit. Nearly all of Stockholm’s 100 subway stations bear sculptures, paintings and other sorts of installations, featuring the work of more than 150 local artists.
Gay tourists should make a point of checking out the rainbow design of the Stadion subway station.
9. On any given night in Stockholm, you can always find a party.
Unlike many of your favorite international destinations, Stockholm doesn’t have a typical “gayborhood,” and many of the spots where you’ll find a queer crowd are actually more “gay-friendly” than “gay,” which makes traversing the city while hunting for nightlife a bit more difficult. But here are a few spots you can guarantee are ready to party:
King Kong is a small gay dance club in Södermalm offering up a young-and-hip crowd and a few dark corners to enjoy cheap drinks. On Saturday nights you’re likely to feel the heat seeping out the front door, which is how you know the club’s two dance floors are packed with guys and girls getting down to some of your favorite pop tracks.
Open only in the summertime, Trädgården is a grouping of small buildings and outdoor spaces at the south of Södermalm island, tucked underneath a bridge. (You’ll know when you’re nearby once you spot throngs of people headed to the same place.) Once inside you’ll find renowned DJs and more Swedish hipsters than you’ve ever spied in your life. It’s more like an outdoor music festival than a club — with a ton of separate bars and food vendors — and like most festivals, you’d be smart to arrive early to avoid the insane line.
Last, if you’re seeking a classic bar setting, Side Track is Stockholm’s oldest gay bar, with plenty of draft beer options, food until 11 p.m. and a super-friendly vibe. Just note that when it’s packed, it more resembles a sauna than a drafthouse.
10. Stockholm is basically a cash-free city.
Here’s something you may greatly appreciate upon heading to Stockholm. The New York Times has reported that one-fifth of Sweden’s 10-million-strong population no longer use ATMs to obtain cash, and half the country’s retailers are predicted to no longer accept bills come 2025. That’s because Sweden is largely cash-free, meaning you’ll use plastic for just about everything — food, cabs, even cover charges to nightlife venues.
That move towards a cash-free society isn’t exactly appreciated by all groups (specifically the elderly and many with disabilities), but for tourists who no longer have to worry about currency exchange, it’s an added plus of your Stockholm vacation.
11. Stockholm Pride is one of Europe’s most exciting LGBTQ events.
Sure, many destinations love to proclaim that when Pride season rolls around, the entire city really goes all-in to celebrate LGBTQ advances and the continuing fight to secure equality. But in the case of Stockholm, it really is true!
Pride season sees rainbow flags raised across a seeming majority of local businesses, and after a full week of programming — exhibitions, film screenings, debates and, naturally, a plethora of parties — the Stockholm Pride parade is the perfect illustration of a city coming together in the name of queer love. It’s the largest Pride celebration in Scandinavia, and locals and tourists alike come out in droves in reverence to the rainbow.
The city played host to EuroPride in 1998, 2008 and 2018, but Stockholm Pride is worth a visit any year. This year’s Stockholm Pride takes place July 29 – August 3, 2019.
12. Getting to Stockholm is easy!
Wherever you call home, there’s no shortage of airlines able to drop you into Stockholm, but for great value fares and plenty of flight options, opt for Norwegian, the world’s fastest growing airline. For Americans, Norwegian offers more nonstop and connecting routes from the United States to Europe than any other European airline, and from 14 different U.S. cities. And with a fleet of Dreamliners on longhaul duty, you’ll fly in style and comfort.