November 20, 2014

Christmas Markets in Stockholm 2014

Gamla Stan's Christmas market.
The first market opens for business this Saturday, so this is a good time to list some of the Christmas markets in the greater Stockholm area and their opening hours/dates this season. Some are open daily, some just on the weekends while others are only open on specific dates. These markets can differ quite a bit from one another... some more traditional (decorations, local arts & crafts, traditional delicacies like jams, sausages and cookies), others a bit more modern (design articles). At any rate, you will have at least one open to visit if you are in Stockholm anytime between November 22nd and December 23rd.
The Bakery boys at Skansen, photo by Marie Andersson.
  • Gamla Stan (old town)- the grand dame of Christmas markets. Traditional with historic atmosphere and centrally located. Recently named one of the top ten markets in Europe by The Telegraph. Open daily (11am to 6pm) between Nov 22nd and Dec 23rd. Only a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel!
  • Kungsträdgården- another popular market! Their central location near the NK department store, downtown shopping district and outdoor ice skating rink make this a season must. Open daily (11am to 6pm) between Nov 28th and Dec 22nd. 
  • Skansen- take a journey back in time and visit a Christmas market as they were 100+ years ago. Skansen, located on Djurgården, is an open air museum of Swedish traditions as well as the city's zoo. Open Saturdays and Sundays (10am to 4pm) from Nov 29th to Dec 21st.
  • Hornstull Marknad- have a happy, hipster Christmas! Located on Södermalm, in the popular Hornstull neighborhood. Open on Saturdays & Sundays (noon to 6pm) from Nov 29th to Dec 21st.
Traditional holiday ornaments/decorations for sale...

  • Konstfack- College of Arts, Craft & Design. Creative Christmas market put on by the students. Saturday and Sunday, Nov 29th & 30th (10am to 6pm). Located in the suburb of Telefonplan.
  • Royal Stables (Kungliga Hovstallet)- Combine a visit to the Royal Stables with some traditional Christmas shopping. Location. Friday, Nov 28th (noon to 7pm), Saturday, Nov 29th (10am to 6pm) and Sun, Nov 30th (10am to 5pm).
  • Farmers' Christmas Market (Bondens Egen Marknad)- in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this popular farmers' market in SoFo turns into a Christmas market. Laid back and local. Four Saturdays before Christmas with start on Nov 29th (10am to 3pm).
  • Beckmans- this College of Design has a popular annual Christmas market put on by the students. Location. Saturday & Sunday, Dec 13th & 14th (11am to 5pm).

There are also a few good Christmas markets just outside the city which are well worth a visit!
  • Sigtuna- The capital of Sweden before Stockholm was founded. Location. Traditional Christmas market on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (11am to 4pm) with start Nov 30th.
  • Drottningholm Palace- UNESCO World Heritage site that has an annual Christmas market. Location. According to Visit Sweden: Saturday, Dec 6th and Sunday, Dec 7th (11am to 4pm).
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located outside the town of Märsta. Daily Christmas market from Nov 15th to Dec 22nd (weekdays 11am to 6pm and weekends 10am to 5pm).  
  • Vaxholm- called the capital of the Stockholm archipelago (location), this town has a Christmas market every year put on by the Lions' Club. Saturday, Dec 6th and Sunday, Dec 7th (no opening hours mentioned yet).
  • Utö- an island located in the southern archipelago. Weekends, Dec 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th. A bit difficult to get to, Strömma offers a package trip by boat including traditional Swedish Christmas meal (julbord) onboard. However, as I write this, the package trips are almost fully booked! They do also have many other julbord lunch/dinner cruises to choose from throughout the holiday season.
Click here for some other important dates during the holiday season. Now we just have to wish for a little snow so that it looks like this...
Skansen Christmas Market, photo by Marie Andersson.

November 14, 2014

Restaurant Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen

Press image from Mathias Dahlgren
Dining room at Matsalen.
Both chef Mathias Dahlgren and his restaurant MD Matsalen have been at the top of the lists of the best chefs and restaurants in Sweden for many years (even as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world) and has been awarded 2 Michelin stars since 2009. Mathias also won the gold medal at the 1997 Bocuse d'Or (culinary championships). While I have tried his one star restaurant Matbaren ("The Food Bar") a few times and his conceptual dining experience Matbordet ("The Dining Table"), I have not had the opportunity to try Matsalen ("The Dining Room")... until now!
 Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen is located in the downtown area, just across the water from the Royal Palace. Currently, Matsalen offers one set tasting menu: "The Natural Cuisine". Officially this is made up of 5 courses. I say "officially" because between the other smaller dishes, tastes and palate cleansers you really come up to around 9. All together they make up an incredible gastronomical experience.
Fire fried King Crab...
When we first arrived, we were ushered into a small bar/lounge to enjoy a glass of champagne and soon, once we were all gathered, a chef came out to welcome us and take us back into the kitchen. There we had a chance to enjoy 3 amuse-bouche while chatting with the chefs. Apparently this is a newly introduced component to the dining experience and it really was the perfect way to start the evening! When we were finished, the maître d' led us to our table in the beautiful dining room. The interior design is very Nordic with clean lines and muted earth tones.
The best freshly baked bread! Served with smoked butter and cod roe.
I really can't describe all of the delicious dishes here, but some of the highlights were the fire fried King Crab, served on a block of ice along with a creamy mixture of horseradish and bleak roe, and the seared scallops served with a potato créme, garlic, clams and lemon (a play on Moules Mariniere). The dessert was also a real winner... vanilla ice cream and Swedish Cloudberries (hjortron) served wrapped in a "false waffle" and drizzled with birch sap sabayonne.
MD's take on Moules Mariniere... with seared scallops.
We had the set beverage pairings... wines and beer paired with the different dishes, often with one beverage paired with two of the courses. The pairings were spot on and often interesting as well (orange wine, for example, which I had never heard of). The meal ended with Matsalen's version of the classic Swedish fika. I was pretty stuffed at this point and couldn't imagine eating more... but somehow it magically disappeared.
A palate cleanser: sorbet of pine shoots and mint, with meringue powder and bluberry.
While it is a set tasting menu that they offer, they can accommodate some dietary restrictions as long as they are given advanced warning. Booking a table in advance is a must! A table in Matsalen becomes bookable on their website one month in advance and they disappear quickly. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and wish to dine here... contact me for assistance (but in good time!).
Dessert! Not sure what a "false waffle" is, but it's delicious!

November 11, 2014

Stockholm's Best Chefs & Restaurants... According to Other Chefs!

Pubologi, photo by Nicho Södling, Stockholm Visitors Board. 
Spring is usually when most restaurant guides are published and awards are presented. However, there is one interesting award presented in the Autumn: Kockarnas Kock ("Chef's Chef"). This is a list of Sweden's best chefs and restaurants chosen by the country's 100 best chefs and organized by the magazine Restaurangvärlden ("the World of Restaurants"). The fact that the jury is made up of chefs in the know makes it of special interest to those with culinary interests. Here is how Stockholm chefs and restaurants fared in the top 20 in Sweden for 2014:

Best Chefs (this year's rank, name, restaurant, last year's rank in parentheses)

1. Sayan Isaksson, Esperanto (4).
2. Mathias Dahlgren, Mathias Dahlgren (2).
4. Björn Frantzén, Restaurant Frantzén (1).
5. Magnus Ek, Oaxen Krog & Slip (5).
8. Mikael Einarsson, Djuret & Pubologi (8).
9. Jacob Holmström, Gastrologik (9).
10. Adam Dahlberg, Adam & Albin Matstudio (18).
11. Tom Sjöstedt, Lilla Ego (new).
12. Paul Svensson, freelance (11).
14. Johan Jureskog, AG & Rolfs Kök (12).
15. Stefan Ekengren, Görvälns Slott (new).
16. Claes Grännsjö, freelance (10).
18. Albin Wessman, Adam & Albin Matstudio (20).
20. Gustav Otterberg, Ekstedt (19).

Best Restaurants (this year's rank, restaurant, last year's rank in parentheses)

2. Restaurant Frantzén (1).
3. Esperanto (4).
5. Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren (5).
6. Oaxen Krog (new).
7. Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen (2).
8. Lilla Ego (new).
9. Ekstedt (6).
11. Nook (new).
12. Restaurang AG (9).
14. Chez Betty (16).
15. Speceriet (new).
16. Gastrologik (8).
17. Oaxen Slip (new).
18. Operakällaren (12).
19. Råkultur (11).
20. Spritmuseum (new).

I didn't list the restaurants and chefs from other parts of Sweden... but I should definitely mention that the #1 restaurant in Sweden, according to the chefs, is Fäviken Magasinet in Järpen. I would love to visit it some day! Click here for the full list (including restaurants outside of Stockholm). And click here if you want to see other recent guides and awards.

November 8, 2014

Christmas 2014: Overview!

Yup. It is getting close to that time of the year... the holiday season is right around the corner! In the coming weeks I will be posting articles about Christmas markets, the Lucia festivities, restaurants/stores/museums during the holiday season, winter activities and other good-to-know information. But I thought I would start off with an overview of what to expect if you are visiting in Stockholm during this time of year.
NK department store.
It is probably best to begin with looking at the calendar. The traditional start to the Swedish holiday season is skyltsöndag (basically "store window Sunday"). This is the Sunday where the big department stores, like NK, unveil their holiday window displays. Once upon a time, this happened on the Sunday two weeks before Christmas. But these days it has been moved up in the calendar... to the sixth Sunday before Christmas (Sweden is just like every other country in the Western world- it feels like X-mas comes earlier and earlier every year). This year it is November 16th.
Part of last year's Christmas light display...
The next date of note in the holiday calendar is Saturday, November 22nd. This is the day when the official city Christmas lights are lit. Over 30 streets, squares and bridges in downtown Stockholm are lit up using hundreds of thousands of LED lights (one of the biggest lighting projects in Europe). This is also the day when the main Christmas market opens for business in Gamla Stan (old town). It is open every day until December 23rd. It was recently named as one of the top 10 markets in Europe.
Christmas market in Gamla Stan.
Next up... Sunday, November 30th. This is the first Sunday of Advent (fourth Sunday before Christmas). This marks the core, four week, traditional holiday season in Sweden. It is during this time that the majority of Christmas markets are open. For example, the Skansen Christmas market is always open on the four weekends before Christmas. It is also during this time when many restaurants in the city serve the traditional Christmas meal: julbord.
Boat cruise with traditional julbord, offered by Strömma
Another important date... December 13th. This is Lucia (or St Lucy's Day) and is one of the most Swedish of holidays. I will write more about this later, but in the meantime you can read my article from last year or just watch this video to get the gist! Not a holiday event, but if you are coming to Stockholm this week... keep in mind that December 10th is when the Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in Stockholm.
One of the many Lucia processions in the city...
December 24th & 25th... what everything has been leading up to! Most restaurants are closed (except hotel restaurants and a select few), stores close early on the 24th and are closed on the 25th and many museums are closed. More detailed info to come later... but you can click here, here and here to read information from last year.
What happens after the 25th? Well, to start with... the 26th is a bank holiday (2nd Day of Christmas). But otherwise, the traditional Christmas celebrations come to a grinding halt. No Christmas markets to visit or julbord to eat. To be honest, Swedes are totally X-mased out by this point. Every year, without fail, I do get visitors asking me during this time where they can go to partake in traditional Christmas celebrations. Impossible without a time machine! What does continue are the more commercial aspects of the holiday. The lights and decorations, for example, traditionally stay up another 20 days until Tjugondag Knut. The days between Christmas and New Years are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are, like in many other countries a huge time for the retail industry with lots of mega sales... called mellandagsrea here in Sweden.
Fingers crossed for a white Christmas this year..
This is just an overview to help you start planning your visit to Stockholm. I will be writing more detailed articles as we get closer to the holiday season. In the meantime you can read some of my posts from last (many linked above) or, if you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more information.

November 6, 2014

Upcoming Concerts & Shows at the Rival Theatre

The Rival... Hotel & Theatre!
Not only do we have a great restaurant, café and several bars at the Rival Hotel ... we also have a theatre! Originally a cinema, it was built in 1937 and lovingly renovated in 2003. The hotel actually takes its name from the cinema. The theatre seats up to 700 persons (stalls & balcony). It has become quite a popular venue for entertainment in Stockholm. Generally, the shows tend to be for Swedish speaking audiences (theatre, stand-up comedy, etc.). However, this November & December we have several concerts which can be enjoyed whatever language you speak. Even if the lyrics are in Swedish, anyone can enjoy good music! Here you have the calendar:

  • Nov. 16th- Sophie Zelmani. Acoustic rock & folk. Popular Swedish singer & songwriter who sings in English. Several of her songs have been used by Hollywood (Independence Day, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek, etc.).
  • Nov. 21st & 22nd- Thomas Andersson Wij. Pop/rock music. Another popular Swedish singer & songwriter... and good friend of the Rival. He has actually released an album called "Live på Rival (Live at the Rival)" in 2005.
  • Nov. 24th- Tommy Körberg. Pop/musical/schlager. Perhaps one of Sweden's most beloved and well known performers. Known by non Swedish speakers for his career in musical theatre (Chess) and collaborations with Benny Andersson. 
  • Nov. 27th- Owe Thörnqvist. Pop/rock/schlager. Sweden's #1 troubadour! Owe is on tour this year celebrating his 85th(!) birthday.
  • Nov. 29th- Nashville Country Music Night. Country. Featuring Caroline Larsson and the Music City Band. Concert featuring some of the greatest country songs of all time... Dolly Parton, Rascal Flatts, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift and much more.
  • Dec. 1st- World AIDS Day Concert. December 1st is World AIDS Day. This charity concert features some of Sweden's most popular artists like Shirley Clamp, Peter Jöback, Cirkus Cirkör and Diamond Dogs and raises money for the HIV organization Noaks Ark.
  • Dec. 9th- Julen Är Här! (Christmas is Here!). Christmas concert with Peter Johansson, Matilda Grün and Jesper Sjöberg. Get into the holiday spirit...
  • Dec. 12th & 13th- Sarah Dawn Finer. Soul & pop. One of Sweden's best voices and known for both her work on stage and at the Melodifestival. This is part of her "Vinterland" tour... featuring songs with a winter theme.
  • Dec. 18th & 19th- P-Floyd. Rock. This is a popular Swedish Pink Floyd tribute band. Let them take you back in time with some of Pink Floyd's greatest hits.
Some great artists and a wide range of musical genre! More information, calendar and tickets can be found here. Advance tickets can't be purchased at the Rival. Instead they are sold online or you can also purchase them at Stockholm Visitor Center or other ticket outlet. If you are going to stay at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for any extra assistance. 
A few of the artists performing at the Rival...

November 3, 2014

Stockholm International Film Festival 2014

It's November and in Stockholm that means it is time for the Stockholm International Film Festival. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival, which runs from the 5th to the 16th of November. There will be 201 current movies from 60 countries shown during the festival at several different venues. Besides the movies, there will be red carpet events, special presentations, parties as well as different award ceremonies.
Skandia, photo by Emmanuel Castro Skött
Several movies being shown have already won awards at other film festivals over the past few months... like Whiplash (Sundance), Black Coal, Thin Ice (Berlin), Winter Sleeps (Cannes) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Venice). Some other movies being shown have already garnered Oscar buzz, like Wild with Reese Witherspoon. It might seem daunting to have to try and choose which films you want to see among 201 choices, but they have made it a bit easier by breaking down the program in different ways... by day, alphabetically, venue or section. On the "section" side, the films are divided up by genre or type and whether they are part of the festival competition or not. Click here for the program.
Bronze Horse, photo by Isa Olsson.
Certain films are in competition for the Bronze Horse Award (best film) as well as smaller awards (Aluminum Horse- best actor, script, cinematography, etc.). Then there are prestigious awards given annually. These include the Lifetime Achievement Award, Achievement Award and Visionary Award, Director Mike Leigh, actress Uma Thurman and director Roy Andersson have been announced as the winners of each espective award and will be on hand to accept them. The festival has also planned a special dedication to Lauren Bacall, past Lifetime Achievement Award winner who passed away in August.
Lauren Bacall, photo by Leif Erik Nygårds.
As you can see... a full schedule! All of the pertinent information and tickets can be found on their website. Otherwise, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and talk to me for extra help.

November 1, 2014

Friends of Adam - Wheat & Gluten Free Bakery

The bakery in Hornstull.
People adopting a gluten free diet has become quite common these days... whether due to allergies, Coeliac disease or sometimes even as a fad diet. But whatever the reason, there are many more options for people on a gluten free diet these days than before. Restaurants in Stockholm are generally very good at catering to people with dietary restrictions (gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, vegetarianism, etc.). However, for best results, I would recommend informing the restaurants ahead of time of any restrictions... like when you book your table.
A wide variety of bread...
Of special note for people on a gluten free diet in Stockholm is the bakery Friends of Adam. This wheat & gluten free bakery is located on the island of Södermalm, in the hip neighborhood of Hornstull (not too far from the Rival Hotel). Here you can purchase bread, muffins, crisp bread, buns, cookies, mixes and other goodies... all baked in the same locale. You can even pre order cakes for that special occasion.
Cookies, crackers and crisp bread.
But you don't need to visit the bakery to buy Friends of Adam products. Their products can be found in certain grocery stores throughout the city. For example, right around the corner from the Rival Hotel we have 8T8. This specialty grocery store sells what they call "conscious" food. By that they mean food that is often organically produced, made/grown locally and without unnecessary additives. They also have a good choice of products for people with dietary restrictions or special diets and do carry Friends of Adam cookies and crisp bread.
8T8 food store.

October 30, 2014

Halloween and All Saints' Day

Whether you celebrate the more commercial Halloween or the more spiritual All Saints' Day, this is a special holiday weekend coming up (Oct 31st-Nov 2nd)!  Halloween does, of course, have its roots in the traditional All Hallow's Eve celebration... but the Americanized Halloween holiday has become more and more popular here in Sweden over the past 10-15 years. On the days surrounding the 31st, don't be surprised to see children and young adults dressed in costumes on the streets of Stockholm. But if you really want to party like a ghoul then you shouldn't miss the Shockholm festival, especially their parade (which is the largest Halloween parade in Scandinavia). The parade takes place on Saturday, November 1st, starting at 5pm from Kungsträdgården park... directly after a pre-parade party (3pm-5pm) with costume contests and other activities. The parade route will go around the old town (Gamla Stan) before returning back to Kungsträdgården for the after party!
But the festival is more than just the parade! For one thing, they have transformed the Ericsson Globe Arena into the world's largest jack 'o lantern... lit up all week long. You can also stop by the Kungsträdgården park on Oct 30th, 31st or Nov 1st. 3 days of spooky workshops, events, food and music. Check their website for more events, exhibitions and other information.
Skogskyrkogården, photo by
(c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
For a more spiritual celebration of the holiday, head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Skogskyrkogården. This is the beautiful Woodland Cemetery, designed by architect Gunnar Asplund and located in the southern suburbs of the city. This site is a great place to visit year-round, but it is especially beautiful (and significant) on this weekend when thousands of people come to the cemetery to leave decorations and candles at the graves of relatives. There will be staff on hand on All Saints' Day (Nov 1st) to help with maps and grave searches and there will be music in several of the chapels. To get to Skogskyrkogården from the downtown area, take the subway (green line) in the direction of Farsta Strand. Exit at the station Skogskyrkogården. Just 7 stops from the Slussen station which is near the Rival Hotel.

All Saints' Day. Photo: Cecilia Larsson/
And finally, to really get in to the mood... why not partake in a Ghost Walk sightseeing tour of Gamla Stan. This is the old medieval center of the city where many bloody events have taken place throughout the city's history (like the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath!). The guides on these walks really make this history come alive...

October 29, 2014

Kungliga Operan - The Royal Opera House

Exterior, photo by Mats Bäcker
Last week I was invited to a performance with the Royal Swedish Ballet at the Royal Opera (Kungliga Operan). The performance in question was "Bill", a modern dance performance in three acts. Each act choreographed by a different choreographer, featuring three of the world's most prominent choreographers: William Forsythe, Crystal Pite and Sharon Eyal. A very impressive performance by a great ensemble. I especially enjoyed "The Other You" (Pite).
Waiting for the royal family to take their seats...
This is a perfect opportunity to write a little about the Royal Opera in Stockholm. The current house is from the late 1800's and is built on the site of the old opera house. Both the Royal Swedish Ballet and Royal Opera Company were founded by King Gustav III in the late 1700's (making them some of the world's oldest companies).
Ceiling detail.
The Royal Opera House is the perfect venue for tourists who wish to see a show while visiting Stockholm. Visitors, I have noticed, are often surprised to find out that the vast majority of theatre in Sweden is performed in Swedish. But with opera, music and dance, language is really not an issue! The main calendar of regular performances extends normally from September through May. During the summer months there may be some special performances scheduled, but you also have the option of taking daytime tours of the opera house.
"The Other You - Anthony Lomuljo, Anton Valdbauer"
Photo by Urban Jörén.
This coming season, the Kungliga Operan have a lot of great shows in their calendar... including (the aforementioned) Bill, Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly, Dialogues of the Carmelites, Raymonda and the Magic Flute as well as special lunch concerts and events. Check their calendar for exact dates. One thing that is a little troublesome for visitors is that their website is only in Swedish and you have to use the Google Translate option to get it in English or another language. It works, just not the optimal solution.
"Bill - Jérôme Marchand", photo by Urban Jörén.
Tickets can be purchased through their website, at their box office or by contacting them directly by phone during certain hours (hours and phone number on website linked here). If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me directly for help in booking. The Royal Opera House is located just across the water from the Royal Palace in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival, it is either a 25-30 minute walk through Gamla Stan or else a short bus ride or 5 minute taxi ride.
Intermission in the "gold foyer".

October 22, 2014

Restaurant Luzette

Entrance from station interior...
I usually try not to write about two restaurants or exhibitions in row but, as I just visited this newly opened restaurant, I will bend the rules. There was quite a bit of buzz about Luzette before it opened, one reason is because of its location: The Stockholm Central Train Station. At first, a train station might not seem like the ideal place for a nice restaurant. But when you consider that the train station has just undergone a large scale renovation and that Luzette takes classic restaurants once found in train stations, like Gare du Nord (Le Train Bleu) and Grand Central Station (Oyster Bar), as their inspiration, then the idea doesn't seem so strange.
Luzette's interior is beautifully designed and will seem somewhat familiar if you have visited some of Stockholm's more popular restaurants. Jonas Bohlin is the name of the designer and he is also responsible for the interiors of restaurants like Riche, Taverna Brillo, Sturehof and AG. Jonas often uses Swedish materials such as wood, tile, brass and granite. The high ceilings and light colors used makes the restaurant feel very airy and light.
red wine braised cheeks of veal
As for the menu, I would describe it as Continental/Swedish... with many classic favorites as well as more seasonal innovative dishes. They even have a rotisserie in the restaurant which produces 4 dishes on the menu. I had the very delicious cheeks of veal braised in red wine served with baked marrow and truffle mash. The perfect dish for a rainy autumn evening! My colleagues at the table were also very happy with their choices and we were all pleased with the large portions and reasonable prices.
Besides the restaurant and bar, they also have a gelateria, bakery as well as take-away counter... perfect for train travelers. Another feature which works very well with their location is their generous opening hours... they are open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As you can imagine, they are very centrally located in the city (entrance to the restaurant both from the street and interior of the station). To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is either 3 stops away on the subway (all lines) or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. Click here to read about my other restaurant visits and recommendations.
Bakery and gelateria...