Date visited: October 2017
I’m writing this post well over a year since we made this trip to the Swedish capital and I think I’ve just about recovered financially. Sweden is expeeeeensiiiiiive. Especially when it comes to drinking in bars. Combine that with a mantra to never half-ass a trip away and forever getting caught up in the moment, it’s easy to rack up an impressive expenditure.
Despite all that - it was worth every penny.
We arrived to overcast skies threatening to dampen the mood and once we’d made the short coach trip from Stockholm Skansta airport to the city itself, the threat was real and had turned into torrential downpour. Luckily the rain stayed away for the rest of the trip but it was bitterly cold so we were thankful we’d packed our winter coats and hats (well, some of us had).
Stockholm is a beautiful city made up of several small islands which gives each area of the city quite a different feel as you move between them and whilst we didn’t make it around all of them, we managed to cover the main areas. My two favourite areas were probably Gamla Stan and Södermalm but I’m probably just biased as this is where we spent a lot of our time during our stay. Gamla Stan is the old town of Stockholm and is basically where Stockholm began and expanded out of. There’s a maze of cobbled alleyways and thoroughfares dotted with bars, restaurants and shops and although it was very touristy (we didn’t help that), it still retained a certain charm. Södermalm (meaning ‘south rock’) is, surprisingly, located in Southern Stockholm and was where our apartment was located. This felt like the hip, bohemian part of Stockholm with several independent looking bars and restaurants as well as a few craft beer locales (more on them later, of course). We felt very much at home in Södermalm (being hip, bohemian gentlemen) and it’s definitely the sort of area I could imagine living in if I had the money/inclination to move to Stockholm anytime.
On our first proper day, we decided to join a free walking tour to allow us to get our bearings and also learn a few bits and pieces about the city we were in. We saw the Parliament House, a homeless fox statue (a constant reminder that there are still improvements to make in the Swedish welfare society) and a heated brass statue of Swedish actress Margaretha Krook outside of the Royal Drama Theater - it was 37 degrees so got lots of hugs in the chilly weather. We’d noticed the abundance of lamps in front of every window in our apartment and yet no blinds. We discovered during the tour that this is just Swedish tradition - because it gets dark so early during winter, people put lamps in their windows and don’t use curtains to light their homes. We then couldn’t stop spotting lamps in windows for the rest of the trip. The more you know.
Our guide also pointed out Djurgården - affectionately known as ‘museum island’ (I’ll let you figure out why) - so we made a mental note to pay it a visit before we left.
Which we did. Severely hungover. We paid a visit to two of the museums on the island, the first being the impressive Vasa Museum. This colossal museum houses an almost fully intact ship - the 17th century, 64-gun warship, the Vasa. Built in 1626, it set sail on its maiden voyage two years later, managing to get 1,300m before it promptly sank due to being top heavy (64 bronze cannons probably had something to do with that). I thought it slightly odd to have a museum to commemorate quite an embarrassing moment but apparently the ship has become widely recognised symbol of the Swedish Empire. However you feel about it, it was pretty cool to see and an amazing feat to have restored such a massive ship - there were lots of people still working on the restoration as we trudged around the museum.
The second museum we made it to was the Spiritmuseum. Not the ghost kind. The booze kind. A better writer than I would probably eloquently draw some clever metaphor or a big life lesson from visiting a museum such as this when feeling the aftershocks from being inebriated the night before but instead, you’ll have to make do with me trying to remember what felt like some sort of out of body experience. The hangover was hitting hard when we made the decision to visit a museum dedicated to all things alcohol and it wasn’t until a good ten minutes into the experience after a whiff of a third style of whisky from an atomiser that almost made me boak, did I start to question if we had made the right call.
Other highlights included the ‘Hangover Experience’ - a room designed to give you the feelings of a hangover. My booze-addled brain thought maybe this would cancel out a real hangover because (drunk) logic. Obviously it just amplified everything I was feeling. The room was hot and stuffy and loud and bright and I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor. Luckily, next door was the end of the exhibition. A room with some giant sofas and a video. I’d like to be able to tell you what the video was about but I’m pretty sure I had a much needed micro nap instead. Let’s pretend it was a video about the pitfalls of alcohol. Hey, maybe I did learn something?
We also visited the Royal Armoury (or Livrustkammaren if we’re being proper) prior to going to Museum Island as it was free. It contains many artefacts of Swedish military history and Swedish royalty and is the oldest museum in Sweden. We didn’t spend long here because there appeared to be a school trip wandering around the same time as us. I have zero time for young children at the best of times, let alone hungover so before I swore at one, we decided it was time to leave.
I’ve waxed lyrical about Stockholm too much already, so allow me to change pace and wax lyrical about its many brilliant beer spots. Before our dive into the best bars we visited, I need to mention how Sweden’s off-licences operate. There are several Systembogalet shops dotted all over Stockholm and these are the only places you can purchase takeaway beers/alcohol. Well, anything over 3.5% ABV. These are ran by the government so all of the beer has to be sold at cost so they don’t profit. It was here I saw a bottle on Omnipollo’s Noa for about FIVE POUNDS. Back in Blighty, a bottle of that would set you back at least a tenner. We discovered that a lot of Swedes tend to drink at home for this reason as it’s just so much more economical. Like the idiots we are, we did not take advantage of this.
One late night, after several jars, we found ourselves in a Burger King and some locals were delighted to hear some British accents. What brings you to Stockholm, they asked. Uh.. beer? we replied with suitable British polite apprehension. No-one comes to Sweden for the beer, they laughed back. We laughed with them out of aforementioned Britishness. And then cried on the inside whilst totting up how much we’d spent in our heads at that point. Then we paid about £10 for a Whopper and laughed again.
Anyway, here were our favourite watering holes during our stay.
This was definitely our favourite bar of the trip but to do it justice, it deserves its own blog post. So go read it over here, then come back.
When we discovered Mikkeller had a bar in Stockholm we were always going to seek it out because, well, it’s Mikkeller. The Stockholm bar is in a bit of a weird location. Situated in Östermalm it’s surrounded by shops and feels like a strange place to put a bar considering the other districts of Stockholm where this bar would’ve slotted in nicely. Nevertheless, it’s still a Mikkeller bar and still excellent. The decor was very similar to the bars in Copenhagen but felt much more spacious. The bar was quite narrow but housed plenty of seating options in its various nooks.
We got chatting to one of the bartenders who turned out to be from England and she was an excellent host, offering up her favourite beers and generally chatting about what it’s like to live in Stockholm as a Brit. We popped into Mikkeller about three times overall and each time the same bartender was there which became a bit of a running joke.
Best Beer: Russian Imperial Stout by Örebro Brygghus x All In Brewing - If there’s a Russian Impy on, then your boy’s having it. Rich, toffee, chocolate, luxury. Top drawer.
Swedish Brewing Co. was not far from Mikkeller. Located on a bridged road in the shopping area, we made hard work of actually finding it. Inside, it was quite rough around the edges and felt like the sort of place people would call in for a few beers after work. It was an odd shaped place but the barman was friendly and delighted to have some English lads in. I can’t imagine the beers venture too far out of Stockholm as the setup looks quite small so it was great to get to try some beers we wouldn’t otherwise. Even if they were quite run of the mill.
Best Beer: Game Over by Swedish Brewing Co. - bought it because of the retro gaming label on the bottle. Alright.
We were lucky enough to meet up with two friends who lived in Stockholm - one Brit and one Swedish native who took us to the simply wonderful Akkurat. It’s not much to look at as a pub (essentially a big hall with lots of brown and wood) but there’s a whole lot of character and atmosphere here. This place was packed to the rafters which was a good sign and we luckily grabbed a table. There’s a lot of beer here - a ridiculous bottle list that we steered clear of because money. We were happy to be educated on some local tipple - they even had a mild on cask here!! Things got a little blurry towards the end of the night but the general feel of the place was just very, very pleasant and like a big hug.
Best Beer: Indian Tribute by Oppigårds Bryggeri - A punchy American IPA full of flavour with a distinct malty backbone.
The Bishop’s Arms - Södermalm
We ventured over to the Södermalm branch of this chain on a bit of a whim. We’d just eaten at Oliver Twist (see below) so were looking for a nightcap and rather than go to Omnipollo’s Hatt again, thought we’d mix it up a bit. The Bishop’s Arms are a chain of pubs that look just like a traditional English pub when you enter them - dark wooden panelling and stonework a-plenty. At a glance you’d almost think you were back in the UK, the only difference being that all of the patrons are beautiful Swedes and a pint is about £10. Oh, and there are two other pubs with this name in the city that likely look identical. Hmm.
Best Beer: Nothing But Trouble Barrel Aged Sherry by Ugly Duck Brewing Co. - Fucking hell, this was big. A barley wine aged in sherry barrels. Definitely a night cap beer.
Another place that was highly recommended during our research of places to visit. I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed by the tap list here despite there being quite a range of beers to choose from. There wasn’t anything standout and most of the beers were your run of the mill IPAs, lagers and amber ales. Weirdly, we did spy a Hook Norton tin sign on the wall which was oddly comforting.
We also ate here one evening and so I got to have traditional Swedish meatballs with the requisite gravy and lingonberry jam. IKEA eat your heart out.
Best Beer: Tiki Tango by Pang Pang Brewery - A Swedish microbrewery with a decent pale ale. Went well with dem meatballs.
BrewDog Södermalm / BrewDog Kungsholmen
As already mentioned, we were staying in Södermalm so popped into one of two BrewDog bars very early into our stay. I may have mentioned this before, but of the few BrewDog bars I’ve been to overseas, I’ve always liked them because they remind me of how I felt visiting a BrewDog bar in the UK when they first opened. They feel a little more independent and this one had the old school chalkboard tap list with hand-drawn illustrations instead of the fairly bland, identikit cinema style tap list boards that dominate most BrewDog bars these days. Plus, there were two dogs here which was ace.
Best Beer: Tropic Thunder by Dugges - A punchy, sour beer packed with mango, passionfruit and peach.
BrewDog Kungsholmen was a different beast. Way bigger (there may have been an upstairs, I forget) and more akin to what you get back home now, it felt a bit uniform and non-descript. It was a bit out of the way of any other craft beer place we’d identified but pretty busy when we visited so maybe it’s in a better location than we thought. No dogs here so the other BrewDog wins.
Best Beer: Book of Records by Beerbliotek - An oatmeal stout that brought an evening to a close. Roasted malts and coffee notes the order of the day.
Best of the rest
Special mentions to the following that we either ate in or only spent a little bit of time in but were still p. good.
Man in the Moon - Whistle stop visit on our way somewhere I forget. Did not expect an old school gastropub with a 200 strong beer list (not all taps). Had a WarPigs beer here which was excellent.
La Neta - a no frills, no nonsense Mexican taquería serving authentic tacos (big or small) in Södermalm. The Copenhagen branch is affiliated with Mikkeller which is how this came on our radar. Unfortunately, no Mikkeller beers here but the tacos were exceptional and reasonably priced. A mixture of chicken, pork and beef tacos kept us well fed and satisfied one lunch time.
Flippin’ Burgers - Delicious burgers and a pretty decent beer list to boot. No nonsense menu - couple of burgers to choose from, fries, soft drinks, shakes, beer or wine. No messin’ abaht! They’ve also made a Vanilla Burger Bun Crispy Fries Imperial India Pale Ale with Omnipollo (of course).
Pitcher’s - Random sports bar we stumbled in for a quick lunch. From memory it was reasonably cheap for Stockholm and had beers on from local brewery Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, including their IPA, 100W which went down wonderfully with some fish and chips. You can take the Brit out of..
Wirstroms Pub - A pub located in the heart of Gamla Stan. Reminded me of a traditional pub you’d find crammed into Central London. There was even some live music downstairs. A few US beers on tap from memory which I didn’t expect from an olde looking pub in the olde part of Stockholm!
In summary, Stockholm is a fine city and well worth a visit. If you have any inclination to make it a Beer Voyage (I really am sorry), then make sure you’ve saved in advance. Or don’t. I’m not your Mother.