Gamla Stan

A colourful district in the heart of Stockholm


Gamla Stan, Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden

GPS: 59.326183490254, 18.072952929094

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Surrounded by water, Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s historic heartbeat, linking the southern district of Södermalm with the northern district of Norrmalm. This old part is the original city centre of the Swedish capital, ideally situated on the edge of Riddarfjärden Bay and at the mouth of Lake Mälar. Built on Stadsholmen Island in the mid-13th century, Gamla Stan became the centre of the medieval city. Gamla Stan includes the magnificent Main Square (called Stortorget), the oldest square in the city where the Stockholm Bloodbath took place in 1520. A series of public executions were ordered by King Christian II of Denmark against the allies of Sten Sture the Younger, Regent of Sweden. At that time, the Danish monarch ruled over the three Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway under the Union of Kalmar. A year after the massacre in Stortorget Square, Christian II of Denmark was deposed from his throne by Swedish rebels led by Gustav I Vasa. Vasa was crowned King of Sweden in 1523 and ended the union of the three kingdoms. He then initiated a Protestant reformation, replacing the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

After the country’s independence, Gamla Stan attracted German traders and merchants, who built impressive houses on the Baltic Sea. Most of the buildings visible today with their North German architecture date from the 17th, 18th and 19th-centuries. This period of economic prosperity came to an abrupt halt between the second half of the 19th-century and the 1950s, which saw Gamla Stan deteriorate into a slum. Many of the area’s historical monuments escaped destruction when they were restored after the Second World War. It was not until the 1980s that Stockholm’s narrow, cobbled streets once again became a tourist attraction in the “Venice of the North”.

Inhabited today by some 3,000 people, Gamla Stan includes three other islands (Riddarholmen, Helgeandsholmen and Strömsborg), giving Stockholm its nickname “the city between the bridges”. The Nobel Museum, the Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Stockholm (with 1,430 rooms) are the most visited tourist attractions. With its many museums, restaurants, cafés and shops, Gamla Stan is the perfect place to stroll the narrow streets and discover the architecture, cultural heritage, and colourful houses of the Swedish capital.

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  • The different and harmonious architectural styles of the buildings in Gamla Stan (medieval and renaissance styles)
  • The cobbled streets and alleys of the old town; the houses and villas on Skeppsbron quay, most of which date from the 17th-century
  • Stortorget Square (with its colourful houses); the charming little Brända Tomten Square and Brantingtorget Court; the Hötorgshallen food market on Hötorget Square (it is held every day except Sunday when it is replaced by a flea market)
  • Nobelmuseet, the museum of the history of the Nobel Prize, dedicated to Alfred Nobel and the prize winners (located on the ground floor of the Börshuset building, the seat of the Swedish Academy)
  • The Royal Palace of Stockholm (Kungliga Slottet), the official residence of the King of Sweden and one of the largest palaces in the world; the collections of the Royal Armory Museum within the palace; the Riddarhuset building (assembly of the Swedish nobility); the Swedish Parliament Riksdagen
  • Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan) from the 13th-century and the statue of St George and the Dragon; Riddarholmen Church (royal burial place); German Tyska Kyrkan Church
  • The small islands of Helgeandsholmen and Riddarholmen; Gamla Stan’s main and historic streets: Västerlånggatan, Österlånggatan, Prästgatan, Köpmangatan, Tyska Brinken and Mårten Trotzigs
  • The view of Gamla Stan from Stockholm Harbour; nearby Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset in Swedish) on Kungsholmen Island; and the magnificent Stockholm Public Library (Stadsbibliotek) on Sveavägen Street (Norrmalm district)
  • The annual marathon (end of May or beginning of June) and the festivities on the occasion of the King of Sweden’s birthday (30 April)
  • On the historic Stortorget square, you will find the old Stock Exchange building where the Swedish Academy has met since the beginning of the 20th-century to prepare the Nobel Prize ceremony.
  • Based in Gamla Stan, the restaurant Den Gyldene Freden (“The Golden Peace” in Swedish) is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the world. It has been open at the same address (Österlånggatan 51) since 1722 and has retained its typical 18th-century tavern atmosphere. The restaurant is home to nationally renowned writers and artists, and is owned by the Swedish Academy whose members meet there regularly for dinner.
  • Every year, King Carl XVI Gustav celebrates his birthday at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on 30 April with a traditional ceremony involving a brass band and cannon fire. Born in 1946, the monarch acceded to the Swedish throne on 15 September 1973 when he was 27 years old. He succeeded his grandfather, Gustaf VI Adolphus, who died at the age of 90 after 23 years on the throne.
  • The national car brand SAAB is an acronym for “Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited” (“Svenska Aeroplan AktieBolag” in Swedish). The company was established in 1937 as an aerospace and defence venture. Its aim was to equip the Swedish Air Force with warplanes to protect the country’s neutrality in the uncertain European environment between the two world wars. The manufacture of SAAB motor vehicles began in 1945.
  • The Nordic countries have the highest concentration of people with blonde hair in Europe. This figure can exceed 80% of the population in certain Scandinavian regions such as north-central Sweden or Finland (compared to less than 20% on average for southern European countries). This phenomenon occurs because of a deficiency of eumelanin in the Nordic populations (a natural pigment that tends to darken hair strands with age), less exposure to the sun’s UV rays and a specific diet reflected in the DNA genes.
  • Entrance to the Royal Palace, as well as public transport to get around the Swedish capital, is free for Stockholm Pass holders.
  • The changing of the Royal Guard, with music, takes place every day at noon in summer but only on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in winter.
  • The palace may be temporarily closed when used for official functions or receptions for heads of state.

Where to eat

  • Jerntorgiths Cafe
    (serves a wonderful breakfast)
  • The Hairy Pig Restaurant
    (Excellent tapas)
  • Frantzen
    (fabulous cuisine)

Where to go

  • Skansen Open Air Museum
    (a journey through time)
  • Monteliusvägen
    (most beautiful view of Stockholm)
  • Storkyrkobadet
    (old-fashioned baths)

Where to stay

  • Castanea Old Town Hostel
    (comfortable youth hostel)
  • Sven Vintappare Hotel
    (small charming hotel)
  • Hotel Skeppsholmen
    (beautiful setting)