Stockholm: Discovering the city and the Swedes

I lived in Stockholm for 18 months and loved the city and its people.

I’ll explain why, and give you a few tips for organizing your visit.

My 18-month stay in Stockholm

From 2012 to 2013, Air France KLM relocated me to Stockholm as Commercial Director for Northern Europe.

My time in Stockholm was both sweet and hard. Sweet on a personal level, with a city that showed me its best sides, and tough on a professional level for various reasons I won’t go into.

I lived there for eighteen months. It’s a long enough period to say that I love this city, but still not long enough to know whether I’d want to settle here.

Stockholm appealed to me!

Here are five reasons why I love this city:

  1. Its geographical location, with a strong presence of water and nature while remaining a true capital city
  2. Its northern light and distinct seasons
  3. Both discreet and endearing inhabitants.
  4. Exceptional quality of life and ecological awareness
  5. Swedish culture so different from our French model

With the exception of the Gamla Stan district, Stockholm is not a tourist-oriented city in the same way as Rome or Prague. It’s a city that lives through its inhabitants. Urban planning mistakes have been made, especially in Norrmalm’s downtown shopping district, but like a scar on a pretty face, they add to its charm.

A city I return to regularly

Since then, I’ve been going back regularly, and I still get the same pleasure out of being in this city, which is one of my top three, along with Paris, which is my home port, and New York, for which I feel a great fascination.

In addition, articles to help you plan your visit to Stockholm and the surrounding area

I’ve also written three other articles to help you plan your visit to Stockholm and the surrounding area, which complements this one more focused on my personal impressions:

Finally, you’ll find a section at the end of this article with some practical advice.

All coral-colored text indicates an internal or external link, which I invite you to click on.

Malar Lake Stockholm

I was captivated by the Swedish cultural model and lifestyle.

The Swedes are an endearing people, but it took me a while to discover them. Even though we’re in Europe, Swedish culture has its own specificities, which are quite different from those of our Latin culture. It’s because I’ve been lucky enough to stay here for a while that I’ve been able to see its different facets.

I was personally intrigued and then rather seduced by Swedish culture and lifestyle. Maybe it fits me well and, for that reason, I felt at ease when I lived in Stockholm.

Equality and transparency are cornerstones of Swedish culture

No one is above the others in Sweden. Working in Sweden makes it easy to understand. For us, being a manager has a statutory dimension. A boss remains the boss even if he meets one of his subordinates at a market on the weekend. In Sweden, being a manager is just a necessary role to organize teamwork, because outside of work, everyone is considered on an equal level.

In keeping with this spirit, using the informal “you” (“tu” in French or in Spanish) is common practice, and the formal “you” (“vous” in French or “usted” in Spanish) was abandoned in the 1960s. The use of first names is also widespread.

Transparency goes hand in hand with equality. Swedish apartments have no curtains, so anyone can observe what’s going on in their neighbor’s apartment, but common decency dictates that they should refrain from doing so!

Illuminated buildings Stockholm

Another example of this principle of transparency is that all tax assessments are available to anyone on request!

However, we must avoid falling into the trap of an overly simplistic vision of the Swedish principle of equality. The original egalitarian social-democratic model has evolved in recent decades towards greater liberalism. Income disparities have become much greater, and strong immigration has made the country less homogeneous than it was before.

Looking at the real estate market is a good way to understand the paradox of the Swedes’ concern for equality. There is a so-called “universal” rental system run by the public authorities, at very moderate prices and accessible to all on the waiting list principle. The principle is that the right to housing is a universal principle and must not be subject to speculation.

In reality, the system doesn’t work all that well, because in Stockholm there isn’t enough real estate on offer to meet demand. As a result, finding a place to live in Stockholm has become a nightmare for many due to overly complex and rigid regulations. If you’re interested, click on this article from Le Monde (in French) which explains why.

Tolerance, freedom, inclusiveness and feminism are important values in Sweden

Sweden boasts one of the best levels of gender equality in the world.

Gender equality ranked

The very generous parental leave, 480 days per child, is given indiscriminately to both father and mother, and part of it (195 days) cannot be transferred from one to the other. You’ll notice this when you take a stroll around Stockholm and see the large number of fathers walking with baby carriages!

Swedish dad with stroller

There is still a pay gap between men and women, but it’s much smaller than in France as this article in Challenges magazine explains in French.

Freedom goes hand in hand with tolerance in Sweden. SoLGBT inclusivity is very high. Marriage for same-sex people was legalized in 2009, without the violent debate we’ve seen in France. Being gay in Stockholm is so normalized that there are very few gay-only bars or venues, unlike in Paris or Amsterdam. Gays simply live like everyone else. Even gay pride is very wise!

Gay pride Stockholm

To understand the spirit of freedom in Sweden simply compare COVID crisis management with France The two countries have remained fairly similar in terms of contamination and mortality statistics.

This tolerance also has its limits. The Swedes are very concerned about what their neighbors and their surroundings will say. They are extremely cautious and are always worried about the opinions of their peers.. This climate of self-control is sometimes a little stifling.

As a result, many of them appreciate contact with strangers, with whom they feel freer. Perhaps this explains why I found it easier to make Swedish friends in Stockholm than Dutch ones during my expatriation to Amsterdam?

Swedes love nature and physical activity

Sweden is perhaps the country with the most gyms per capita in Europe. 91% of the population take part in sporting activities, compared with 58% of the French!

Swedes adapt their sporting activities to the seasons. In winter, ice skating on frozen lakes is just extraordinary.


The other seasons are ideal for hiking. Not far from Stockholm lies one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests. A walk-through is a guaranteed change of scenery.


Swimming is also a popular sport. The waters around Stockholm are pure enough for its inhabitants to take the plunge. So don’t hesitate to do the same! The water’s not that cold in summer.

At the pool, the Swedes shower naked before going for a swim. Similarly, when they go to the sauna and then dive into the icy lake. If someone wants to swim naked on a beach, they’ll do it without question and no one will pay any attention.

This approach to nudity is a source of fantasy for us because we give it a sexual connotation. It’s a big misunderstanding because Swedes are, on the contrary, rather reserved when expressing their feelings.

Sport in Stockholm

Today, the Swedes are a people of tradition, challenged by immigration.

Many traditions punctuate Swedish life. The major celebration is Midsommar, the Midsummer festival, which I will discuss later. Christmas is very important, with many company dinners featuring Christmas buffets (Julbord). Other holidays, such as Saint Lucia‘s Day on December 13, are occasions for family get-togethers.

Even the week is framed by tradition. So Thursday is pancake and pea soup day! “Dagen för ärtor och pannkakor”. It’s on the menu of many restaurants.

These traditions are designed to facilitate community life for people who are rather introverted and secretive.

Their relationship with alcohol is different from ours. This starts with the purchase, which is only possible in the state-run Systembolaget stores, which are only open at specific times and, above all, closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.


Drinking is a way of letting off steam on Saturday nights, whereas Swedes are sober the rest of the week. It’s worth noting, however, that things are changing, and Stockholm’s bobos have learned to appreciate wine in the same way we do in France. Nor did I observe the gangs of drunken youths in the streets of the capital, as I had been warned.

For a very homogeneous population sharing the same lifestyle, values, and traditions, immigration has been seen as a major challenge to its model, and has unfortunately brought the right and extreme right to power.

The graphs below, taken from the CityGlobeTour video, illustrate the evolution of immigration in Sweden over the past 30 years. Today, it is more diversified in origin and much larger in percentage.

Immigration 1991 vs. 2021

Let’s hope that the Swedish model will be able to adapt to the current crisis, which is not only societal but also economic, as explained in this article from Le Monde on August 25, 2023 (in French).

France and Sweden are linked by royal blood!

Finally, did you know that France and Sweden are linked by royal blood? The current king, Carl XVI Gustaf, is the descendant of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a marshal in Napoleon’s army, who became Charles XIV John of Sweden and ruled the country from 1818 to 1844!


Pratar du Svenska? Do you speak Swedish?

In Stockholm, it’s easy to communicate in English, as Swedes are one of the most fluent non-English speakers.

I didn’t stay long enough to learn Swedish. It’s a Germanic language, also similar to Dutch, but with a softer, more musical pronunciation. Perhaps this explains why Sweden has been such a frequent Eurovision winner since Abba!

I’d like to introduce you to two Swedish words that particularly appealed to me:

  • Lagom”: This word has no equivalent in English. It means “not too little, not too much” in the sense of balance. It is considered the symbol of the Swedish art of living, with its quest for compromise, moderation, simplicity, and rejection of over-consumption and extremist ideas.
  • Fika”: it’s a word we often hear, and it’s magical! Literally, it means “coffee break”, but in reality, it’s much more than that. It’s a time for socializing and a break from the hustle and bustle of work or daily chores, which Swedes often practice to better appreciate life! It has become as much an institution as lunch in France.


    I loved Stockholm with its four distinct seasons

    One of the things I like about Stockholm is its climate and its very distinct seasons, each of which has its own particular charm, but also its constraints. Indeed, although the sunshine is more generous than in Paris, the climate is harsher.

    To understand the Scandinavian way of life, I advise you to go there at least twice: in the middle of winter and in the middle of summer!

    Summer to enjoy the light

    It starts at the beginning of June and finishes at the end of August. It’s a time of long days, with the sun barely setting between 11 pm and 2 am.

    At this time of year, “Midsommar”, around June 21, is THE Swedish holiday! Everyone leaves Stockholm for the islands or the countryside to celebrate the summer solstice. Festivities include dancing around the maypole, called “midsommarstång” in Swedish, decorated with foliage and flowers. Participants often wear flower crowns on their heads. The festival is also marked by the consumption of traditional dishes, such as pickled herring, new potatoes, strawberries, and other seasonal delicacies.


    The weather is unpredictable. The weather can range from fine sunshine to showers interspersed with sunshine. It can be hot, 25 to 30 c, or cool, 10 to 15 c. However, heatwaves are extremely rare.

    Light Stockholm

    For those of us from more southerly countries, nights can be difficult because of the brightness. I remember that if I went to the bathroom at 3 am, I had to convince myself to go back to sleep, while the sun was already lighting up my apartment!

    Autumn and its shimmering colors

    From the end of August onwards, you get a feeling of autumn. Depending on whether winter comes early or not, it ends with the first snowfall between late October and December.

    It’s the season of color in the trees, which, as in Canada, take on magnificent reds, yellows, and browns.

    Autumn Djugarden

    In November, the short days can paradoxically give an impression of length. If the snow is still absent, this is certainly the most difficult month to live in Stockholm. After lunch, when darkness falls already, one must motivate oneself to remain active in the afternoon.

    Stockholm Center


    The winter that reveals the Swedish soul

    In December, the city is lit up all over with garlands in the streets, on balconies and apartment windows, without curtains or shutters. It gives the town a real Christmas spirit.

    Stockholm is much further east than Paris but in the same time zone. For this reason, in the middle of winter, it’s daylight around the same time as at my home, but darkness sets in from early afternoon. That’s why it’s so important to get up early to make the most of the day.

    Depending on the year, there may, or may not, be snow at Christmas.

    Snowstorm in Stockholm

    Then, at the end of January, we realize that the days are getting longer, twice as fast as at our latitudes. This gives everyone renewed optimism, especially when temperatures are negative and the sun is shining. Cross-country skiing and skating on the lakes are activities that can be enjoyed as a family or as a sport.

    Alpine ski resorts are just a few hours from the capital. A one-night train journey takes Stockholmers to Åre for skiing. I had the opportunity to do just that, which I describe in an article entitled Åre: Swedish-style skiing.

    There’s even a track on an artificial mound to the west of the town!

    Ice skating in Sweden

    The two winters I spent in Stockholm were particularly cold. I simply loved it!

    Stockholm winter

    During this time, Swedes fly off to the Canary Islands and Thailand to seek warmth. Flygskam remains an intellectual concept for most locals. Not everyone is Greta Thunberg.

    Winter in the sun

    Spring is often short-lived

    We’re all looking forward to this season, even if it’s a short one. Vegetation stays wintery very late. I remember when I returned home to Stockholm after a stay in Paris, I was surprised to see a delay of more than a month. While the trees were in bloom in Parisian parks, they were still in winter in Stockholm!

    It’s often around the second half of May that vegetation sprouts in just a few days. The Swedes are eagerly switching from sweaters and pants to shorts and T-shirts!

    Stockholm Spring

    During this time, on bare skin, one notices the numerous tattoos that Swedes are fond of, especially the younger ones.

    There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes

    I’ve noticed that Swedes love nature and the great outdoors. Whatever the weather or the season, they go outside. They really need a heavy rain or a snow blizzard to stay at home!

    “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder” or “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” is the proverb Stockholmers are always trotting out! It’s an attitude that may make you smile, but if you think about it, it makes sense and it’s a beautiful approach to life that we should all apply!

    I liked the strong rhythm of the seasons. But it shouldn’t be overlooked that it can be challenging as well. The beautiful, immaculate snow that crunches underfoot can quickly turn into an infamous slush as soon as the weather warms up.

    Winter in Stockholm

    In summer, a day spent naked by a lake is sometimes followed by a much cooler one around a roaring fire and a succession of heavy showers!

    Exceptional light and pure, invigorating air

    Stockholm is already very far north, almost at the same latitude as Anchorage in Alaska, or southern Greenland. The particularity is that the sun is never very high in the sky, even in summer. As a result, the light is always beautiful and never aggressive like in southern countries.

    Light Stockholm

    What’s more, when the weather’s fine, the sky is often clear and rarely cloudy, as it is in northern France. The presence of the sea, low temperatures and wind mean that air quality is generally excellent. A walk or bike ride is usually more invigorating than in Paris.

    Strolling through Stockholm is a feast for the eyes and lungs!

    I love Stockholm’s unique geography

    Stockholm’s unique geography contributes to its charm.

    Stockholm is a city of water

    The city’s great originality lies in its location the junction of a freshwater lake, the Mälar, and the sea, the archipelago. The convergence happens at the level of the old town: Gamla Stan.

    Stockholm is built on no less than 14 islands.

    Stockholm map

    Nature is very present in Stockholm

    Nature is very present in the city, and one of its islands, Djugården, is even a national park!

    The photos below were taken in Stockholm, not in the countryside. I love the fact that it’s so easy to switch from an urban environment to the wilderness, which is quite unique for a country capital.


    Stockholm Autumn

    Stockholm’s history is reflected in its geography

    A visit to Galam Stan, with its medieval architecture, is a plunge into the city’s history. For this reason, it has become a favorite district for tourists. That’s why I prefer to stroll around in the off-season or, in summer, early in the morning. The place is truly magical.

    Galam Stan

    Stockholm is not a perfect city, and in some places the city has even been ransacked, notably in Norrmalm, the district near the Centralen station, which is the first sight of the city you see when you arrive. From the 50s to the 70s, Europe was trying to bring the car into city centers . The city, against the wishes of its residents, demolished an entire neighborhood, built buildings with austere architecture and brought an urban highway into the center.

    Today Norrmalm has become the center of shopping. The Sergel Torg area, for example, has been redeveloped to allow pedestrians to reclaim the area.

    This imperfect side of the city also appeals to me.

    Stockholm is a tourist city that still belongs to its inhabitants.

    Södermalm, Kungsholmen, Östermalm, and Vasastan are the four main residential districts in central Stockholm . Tourists go there less often, but I enjoy strolling around there.

    Kungsholmen is an island and home to the prestigious and magnificent Town Hall. It was the neighborhood where I lived and I felt very comfortable there. I particularly enjoyed strolling along the north shore of Lake Mälar.


    Södermalm is also an island and Stockholm’s largest district. It’s a former working-class suburb that has become Stockholm’s hip, young district. If I were to return to live here one day, I think I’d look for accommodation in this district. The island is very diverse, with even some streets looking very rural!


    Östermalm is Stockholm’s Paris 16th arrondissement, with its embassies and chic boutiques. I especially love its covered market, which is a must-see.


    Vasastan is the district to the north of the city. It’s primarily residential, and few tourists venture here, which is also part of its charm.


    Stockholm is a city where I’ve eaten well!

    Sweden is not renowned for its gastronomy. However, I ate very well. Swedish cuisine is simple but tasty. I recommend you try Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), salmon in all its forms, and open sandwiches called “smörgås”.

    Swedish meatballs

    Rules for eating out in Stockholm

    To make the most of my restaurant outings, I followed a few rules:

    • Eating out at lunchtime is much less expensive than in the evening. Formulas are generally available.
    • As alcohol is heavily taxed, the price of wine is unaffordable. A decent bottle costs at least 60 euros, and you should avoid first-price wines, which are often very bad. To reduce the bill, I sometimes did what the Swedes do: have an aperitif at home and drink water, or just a glass of wine, in the restaurant!
    • In the evening, we get dressed to go to the restaurant. Swedes are very informal when it comes to going to work because they’re looking for comfort, but when it comes to going out, they dress up! It’s the opposite of what we do in France, and I think they’re right!
    • In Stockholm, you can have dinner at 8 p.m. and it’s even quieter, as Swedes eat around 6 p.m.. After 9 p.m., however, you’ll have a hard time finding a restaurant!
    • Reservations are essential at weekends when Stockholmers are out and about.
    • Important: if you’re driving, limit yourself to one glass of wine! The controls are very severe and the Swedish police are not at all nice in these cases.

    If you want to eat at home, there are several markets offering superb produce. The most famous is Saluhall in Ostermalm.

    Saluhall Stockholm

    My dining addresses

    Stockholm hasexcellent restaurants, because Stockholmers like to eat well. Here’s a list of a few that I enjoy in the evenings, but can quickly become expensive:

    My lunch addresses

    At lunchtime, surprisingly, there is a wide choice of no-fuss restaurants. with relatively low prices. My favorites are :

    Of course, they’re not exclusive, so be curious and discover your favorites!

    My addresses for a drink

    Stockholm is a quiet city, with few cafés or bars for a city of its size. But Stockholmers love being outdoors, and there are a growing number of cafés with terraces and plenty of plaids to wrap up and protect you from the cold.

    I particularly liked the following three:

    • Patricia, an old boat moored on the Södermalm north shore of Lake Mälar. Sunday evenings are Stockholm’s gay meeting point.
    • Himlen, located in the heart of Södermalm, is perched 104 m above sea level and offers magnificent views over Stockholm.
    • Mälarpaviljongen is a floating bar on Lake Mälar in Kungsholmen, open only in summer. It was just around the corner from my house, where you’ll find Stockholm’s jet set and gay scene.

    Malarpavilhongen floating bar

    My friendly advice: stay at least a week in Stockholm!

    Stockholm is often “sold” as an extended weekend destination. I’m convinced that the city is worth staying in for at least a week to get a better feel for its atmosphere and not just to visit its tourist attractions.

    Secondly, Stockholm is not that close to France, and the flight time is two to three hours. It’s a long journey and, in the interests of the environment, I thinkwe should travel less by plane and be more qualitative in our choices.

    Stockholm is also accessible by rail, and with the Hamburg – Stockholm night train, it’s even a one-day, one-night destination from Paris. In “useful” time, this means a day’s travel instead of half a day by plane. The difference isn’t that great, and the train is an ecological alternative worth considering.

    To prepare your stay in Stockholm, I invite you to continue reading two other articles on my blog:

    Sweden is a small country with a population of just 11 million. Yet many talented Swedes have enjoyed an international reputation: Ingrid and Ingmar Bergman, singer Loreen, Björn Borg, Millenium author Stieg Larsson, and Alfred Nobel to name but a few.

    When I arrived by plane at Arlanda airport, I walked down a long corridor with photos of these celebrities to welcome me to my beloved city!

    Famous Swedes



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