Squares are where we relax, where we enjoy beautiful sights, where we meet with our dear ones. We probably do not think about this very often, but without squares, our cities would like quite a bit different than they do today. Imagine there was no Trafalgar Square in London, no Plaza de España in Madrid, no Stefansplatz in Vienna, or no Stortorget in Stockholm. A significant part of the history of each of these few monumental cities would be lost.
Not all squares that are worth seeing and experiencing are world-famous, though. Some might be little known even among the locals but thanks to this guide, you will be able to find your way to many of the most beautiful squares all around Stockholm.
To help you navigate the guide, it is good to know that we start with squares located in the Old Town (Gamla stan), continue in Norrmalm, Östermalm, and finally, we visit a few lively plazas on the island of Södermalm.
We begin at Birger Jarls Torg (Birger Jarl’s Square) on Riddarholmen Island where the first inhabitants of modern-day Stockholm are said to have arrived. From this square, dominated by a statue of the founder-king Birger Jarl, you get excellent views of some extraordinary historic sites surrounding the square. These include Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) from the late 13th century which belongs to the oldest structures in town.
Our next stop is the Square of Branting (Brantingtorget) located at most a few hundred metres from the previous place. The little square is dedicated to former Prime Minister of Sweden Hjalmar Branting who held the seat during three separate periods. Being hidden behind a government building complex, the Square of Branting is a perfect place for a little break in a peaceful environment directly in the Old Town.
Järntorget or the ‘Iron Square’ is where much more than iron was traded for centuries. Being the second eldest square in Stockholm, this place is where the business side of the Swedish capital was shaped in the early days. When the days of the local markets came to their end, Järntorget became the home to the world’s first central bank. More than three centuries later, you can still admire the first proper headquarters of the Swedish National Bank’s predecessor here.
As the name of Köpmantorget (‘The Merchant’s Square’) suggests, the trade did not take place solely at Järntorget. However, today, the character of this area is very much different than it used to be in the early days of Stockholm. The port was moved further away and, instead, you will find a number of cosy restaurants on Österlånggatan just by the square.
In a somewhat more modern area of the Old Town, if I may call it so, lies Mynttorget (‘The Mint Square’). It was the Royal Mint standing on the north-western corner of the square which gave it its name. However, it has been a long time since the mint moved away and even the Parliament House on the nearby Helgeandsholmen Island is fairly new compared to Mynttorget itself.
The last place we visit in the Old Town is the one where it all began. Stortorget (‘The Big Square’) is the eldest square in Stockholm, and since it has been around essentially for as long as the city itself, it witnessed many events that changed the history of Stockholm, Sweden, and, on a few occasions, even the surrounding countries.
Even though the originals are on display in a Venetian museum, sculptures that you can find at Blasieholmstorg should remind you of their intriguing story. A pair of horse sculptures decorates the square stretching in the middle of Blasieholmen Peninsula. These sculptures are replicas of gilded horse sculptures brought to Europe after the Fourth Crusade which then spent a part of their life in Paris and now reside back in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy.
The next square is dedicated to an influential historical figure and King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf. He is known as the leader who led Sweden to prosperity in the first half of the 17th century. His equestrian statue was placed at the square much later but today forms an unmissable part not only of Gustav Adolf’s Square (Gustav Adolfs Torg) but also of a wider city landscape in the immediate neighbourhood of the Old Town.
Likely one of the lesser-known squares in Stockholm is Jakobs Torg (‘James’s Square’) located by Kungsträdgården (‘The King’s Garden’). On one side of the square, you get to admire the monumental Royal Swedish Opera (Kungliga Operan), and on the other, you are greeted by one of the most impressive portals in the entire town. The portal is only one of three 17th-century portals decorating St James’s Church (Sankt Jakobs kyrka).
If you would rather see the Opera House from another angle, you can simply run down the hill, and it will not take you long at all to arrive at Karl XII’s Square (Karl XII:s Torg). ‘Ironhead Charles,’ as he was reportedly known, faced a tough task from the very beginning of his reign. As the only surviving son of Karl XI, he assumed the throne as a fourteen-year-old and ruled Sweden since he was fifteen. During turbulent times when Sweden’s neighbours were trying to take advantage of this situation, he managed to achieve some extraordinary military successes before he died on the battlefield in 1718.
Still in Kungsträdgården, you will meet a square dominated by a statue of another king, Karl XIII. Although his reign ended almost exactly 100 years after Karl XII’s, his statue was unveiled first. Today, Karl XIII’s Square (Karl XIII:s Torg) forms the central point in Kungsträdgården where many events are organised throughout the year. In winter, there is even an ice-skating rink formed around the king’s statue.
Moving further into the core of the Norrmalm district, we visit Norra Bantorget, a lively square where you can see the unique ‘Dandelion Fountain’ and the impressive Norra Latin school. In summer, the square gets filled with folks enjoying the sunshine and refreshing drinks at a popular local venue. If you feel like exploring the neighbourhood, I recommend the quarters north-west of the square, which offer charming streets and architecture.
A square that carries the name of the district itself and that has witnessed some unusually dramatic events is Norrmalmstorg. Today, a pleasant plaza with nice venues and surrounded by boutiques, it was here that the well-known 1973 bank robbery took place. The robbery, which turned into a several-day-long hostage situation, occurred in the building on the eastern corner of Norrmalmstorg and Hamngatan. These events defined the Stockholm Syndrome.
One of the overall busiest places in town is the square named by a renowned sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. Some of Sergel’s works are visible publicly in Stockholm. Among them, the statue of Gustav III standing at Skeppsbron in the Old Town, and he was also involved in the creation of Gustav II Adolf’s statue standing at the square named after the same king that I have mentioned earlier.
Sergels Torg (‘Sergel’s Square’) is a place where several major streets meet, but likely its most dominant element is the large ‘Cultural House’ (Kulturhuset) standing on its southern side.
Just like pretty much everything else, squares in the Östermalm district are extraordinary. Karlaplan is not only one of the most exclusive residential locations, the character of the neighbourhood with the nearby Oscar’s Church made of marble and the tree alleys an all sides turns this place into something special. Perhaps most importantly, the fountain dominating this plaza might be the most impressive one in Stockholm.
You will not find a fountain or Karlaplan’s peaceful atmosphere at Stureplan. This place exists to be alive. Being the home to many popular venues and a beautiful 19th-century shopping mall, Stureplan is the place to spend a night out. On a workday, on the other hand, this square can be considered the centre of Sweden’s business world.
The island of Södermalm as a whole is commonly known as a place with plentiful restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. Squares in this district also match this character, but during the day, they also give you a nice opportunity to sit and relax in a nice green milieu.
Mariatorget moreover offers a fountain with some beautiful sculptures depicting figures from the Norse mythology. Surrounded by pretty 19th-century apartment houses, this place is delightful to visit during any time of the day. Exploring the neighbourhood, particularly on the other side of Hornsgatan, is also more than worth your time.
Dominated by a stunning 19th-century theatre building of the Southern Theatre (Södra Teatern), Mosebacke Torg could not be absent from this guide. The theatre also offers a summer terrace, Mosebacketerrassen, with some of the most beautiful views of the city, drinks, and occasional concerts. Outside of the theatre, there is a charming little park waiting for you with views of an unusual red-brick water tower standing nearby.