In the previous part of the Ultimate Guide to the Old Town of Stockholm, I showed you the best places to visit in the oldest core of the city bordered by Västerlånggatan on the west and Österlånggatan on the east.
Obviously, this part of the city centred around the Royal Palace of Stockholm is not particularly large which means that when the population of the city started growing, Stockholm had to expand beyond its original borders.
New buildings started growing in the outer parts of the Stadsholmen Island as well as on the surrounding islands including Riddarholmen and Helgeansholmen which are now officially parts of the historical Old Town (Gamla Stan).
We explore these areas in this detailed guide through 19 wonderful historical attractions. You will shortly see that, with one exception, places in these parts of Stockholm come from the period following the 1600s with many of them having been built in the 17th century by the nobility whose wealth was then greater than ever.
First up is the Strömbron Bridge which is not that old at all. This bridge was built in 1946 as a temporary solution that was meant to accommodate the growing traffic passing through Gamla Stan until the discussions regarding a permanent solution – either a tunnel or a bridge – were finalised. As it turns outs, the ‘provisional’ bridge is still in place more than 70 years later and it does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Stockholm being the ‘Venice of the North,’ Strömbron is not the only bridge in the Old Town with an interesting story to tell. Only a stone’s throw away sits perhaps the most impressive one of them all. Norrbro (‘The North Bridge’), that was erected around the turn of the 19th century, is the oldest stone bridge in Stockholm and at the time of its construction, it was a technological masterpiece whose construction required skills beyond those the contemporary Swedish architects possessed. You can also find the Museum of Medieval Stockholm (Medeltidsmuseet) under the bridge where you can get acquainted with the distant history of Stockholm.
All these narrow streets and bridges in the Old Town might give you the impression that everything looks somewhat the same. Try looking at the world around you from a different perspective from Strömparterren and you will rediscover its beauty. Strömparterren is a terrace located on the eastern end of the Helgeandsholmen island accessible from the Norrbro Bridge. It sits essentially at the water level below all other streets which creates the unique sensation that you can only feel at this place.
If you turn around at Strömparterren, you will get to see a few of the most monumental buildings in Stockholm. One of these is the massive Parliament House (Riksdagshuset) which comes from the early 20th century. While the building complex originally housed two different institutions – the Swedish Parliament (Sveriges Riksdag) and the National Bank of Sweden (Sveriges Riksbank) – today it is solely occupied by the Parliament. Notice the main portal on the eastern side and make sure to stroll across Riksgatan which passes between the two parts of the building complex.
On the northern end of Riksgatan, you will meet the Riksbron Bridge. While the bridge was first proposed by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger in the early 1700s, it only became a reality at the beginning of the 20th century. The current bridge was designed by Ragnar Östberg whose most renowned masterpiece, Stockholm City Hall, is beautifully seen from Riksbron in the distance.
Back on Stadsholmen, the Mynttorget square (‘The Mint Square’) is surrounded by beautiful buildings. One that is particularly worth your attention is the so-called Kanslihuset. This house stands in the location of the former Royal Mint which gave the square its name. The building, also used by the Parliament today, has been rebuilt many times but its main façade with the majestic tall columns facing Mynttorget has survived centuries.
A place that you are almost guaranteed to miss if you do not look for it awaits you only a few dozen metres from Kanslihuset. Brantingtorget (‘The Square of Branting’) is likely the most well-hidden square in the Old Town if not in all of Stockholm. It gives you a chance to rewind in peace and also admire the statue of ‘Morning’ which dominates the square.
As Stockholm was gaining more and more influence on the international scene and its population was getting richer, many of its prominent residents were building their new homes right at the edge of the Old Town starting from the 17th century. One such resident was Lord High Treasurer of Sweden Baron Gustav Bonde. Bonde Palace (Bondeska Palatset), built in the 1660s and 1670s, can be considered a joined work of two of the all-time best Stockholm architects, Jean de la Vallée and Nicodemus Tessin the Younger.
Once again stressing the importance of bridges for modern life in Stockholm, we are about to explore the Vasabron Bridge which begins right behind the Bonde Palace. Vasabron was completed in 1878 when it also gave a more respected position on the city landscape to the long-overlooked Strömsborg Island standing right next to it.
Strömsborg is not only a place that has been overlooked for centuries, it is also the smallest island in Stockholm. Perhaps that is what caused its unpopularity back in the days of Queen Christina in the 1600s. The island is named after the man who turned it from an abandoned place to an impressive residence, Berge Ström. His original intentions were not exactly noble, though. Strömsborg simply disturbed his views from Birger Jarl’s tower he had purchased earlier so he decided to acquire and prettify this place too.
Across the road from the Bonde Palace I introduced you to a while ago, you will find potentially the most splendid of all palaces in Stockholm. The House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) was built as the home of the Swedish Nobility in the latter half of the 17th century by the best of architects living in Stockholm at the time. Every detail from the façade through the sculptures on the roof to the inscriptions below it was carefully planned and executed to create this absolute architectural masterpiece.
Apart from the main building, two additional wings, standing north of the palace, belong to the property. Moreover, you will find a couple of interesting statues on both sides. In front of the main entrance, there is the first public statue in Sweden displaying Gustav Vasa and, in the back, a statue of none other than the great Axel Oxenstierna stands.
While we are on the topic of extraordinary facades, let’s have a peek at the Petersen House (Petersenska Huset). This 17th-century residence shows off what the masters of their time were capable of. Simply notice the staggering portals and other stone decorations on the façade and you will immediately understand what I mean.
Coming to the only island in the Old Town we have not explored yet, you must be impressed by one of the oldest buildings in town, the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan). The red-brick church from the end of the 13th century with its tower visible from every corner of the city is an absolute gem. As if its historical value was not enough, it was long used as the burial church of the Swedish Royal Family, which means it became the last resting place of generations of kings and queens.
Riddarholmen, too, was a popular place among the Swedish noblemen during the era of the Swedish Empire. The island is literally packed with historical noble palaces and the first that you will meet when crossing the Riddarholmsbron Bridge is the Hessenstein House (Hessensteinska Huset). This palace has a fairly simple façade compared to others from the era. However, it has also accommodated a number of influential individuals over the centuries.
A place with a particularly distinct style sits right next to the Hessenstein Palace. Stenbock Palace (Stenbockska palatset) is yet another noble residence from the 1600s. It is considered the most well-preserved palace on Riddarholmen and with its pink façade in near-perfect condition it certainly stands its ground firmly among the tough competition.
A significantly more modern building is the Old National Archives of Sweden (Gamla Riksarkivet) facing the Riddarholm Canal (Riddarholmskanalen). Just like Stenbock Palace, though, this building is one of the most prominent representatives of its era in Stockholm. Very little has changed at this place since the late 1800s which gives you a rare opportunity to go back in time.
The appearance of perhaps the most massive 17th-century palace in Stockholm, on the other hand, has changed quite a lot since its completion. Wrangel Palace (Wrangelska Palatset) used to stand directly on the coast with stairs from its terrace essentially leading directly to the water. While the façade has been simplified noticeably, this historic site is still more than worthy of your visit.
Just behind Wrangel Palace, you will find one of the latest additions to the landscape of Riddarholmen. Evert Taube’s Terrace (Evert Taubes terras), named after a Swedish artist, gives you a chance to not only admire the structures on Riddarholmen, it also provides you with some of the best views of Stockholm City Hall across the lake and is a great place for taking pictures of the surrounding islands in tranquillity.
Finally, we conclude this tour around the most interesting places in the Old Town of Stockholm by visiting the first seat of the Swedish Parliament and the building that accommodated already its predecessor, the Riksdag of the Estates. The Old Parliament House (Gamla Riksdagshuset) completed in 1833 has a massive yet elegant style and its southern portal featuring the well-known symbol of Sweden, the three crowns, fits the structure nicely.