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  • Hi. I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're in the birthplace

  • of social security and dynamite. It's Sweden's capital city - Stockholm.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • Here in the north of Europe, of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden is the biggest and most

  • populous. And Stockholm is by far Sweden's dominant city. Locals here are considered

  • particularly confident and self-assured. And exploring this city, the character of its

  • people unfolds to its many attractions.

  • We'll explore the old town, be dazzled in its city hall, enjoy a slice of reindeer in

  • style, cruise to the palace, chill out in a convivial ice bar, imagine Sweden's once-upon-a-time

  • mighty navy, marvel at the work of a local sculptor, tap our toes to a Swedish beat,

  • and sail the Archipelago for the ultimate in Scandinavian summer beauty.

  • Today, with nearly two million people in Stockholm's greater metropolitan area, one in five Swedes

  • calls this city home. Once a respected military power, now famously neutral, this stately

  • capital respects its rich heritage while embracing modern innovation.

  • Stockholm is defined as much by water as it is by land. Part of an archipelago it's surrounded

  • by both the sea and a large lake. The city is nearly as full of parks and trees as it

  • is wood buildings and it's traversed by numerous bridges. Wander through the city and you're

  • struck by its elegant architecture, proud monuments, and inviting promenades. Stockholm's

  • appealing waterfront is both a working harbor and a welcoming people zone.

  • Overlooking it all in the heart of the old town is the Royal Palace. In summer, with

  • great fanfare, military bands herald the Changing of the Guard.

  • The ceremony in the courtyard of the palace recalls the days when Sweden was a militaristic

  • power - a kingdom to be reckoned with. While this spectacle does look formidable, it's

  • more a celebration of Swedish heritage in a country that today is famously pacifist.

  • Strong and expansionist kings - like Gustavus Adolphus, who ruled in the early 1600s and

  • was a brilliant general - made Stockholm this country's permanent capital and established

  • the Swedish Empire.

  • Gustavus Adolphus was nicknamed the Lion of the North. He made Sweden one of Europe's

  • top powers and was instrumental in helping the Protestants turn the tide against the

  • Catholics in the Thirty Years War. Because of his innovative tactics on the battlefield,

  • he's considered by many the Father of Modern Warfare.

  • For a glimpse at the splendor of Sweden's former power, step into the Royal Armory.

  • While fearsome on the battlefield, armor had a ceremonial value as well. These pieces must

  • have dazzled viewers back in the 1600s - that was the point. The fine workmanship elevates

  • tools of war to an art form. The same lavish attention to both protection and style was

  • also given to horses.

  • The Swedish royal family kept up with their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Four centuries

  • of coronation and royal wedding wear take you from the time of Gustavus Adolphus - this

  • is his fine suit - through the ages. This 1766 wedding dress of Queen Sofia was designed

  • to cleverly show off her fabulous wealth. And the dress - with its extravagant material

  • - seems even wider when compared to her 20-inch corseted waist.

  • The Royal Palace which contains this museum and several others is one of Europe's biggest.

  • While it's technically the royal family's official residence, they actually live outside

  • of town at Drottningholm Palace. The most scenic way to get there is the way the royals

  • once did - by boat. We're cruising up Lake Maleren. This relaxing voyage is a delight,

  • revealing more dimensions of this city of lakes, parks, and islands.

  • Drottningholm Palace has been called "Sweden's Versailles." The public is welcome to enjoy

  • the garden and tour the palace.

  • The grand entry leads into a world where 18th century style prevails. Back then, Europe's

  • monarchs, who were considered divinely ordained to rule, were tightly networked by marriage.

  • In fact the Swedish royal family had blue-blooded cousins ranging from Catherine the Great in

  • Russia to Louis 16th in France.

  • Thecor pushed the notion of a divine monarch. But the king was long challenged by a strong

  • parliament and, today, Sweden's royalty is a modern constitutional monarchy.

  • The ball room hosted formal occasions. The bed room was a kind of theater where the monarch

  • would be ceremonially dressed as nobles would help him slip into his leotards. The lavish

  • library illustrated the royal commitment to education in the 18th century. The palace's

  • baroque theater takes you back 200 years. And as in palaces throughout Europe, Roman

  • busts implied at least symbolic connections with the Roman Empire in order to substantiate

  • and legitimize royal power.

  • Originally the entire city was contained on this island. Today, Stockholm's old town - or

  • Gamla Stan - is popular with locals and visitors alike. The town square, called Stortorget,

  • was once an important commercial center. Now, it's simply a favored place to relax and enjoy

  • the Swedish good life.

  • Gamla Stan's main drag is a hit with shoppers and busy with tourists. But, venturing just

  • a block or two from the commotion, the atmosphere changes. Tranquil lanes feel much as they

  • did back in the 17th century.

  • Medieval Stockholm was a trading center, busy with merchants from foreign lands. The German

  • Church, rocketing heavenward, reminded all of the power of Germans in this part of Europe.

  • With the Reformation in 1527, the king made Sweden a Protestant state. Suddenly church

  • services could be held in the people's language rather than Latin. And that meant every nationality

  • needed its own church. The Germans worshipped over there. The Finns had their church. And

  • the Swedes got the cathedral.

  • The cathedral, while grand, is wedged into the tight quarters of Gamla Stan. The interior

  • is cobbled with centuries-old tombstones. When royal families worshipped here, they

  • sat in their own private pews. These date from about 1700. While originally Catholic,

  • this church has been Lutheran for five centuries.

  • With the Reformation's passion for sermons and Bible readings, the pulpit was a focal

  • point. You can feel the feistiness of the Swedish Lutherans in this 500 year old statue

  • of Saint George and the Dragon. It's carved of oak and elk horn. To some, this symbolizes

  • the Swedes' overcoming their arch-rivals - the Danes. In a broader sense, it's an inspiration

  • to take up the struggle against even non-Danish evil.

  • When choosing a place for dinner, I try to leave the high rent spots to the tourists

  • and find small restaurants with low rent catering to a loyal hometown customers. And, of course,

  • locals know the best places. My friend, Hakan and his wife Ylva, are taking me to one of

  • their favorites for a lesson in good eating, Swedish style.

  • And that's changed a lot since Hakan and Ylva were children including New World wines and

  • lots of spices brought by recent immigrants to enliven the traditional meat, fish and

  • potato staples.

  • Rick: And what is this, Sami? Sami: This is the reindeer roast beef.

  • Rick: Reindeer roast beef you say, okay. So, Hakan, the potato really has roots in your

  • history and your culture. Hakan: Extremely much so. Sweden's population

  • start to grow in the 1800s and there was someone who said the reason was peace, vaccination

  • and potatoes. Rick: This reindeer is really tasty.

  • Hakan: Oh yes, reindeer I would say is beef of the north, that's the beef of the Laplanders

  • and it's spread all over Sweden.

  • Local food and local knowledge, it's always a winning combination.

  • Stockholm's Nobel Prize Museum tells the story of the world's most prestigious award. Stockholm-born

  • Alfred Nobel was a prolific inventor with over 300 patents. His most famous invention

  • - dynamite.

  • Living in the late 1800s, Nobel was a man of his age. It was a time of great optimism,

  • wild ideas, and grand projects. His dynamite enabled entire nations to blast their way

  • into the modern age with canals, railroads, and tunnels. It made warfare much more destructive.

  • And it also made Alfred Noble a very wealthy man.

  • Wanting to leave a legacy that celebrated and supported people with great ideas, he

  • left his fortune to fund the Nobel Prize. Each year laureates are honored in the fields

  • of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and perhaps most famously in peacemaking.

  • Portraits of all the prize winners since the first annual ceremony was held in 1901 hang

  • from the ceiling - shuffling around the room like shirts at the dry cleaner's. And video

  • clips let you ponder the contributions of so many great minds.

  • The annual Nobel Prize banquet is held just a short walk away, in Stockholm's City Hall.

  • It's a stately mix of eight million red bricks and lots of Stockholm pride. While churches

  • dominate cities in southern Europe, up here, in the Scandinavian capitals, city halls seem

  • to be the most impressive buildings. They celebrate humanism...people working together

  • for the good of their community. Built in 1923, Stockholm's City Hall is particularly

  • enjoyable and well worth its entertaining hour long tour.

  • Guide: This here where we are standing is the Blue Hall. It's the biggest reception

  • hall of the City Hall and this is where the Nobel banquet takes place the 10th of December

  • every year, hosting 1,300 guests. This here is the Council's chamber since the City Hall

  • really is a functioning City Hall. In here the Municipal Council of Stockholm hold their

  • meetings. What I would like to show you in here is our magnificent ceiling. It's done

  • to look like an old Viking house. The construction of the old Viking houses were long and narrow

  • exactly like the ceiling right here. This here is the Golden Hall, artwork finished

  • in 1922. We have about 90,000,000 pieces of mosaic in here and it is real gold in each

  • and every one of them. The centerpiece of this room you can see behind me here, this

  • is the Queen of the Lake, a symbol of Stockholm. he Queen of the Lake here, she's situated

  • in the center of the world. On the left side there's the western world - the Eiffel Tower,

  • the Statue of Liberty. On her right side the Orient - an Indian elephant, a Turkish flag.

  • And not only the world because around her sides there are also the different zodiac

  • signs symbolizing the universe. She's the Queen of the Lake - Stockholm - center of

  • the world - center of the universe.

  • The City Hall comes with a bold tower. It offers a commanding view of Stockholm's 14

  • islands which are woven together by about fifty bridges. Sweden's stunning capital is

  • green, clean, and people-friendly.

  • Strolling the shoreline promenades, you join the parade of locals. Well-worn old working

  • ships seem content... retired in the shadow of elegant facades. Rather than cars and buses,

  • it's the domain of joggers, baby strollers, and visitors marveling at the joys of this

  • city on the Baltic.

  • Stockholm exists because of its location - where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea. Traders

  • would paddle their goods from far inland to this point from where sea-going merchants

  • would ship it south to Europe.

  • In the 13th century, the new kingdom of Sweden needed revenue so they established customs

  • laws and levied duties on all the copper, iron, and furs that passed through here. Today,

  • the lake, which is about 2 feet above sea level, is connected to the Baltic Sea by locks.

  • For the thoughtful observer, history is everywhere. For example, centuries ago, this Kungsgarten

  • or "King's Garden Square" was the private garden of the king. Today, this is clearly

  • the people's domain. It's considered Stockholm's living room.

  • Swedes are leaders among Europeans with their social legislation. They pay high taxes and

  • have high expectations. Swedes enjoy a minimum of five weeks paid vacation from the day they're

  • hired. In the interest of family values, new moms and dads split 16 months of paid parental

  • leave anyway they like. And Swedes believe that every citizen, regardless of their family's

  • economic status, gets quality health care and education. Alcohol is highly taxed and

  • tourists contribute to Sweden's costly entitlements every time they buy a drink.

  • A fun if touristy way to do that is to put on a heavy coat and enjoy a fancy vodka on

  • ice... literally. The Absolut Icebar is actually made out of ice. For your cover charge you'll

  • get 45 chilly minutes to sip your choice of vodka drinks in an ice glass, at an ice bar

  • or lounging on a nice ice sofa. In a scene like this, there's no shortage of conversation.

  • Sergles Torg was built in the 1960s to balance the political and royal city with a bustling

  • commercial district. This modern center of Stockholm is dedicated to shopping. Festooned

  • with sales banners blowing in the Nordic wind, thriving pedestrian boulevards are lined with

  • temptations on sale.

  • torget - literally "Hay Market" - now feeds people rather than horses. This vibrant outdoor

  • produce market changes colors with the seasons. Today, in August, it's berries of the forest

  • and golden chanterelles.

  • Overlooking the market is a striking statue by Carl Milles. For more of his work, you'll

  • find a veritable forest of statues by Sweden's greatest sculptor on a bluff at the edge of

  • town. Carl Milles spent much of his career here at his villa, where he lived and worked

  • for 20 years. He lovingly designed this delightful sculpture garden.

  • Milles wanted his art displayed on pedestals...to be seen as if silhouettes against the sky.

  • His subjects - often Greek myths such as Pegasus or Poseidon - stand out as if using the sky

  • as a blank paper. Yet, unlike silhouettes, images in the sky can be enjoyed from many

  • angles. Milles injected life into his work with water, splashing playfully.

  • Perhaps his most famous work, "Hand of God," gives an insight into Milles' belief that

  • when the artist created he was, in a way, divinely-inspired.

  • The

  • city's harbor is busy with ferries. And many take people into its vast archipelago - an

  • amazing playground of literally thousands of islands stretching 80 miles from the city.

  • There are plenty of ways to see the archipelago. Those taking the huge cruise ships that ferry

  • travelers to Helsinki enjoy three hours of island scenery before they finally reach the

  • open Baltic Sea. You can take a quick boat tour... or, what we're doing, catch a ferry

  • with the locals.

  • One of the joys of an archipelago trip is to grab a perch on the breezy sundeck with

  • the Swedes as they enjoy their island wonderland. Ferries serve over a hundred islands. They

  • stop at others... on request... or to plop down the days' mail. Every cabin seems to

  • have a couple of lounge chairs strategically placed to soak up the relaxing view. Your

  • archipelago options are endless and you don't need to own a cabin to enjoy this idyllic

  • island escape.

  • Our first stop is the popular destination of Vaxholm. About an hour from downtown, it

  • has a well preserved fortress just off its busy harborfront, as well as a quiet and charming

  • old town mixing shops and restaurants.

  • Today it's hard to imagine that, back when Sweden was a military power, this fort was

  • built to secure the city from attack by sea. The ramparts remain... but they are manned

  • not by soldiers but by sun worshippers enjoying Sweden's long summer days.

  • My favorite lookout post: Anette's Homestead Café. For Swedes, their coffee and pastry

  • break is a ritual - embraced with all the vigor of a constitutional right. And here,

  • savoring life to its fullest just seems to come naturally.

  • For an even more peaceful and remote destination, ride a couple hours past Vaxholm, and hop

  • off in Svartso. The little grocery provides this island community with whatever it needs.

  • Residents stock their cabins using the island's answer to a moving van. And visitors can hop

  • a rental bike.

  • In moments you're out in the countryside immersed in pastoral farm land and pristine nature.

  • Your bike ride is memorably capped with a stop at the island eatery. We requested the

  • house specialty and were overwhelmed with the bounty of the Baltic.

  • Even if you don't leave Stockholm, you'll still likely be on the water. Scenic harbor

  • tours are popular and shuttle boats zip between the many islands. From downtown, it's just

  • a quick hop to Djurgarden - the Garden Island.

  • Four hundred years ago, Djurgården was the king's hunting ground. Now this entire lush

  • island is Stockholm's fun center, protected as a national park. You can rent a canoe,

  • enjoy a bike ride, munch a picnic, or just take in the harbor scene along with a good

  • cold beer. And this island has several of the city's top museums.

  • The Vasa Museum is my favorite maritime museum anywhere. It took several centuries, but Stockholm

  • turned a titanic flop into one of Europe's great sightseeing attractions. The Vasa - while

  • heralded as the ultimate warship of her day - sank, just minutes into her maiden voyage.

  • It was 1628. The king, eager to expand the reach of his domain, launched his formidable

  • new war ship. Laden with an extra row of cannon, she was top-heavy. A couple hundred yards

  • from the dock, a breeze caught the sails and blew it over. The Vasa sank to the bottom

  • of Stockholm's harbor where it sat for over 300 years. In 1961, with the help of steel

  • cables and huge inflatable pontoons, the Vasa rose again from the deep.

  • Today the Vasa, the best-preserved ship of its kind, is chemically petrified and housed

  • in a state-of-the-art museum.

  • The Vasa is decorated with hundreds of statues - all designed to show the power of the king

  • known as "the Lion of the North," Gustavus Adolphus. Detailed models like these show

  • life on board and evoke the instant when the hopes and aspirations of this mighty ship

  • and her crew were dashed.

  • Artifacts on display humanize naval live in the 17th century. This awe-inspiring ship