Of all the things I will miss about Sweden when I leave, perhaps at the top of the list will be my solitary weekend bicycle excursions. There are lots of beautiful places around Stockholm that are very accessible via safe, cordoned off bike lanes. You could use City Bikes for some of these trips, but then you have to watch the time and make sure you don’t keep your bike out for more than three hours, which may mean stopping to switch bikes at the furthest station.
Stockholm is not hilly like San Francisco, but it’s not completely flat like Copenhagen, either. There are a few bridges that make you earn your bullar. But the best part about these rides is that you can feel very virtuous about the caloric treat you pack with you for the ride.
Most of these rides are 20 minutes to an hour from the city center, depending on how fast you ride. Keep in mind that these are really amateur rides, less for the person who owns spandex shorts and more for the person who likes to ride around with their mouth open.
What you’ll need:
Get a cykelkarta, or bike map, which you can pick up at any bike shop around town. You can probably also get one from the Tourist Center across the street from NK at Hamngatan 27.
Lights are helpful at night. While you won’t need them much around the summer solstice, you will need them as it gets darker out. I also always wear a helmet. I don’t care if it doesn’t look good. I don’t want my Mae to have to put my melon back together.
Provisions: If you want to buy a sandwich for the road (never a bad idea), my absolute favorite place to pick up a bicycle bag lunch is Thelins Konditori. There are a couple of Thelins around town, but the one I go to is on Kungsholmen at S:t Eriksgatan 43. I always get the vegetarian sandwich, which has fresh cream cheese, shredded carrots, peppers and lettuce on fruit and nut bread, which features huge hunks of dried apricot and walnuts. It’s the best bicycling sandwich ever. Add a vanilla cream cardamom bun or a chocolate dipped meringue for a little extra sugar boost.
1. Drottningholms Slott
Ride time: 45 – 75 min.
How to get there:
From the north: Take S:t Eriksgatan into Kungsholmen, make a right on Drottningholmsvägen and take it all the way west, cross a bridge, pass Alvik and Stora Mossen. Make a left at the roundabout at Brommaplan, and keep following Drottningholmsvägen until you get to Nockebybron, another bridge. Take it across two bodies of water into Ekerö.
From the south: Take Västerbron north into Kungsholmen, make a left on Drottningholmsvägen, then follow the rest of the directions above.
Drottningholm is the actual residence of the Swedish royal family. You could go inside and check out the part that’s open to the public, but then you have to pay an entrance fee. There’s some kind of Chinese pavilion here that you could also pay to gawk at. But the opulent (well, as opulent as Sweden gets) grounds offer plenty to look at. It’s modeled after French palaces from the 1600s or something — I don’t know, you can read about it on their website. I’m no architecture nerd.
Swans grace the water lily ponds. They dip their long necks into the water to bob for fish, their tails jiggling upright like little floating island meringues.
This is a lovely spot to picnic when the weather holds. Your non-cycling friends can take the ferry from Stadshuskajen at Stockholm City Hall, which is probably just as enjoyable as taking the bicycle.
2. Ulriksdals Slott
Ride time: 30-45 min.
How to get there:
Take Hagastråket north, all along the west side of Hagaparken. Ride until you reach the top of the Brunnsviken body of water, then turn right along the water along Bergshamnavägen. Keep your eyes out for the signs to Ulriksdals Slott. There is one little tunnel that you turn left into to reach the Ulriksdals complex. Ride along the narrow path, make a left and go up a hill until you reach the main entrance for Ulriksdals.
Yes, another castle! Plenty of little gravel paths and wood bridges to ride over. But it’s a little off the beaten path, so if you go in July, there is actually a chance that no one else will be around. There’s also a dreamy little set of hedge-enclosed gardens that would be perfect to sit and make out in if you were a Swedish princess sneaking around with the stable boy (or your personal trainer).
But this one has something better — a pick-your-own stuff garden. Rows of various potatoes, green beans and onions, as well as artichokes, giant cardoons, pretty flowers and tons of other stuff which you can cut with a little knife to put into the baskets they provide. Chic!
If you’re a city girl like me, you’ll get a kick out of picking your own potatoes. It’s magic! You pull up these big leafy plants and there are freaking POTATOES in the dirt. Lots of ‘em. In all sizes. They’re as alien as giant maggots but they’re crazy delicious.
The cafe has a classic Swedish fika spread — pies, cakes, meringues and more, with plenty of hot coffee to help you pep up for the ride back.
30 – 60 min., depending on where you start
How to get there:
Take Götgatan through Södermalm. Cross the bridge and keep going straight, past Globen. Go under the freeway and to the left to get to Skogskyrkogården.
Skogskyrkogården is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful and huge cemetery that doesn’t feel at all like a cemetery. When you bike in, all you see is a huge cross at the end of a long slope of grass.
The place was designed with the mourning experience in mind. A long walk (or drive) takes you up to the chapel entrance, so you can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for a funeral. Once you exit the chapel, you’re greeted with the humble splendor of the tall evergreen woods. The small, carved headstones are like rows of dotted lines throughout the ancient woods. The trees are magnificent. They tower over the little planted flowers on the graves as if to say hello, we know you’re mourning, but remember that life is beautiful, and it goes on.
Greta Garbo is buried here. Her earth-toned tombstone has what I presume is her signature etched in gold. She has her own little plot of grass, surrounded by stepping stones and a red carpet of flowers, just behind the Skogskapellet, or Woods Chapel.
I ate my smörgås up in the meditation grove, which is a little square at the top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the woods and chapel. It felt a tiny bit weird eating in a place called the meditation grove, but I promise you that I concentrated respectfully as I ate. Anyway, I think it would be weirder to drop crumbs on someone’s grave.
I highly recommend listening to the Choir of King’s College as you cycle around — that’s about as close to Christian divinity as I’ll ever get.
I hear this is the place to be on Allhelgonadagen, or All Saints Day, when the entire forest glows with candles on every grave.
South Stockholm, near Gamla Enskede
Ride time: 20-45 min.
How to get there:
Ride east on Odengatan until you get to Valhallavägen. Turn right and ride past the Tekniska Hogskolan until you reach Stockholms Stadion. Make a left onto Lidingövågen. Follow the bike path until you reach the water. There’s a tricky bit here where you have to ride down to the Silja ferry terminal, and it seems like you’re going the wrong way, but stay on the path. Go straight until you see the sign for Lidingö. Follow the path to the very straight and easy low foot and bicycle bridge. Once you get over the bridge, you have to find your way to the top of the hill. I took the path to the right down until I reached a staircase, then I walked my bike up. Then I walked up the steep paths from there. There is probably an easier way to the top, but I didn’t find it.
Millesgården was the home of sculptor Carl Milles, his wife Olga and his sister Ruth during the first half of the 1900s. It’s a huge garden at the top of a hill with lots of Milles’ whimsical sculptures, big and small, pretty flowers and tinkling fountains. The sculpture’s not really to my taste, but it is a really peaceful, beautiful spot for just soaking in the sun and looking at the ferries docked on the other side of the water.
The place is enormous, built on a really grand scale, especially by Swedish standards. The house sits higher than most places in Stockholm, overlooking the Lilla Värtan body of water between Lidingö and Norrmalm.
The house is filled with Milles’ collection of Greek artifacts, as well as art deco light fixtures, Swedish woodwork and pretty tiling. But the best thing about the place is the way the air flows through the house. You walk from room to room and the air just moves with you, filling the place with a lightness, a freshness that is incomparable on a hot day. The feng shui must be off the hook.
Statues on the terrace garden play at eye level. The sculptures in the main garden face out towards the world on giant pedestals, glorious in the sun and towering over the city.
The adjoining Bistro Rosenterrassen is pretty good, too. I had a nice pear tårta and a bottle of fizzy water in the cosmos-filled garden. They serve bullar from the Milles’ own recipe. They looked a little boring to me, so I went for cake instead, but they were offering a special deal with your entrance fee — 90 SEK to enter the garden, and only 10 SEK more for a coffee and bulle.
Lidingö is one of the prettiest places around town, so it’s nice just to ride along the edge of the island at the foot of the cliff, too.
5. Norra Begravningsplats
Ride time: 15-30 min.
How to get there: Take Torsgatan north until you get to Solnavägen. Take it up until there is a fork, where you can choose to take Märstastråket. You can’t miss it.
Norra Begravningsplats was a really lovely surprise. It’s off the beaten path and it’s barely on the map, though it’s quite close to the city. But once you ride up north this way, you can’t miss it. There are hedges around the edges of the grounds, so you don’t really get a sense of what’s inside until you actually go in. It’s an enormous cemetery, similar in style to Skogskyrkogården but a little less perfect.
I met someone tonight who lives in Solna, very close to Norra Begravningsplats. She said, “There are many gläntor there — that’s quite a romantic Swedish word you should know.” Glänta translates into glade, but what it means is a special spot where the light falls through deciduous trees just so, like in the John Bauer illustration she showed me to explain the word.
In the States, people often place cut bouquets on graves, but I’ve noticed that in Sweden, everyone plants flowers right in front of the tombstone. Makes the cemetery a much less gloomy place. I like the idea of living things growing in a place that marks death.
It’s probably not the place to put out a picnic, since there aren’t any spots really to do such a thing, but it’s a peaceful place to ride around and listen to music in.
Any of you Stockholmers have any suggestions for other day rides?