Stockholm is a city that knows how to prepare for the long and dark nights of winter. During Advent, one million Christmas lights adorn more than 40 of the Swedish capital’s streets and squares with angels on lampposts as well reindeer, moose, pine cones, mistletoe and a plethora of other illuminations around the city centre’s Walk of Light.

Other attractions include an ice-skating rink at Kungstradgarden (King’s Garden) and the city’s esteemed Christmas market selling glogg, a Scandinavian take on mulled wine. Stockholm is a dressed-up city and locals turn out in all their winter finery under clear and starlit winter skies with a cup of glogg in one hand and a slice of gingerbread in the other. The eco-friendly lights of the city are just one aspect of Sweden taking environmental action seriously.

Arlanda Airport is owned and operated by the state-owned Swedavia, an international role model for developing airports with a reduced impact on the climate. The Arlanda Express train is the fastest and most environmentally friendly way into the city centre taking 20 minutes.

After arriving at Hotel Scandic and checking in I was surprised to find my room provided a record player as well as a stack of vinyl albums including everything from Thin Lizzy to Sibelius, a staff were helpful and friendly.

The sky began to change from pink, bruising into dark blue before I was met at the hotel by my cheerful tour guide Mecki Bresciani. As darkness fell we passed the glass and steel obelisk known as Crystal, lit up in bright pink it stands tall amid water fountains in the landmark Sergel’s Square, a busy pedestrian plaza.

We first headed to the Old Town area and alleys of Gamala Stan where the cobblestoned streets and small squares take you past the Royal Palace into an ancient fairytale wonderland and to where the city was founded in the 13th century. It’s an ideal place to stop for a coffee and pastry while drawing breath in one of the many charming cafes dotted around the area.

At Stortorget Square, a large image of Martin Luther King stood out among the Christmas markets and busy flow of people. The red and white section of an American flag was the backdrop to an image of the civil rights leader walking from Selma to Montgomery. Various images, digital graphics and extracts tell the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s story and the history of wider equality.

An image of Rosa Parks holding her prison number was contrasted with the quote: “Each person must live their life as a model for others”. The non-violent message of those figures was strengthened by a deeply-held Christian belief and was a powerful reminder of our shared humanity. Nobel Week begins in early December when the Nobel Laureates arrive in Stockholm to give lectures followed by the prizes being given on December 10.

Next to the museum is the Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas, among its many riches is the Parhelion painting featuring an image of halos around the sun, dating to the 1630s. Also in the church is a dramatic image of St George on horseback while slaying the dragon.

The tour took a somewhat grisly turn walking in the footsteps of murdered Prime Minister Olof Palme. The 1986 assassination is still surrounded by mystery. A golden plaque embedded in the ground marks where Palme died and it’s an unsettling reminder of this unsolved crime.

Not far from here, in similar circumstances, minister for foreign affairs Anna Lindh was murdered while shopping in the Nordiska Kompaniet department store in 2003.

The Vasa Museum is ranked among the finest in the world and is one of the most popular in Scandinavia. It features a stunning warship built in 1628 from wood. Astonishingly it was salvaged from the sea-bed 333 years later and visitors are privy to what life was like aboard. The skull and bones of just under 20 of the ship’s crew from below deck are also featured as well as reconstructions of how they looked, where they were from and their role on the ship. One body was preserved to the point that a complete brain, hair and fingernails remained.

Getting back into the Yule spirit the next day’s lunch is spent on a Christmas cruise enjoying a wintery vista during an archipelago tour. We set sail with a bottle of Julmust, the refreshing berry flavoured soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola during Christmas representing a national symbol of identity not unlike Irn-Bru to Scots.

I chose Swedish meatballs, lutefisk (whitefish) and Christmas sausages from the buffet. There’s a jovial atmosphere on the boat which caters to large groups creating a good intermingling of locals celebrating Christmas parties and tourists keen to sample a traditional Swedish experience. During the voyage, you look out onto the various hotels, restaurants and museums spread along the archipelago.

On the last day, I was joined by my wife Louise to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Our day began with a visit to the ABBA Museum. There’s plenty about the Swedish four-piece and their music that lends itself to this time of year. The backstories of the four original members is absorbing but particularly Frida Lyngstad. The exhibition sheds light on the fact that Lyngstad was born after her Norwegian mother had an affair with a Nazi soldier. The broader biographies and Frida’s romantic relationship with Benny Andersson (and Björn Ulvaeus with Agnetha Fältskogand) are told through interviews, archive clips and photographs.

Of course, there is a section reserved for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest winner Waterloo. On display is the glam costumes worn that night at the Brighton Dome as well as Bjorn’s star-shaped guitar. We see replicas of the band’s Polar Office where ABBA’s manager Stikkan Anderson plotted European pop domination. At Polar Studio, you can absorb the interactive spirit of the experience by laying down your own vocal cut on tracks including the likes of The Winner Takes It All and Thank You For The Music. Alternatively, you can dance and sing along with a digital version of the band performing Dancing Queen.

If you’d rather not sing you can re-mix your version of an ABBA classic. In honour of the track Ring Ring there is a telephone that fans are encouraged to pick up as only the four members of ABBA have the number. Once in a while, apparently, they call the museum for a random chat. Overall it’s a nostalgic trip through the 1970s and early 80s featuring the costumes, record covers and songs that governed pop culture. Watch out for Glasgow Apollo tickets from gigs performed at the theatre in 1977 and 1979.

Our next stop was a sweet-smelling treat visiting the Gingerbread House exhibition, which hosts an annual contest. The ornate gingerbread contest imbues an egalitarian philosophy inviting professionals and amateurs, adults and children to compete using their imagination for a yearly theme. The impressive finished works are on display at ArkDes, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design.

For our anniversary dinner, we opted for Smak. The concept is to circle five small dishes on the menu which are numbered 1 to 20. Each dish is appropriately matched with a selection of wine. Among the choices are fish, chicken and steak dishes as well as vegetarian options. Friendly waiters and dressed-up local patrons all helped create a highly spirited atmosphere.

Before an afternoon flight the next day I spent the morning at Centralbadet, an Art Nouveau swimming pool built in 1904 and designed by the eminent architect Wilhelm Klemming which features roman, thermal and steam baths and three saunas. It was the ideal place to relax before returning home to a busy festive season.

For more information please visit

To arrange a visit to the ABBA Museum, see

To book a table at Smak visit

To book a room at the Scandic Hotel

For a guided boat tour in the archipelago visit