At the end of 2017, I decided I really wanted to make the most of every opportunity I had to travel in 2018. We are two weeks into the new year and I have already been to two new countries, have another lined up for the beginning of February, have a long weekend trip planned to France for August and also going to book a longer summer holiday for July sometime during the next week (that’s the goal anyway). So it’s safe to say that I am really heading into this year with all guns blazing and a very depleted bank balance.
After NYE in Scotland, we headed to Amsterdam, Netherlands for a few days. The same day we arrived we did the Heineken Experience tour in the old Heineken factory. With every ticket purchased you get three beers (not complaining) and a complete tour of the brewery. It was well worth the visit, even if you aren’t interested in beer. It was a really cool place and it was actually really interesting learning about the Heineken family. The weather was pretty average for us, so one windy day we headed to the Rijksmuseum which was really close to our hotel (we stayed at the Hotel JL No. 76 and it was fab). To be honest, it wasn’t the best museum I have been to, but at least we killed some time indoors while it was rainy and cold. If you like art, you’ll like this museum – but for me it was a little boring.
We wandered around the canals and had some great pancakes along one of the alleyways. Amsterdam was a cool place, I would like to go back in summer maybe and make use of the bikes. If I have the chance to go again, I would consider it – but I do feel like I saw most of what Amsterdam is about in the two days we were there.
After Amsterdam we headed to Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm was a city I really wanted to visit during my time in Europe. I love Scandinavian design and style and Stockholm did not disappoint. It shot right to the top of my favourite cities list, for so many reasons. If you’re thinking of visiting Stockholm, be warned – it is pricey. We paid the equivalent of £16 ($30 NZD) for two beers in a pub one night *sharp intake of breath* so be prepared to cough up the bucks for a good time.
I set onto a lot of research before we went. I wanted to make the most of every minute we were there so I read a lot of blogs/travel websites before we arrived. Almost every site I visited recommended that tourists buy a Stockholm Pass. One thing that Stockholm does well is tourism – their city is so well catered to visitors and this card was the prime example. With the pass you get free entry to over 60 attractions in the city (basically all of them), free hop-on-hop-off bus and boat tour and a guidebook to go with it. It was expensive. A two-day adult pass was 795 SEK (£72 or $136 NZD), so be prepared to spend a lot. It was so worth it though and I can’t recommend getting this pass enough – especially if you want to visit museums/attractions. We headed to the Vasa Museum, Fotografiska, Nordic Museum and Skansen Open Air Museum during the two days we were there. We also did a full loop of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour one afternoon/evening and used this as our mode of transport for both days.
The major highlight of Stockholm was the Skansen Open Air Museum. This is the oldest open air museum in the world and is still operating today. There were old Viking houses, woodmills, glassblowing workhouses and Nordic animals to see – we probably spent a solid three hours here and time just flew. I would highly recommend visiting this place. We visited when it was -5 degrees (I couldn’t feel my hands) but it was a blue sky day and we saw wolves, so we couldn’t complain at all. We headed to Vasa Museum next (holds the only preserved 17th century warship) and then onto the Nordic Museum (a history of Sweden). Fotografiska (photography museum) was actually really great too and was probably tied for second favourite with the Vasa Museum.
We wandered around Stockholm Old Town after visiting Fotografiska and then visited the Royal Palace. We looked at the crown jewels and the royal apartments but didn’t make it to the Kronor museum inside – but to be fair, we weren’t that interested anyway. I would have loved to have visited Grona Lund, but it was closed for the winter. It didn’t matter too much, as we had so many other places to visit anyway. Plus, the ABBA Museum was on my list but was vetoed by my travel companion who doesn’t recognise good music when he hears it.
Another highlight of Sweden were the meatballs. Swedish meatballs are their national dish and are typically served with mash, pickled cucumber and lingonberries. We had meatballs both nights we were there, from two different places. First up was Nomad Swedish Food and Bar – a more modern little bar in downtown Stockholm. The next night we went to Knut and the meatballs here were a cut above! If you visit Stockholm, I would highly highly highly recommend both places. Jeremy said it was possibly the best thing he has ever eaten – I’m sure he means after my cooking (of course).
I can’t put my finger on one reason why Stockholm was my favourite. The people were lovely, it was well catered for tourists, there was so much to do (I think you could easily spend a week here) and the design/style of everything was just beautiful – this city has a heck of a lot of money. Stockholm made me want to visit a lot more of Scandinavia and I will no doubt be booking some travel in soon.