Three Stockholm Hotels In Three Days

6.24.2013

By Mark Peikert

ABBA and Greta Garbo also make appearances in this whirlwind tour.

Stockholm, you may remember from geography class, is a series of islands, each one of which could easily be renamed DILF Island. Every man is tall, slim, gorgeous, and stomach-churningly stylish. Many of them wear slim-cut suits (and the majority accessorize the suits by going sans underwear) and ride bicycles. No one seems to be anything less than stunning. More than the jet lag, it was this pinnacle of beauty that was most disorienting. But eventually you get used to it and they become part of the scenery, something to snap discreet pictures of, like sunsets or the Royal Palace.

Part of this trip, taken in honor of my boyfriend’s 30th birthday, was about hotel-hopping, which let us both enjoy three different hotels (rooms that magically clean themselves are part of the fun of travel, after all) and three different neighborhoods in Stockholm. And though both of us are somewhat over-organized, we made a conscious effort to not plan an itinerary and instead take each day as it came. The only thing I insisted upon was a trip to Greta Garbo’s grave because I did not fly across the Atlantic to not pay my respects. I also advocated that we stay at boutique hotel The Berns.

The Berns, as I’m sure you know, was a famed concert hall long before it was a boutique hotel. You’re probably familiar with the Marlene Dietrich concert filmed there? While artists still perform there -- Rihanna’s recent concert managed to start three hours late -- it's upped its original game by adding a members-only club/gallery, the Asian fusion restaurant Asiatiska and a terrace bar that gets crowded fast.

While we didn't get the much coveted clock tower suite, the living quarters of which is pictured to the right, our room at Berns was exactly what one hopes for in a European hotel room: French doors leading to postage-stamp-sized balconies behind purple velvet drapes, the kind of high-end modern furniture that would be immediately destroyed in an American hotel, and a waiting plate of fresh strawberries and chocolates. Even better, we could throw open the French doors without any nasty Rear Window activities, since our room faced a tranquil, unintrusive synagogue.

One problem with the Berns -- for us, at least -- is that it’s located in one of the pricier neighborhoods in Stockholm (just across the street is Louis Vuitton and the Royal Palace), so eating a meal in the neighborhood can be tricky. But, on the plus side, Berns is just a quick tram ride away from the recently opened ABBA Museum, which is sustenance of a different variety.

The idolatrous camp hits you immediately.

Outside the museum stand life-size replicas of the band’s members, with cut-out faces that allow visitors to pose as their favorite, while inside the permanent exhibit opens with a short film so breathlessly, hectically edited it makes Baz Luhrmann look like Ingmar Bergman. It's a bit of an overwhelming start before entering what seems like an ABBA hoarder’s collection. The powers that be even found the original recording studio mixing board on eBay and hauled it into the museum. There’s also a red phone on a shelf to which allegedly only four people in the world have the number. Their names all start with an “a” or a “b.” Why they would want to call is beyond me, but it's all in good fun, so better to embrace the nonsense.

(Tchotchkes at the ABBA Museum.)

As luck would have it, we went straight from the ABBA Museum to what's often called ABBA Hotel—The Rival, owned by the band's former songwriter Benny Andersson. (Yes, ABBA’s Gold was included in the room for in-house listening.) Our room was slightly disappointing after the Berns, with a window that overlooked a roof and a shower that had a window overlooking the bed, but the rest of the hotel—built in a former cinema—had all the character and ambience we were looking for. Lush, rich public décor befitted the hotel's former life as a cinema; the carpets and furniture gave the impression of heavy red curtains and history without feeling stifling or overwhelming. There was also a hearty complimentary breakfast, which never hurts.

Nor does it hurt that the Rival, in the Södermalm neighborhood, is perfectly situated for prime shopping. Where the Berns has the high-end luxury stores close at hand, the Rival is surrounded by vintage shops, from the over-curated Grandpa (only a handful of vintage items were deemed worthy enough for inclusion) to the exhaustive Herr Judit. And while the neighboring hole-in-the-wall restaurants varied in quality and service, the local Stuket was one of those genuine finds that mark a vacation as a triumph of good fortune over guidebooks. (The much-ballyhooed Urban Deli, however, was so remarkably like a New York City café that it defeated the entire purpose of travel.)

As our trip neared it conclusion—and flatly refusing to stand around in anymore shops while my boyfriend tried on clothes—we gathered our quickly multiplying bags for our last excursion, to the Nordic Light Hotel.

For anyone who frets about traveling in a foreign city, the Nordic Light is probably the safest choice in Stockholm. It is mere steps away from the Arlanda Express, the swift, punctual train that runs straight from the airport to downtown Stockholm. Sister hotel Nordic Sea may have the popular Ice Bar, but Nordic Light has what it calls “Mood Rooms” with a “specially designed light bed.” I admit I didn’t play around with the settings too much, which may be why it stayed lit like a brothel for the duration of our stay. (During the day, the bright, streaming sunlight made the room feel as sleek and modern as the apartment of a movie Wall Street villain.) And though our corner room afforded prime people-watching opportunities from the windows, the towels were strangely ragged, as if the owners had splurged on the lighting and were forced to thrift their towels and washcloths. But who cares about lights or towels when the complimentary breakfast offers genuine Swedish delicacies like organic smoothies, pickled herring and reindeer meat?

Nordic Light’s prime Norrmalm location also makes it convenient for traveling to even the farthest flung reaches of the city, but it doesn’t offer the most scintillating of nightlife. Thus, we found ourselves taking the underground train to nearby Slussen, where we had cocktails at Gondolen, a space decorated like a set from Mad Men and offering spectacular views of the city, and the guzzled a quick drink at Torget, a bar so low-key it’s like awkwardly sitting in a stranger’s living room during a party to which you weren't invited.

(A moody room at Nordic Light.)

Nordic Light does offer the chance to feel like a real tourist, though, in the form the awful chain restaurant Jensen’s Bøfhaus and small local stores selling knick-knacks and home décor items. It’s also directly across the street from Max’s, Sweden’s answer to McDonald’s, should you feel the urge to indulge in (vastly superior) European fast food. Staying at Nordic Light is a little like staying in Times Square, where convenience outweighs local flavor and that only last stays fresh for a day or two before you start craving something a little less flashy. But, then again, you may be too dazzled by this gorgeously constructed and historically rich town to notice.

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