I started working for Nature Travels in September 2015 and had never really thought about travelling to northern Europe. As a girl who likes the sea and sun I had usually headed to a hotter climate for my travels. Last month I travelled to Sweden for the first time to explore their capital Stockholm and all the delights it has to offer!

Stockholm panorama

After a very early start, I headed to Gatwick with my friend Kat who I was travelling with for the weekend and flew to Stockholm Arlanda to begin our first day in Stockholm (you can read about her Five things I loved about my first visit to Stockholm). I picked up our Stockholm Card from the tourist office at the airport. I would highly recommend getting one if you were visiting Stockholm for the weekend. Basically, you can choose to have a card for 2, 3 or 5 days and it covers entrance to over 75 museums and attractions, public transport, sight seeing by foot, bike and boat and you also get a handy map.

Arlanda express

Stockholm Arlanda airport is just outside the city centre but it’s easy to travel into central Stockholm. We took the Arlanda express for our journey there and by train standards this is one stylish train. Not to sound like a train geek (not that that’s a bad thing!) I was very impressed with this simple but elegant train, as well as standard seats (which were like posh office chairs), some carriages had seats lined facing out the window along a bar table with little table lamps at each place so you could work at them, a change from the train travel I am used to in the UK. This train runs on 100% green electricity which means that renewable source are used to generate the electricity, such as hydropower, wind power or biofuels.

metro art

Stockholm has a brilliant public transport system, the underground metro is beautiful having been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings and engravings by over 150 artists. It easy to negotiate and as a person who still struggles with the London underground system, this was a piece of cake!

fika

Talking of cake, I must mention fika! Fika is sort of our afternoon tea equivalent and is the name for having coffee and cake in the afternoon so if you’re invited for fika don’t eat a big lunch as there are a lot of cake and pastry shops to choose from. The Swedes also like their Asian cuisine, there are a lot of sushi restaurants which I found a personal treat and it surprisingly was a very cost effective option for eating out, plus you usually get miso soup and green tea as standard with your meal.

sushi

Once we arrived in Stockholm and dropped our bags at the hotel, we took a bus tour of the town to get our bearings and made a plan for what we would like to visit. The next day, we started with a wander around Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, full of cobbled streets and little boutique shops. It originally housed the merchants based in Stockholm and has some beautifully impressive buildings, including the Royal Palace and Cathedral.

Gamla Stan 2

We took the metro to Södermalm and walked down the main high street, full of interior designer shops and people dressed in black. Stockholm is an interior designer’s paradise and has many shops dedicated to make your home look chic and sophisticated. We stopped for spot of lunch in the trendy Sofo area and then took a slow stroll back to the Stortorget square, in Gamla Stan for some fika. Although we had not long had lunch the chocolate brownie was hard to resist, (hence the recommendation of not having a big lunch before a spot of fika, unless of course you have more will power than me!).

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The rest of the afternoon was spent on a boat tour of Stockholm, it’s a great way to see the town and you can get on and off wherever you want and just hop back on later if you like the look of anywhere and want to explore. We had decided to jump off at Fotografiska, one of the world’s largest exhibits for contemporary photography, coincidentally showing an Englishman’s exhibit of seaside resorts, including Weymouth, the home town of my friend Kat.

fotografiska

The following day we decided to spend the whole day at Djurgården, a royal National City park, originally created as a hunting ground for King Carl XI. This green island in Stockholm also has some of the main museums and attractions of the city. Possibly the most famous of which is the Vasa Museum, a brilliant museum that is home to an incredibly well-preserved 300 year old ship that sank just 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. Stockholm is set between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea which has a very low saline content and accounts for the preservation of the ship and why many divers visit Sweden to investigate a wealth of unspoiled wrecks.

Vasa

Back in Djurgården, we also visited the Biological Museum, Noriska Museum and Skansen, home to the world’s oldest open air museum and Stockholm zoo. The beginning of May was a great time to visit as it is home to many native animals to Scandinavia was full of very cute new arrivals. We then stopped at the Spritmuseum which is a surprisingly fun and interactive museum for grown ups, exploring our relationship with alcohol, but sadly we had miss any tastings! We ended our day with a walk around Djurgården, enjoying the tranquility of this oasis in the capital city.

Baby-reindeer

Our final morning was spent on a boat trip to one of the archipelago islands for a short stop and explore, Kat and I went for a walk around the island which wasn’t our cleverest idea. We had managed to walk half way round the island and then scrabbled up some rocks to get the other side of the small island, however we came across some rather disgruntled geese that were nesting in the rocks and the ganders were protecting their new families. We managed to find our way to the other side after some careful negotiating around the rocks, which is tricky when there are hundreds of geese (might be a slight over exaggeration), hiding their nests around corners and behind bushes but they let us know very quickly if we hadn’t seen them and got too close.

angry-gander

After our adventure with the aggressive ganders, we headed back to the centre and spent an afternoon shopping for tourist goodies before taking the Flybussarna back to the airport to travel home.

Gamla Stan

Stockholm is an ideal city break before or after exploring the wilderness of Sweden on one of our outdoor experiences.

Enjoy!

Niki at Nature Travels

Bob from the Nature Travels Team came across something very strange and rather wonderful in the remote region of Kainuu in Eastern Finland during his visit in May 2015:

Travelling south on the main road from Hossa towards Kajaani, suddenly the thick forest gives way for a moment to an open field, where you’ll discover something very special. For this is the home of the Silent People.

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I’m no art critic – I wouldn’t even say I’m particularly interested in art – yet the Silent People really moved me. It’s difficult to say exactly why. Some might find them scary – a mute zombie army advancing menacingly, faceless ghosts haunting the endless forests. Some have said they are a reflection on the Finnish national character, particularly here in the Kainuu region. (There’s an old joke that goes, “A Swede and a Finn are having a beer. The Swede says, ‘Skål!’ [Cheers]. The Finn replies, “We gonna talk, or we gonna drink?”)

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Perhaps it was the rainy May morning, still carrying the nip of winter in the air. Certainly being the only visitor there added to the magical, other-wordly atmosphere. But I found the installation oddly thought-provoking, even uplifting. In a world of constant meaningless chatter, where else could you find a thousand people comfortable in their own silence, content to enjoy the natural beauty of the sights and sounds around them without comment?

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Just a few days before, a strong storm had swept through the region, bringing down trees and power lines and, it seems, several of the Silent People too. Some lay prostrate on the wet ground. Others were frozen in a half-fallen posture as if they’d stumbled just before I arrived and were struggling to stand. Some had lost their hats or scarves, which lay nearby in muddy puddles or entangled in the rough grass.

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As I wondered among the “bodies”, I felt oddly responsible for them. I thought of these figures standing patiently in the field, day after day, in all weathers, stoically enduring the elements and the passing of the seasons. It occurred to me that, were I in their position, I would certainly appreciate a hat. Before I knew it, I was collecting sodden items from the mud, replacing baseball caps on straw heads, draping woollen scarves around wooden shoulders.

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At first I thought how sad it was that they had been so neglected, that perhaps no-one else would care for them after I left. But according to the leaflet from the small wooden reception cabin, their heads (made from peat from the field they stand in) are repaired and their clothing attended to twice a year. The young girl quietly making a fire to brew coffee said that they would be redressed next week before the official opening for the summer.

So soon the Silent People will once again be looking their best.

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But in the meantime, I thought their dishevelled state only added to the emotional impact – echoing our own frailty, perhaps, reminding us of our own mortality.

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So if you find yourself on the road to Kajaani, perhaps coming from a snowshoeing tour in the beautiful Hossa region or a hiking trip along the Finnish-Russian border, spare a few minutes to spend with the Silent People, waiting patiently in their boggy field for your company. And if one has lost its hat, put it back, for the Silent People cannot help themselves…

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The Silent People is an installation of almost a thousand straw and wood figures created by artist Reijo Kela. For more information on the Silent People, see www.kuutamokeikat.fi

Kat joined Niki from Nature Travels on a recent trip to Stockholm and she tells us what she loved about the place!

Before I travelled to Stockholm a few weeks ago, I knew very little about it. What I discovered once I arrived was that it was a beautiful, welcoming city with lots to experience. There was a lot that I loved about Stockholm, but the following are the top five things I took away after seeing the city for the first time. panorama

1. How calm it is This might sound odd, but Stockholm is the most chilled out capital city I’ve ever been to. As we arrived on a public holiday, I initially thought the laidback pace of life was due to the holiday, but no, Stockholm is a city where no one seems to be rushing, where traffic isn’t gridlocked and where someone slowly wandering the streets taking in the sights isn’t a massive inconvenience to everyone else sharing the pavements. water

2. How much water there is Before I visited Stockholm, I hadn’t fully appreciated how much the water plays a role in its layout and its atmosphere. There’s something incredibly soothing about almost always having water in sight and it means that it’s a truly beautiful city to explore on foot. It also means you can mix up your sightseeing with a boat trip, giving you a new perspective on Stockholm and its architecture. calm

3. How easy it is to walk everywhere I generally prefer to be active on my holidays, and Stockholm is a great place for that because it’s so easy to walk around the city. The cobbled streets and narrow alleys of Gamla Stan are a delight to discover on foot; there are wonderful routes that follow the the waterways, leading you to museums, landmarks and peaceful gardens; and you’re never far from green space if you want a bit of a break from the city. subway-art

4. Subway art Although you can quite easily walk around Stockholm, you should definitely hop on the underground at least once, if only to admire the art you can find at the majority of the city’s underground stations. There are colourful murals, weird and wonderful statues and even fountains to be discovered – it definitely makes train journeys around the city more fun – you’re never sure what you’ll be confronted by when you step off the train. fika

5. Fika Before I went to Stockholm, I wasn’t familiar with Fika. By the time I left, it was one of my favourite parts of the day. For the uninitiated, Fika is coffee and cake, a Swedish staple. Stockholm is home to lots of amazing cafes and restaurants selling delicious cake and excellent coffee. A Fika break is a must when you’ve had a busy morning sightseeing, and as it’s a Swedish tradition, it’d be rude not to.

For me, the Stockholm Archipelago is a little bit of paradise, but I grew up there. My family lived in one of the archipelago towns during winter and school terms and then moved out to live in our summer house on an island in the middle of the archipelago over 10 weeks during the summer each year.

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The archipelago begins just a few minutes away from the city of Stockholm. It stretches roughly 60 km (37 miles) in a north–south direction, and mainly follows the coastline of the Södermanland and Uppland counties.

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The exact number of islands depends on who you talk to, but something in between 24,000-30,000 seems to be the agreed consensus.

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There are uninhabited islets as well as islands with just a few summer houses and bigger islands with new communities and historic villages, where large houses and small cottages stand side by side. Islands with stores, pubs, restaurants, youth hostels and bed and breakfasts. However, keep in mind that most of the island villages are very remote, with limited options for dining and groceries.

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My family belongs to one of the large archipelago families and many on the surrounding islands are some kind of distant relative – maybe my Mum’s cousin’s cousin! In 1719, the archipelago had an estimated population of 2,900, consisting mostly of fishermen. Today the archipelago is a popular holiday destination with some 50,000 holiday homes. The Stockholm Archipelago Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the nature and culture of the archipelago, owns some 15% of its total area.

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Like most inhabitants of the archipelago between the mid-1400s and the Second World War, my great grandma and grandpa were farmers and fishermen. Spring and autumn fishing was quite intensive in the outer archipelago from 1450 until the mid-1800s, and many fishermen lived for long periods on the outer islands because of the long distances back to their permanent homes in the inner archipelago. The combined farming and fishing culture lasted until around 1950–1955 when the younger generation, born during and directly after the war, started to leave the archipelago and look for jobs in the cities on the mainland. Today ,most of the small farms on the islands are closed and the fishing industry has almost disappeared.

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The Stockholm Archipelago is really unique. Not so many people live in the archipelago permanently nowadays, but very many people from Stockholm and other areas have their summer houses out on the islands and spend their weekends and summer holidays there.

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You can visit the inner, middle or outer archipelagos. The natural beauty of the archipelago is outstanding and on a nice summer day, absolutely incredible. It’s a mesmerising wonderland of rocky isles carpeted with deep forests and fields of wildflowers, dotted with boats and little red wooden cottages.

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The best time to visit is during the spring and summer months from May to September. If you have the time and possibility, please visit one or several of the islands and not only enjoy the scenery from a boat deck,

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We offer many different options to explore the Archipelago – by kayak, under sail, and by bicycle, so why not make it a goal for this summer to explore one of the worlds hidden beauty spots – The Stockholm Archipelago, so close to the city, yet a world away!

Sofia – part of the Nature Travels Team

Kayak through the archipelago:

We offer both guided and self-guided options for sea kayaking, camping wild along the way, quite probably on your own private island!

Guided Sea Kayaking in the Stockholm Archipelago
Self-guided Sea Kayaking in the Stockholm Archipelago
Stockholm Archipelago Self-guided Kayak Explorer

Go sailing in the archipelago:

A wonderful adventure for couples or families with your very own local skipper!

Sailing in the Stockholm Archipelago

Hiking and Biking:

A multi-activity adventure with luggage transfers and accommodation in local guests houses and hostels along the way

Hike and Bike in the Stockholm Archipelago
Hike, Bike and Paddle Stockholm’s Lakes and Islands

Hiking:

Explore some of the jewels of the archipelago on foot and by boat:

Island Hopping and Hiking in the Stockholm Archipelago

Jayne from Nature Travels joined one of our Northern Lights Dog Sledding in Lapland tours in March 2015.

The other members of my group were a mother and daughter and a family (father, mother and daughter), our guide Torben (all or whom were from Germany) and myself.

The morning of our first day’s sledding dawned a beautiful sunny day and began with meeting our sled dogs at the kennels.

My team were Reiker (my lead dog), Grizzly (Reiker’s niece), Norska and Fiona (my wheel dogs) 3 of whom were mid-distance (around 500km) race finishers!

All of the dogs were very friendly (although some were understandably a little shy around strangers at first) and were eager to meet us and give us hugs and receive strokes. I would have gladly stayed in the kennels making friends with every dog all morning but it was soon time to load our sleds, harness our dogs (which could be a little tricky with some of the more excitable or the shyer dogs) and set off!

Elky ready to go sledding!

As soon as we set out, the dogs, who had become very excitable whilst waiting to go, fell silent and soon there was only the sound of the dogs’ paws on snow and the noise of the sleds’ runners on the snow. The first part of our journey was through the forest, which was a great opportunity to practise our sled steering techniques. However the forest soon thinned and we were suddenly out on a frozen lake surrounded by mountains, the quietness combined with the scenery was magical.

The rest of the day was spent gliding across the frozen landscape getting to know our dogs, their different behaviours and perfecting our sledding technique.

After a day’s sledding, once we had made sure the dogs were settled (unharnessed and attached to the fixed line, with straw to sleep on for the night), we set about preparing the cabin lighting the fire in the main room and in the sauna, collecting water (filling the containers in the sauna with water), chopping wood etc.

Then it was time to feed the dogs and put coats on the smaller dogs for the night. The dogs’ food was a mix of meat and a dry mix (for added nutrients) in water, which they all seem to love!

Reiker and Grizzly

Reiker and Grizzly in their coats.

At the end of the day it was time for a relax and a sauna and, as the sauna heated water in a metal container, a chance to wash.

The next few days were a wonderful mix of sledding through the stunning Swedish scenery on frozen rivers and lakes and through forests (this included some rather steep uphill parts where we had to get off our sled and walk/jog behind to help the dogs or when going down hill trying to slow the dogs down and keep them from getting to close to the sled in front), feeding and generally taking care of the dogs and relaxing in the saunas in the evenings.

For me the highlights of the trip where:

Spending time with the dogs, both sledding with and looking after them (and hugging them of course); by the end of the tour I knew pretty much everyone’s dogs names and which other dogs they were related to (I have to confess I am a bit of a dog lover!).

Meeting the puppies at the kennels; when we returned our dogs to the kennels we were lucky enough to meet some puppies who had been born only 5 days earlier and were allowed to hold two of them as part of their acclimatisation to being around different people all the time, we were even allowed to name the female puppy Cookie!

Cookie!

Cookie!

Seeing the Northern Lights; as we were travelling during a period of particularly high solar activity we were lucky enough to see the Aurora on two evenings during our tour. They danced across the entire sky is swirling arcs and were totally mesmerising.

The amazing scenery: Northern Sweden is very beautiful and what better way to experience it than by dogsled. We were also very lucky with the weather – we had sunshine on almost everyday which meant that the views continued for miles.

All in all is was a great trip and one that I will never forget.

Best regards

Jayne, The Nature Travels team

You can find out more about our Northern Lights Dog Sledding in Lapland and see our full range of Nordic dogsled experiences on our website.

At Nature Travels we are expanding our range of experiences for our lovely customers to enjoy and have recently added Finland to the countries our adventures are based.

lake-district

Finland is Europe’s 8th largest country but one of the most sparsely-populated, which gives a real sense of wilderness when away from the main cities. The landscape is mostly flat whilst ridges run along northwest to southeast that were formed by glaciers. The glaciers lasted longer and were thicker in Finland and after being compressed under the enormous weight, the country is now rising because of post-glacial rebound and Finland is expanding by around 7 square km every year.

brown-bear

Finland is a country with thousands of lakes and islands – about 188,000 lakes and 179,000 islands. With vast areas of outstanding natural beauty, Finland is covered in taiga forest, the countryside is rich in wildlife and the brown bear is the national animal. Grey wolf, wolverine, lynx, beaver, reindeer and elk can also be found to name a few, including the world’s rarest seal, the Saimaa ringed seal, which can only be found in the lakes of south east Finland.

seal

Given all those lakes and the winter season, it’s not a surprise that skating is popular in Finland, girls learn to figure skate whilst the boys play ice hockey but that’s starting to change in recent years with help from the International Ice Hockey Federation holding their World Girls’ ice hockey weekend in Finland. All children are given an equal start in life and for the past 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a baby box with essentials such as clothing, toys and even a snow suit so they can get accustomed to the cold as quick as possible.

Snowshoeing-Finland

The sport often considered Finland’s national sport is Pesäpallo or “nest ball” which resembles baseball or rounders but differs with the batter and the pitcher facing each other on the home base and the pitcher throws the ball directly upwards above them to at least one metre above their head.

pesapello-2

There are some similarities to Sweden, as it was part of Sweden for more than 500 years until 1809. Swedish is still one of its official languages and all official texts including road signs are written in both Finnish and Swedish. However, there is no need to speak Finnish or Swedish as most Finns speak fluent English. When visiting Finland you might like to know that you have to have your headlights on at all times including during the daytime and speeding fines are directly related to income. A speeding millionaire managed to rack up a huge €54,000 fine!

road-signs

Saunas are one of the main things you will associate with Finland. With a population of around 5.5 million and nearly 2 million saunas, that’s pretty much one sauna per household! All of our new packages offer sauna facilities and the sauna is a vital part of Finnish culture and we encourage all our guests to give it a go and if feeling brave, have a roll in the snow afterwards (or jump in the lake if during summer!).

sauna

The Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers and they enjoy their coffee with pulla, a Finnish sweet pastry. There are other famous things from Finland as well as the sauna, including Angry Birds, Moomins and Nokia but more importantly it’s also home to many world championships, including wife-carrying, sauna, air guitar and mobile phone throwing (but not all at the same time!). There is also a beer floating event, which doesn’t involve floating bottles of beer but rather thousands of people float down a river in various inflatable devices including dinghies, paddling pools and life rafts with no more than a paddle and a lot of beer!

air-guitar

At Nature Travels, we specialise solely in environmentally responsible outdoor adventure holidays and Finland makes a perfect addition as a year-round destination for exciting travel. Explore Finland in Summer with our new Cycling and Canoeing in Eastern Finland and Hiking in the Finnish-Russian Borderland. Experience a Finnish winter with our Cross Country Skiing in Eastern Finland, Private Dogsled Tours for Two in the Taiga Forest and Snowshoeing in the Hossa Nature Park.

Enjoy!

In a globalised world, wherever you travel, and within Europe particularly, most elements of daily life seem at first glance very familiar.

But scratch beneath the surface and the subtle differences begin to reveal themselves, adding a new dimension to the adventure of travelling and reminding us that cultural differences are still alive and well after all.

One of these which strikes many first-time visitors to Sweden is The Great Double Duvet Mystery (and its counterpart, The Great Double Bed Mystery). Rent a cabin in Sweden, look closely at that beautiful bed in your lovely hotel room, or knock on the door of a friendly Swede’s house and ask politely if you can look in their bedroom, and you’ll soon discover something odd:

Where are all the double duvets? Where are all the double beds?

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Photo: archiproducts.com

Is this some hangover from Sweden’s socialist roots resulting in a bizarre national bedding shortage? Is there some stratospheric luxury tax on double-sized anything that makes these commodities the preserve of the super-rich?

Or (unfathomable horror of horrors!), could it be that the Swedes actually like it this way?

If so, well…um…surely it’s not very romantic, is it? I mean, I thought the Swedes were supposed to be saucy and quite fond of a bit of…um…nighttime exercise.

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Coming from the UK, where we have a proud and well-ingrained tradition of spending your nights scrapping furiously with your bed partner in a silent tug of duvet war and waking up at 3am with your unmentionables bared to the sub-zero atmosphere of your bedroom, this does seem strange indeed.

Look on any Brits-in-Sweden expat internet forum and you’ll find a post on this issue from someone who’s married a Swede without reading the small print (I’m one myself!) and got a bit of a shock when they came home to find a pair of single duvets lurking innocently side by side on the bed as if this were the most natural thing in the world. They panic and immediately seek reassurance from the cyberspace community that their new life partner hasn’t lost their mind.

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Fear not – it is normal, and it works just fine. The Swedes would argue that it’s by far the most natural arrangement – for cabin and hotel owners, any room can be adapted for use as a twin or a double; for couples, not only do you avoid the midnight duvet fight but also the saggy-meet-in-the-middle-mattress problem (though in homes and hotels you will often find a double mattress placed on two single frames).

And when it’s time to inject a little romance, well, if you’re going to let a couple of inches of feather-filled fabric stand in your way, then shame on you…

So please don’t despair when you arrive at your idyllic log cabin in the Swedish countryside and see the beds. Shrug your shoulders, think “When in Rome…” (or Stockholm), and give it a go. Who knows, you may even be converted!

Sweet dreams!

Best regards

Bob from The Nature Travels Team

Sofia from Nature Travels shares her top tips for enjoying Sweden’s capital, the “Venice of the North”.

I grew up in a small town Waxholm (also spelt Vaxholm), 45 minute bus ride from Stockholm, and have spent many days shopping, meeting friends and hanging out around the capital. These are my tips for what not to miss when spending a few days there.

Boat trip

The fact that Stockholm is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges makes a tour by boat something of a given. There are many sightseeing boats that will take you on a guided tour around the waterways of the city.

If you have some more time on your hands, it’s worth taking one of the archipelago boats and exploring some of the 30 000 islands that make up the Stockholm Archipelago. Strömma Kanal Bolag has different cruises in the archipelago.

VaxholmAnother option is to take a day tour to Waxholm (the town where I grew up). It’s an idyllic archipelago town with many well-preserved wooden houses from the turn of the last century, painted in the archipelago’s typical delicate pastel tones. Waxholm has numerous charming restaurants, cafés and shops.

Waxholm is easily accessible year-round, by Waxholmsbolagets boat traffic or by bus, If you take the bus, the trip is covered by Stockholm’s public transport service and so is also included in the Stockholm Card. Why not take the boat one way and then the bus back?

Djurgården

Another thing to do in Stockholm is to visit the green island of Djurgården. It is beloved by both Stockholmers and tourists. Djurgården is a calm oasis. There are fine areas to stroll in and to have a picnic. Djurgården is also home to several of the city’s top museums and attractions (including Skansen and the Wasa museum described below), as well as enjoyable cafés and restaurants.

Skansen

skansenSkansen is an open-air zoo and museum. Here you can stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, from north to south. As a zoo, Skansen is primarily devoted to showing Scandinavian animals. Some 75 different species and breeds of Scandinavian animals are represented.

As an open-air zoo and museum, it’s probably most enjoyable in summertime, but is open for visitors all year around and in early December the site’s central square is host to a popular Christmas market.

Vasa museum

The Vasa Museum is a maritime museum located on the island of Djurgården. The museum displays an almost fully intact 17th century ship, the 64-gun warship Vasa, that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. The showpiece is the ship itself, which is simply magnificent. To look up, or down, at a ship that is almost 400 years old and is essentially in its original state is a fantastic experience.

Södermalm

SodermalmSödermalm is the old working class area of the city, which has turned bohemian chic. Södermalm has a lot of cafés, restaurants, bars and rows of boutiques with a mix of vintage, independent labels, and Swedish mainstream designers.

The vibe in the streets of Södermalm is relaxed, creative and trendy, especially in the Sofo area (South of Folkungatan). SoFo is a play on the acronym SoHo (South of Houston Street, in Manhattan).

In the warm months, Nytorget Square is a bustling social scene. The last Thursday of every month is called SoFo night, where retailers are open until 9pm and offer free entertainment and refreshments to shoppers.

Gamla Stan

Gamla stanGamla Stan, the Old Town, is one of the largest and best-preserved medieval city centres in Europe, and one of the foremost attractions in Stockholm.

All of Gamla Stan is like a living pedestrian-friendly museum, full of sights, attractions, restaurants, cafés, bars and places to shop. The narrow, winding cobblestone streets, with their buildings in so many different shades of gold, give Gamla Stan its unique character. Even now, cellar vaults and frescoes from the Middle Ages can be found behind the visible facades, and on snowy winter days the district feels like something from a storybook.

Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan are the district’s main streets. In the middle of Gamla Stan is Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm.

Drottninggatan – Sergels Torg

KulturhusetThe City area of Stockholm is where the big department stores are and a lazy shopper’s paradise. Sergels Torg is a sunken pedestrian plaza with a triangular pattern (colloquially referred to as Plattan, “The Slab”) and a wide flight of stairs leading up to the pedestrian street, Drottninggatan. Drottninggatan (“Queen Street”) is a major pedestrian street. The majority of the street is car-free and lined-up with numerous stores and shops.

Kungsträdgården

Kungsträdgården (Swedish for “King’s Garden”) is a square/park in central Stockholm. It is colloquially known as Kungsan. The park’s central location and its outdoor cafés makes it one of the most popular hangouts and meeting places in Stockholm. It also hosts open-air concerts and events in summer, while offering an ice rink during winters.

I think that covers it! Those are my my tips – writing this makes me want to go strolling around the streets of Stockholm – hmm, I think a trip to Stockholm might be on the cards for me this spring!

Sofia

Nature Travels

Bob from Nature Travels muses on his recent experience of booking a hotel room…

In April this year, Sofia and I are going to the Azores to spend 10 days as volunteers on a whale and dolphin research project – we’re very much looking forward to it. The flight connections mean that we need to spend an overnight in Lisbon en route, so we decided to make the most of it and spend two nights there.

Next step was to find a place to stay, and in my Google search I quickly arrived at a well-known hotel booking website. Hard as it may be to believe, it was my first time there.

And so my search began. I was presented with a wide range of options which were easily searchable/comparable and accompanied by attractive images and useful descriptions, the reservation process was smooth and painless, and in no time at all I had secured my room in Lisbon and had my confirmation in my inbox. I’d been on the site about 10 minutes, and the job was done. Hooray!

So why on earth was I left feeling so rattled, on edge and plagued with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction?

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I sat back to ponder on how I’d spent this 10 minutes of my life.

What’s clear is that the booking experience was an almost perfect exercise in persuading me to make a decision to purchase. The very best that marketing theory, consumer psychology and shopping cart design can offer had been unleashed on me to make sure that I didn’t leave without handing over my card details, and in the face of such an onslaught, I’d found I was frankly powerless to resist.

Throughout my time on the site, my screen had been filled with little pop-ups and messages giving stats relating to my search, “There are just 2 rooms left for your chosen dates”, “Don’t delay! 66% of our accommodation in Lisbon is now booked for the dates you are viewing”, “20 other people are currently viewing this hotel for your chosen dates”, “The last booking made for this hotel was 15 minutes ago from Germany”….and on they went.

The messages quietly but very effectively ramped up the pressure as I browsed, until by the end they had whipped me into a frenzy of uncertainty, desperation and self-doubt and I was a quivering wreck, silently screaming, “Just let me pay! Take my card details now and get me a room before it’s too late!” Delaying a minute longer would surely mean I’d be forced to choose the only overpriced flea pit still left with a space.

stress3

Am I exaggerating? Well, maybe a little. But I realised that what had been missing from the process of choosing and booking this important piece of my holiday had been any sense of fun or enjoyment. I have no doubt that, when we arrive in Lisbon, the hotel will be just fine, and I certainly can’t fault the efficiency of the booking process or the price I paid. But had I enjoyed choosing it? No. Was I now looking forward to enjoying the product I had purchased? Not at all. When the last card number was entered and “Book now” button pressed, all I felt was a palpable sense of relief that it was all over.

Is there something special about purchasing a holiday compared to other products? What is the purpose of a travel website – simply to facilitate the process of choosing and booking a component of your trip as quickly as possible? If so, then the website I used did its job almost flawlessly. Or is the planning and the dreaming part of the fun, extending that precious holiday feeling to make arranging the trip an integral part of the enjoyment? Should we really be using the same approach to buying our holiday as we do to renewing our car insurance?

Nature Travels is of course also a travel company, offering products which we hope our guests will find attractive and wish to purchase. So is booking with Nature Travels any different? We would like to think so. We may never be able to match the technological sophistication of the website I used. But we would hope that the experience of researching, discussing, planning and (hopefully!) booking your holiday with us can be an integral part of the overall enjoyment of your trip, and perhaps heighten the sense of excitement and anticipation as you prepare for your adventure.

Oops, no more time to chat…my car insurance expires in a week…but just one final thought:

stress2

Here are 10 reasons why winter is great and you should all embrace the cold season!

1) Beautiful views – nothing beats the magical wonder that is a blanket of snow or a crispy frost, pair that with a bright blue sky or a majestic sunrise/sunset and you don’t even have to get up at the crack of dawn or stay up past your bedtime to enjoy it!

scenery

2) Snow days – waking up to find a fresh layer of snow outside your window is always exciting, even more so if you go to school and discover that it’s shut and you have a surprise day off to play! Even if you’re not at school, the snow will bring out your inner child.

Wilkins-Wonderland

3) Get creative – whether it’s making a snow angel, building a snowman, or ambitiously attempting to build your own igloo, let your imagination run wild! Or just make snowballs and throw them at your friends.

emily-suamarez-igloo

4) Winter adventures – sledding, ice skating, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, ski touring, ski bobbing, snowmobiling and end the day in a cosy log cabin in front of a fire. If it doesn’t snow much where you are then great news, it’s holiday season and a good excuse to go somewhere different and play in the snow!

snowshoeing

5) Ever seen snow under a microscope? – nature is amazing, that is all!

GodsSnowflakes

6) Log fires –whether it’s open, burner or a bonfire for Guy Fawkes, we all enjoy warming up in front of a crackling fire, especially if you have some marshmallows to toast.

log-fire2

7) Frosty walks – we don’t get much snow down here in Dorset but we enjoy a frosty morning walk. You can jump in freshly frozen puddles and the ground is so solid that you don’t get your wellies covered in mud.

frosty-bridge

8) Our winter wardrobe – an abundance of accessories, hats, scarves and gloves with every outfit and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a little extra Christmas weight as all can be hidden under a massive jumper!

child-playing

9) Which leads nicely to winter food and drink – soups and stews take a front seat this season and it’s always great to come in from the cold and drink a hot chocolate to warm you up.

hot-chocolates

10) Hibernation – its not only hedgehogs and bears that want to sleep until winter! You might be feeling a little lazy this time of year but so is everyone else so you snuggle up in a blanket with your favourite book, guilt free.

book

10.5) And finally – the excitement of seeing snowdrops and daffodils for the first time and realising that spring is on the way!

So wrap up warm and get outside and play! Enjoy!

Check out our winter adventures here.

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ABOUT

Nature Travels is the UK specialist for outdoor experiences in Sweden. Please follow links below for details of our range of holidays in Sweden for independents, families and groups.

Travel Quest

TravelQuest’s Ethical Travel section lists a variety of ecotourism holidays world-wide, including UK holidays, charity treks and gap-year ideas.
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