Named in this century as both Europe's Cultural Capital and also the continent's first Green Capital, Stockholm is the largest city in Scandinavia, with about 1.8 million residents in the metropolitan area -- about one-fifth of Sweden's total population. The city was founded in 1252 and comprises 14 islands.
Stockholm's premier tourist attraction is Gamla Stan (literally, Old Town), one of the largest neighborhoods of 16th-century buildings in Europe. Block after block of these four- and five-story structures are painted in vivid colors typical of Mediterranean villages and occasionally feature wrought-iron signs symbolizing ancient craftworkers' guilds or faces of religious figures. Cobblestone streets and arms-width alleys crisscross Gamla Stan. There, you'll also find the 18th-century Royal Palace atop the crown of the hill upon which Gamla Stan is located. (Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and has a one-house parliament).
Boulevards defining Stockholm's busy waterfront are also lined with photogenic architecture -- turrets, spires, stucco patterns -- mostly dating from before the turn of the 20th century. Elsewhere downtown, glass-and-steel retail centers and office buildings have replaced such older buildings. But the divergent styles tend to be clustered and don't compete with each other for the viewer's eye.
Offsetting the city's bustle and buildings are large swatches of green space. The Ekoparken, or eco-park, curves for six miles through a couple of the busiest islands and along one side of the downtown business district.
A word to the pennywise: Stockholm is expensive. If you're staying a few days and planning to visit some of the city's museums, the Stockholm Card is worth the price; it includes admission to various museums and attractions, plus public transit. Pick it up from VisitStockholm.com before leaving home.
--written by Robert N. Jenkins