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Stockholm

gamla stan stockholm colorful buildings Stockholm's top tourist spot is the island of Gamla Stan, the city's Old Town, which is a fascinating step back in time. However, the area can be a victim of its own success. Summer visitors often clog the main streets, Stora Nygatan and Vasterlanggatan, and an overabundance of tourist shops selling moose-themed T-shirts and other knickknacks detracts from Gamla Stan's charm. To escape the crowds, simply turn into one of the many alleyways and lesser streets between the apartment buildings. These less busy paths mostly lead uphill to the 600-room Royal Palace. On these narrow streets, you'll find rare book dealers, small cafes that serve the residents, and small parks where locals and visitors go to relax.

Gamla Stan is also the site of the Nobel Museum, located in a 13th-century plaza. In conventional display cases, but also in movies and via a slow parade of overhead posters, this museum tells the stories of Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by stabilizing nitroglycerin into what we call dynamite. It also addresses those who have been honored with his namesake prize in the categories of the sciences, the arts and peace. (All except the peace prize are handed out in Stockholm.) After learning about the laureates, have a staffer in the museum's small bistro show its new, but hidden, prizes: Laureates have begun signing the bottoms of the chairs when they visit the museum. Hanging above all is the chair signed by the Dalai Lama.

Less than two blocks from the Nobel Museum is the huge Royal Palace, the in-city residence of Sweden's monarchs. Tourists can stroll through the grand reception rooms, as well as museums displaying the crown jewels, armor and art. Take a spot in front of the Palace's curved, open courtyard at 11:45 a.m. each day to witness the changing of the guard at noon; the troops are preceded by a band, and sometimes the soldiers are on horseback. The display may vary depending on the time of year, so check ahead.

If you want to get an elevated view of Stockholm, you have several options. You can head to the residential island of Sodermalm and the terrass (terrace) on Fjallgatan Street, which offers an elevated panorama of Stockholm's sights and waterways. Or, you can buy a ticket to Skyview, two 16-passenger, glass-walled gondolas that travel up the side of the world's largest spherical building, the Ericsson Globe arena. The ride lasts about 10 minutes in each direction.

The most challenging option is to take the Historic Rooftop Tour, where you'll walk about 130 feet above the city, atop the former Parliament building. Up to 10 participants at a time don helmets and safety harnesses attached to a steel cable. The cable follows a 980-foot-long metal catwalk -- about a foot wide, it lacks handrails and includes some stairs -- around the top of the building. For the next hour or so, the guide explains the view below and adds dollops of local history. The tour sells out quickly, so reserve your spot early via Upplevmer.se.

Do as the locals do, and step aboard a Stromma sightseeing boat for a cruise through the archipelago, comprising an estimated 30,000 islands. Depending on the time of day, passengers can book a casual sit-down meal in the ship's dining room. Narration of the passing scene is in English. The cruises last from two to eight hours; if you have enough time, step off the outbound boat to stroll the hamlets on various islands, have a meal and a drink, then catch a later boat returning to Stockholm. Some cruises operate several times a day, year-round; some cease in late November and return in February. Boats leave from the downtown harbor.

city hall stockholm winter City Hall (the Stadshuset) is one of Stockholm's top tourist attractions, with tours given in English and Swedish every day. Visitors come not to observe the 101-seat City Council in action but, rather, to admire the architecture and decor of the building, built in 1923 and designed as a romantic interpretation of an Italian villa. The big draws are the Blue and Golden Halls. The Blue Hall was designed to resemble the piazza of a villa; there is even a false balcony projecting from one wall and beneath it, a fountain. Every December, this vast room becomes the banquet hall for 1,300 guests celebrating the Nobel Prize honorees. (The awards are presented about a mile away.) After the banquet, dancing takes place in the spectacular Golden Hall, its walls covered by 18-million tiny tiles of gold leaf pressed between sheets of clear glass. The walls are further decorated with heroic-size images of figures from actual history, mythology and religion.

One of Stockholm's 14 islands, Djurgarden, is both a huge park (part of the Ekoparken that stretches more than six miles) and site of some of the city's most popular attractions. The Vasa Museum (featuring a restored 17th-century war ship) is there, as well as the eclectic Spiritmuseum & Absolut Art Collection, with its dozens of works commissioned for the state-owned vodka company's ads. Also on Djurgarden is a small zoo of Nordic animals, formal gardens, walking/biking paths, a former royal palace, a kids' park devoted to creations by the author of Pippi Longstocking, and a coaster-crazy amusement park.

Taking up the largest space on Djurgarden is Skansen, a collection of more than 150 authentic 19th- and early-20th-century structures gathered from around Sweden. They were taken there by a man who did not want to see progress obliterate remnants of the olden days. To do justice to Skansen and the other Djurgarden attractions, give the island a full day.

If you're looking for a different take on the city tour, Stockholm has several unique and themed tours to show you the city in a new way. The Stockholm City Museum offers two-hour, English language tours that trace the haunts of the music group ABBA or Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" series. You can also pick up a map with the route to tour on your own. Alternately, try a 1.5- to 2.5-hour Segway tour, offered by Daytrip Stockholm.

If you're interested in old coins, you'll find the three-story Royal Coin Cabinet, or Mint Museum, just across the street from the Royal Palace. Humans have used everything from bones to stones, metal and paper as currency, and you can see collections of coins and other items here.
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