The best way to approach the Old Town (Gamla Stan) is from the north along straight-as-an-arrow Drottninggatan (Queen Street). Before you get there, though, as an appetizer of sorts, you will first cross the waters of Norrström on the 48-yard- (44-meter-) long Riksbron onto Helgeandsholmen, effectively walking through (1) Aron Johansson’s Parliament building from 1905 (www.riksdagen.se).
Press on to Mynttorget at the head of Västerlånggatan—the western of the two major streets that originally made up the edges of the town. While weaving in and out of the constant daytime crowds, keep an eye on the tunnels on your right until you find one that leads in to (2) Brantingtorget. This well-proportioned square, designed by architect Artur von Schmalensee (1900-1972) in the years following World War II, is one of the city’s most beautiful. Double-back out to Västerlånggatan and keep moving south until you hit Kåkbrinken. Turn left up to Stortorget, the heart of the Old Town and the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520. The imposing building to the left is the (3) Nobel Museum (Börshuset, Stortorget; www.nobelmuseum.se) and yes, you can drink the water from the 18th-century German fountain.
Go back the way you came down Kåkbrinken, but turn left on Prästgatan, a lovely parallel street to Västerlånggatan. After a detour left on Tyska Brinken for a peek into (4) Tyska Kyrkan (German Church), make a right from Prästgatan on Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, at 35 inches (89 centimeters) the narrowest alley in the Old Town. Back on Västerlånggatan, turn left until you get to (5) Järntorget (Iron Square) where basically all of the iron ore was weighed and reloaded for export during Sweden’s heyday as a major European power in the 17th century.
Check out the statue of beloved troubadour Evert Taube (1890-1976) waiting for a cab, keep left across the square and enter Österlånggatan to go back north. If it’s around noon, drop in on (6) Den Gyldene Freden (Österlånggatan 51) for lunch at one of the world’s oldest restaurants. After that, continue north up to the statue of St. George and the Dragon. Turn left up the hill onto Köpmangatan, then left again on Själagårdsgatan where you will stumble upon the most adorable little square in all of Stockholm. It’s called (7) Brända Tomten (Burned Lot) and is a tiny triangular haven of peace with a chestnut tree and some benches.
Refreshed, return to Köpmangatan and turn left, which will bring you back to Stortorget. Make a right on Svartmangatan, keep the Nobel Museum to your left and turn right on Slottsbacken. The (8) obelisk by Jean-Louis Desprez is the marker from which street numbers radiate outward through Stockholm. Walk down the wide hill and circle the 600-room baroque (9) Royal Castle (Slottsbacken 1; www.royalcourt.se) counter-clockwise, ending up back at Mynttorget. Again, if it’s around noon, try to catch the changing of the guards in the inner courtyard.
Walk straight ahead on Myntgatan, passing the (10) House of Nobles (Riddarhustorget 10; www.riddarhuset.se) on your right. This is the house of the Swedish aristocracy; access is restricted, but take a few minutes to admire the exterior.
Cross the bridge over the six-lane freeway insanely built in the 1960s straight through the Old Town, and aim for what some consider to be the oldest building in Stockholm—the (11) Riddarholmen Church (Riddarholmen; www.royalcourt.se), built in the last decades of the 13th century. It’s the burial church of Swedish monarchs, but hard to get into. Double-back along Myntgatan to Drottninggatan, on which a left turn will bring you back up to the modern heart of the city.
Shop National Geographic