Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Hi. I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're in the birthplace of social security and dynamite. It's Sweden's capital city - Stockholm. Thanks for joining us. Here in the north of Europe, of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden is the biggest and most populous. And Stockholm is by far Sweden's dominant city. Locals here are considered particularly confident and self-assured. And exploring this city, the character of its people unfolds to its many attractions. We'll explore the old town, be dazzled in its city hall, enjoy a slice of reindeer in style, cruise to the palace, chill out in a convivial ice bar, imagine Sweden's once-upon-a-time mighty navy, marvel at the work of a local sculptor, tap our toes to a Swedish beat, and sail the Archipelago for the ultimate in Scandinavian summer beauty. Today, with nearly two million people in Stockholm's greater metropolitan area, one in five Swedes calls this city home. Once a respected military power, now famously neutral, this stately capital respects its rich heritage while embracing modern innovation. Stockholm is defined as much by water as it is by land. Part of an archipelago it's surrounded by both the sea and a large lake. The city is nearly as full of parks and trees as it is wood buildings and it's traversed by numerous bridges. Wander through the city and you're struck by its elegant architecture, proud monuments, and inviting promenades. Stockholm's appealing waterfront is both a working harbor and a welcoming people zone. Overlooking it all in the heart of the old town is the Royal Palace. In summer, with great fanfare, military bands herald the Changing of the Guard. The ceremony in the courtyard of the palace recalls the days when Sweden was a militaristic power - a kingdom to be reckoned with. While this spectacle does look formidable, it's more a celebration of Swedish heritage in a country that today is famously pacifist. Strong and expansionist kings - like Gustavus Adolphus, who ruled in the early 1600s and was a brilliant general - made Stockholm this country's permanent capital and established the Swedish Empire. Gustavus Adolphus was nicknamed the Lion of the North. He made Sweden one of Europe's top powers and was instrumental in helping the Protestants turn the tide against the Catholics in the Thirty Years War. Because of his innovative tactics on the battlefield, he's considered by many the Father of Modern Warfare. For a glimpse at the splendor of Sweden's former power, step into the Royal Armory. While fearsome on the battlefield, armor had a ceremonial value as well. These pieces must have dazzled viewers back in the 1600s - that was the point. The fine workmanship elevates tools of war to an art form. The same lavish attention to both protection and style was also given to horses. The Swedish royal family kept up with their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Four centuries of coronation and royal wedding wear take you from the time of Gustavus Adolphus - this is his fine suit - through the ages. This 1766 wedding dress of Queen Sofia was designed to cleverly show off her fabulous wealth. And the dress - with its extravagant material - seems even wider when compared to her 20-inch corseted waist. The Royal Palace which contains this museum and several others is one of Europe's biggest. While it's technically the royal family's official residence, they actually live outside of town at Drottningholm Palace. The most scenic way to get there is the way the royals once did - by boat. We're cruising up Lake Maleren. This relaxing voyage is a delight, revealing more dimensions of this city of lakes, parks, and islands. Drottningholm Palace has been called "Sweden's Versailles." The public is welcome to enjoy the garden and tour the palace. The grand entry leads into a world where 18th century style prevails. Back then, Europe's monarchs, who were considered divinely ordained to rule, were tightly networked by marriage. In fact the Swedish royal family had blue-blooded cousins ranging from Catherine the Great in Russia to Louis 16th in France. The décor pushed the notion of a divine monarch. But the king was long challenged by a strong parliament and, today, Sweden's royalty is a modern constitutional monarchy. The ball room hosted formal occasions. The bed room was a kind of theater where the monarch would be ceremonially dressed as nobles would help him slip into his leotards. The lavish library illustrated the royal commitment to education in the 18th century. The palace's baroque theater takes you back 200 years. And as in palaces throughout Europe, Roman busts implied at least symbolic connections with the Roman Empire in order to substantiate and legitimize royal power. Originally the entire city was contained on this island. Today, Stockholm's old town - or Gamla Stan - is popular with locals and visitors alike. The town square, called Stortorget, was once an important commercial center. Now, it's simply a favored place to relax and enjoy the Swedish good life. Gamla Stan's main drag is a hit with shoppers and busy with tourists. But, venturing just a block or two from the commotion, the atmosphere changes. Tranquil lanes feel much as they did back in the 17th century. Medieval Stockholm was a trading center, busy with merchants from foreign lands. The German Church, rocketing heavenward, reminded all of the power of Germans in this part of Europe. With the Reformation in 1527, the king made Sweden a Protestant state. Suddenly church services could be held in the people's language rather than Latin. And that meant every nationality needed its own church. The Germans worshipped over there. The Finns had their church. And the Swedes got the cathedral. The cathedral, while grand, is wedged into the tight quarters of Gamla Stan. The interior is cobbled with centuries-old tombstones. When royal families worshipped here, they sat in their own private pews. These date from about 1700. While originally Catholic, this church has been Lutheran for five centuries. With the Reformation's passion for sermons and Bible readings, the pulpit was a focal point. You can feel the feistiness of the Swedish Lutherans in this 500 year old statue of Saint George and the Dragon. It's carved of oak and elk horn. To some, this symbolizes the Swedes' overcoming their arch-rivals - the Danes. In a broader sense, it's an inspiration to take up the struggle against even non-Danish evil. When choosing a place for dinner, I try to leave the high rent spots to the tourists and find small restaurants with low rent catering to a loyal hometown customers. And, of course, locals know the best places. My friend, Hakan and his wife Ylva, are taking me to one of their favorites for a lesson in good eating, Swedish style. And that's changed a lot since Hakan and Ylva were children including New World wines and lots of spices brought by recent immigrants to enliven the traditional meat, fish and potato staples. Rick: And what is this, Sami? Sami: This is the reindeer roast beef. Rick: Reindeer roast beef you say, okay. So, Hakan, the potato really has roots in your history and your culture. Hakan: Extremely much so. Sweden's population start to grow in the 1800s and there was someone who said the reason was peace, vaccination and potatoes. Rick: This reindeer is really tasty. Hakan: Oh yes, reindeer I would say is beef of the north, that's the beef of the Laplanders and it's spread all over Sweden. Local food and local knowledge, it's always a winning combination. Stockholm's Nobel Prize Museum tells the story of the world's most prestigious award. Stockholm-born Alfred Nobel was a prolific inventor with over 300 patents. His most famous invention - dynamite. Living in the late 1800s, Nobel was a man of his age. It was a time of great optimism, wild ideas, and grand projects. His dynamite enabled entire nations to blast their way into the modern age with canals, railroads, and tunnels. It made warfare much more destructive. And it also made Alfred Noble a very wealthy man. Wanting to leave a legacy that celebrated and supported people with great ideas, he left his fortune to fund the Nobel Prize. Each year laureates are honored in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and perhaps most famously in peacemaking. Portraits of all the prize winners since the first annual ceremony was held in 1901 hang from the ceiling - shuffling around the room like shirts at the dry cleaner's. And video clips let you ponder the contributions of so many great minds. The annual Nobel Prize banquet is held just a short walk away, in Stockholm's City Hall. It's a stately mix of eight million red bricks and lots of Stockholm pride. While churches dominate cities in southern Europe, up here, in the Scandinavian capitals, city halls seem to be the most impressive buildings. They celebrate humanism...people working together for the good of their community. Built in 1923, Stockholm's City Hall is particularly enjoyable and well worth its entertaining hour long tour. Guide: This here where we are standing is the Blue Hall. It's the biggest reception hall of the City Hall and this is where the Nobel banquet takes place the 10th of December every year, hosting 1,300 guests. This here is the Council's chamber since the City Hall really is a functioning City Hall. In here the Municipal Council of Stockholm hold their meetings. What I would like to show you in here is our magnificent ceiling. It's done to look like an old Viking house. The construction of the old Viking houses were long and narrow exactly like the ceiling right here. This here is the Golden Hall, artwork finished in 1922. We have about 90,000,000 pieces of mosaic in here and it is real gold in each and every one of them. The centerpiece of this room you can see behind me here, this is the Queen of the Lake, a symbol of Stockholm. he Queen of the Lake here, she's situated in the center of the world. On the left side there's the western world - the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty. On her right side the Orient - an Indian elephant, a Turkish flag. And not only the world because around her sides there are also the different zodiac signs symbolizing the universe. She's the Queen of the Lake - Stockholm - center of the world - center of the universe. The City Hall comes with a bold tower. It offers a commanding view of Stockholm's 14 islands which are woven together by about fifty bridges. Sweden's stunning capital is green, clean, and people-friendly. Strolling the shoreline promenades, you join the parade of locals. Well-worn old working ships seem content... retired in the shadow of elegant facades. Rather than cars and buses, it's the domain of joggers, baby strollers, and visitors marveling at the joys of this city on the Baltic. Stockholm exists because of its location - where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea. Traders would paddle their goods from far inland to this point from where sea-going merchants would ship it south to Europe. In the 13th century, the new kingdom of Sweden needed revenue so they established customs laws and levied duties on all the copper, iron, and furs that passed through here. Today, the lake, which is about 2 feet above sea level, is connected to the Baltic Sea by locks. For the thoughtful observer, history is everywhere. For example, centuries ago, this Kungsgarten or "King's Garden Square" was the private garden of the king. Today, this is clearly the people's domain. It's considered Stockholm's living room. Swedes are leaders among Europeans with their social legislation. They pay high taxes and have high expectations. Swedes enjoy a minimum of five weeks paid vacation from the day they're hired. In the interest of family values, new moms and dads split 16 months of paid parental leave anyway they like. And Swedes believe that every citizen, regardless of their family's economic status, gets quality health care and education. Alcohol is highly taxed and tourists contribute to Sweden's costly entitlements every time they buy a drink. A fun if touristy way to do that is to put on a heavy coat and enjoy a fancy vodka on ice... literally. The Absolut Icebar is actually made out of ice. For your cover charge you'll get 45 chilly minutes to sip your choice of vodka drinks in an ice glass, at an ice bar or lounging on a nice ice sofa. In a scene like this, there's no shortage of conversation. Sergles Torg was built in the 1960s to balance the political and royal city with a bustling commercial district. This modern center of Stockholm is dedicated to shopping. Festooned with sales banners blowing in the Nordic wind, thriving pedestrian boulevards are lined with temptations on sale. Hötorget - literally "Hay Market" - now feeds people rather than horses. This vibrant outdoor produce market changes colors with the seasons. Today, in August, it's berries of the forest and golden chanterelles. Overlooking the market is a striking statue by Carl Milles. For more of his work, you'll find a veritable forest of statues by Sweden's greatest sculptor on a bluff at the edge of town. Carl Milles spent much of his career here at his villa, where he lived and worked for 20 years. He lovingly designed this delightful sculpture garden. Milles wanted his art displayed on pedestals...to be seen as if silhouettes against the sky. His subjects - often Greek myths such as Pegasus or Poseidon - stand out as if using the sky as a blank paper. Yet, unlike silhouettes, images in the sky can be enjoyed from many angles. Milles injected life into his work with water, splashing playfully. Perhaps his most famous work, "Hand of God," gives an insight into Milles' belief that when the artist created he was, in a way, divinely-inspired. The city's harbor is busy with ferries. And many take people into its vast archipelago - an amazing playground of literally thousands of islands stretching 80 miles from the city. There are plenty of ways to see the archipelago. Those taking the huge cruise ships that ferry travelers to Helsinki enjoy three hours of island scenery before they finally reach the open Baltic Sea. You can take a quick boat tour... or, what we're doing, catch a ferry with the locals. One of the joys of an archipelago trip is to grab a perch on the breezy sundeck with the Swedes as they enjoy their island wonderland. Ferries serve over a hundred islands. They stop at others... on request... or to plop down the days' mail. Every cabin seems to have a couple of lounge chairs strategically placed to soak up the relaxing view. Your archipelago options are endless and you don't need to own a cabin to enjoy this idyllic island escape. Our first stop is the popular destination of Vaxholm. About an hour from downtown, it has a well preserved fortress just off its busy harborfront, as well as a quiet and charming old town mixing shops and restaurants. Today it's hard to imagine that, back when Sweden was a military power, this fort was built to secure the city from attack by sea. The ramparts remain... but they are manned not by soldiers but by sun worshippers enjoying Sweden's long summer days. My favorite lookout post: Anette's Homestead Café. For Swedes, their coffee and pastry break is a ritual - embraced with all the vigor of a constitutional right. And here, savoring life to its fullest just seems to come naturally. For an even more peaceful and remote destination, ride a couple hours past Vaxholm, and hop off in Svartso. The little grocery provides this island community with whatever it needs. Residents stock their cabins using the island's answer to a moving van. And visitors can hop a rental bike. In moments you're out in the countryside immersed in pastoral farm land and pristine nature. Your bike ride is memorably capped with a stop at the island eatery. We requested the house specialty and were overwhelmed with the bounty of the Baltic. Even if you don't leave Stockholm, you'll still likely be on the water. Scenic harbor tours are popular and shuttle boats zip between the many islands. From downtown, it's just a quick hop to Djurgarden - the Garden Island. Four hundred years ago, Djurgården was the king's hunting ground. Now this entire lush island is Stockholm's fun center, protected as a national park. You can rent a canoe, enjoy a bike ride, munch a picnic, or just take in the harbor scene along with a good cold beer. And this island has several of the city's top museums. The Vasa Museum is my favorite maritime museum anywhere. It took several centuries, but Stockholm turned a titanic flop into one of Europe's great sightseeing attractions. The Vasa - while heralded as the ultimate warship of her day - sank, just minutes into her maiden voyage. It was 1628. The king, eager to expand the reach of his domain, launched his formidable new war ship. Laden with an extra row of cannon, she was top-heavy. A couple hundred yards from the dock, a breeze caught the sails and blew it over. The Vasa sank to the bottom of Stockholm's harbor where it sat for over 300 years. In 1961, with the help of steel cables and huge inflatable pontoons, the Vasa rose again from the deep. Today the Vasa, the best-preserved ship of its kind, is chemically petrified and housed in a state-of-the-art museum. The Vasa is decorated with hundreds of statues - all designed to show the power of the king known as "the Lion of the North," Gustavus Adolphus. Detailed models like these show life on board and evoke the instant when the hopes and aspirations of this mighty ship and her crew were dashed. Artifacts on display humanize naval live in the 17th century. This awe-inspiring ship is a time capsule from an era when Sweden was a European power and was gearing up to expand its empire.