The Old Town
Gamla Stan means “The Old Town”
Busses: 43, 53, 55, 71, 76, 96
Subway Station: Gamla Stan
There seems to be no end to the ancient squares, cobble-stone streets and narrow lanes between medieval houses in Gamla Stan. If you steer clear of the worst tourist traps on Västerlånggatan and use a little imagination’s not hard to picture what Stockholm looked like four or five hundred years ago.
Gamla Stan was built at a time when horses and carriages, not cars and trucks, owned the streets. In the 1700s and 1800s, the streets in other parts of Stockholm began to be straightened out and widened but not in Gamla Stan. To this day the streets, alleys and lanes of the old town remain as winding and snug as they were when they were built. Why not go looking for the smallest of them all? Almost a secret passage, Mårten Trotzigs gränd is at places no wider than 90 cm (less than a yard) wide. That provides a gap between the building on either side no greater than a standard inside door opening!
Keep your eyes open in Gamla Stan. There are all kinds of exciting things to discover. Sticking out of the corner of a building at the corner of Stortorget, the Great Square, you can see a cannonball that was shot in anger but didn’t break through the stone wall. Then there’s a statue on a roof facing Skeppsbron that relieves itself whenever it rains. The Royal Palace with its long history is located here, as are some of the city’s best underground museums. And there are scores of small alleyways to explore.
Don’t miss the Royal Treasury or the Royal Armory, both of which are hidden away in the palace cellars. Once you’ve visited the Royal Armory you’ll find it much easier to imagine what the people in the streets of Gamla Stan must have looked like hundreds of years ago. Their clothes, swords and even their carriages are on display there.
Two other not-to-miss museums in the old town include Kungliga Myntkabinettet, the Royal Coin Cabinet, and Postmuseet, the Swedish Post Museum. They may sound boring but I promise you the opposite is true! You can read more about these museums in the “Museums” section of Stockholm4kids.
Here are two more things I’d like to recommend you do before leaving the old town: First, on Stortorget you’ll find the perfect place to see how the Swedes take their coffee breaks in the middle of the mornings or afternoons—with sweets or a sandwich and friends. The café of choice here is called Kaffekoppen. Stop for some fruit juice, tea or coffee and a pastry or pie and enjoy the friendly atmosphere.
Second, the changing of the guard in the outer courtyard of the Royal Palace is quite a sight to see. In the summer, from June to August, a military music corps often participates in the ceremony, which ordinarily takes about 40 minutes. During the rest of the year, there is music only as a part of the parade to the palace and only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. To find out the latest news about the Royal Guards, visit their website.