I plot my day over a complimentary breakfast of homemade yogurt and knäckebröd (crispy bread) at Hotel Anno 1647 (3 Mariagränd; 46-8/442-1680; anno1647.se), housed in a former tobacco and clothing factory in the hip island neighborhood of Södermalm. My room ($170), No. 21, is small and peaceful, with rustic pine floors, an antique crystal chandelier, and, thankfully, blackout drapes—essential in a city that gets 18 hours of sunlight a day in the summer.
The hotel is around the corner from Götgatan, one of Stockholm’s most seductive shopping strips. Though it feels a little early to start spending, I can’t resist a jar of cloudberry honey ($6) from Iris Hantverk (37 Götgatan; 46-8/641-9190), a store that specializes in handmade items by visually impaired artisans. I crave almost everything I see in DesignTorget (31 Götgatan, 46-8/462-3520; designtorget.se), which carries an eclectic range of accessories by Swedish designers, including hand-printed dish towels and colorful kids’ toys. But I force myself to move along.
For lunch, I circle back to busy Slussen square—Stockholm’s answer to Grand Central. The main attraction here (besides a major subway stop) is the humble Nystekt Strömming (fried herring) wagon, encircled by picnic tables crowded with locals on their lunch breaks. I sidle up and order the signature dish ($6.25) topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. From my bench, I can see the silhouette of Gamla Stan, the old section of the city just across the bridge.
Down along the harbor, a freckled blond girl at a candy cart snips off a sample of her salt licorice (free), a delicious flavor called Häxvrål—“scream of the witch,” she translates. After a short stroll past the steamboats and Baroque mansions of Östermalm, I arrive at the Vasamuseet (14 Galärvarvsvägen; 46-8/5195-4800; vasamuseet.se), a maritime museum built around a meticulously reconstructed boat that was shipwrecked in the 17th century. I buy a ticket ($15) and explore the gigantic ship, feeling a little like an extra on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Risking museum burnout, I head to the galleries ($12.50 admission) of the Moderna Museet (Skeppsholmen; 46-8/5195-5200; modernamuseet.se), designed by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, to see its collection of 20th-century European and American art. Here, I discover the contemporary Swedish painter Karin Mamma Andersson, whose lush, layered paintings look like dreamscapes. I also find one of the city’s best photo ops—the panoramic view of the port from the glass-walled museum café.
I forgo a pricey taxi ride across the city in favor of an infinitely more charming and scenic walk toward Gamla Stan, which is touristy but irresistible once I’m weaving through a knot of cobblestoned streets and storybook 17th-century houses. My reward is a hot chocolate ($4.70) at Kaffekoppen (18-20 Stortorget; 46-8/203-170), a candlelit cellar with tea-stained walls and low vaulted ceilings.
While wandering the alleys of Gamla Stan, I stumble upon what may be the city’s top bargain: a classical music concert ($11) at Storkyrkan, Stockholm’s central cathedral (1 Trangsund, Gamla Stan; 46-8/723-3016; stockholmsdomkyrkoforsamling.se). I take a seat in a wooden pew as a local pianist fills the space with the music of Chopin. Dusky evening light filters in through leaded glass windows and shimmers off the golden angels on the high brick ceiling. Divine.
The lingering sunlight has affected my eating schedule, but I’m finally hungry again. On the patio of Babylon (4 Björns Trädgårdsgränd; 46-8/640-8083), surrounded by chattering clusters of young fashion plates and artist types, I wrap myself in one of the restaurant’s green fleece blankets and gobble down a late dinner of potatoes and röding ($25.80), a local fish. From my barstool, I watch skinny blond skateboarders dip and sail around a cement half-pipe in the adjacent park, and revel in a priceless travel high: the giddy feeling of having discovered the coolest place in town.