The town between the bridges

I LOVE old districts. Just about every city I’ve visited, there’s an old section, most often the seed from which the big modern city sprouted out of. This is where most of the exciting stories were born and retold for centuries.

Osterlanggatan, Eastern Long Street, in Gamla stan

In Stockholm, there is the 13th-century Gamla stan (“The Old Town”). Legend has it that this was the land the gold-filled log of wood hit when it was set out to sea from the capital city. The island was named Stockholm, which means the place where the log had hit ground. This was how the new capital of Sweden was founded.

From the mid 19th century until 1980 Gamla stan has been officially referred to as “Stadenmellanbroarna” (“the city between the bridges”) orstadeninombroarna (“the city within the bridges”).

The Riksdag building & Norrbro (North Bridge)

The old quarter is located in Stadsholmen, one of the 14 islands that make up the capital city. Three other surrounding islets—the Riddarholmen, Helgeandsholmen and Stromsborg, officially make up Gamla stan, but colloquially, not included in the “Old Town”.

Cobblestone pathways at the Old Town.

Believe it or not, prior to becoming one of Stockholm’s top tourist attractions because of its charming medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture, Gamlastan was considered a slum. Back then many of the historical buildings were neglected.

Marten Trotzigs Grand is the narrowest alley in the city at less than a meter wide

The tour of the area can be a quick one, but if you’re into dissecting, there are 370 properties in Gamla stan. Perhaps spare a day if you factor in shopping time. The main street is lined with old merchant houses selling handicrafts, antiques, souvenirs, and even foodstuff. You’ll be lured in for sure, and cruising through these shops can take hours.

Found this to be a very eerie shop filled with dolls. DO they come alive? 🙂
Homemade chocolates!
Aprons & other kitchen necessities in this shop.
A shop filled with Scandinavian designed stuff
Just one of the many vintage shops in the Old Town.

Through the small streets and alleys, you’ll be surprised what it opens up to. Don’t forget to gaze upward as the brick walls by you may be part of an important edifice, like a church. The spires above these walls are the telltale signs of what the building is. The oldest church in Gamla stan, the Storkyrkan (The Great Church) aka Sankt Nikolai kyrka (Church of St. Nicholas) or the Stockholmsdomkyrka (Stockholm Cathedral), can easily be missed if not approached from the front. The wooden statue of St. George and the Dragon is one of this church’s treasures.

Look up. Let the spires of Storkyrkan lead you to this church

At the Tyska Kyrkan yard

If there is one advice I could give is do your research. If not, chances are you’d miss the Den gyldenefreden restaurant at the end of Osterlanggatan (Eastern Long Street) like we almost did. Just like all of the shops in the area, its discreet façade doesn’t scream for attention. Only those in the know would be able to dine in the halls of the 1722-born restaurant listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest existing restaurant with an unaltered interior. Call it luck, my craving for the famed Swedish meatballs led us to discover this place.

The craving for Swedish meatballs lead to the discovery of this place, the 1722 Den gyldene freden restaurant, the oldest restaurant with an unaltered interior

The small public square in the center of Gamlastan is Stortorget (“large square”, so it was back then), the oldest square in Stockholm. The view can be easily perceived at charming, romantic even, but its past reveals otherwise—the square was the site of the 1520 Stockholm Bloodbath. This was where the Danish King Christian II had the Swedish noblemen massacred.
The iconic colored buildings at the oldest public square in Stockholm, Stortorget
The public square at night.

Around the square are some of the islet’s prominent structures—the iconic colored buildings, the Swedish Academy, Nobel Library and Nobel Museum. A few meters off the square is the 18th century-built baroque Royal Palace, the official residence of the Swedish monarch.
The Swedish Academy, Nobel Museum & Nobel Library is in Stortorget
The bakery in the Stortorget with a preserved ceiling.

The Knight’s Islet (Riddarholmen) is address to a number of private 17th century palaces, notable structures like the Old Parliament Building, the Old National Archive, Norstedt Building, and the islet’s main landmark and one of the city’s oldest buildings, the church Riddarholmskyrkan, the royal burial church where some Swedish monarchs lay rest.
The outer courtyard of the Royal Palace & the entrance to the royal apartments

The Gamla stan is a short walk from the central station in Sergelstorg, but if you don’t care to walk, get off the Gamla stan metro station.




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