When I first started planning my trip to Stockholm, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I’d heard from everyone that went there that it’s a beautiful place, but had no specifics so I thought I’d do a bit of research – I’m an avid planner so I enjoyed the planning of the trip every bit as much as the trip itself. Below are 10 reasons why you should consider this great Scandinavian city as your next holiday destination.
1. Gamla Stan
This is the first thing you’ll find online about Stockholm. It’s the old centre of the city and is located on a small island. Actually, Stockholm is formed from more islands split by canals but they are very well interconnected. This district is a really special part of the city with colourful architecture, narrow streets paved with cubic rock, tall churches and last but not least, great cafés and restaurants. Just put down the map and get lost on the lovely streets, looking everywhere around you. When you get tired, have a break at Fabrique – amazing coffee and pastry.
Oh, Swedish pastry. I intoxicated my Facebook friends for the whole length of my trip with photos of the delicious pastries that this country makes. If you have to try something from the Swedish cuisine, ditch the IKEA meatballs and go for the great, cinnamon or nutty tasting pastry. Have it at breakfast, with a creamy coffee (what the Swedes call ‘fika’) – guarantees a great start of the day. What am I talking about, have it any time you want and try ALL the varieties.
For a nice view over the city, go to Observatorielunden – it’s a park on a hill next to the Old Stockholm Observatory. From there, take a nice walk through Norrmalm’s streets, it’s a lovely area with shops both local and international. For a coffee break, go to Espresso House on Drottninggatan, one of the best decorated places I’ve ever been – great coffee and tea too!
4. Hammarby Sjöstad
Roughly translating as Hammarby Sea City or Hammarby Lake City, this is a very modern and new area of Stockholm and is part of the Södermalm district. Go there in the morning or even afternoon, perhaps to see the sunset as the area is surrounded by water and canals. You can then take the boat to return to the centre.
Skansen is the world’s first open-air museum, founded in 1891. Here you can stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, from north to south, with a real sense of the past all around in the historical buildings and dwellings, populated by characters in period dress – according to their website. It was a really great place to see, especially as it started snowing while we were there – a very good reason to refugee in an old style café and have home-made pastry and sweets.
6. Swedish people
They have a lot of style, that is for sure. That reflects in their clothes, shoes, bags, decoration and anything that involves design, really. They are discreet, not very outgoing but friendly. If you are the kind of person that likes to get to know the locals you will have to put some active effort into it – try renting a room in a flat hosted by locals.
7. The Stockholm City Hall
The City Hall has an interesting building (with an interior garden) and location, next to Stadhusparken, which is a park surrounded by water. As long as you are there, check out the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel; it looks very cool.
8. Rosendals Trägård
Next to Skansen is Rosendals Trägård (Rosendal’s Garden) – an open garden, which wishes to present biodynamic (organic) garden cultivation. We didn’t get to go there, but apparently they have a café, plant shop and bakery, so what’s not to like?
One of the hipster districts of Stockholm, with a creative and relaxed vibe, offering a variety of Swedish fashion shops, vintage stores, galleries and design stores as well as well decorated cafés and bars. Here are also two of the best viewpoints in the city: Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen.
All around the city, I never laid my eyes on an ugly building. The Swedes have a great sense of what looks good and that reflects in everything. Interesting colourful buildings, wonderfully refurbished old ones. We particularly found the roofs worth a look at so if you are into that, be careful not to trip while looking up all the time.
Blend in with the locals – learn Swedish with uTalk so you can order pastry and coffee or even just to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. Everyone in Stockholm speaks very good English, but nothing compares with the feeling of seeing that smile on their faces when you use the local language in a casual conversation.
Today’s post is by Alex from onebillion. As you may know, onebillion are an organisation set up by Jamie and Andrew from EuroTalk to provide basic maths, reading and English teaching through apps to children in developing countries (and they were recently featured in a BBC Click report). A few weeks ago, the whole onebillion team travelled to the African country of Malawi to expand their project to a new school.
Perhaps Malawi might not seem like an obvious choice for a visit, but here are ten reasons why Alex thinks you should give it a try 🙂
1. ‘Interesting’ foods
I’m not sure if this is a reason to visit Malawi or not, but it is quite interesting to see what some of the locals eat. Typical local cuisine mainly consists of a maize porridge called nsima, which they eat 2-3 times a day, but you can buy great-looking fresh fruits for next to nothing. You can also get international cuisine from some restaurants in Lilongwe or Blantyre (the two major cities). But a particular highlight is seeing the ‘mouse boys’ who sell sun-dried mice on sticks (complete with fur) on the side of the road. For some reason none of us has been brave enough to try one yet. You also have to drink some fresh-ground Malawian coffee – and bring back some beans for the EuroTalk and onebillion offices, of course!
2. Lake Malawi
This is one place you have to see before you die. The most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. You can stay in a simple straw beach hut, see the stars and wake up to the sound of the waves and nothing else. The lake is home to many varieties of fish, alligators and hippos, and we saw dozens of monkeys and other critters all around the lake. Including some rather terrifying new species of bugs. Be careful to check whether it’s safe to swim in the part of the lake you visit, but even if you can’t it’s an amazing place to see some stunning nature.
3. Get involved in a voluntary project
onebillion recently returned to Malawi to check up on our progress with delivering tablet-based learning in Biwi school and to expand to another, larger school. We were so excited to see how much progress the children have made with their maths skills. But there are many other organisations working there on things like building schools, digging wells and volunteering as a teacher or healthcare assistant. See Malawi Volunteer Organisation or VSO, for example.
4. See a totally different way of life
Even in Lilongwe, the capital, Malawi is not very developed. You’ll be bumping along mud roads and seeing people walk past with bicycles stacked up with insane quantities of firewood, huge towers of mud bricks being baked dry and barefooted children running around with chickens and goats. Just seeing how people go about their daily lives will give you a new perspective, and chatting to some of the locals and children who have never seen technology such as smartphones or tablets is really worthwhile. Seeing the faces of groups of Malawian children when they first play a maths game on a tablet or seeing our flying ‘drone’ camera was priceless.
5. Experience life without modern conveniences
You know all those things you take for granted, like running water, drinking water on tap, electric lights, flushing loos, wifi? Maybe try a couple of days in a traditional Malawian-style hut and say goodbye to all of those things for a while! Whilst freezing ‘showers’ from a bucket, candlelight and a few days without Instagram might be hard to get used to – it’s a really interesting experience which makes you appreciate all the home comforts you took for granted before. And you might find you see and experience something new when you’re forced to go without Facebook for a couple of days. Kumbali Village in Lilongwe is the perfect way to experience a back-to-basics stay but with clean water available and clean rooms too.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you take a walk or drive around when you arrive in Malawi is all the different plants and animals that you’ll see everywhere. You can take a safari (the Swahili word for ‘journey’ by the way) or visit one of the country’s incredible national parks, such as Liwonde and Lengwe to see hippos, lions, elephants and more. But you’re likely to spot monkeys, baboons, colourful insects and birds just out and about. Just watch out for chickens, goats and dogs running in front of your car when you’re in one of the villages!
7. Climb Mount Mulanje
I didn’t actually do this when I visited, but Zane and Alan from onebillion did on their visit and said it gave them a really great sense of achievement, as well as an awesome view. Mt Mulanje is 9,849 feet high – quite a climb, but not requiring special equipment or training.
8. Friendly people
We often say this about a place, but in Malawi it really is true! Malawi is called the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and much of this is to do with how warm and friendly people are. They are really genuinely interested to talk to people from other places and happy to share their lives and interests with you in return. They’re also really happy if you manage a couple of simple Chichewa phrases: greet people with ‘moni’ (hello), say ‘zikomo’ (thanks) and ‘chonde’ (please) and you’ll get along fine.
9. Unspoiled landscape and scenery
Depending on the time of year, Malawi is either lush and green or dry and very dusty. However it is always a very impressive country to see, with a variety of different terrains and landscapes, including mountains, lakes and rivers. There are a lot of open spaces and not many tourists, so it’s a great place to see some real and unspoiled nature where commercialism hasn’t taken over yet.
10. The climate!
Ok, since our trips to Malawi are mainly about working on our ‘one billion children’ project we don’t have sooo much time for sunbathing. We’re normally up with the sunrise at 5.30am, in school all day and up charging and configuring tablets, processing data or marking until about 11. But there’s normally some time to relax as well, and sunbathing might also happen (only if our work is done first, honest). You might think of Malawi as extremely hot, but most of the year it is a really nice temperature around 30 degrees and not too humid. Remember your suncream (and insect repellent!) and it really is a great place to soak up some sun.