Sweden's stylish capital of steeples and spires, gracefully spanning 14 different islands, is finally having its close-up, thanks to the year's sensational best-sellers, the sizzlingGirl With the Dragon Tattoo series, and the three movies based upon them.
Travelers can visit real-life locations in the books about investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist and the brilliant tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, by the late Stieg Larsson, himself the founder of a left-wing magazine, in a guided walking tour from Stockholm City Museum (www.stadsmuseum.stockholm.se).
Many are on Soderhalm island, a hip, bohemian, formerly working-class neighborhood now populated by art galleries and gift shops, where Larsson lived. You'll see where Salander's 25-room, 3,800-square-foot penthouse was located — bought for more than $3 million after she hacked a corrupt financier's bank account, facing a glittering night view of the skyline — and Blomqvist's apartment building, in a turreted 19th-century structure.
You can sip a drink at Kvarnen Bar (www.kvarnen.com), a 19th-century beer hall where Salander socialized with friends from her all-girl rock band, or Kaffeebar, Blomqvist's favorite cafe.
Buy tickets for the English-speaking tour at the museum, housed in a 17th-century palace, where the recreated Millennium offices are located, or at Stockholm Tourist Centre. Or buy a map and explore on your own.
Sweden awards the Nobel Prizes, funded by the fortune of inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, each year, and its winners are chosen by a group of Swedish scholars and writers. Each Dec. 10, the King of Sweden bestows the science and literature honors in Stockholm Concert Hall, followed by a fabulous banquet in City Hall, attended by a VIP crowd of nearly 1,300. (The Nobel Peace Prize, however, won by President Barack Obama in 2009, is presented in Oslo, Norway.)
In case you didn't make the Nobel guest list this past December, pretend you're a laureate at Stadshuskallaren, a restaurant that serves every Nobel dinner menu from 1901 beneath painted vaulted ceilings in the basement of City Hall.
You can pick your menu here(www.profilrestauranger.se/ stadshuskallaren/menyer/nobelmenyer). Don't miss the Gold Hall upstairs, whose mosaic was created with 18 million pieces, or the tower, with its panoramic view of Stockholm.
Nobel laureates stay at the Grand Hotel(www.grandhotel.se), Sweden's leading luxury hotel, which overlooks the Royal Palace and harbor. So have celebrities from U2's Bono, Elton John, Princess Grace to Ingrid Bergman. Master chef Matthias Dahlgren, who won Sweden's Gastronomy Prize in 2010, has two Michelin-starred restaurants in the hotel: two-star Matsalen (dining room), and one-star Matbaren (food bar), casual, chic and less pricey.
The gourmet-food scene in Stockholm, which boasts six Michelin-star restaurants, will be an absolute revelation to those who expect plain hearty food like herring and smorgasbord. Impeccably fresh fish and game; fruit from lingonberries to Arctic raspberries; and wild mushrooms are prepared creatively in daring flavor combinations.
Stockholm's Old Town, Gamla Stan, is a picturesque warren of medieval houses in pale green, ocher, pink and cream on cobblestoned streets. It's a wonderland of candlelit restaurants and shops during the dark, cold winter.
Swedes are crazy about candles; their own festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, is St. Lucia Day, which starts the holiday season in December. A young girl wearing a wreath of candles — real in the old days, artificial today — is accompanied by other girls holding candles. Saffron-flavored, raisin-studded buns are eaten, and special songs are sung.
Design: Style and Comfort
Swedish design is famous the world over for style and comfort, from 18th-century Gustavian antiques, often painted a soft gray-green, to IKEA's affordable, clean-lined modern furniture.
It's a joy to hear that one of the founders of Swedish modern design, Josef Frank, was Jewish, an Austrian-born architect and designer who settled in Stockholm in 1933. Frank was the principal designer for the elegant home-furnishings shop Svenskt Tenn(www.svenskttenn.se), and his vivid floral textile designs in wallpaper, pillows, fabric and handbags are still sold here.
The Jewish Museum (www.judiska-museet.se) — one of the few in Scandinavia — is open daily, except for Saturday. Exhibits range from those on Raoul Wallenberg, the diplomat from a wealthy Swedish banking family who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in World War II, to Jewish peddlers from the 1780s on, to Swedish Jews' contributions to the arts.
Captured by the Soviet Army in 1945, Wallenberg was never found, and the Soviet Union claimed he died in prison, though witness accounts of seeing him alive persisted for decades. A tree was planted in his honor at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, while the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation promotes his values of heroism and tolerance. (A Stockholm park is named after him.)
The Great Synagogue, one of Europe's most beautiful, built in 1870, also has a room dedicated to Wallenberg. Sweden's chief rabbi for 30 years, and now rabbi emeritus — based in this synagogue near the Grand Hotel — is a Philadelphia native and graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Rabbi Morton Narrowe.