I visited Stockholm for the first time in summer 2009. I was a tourist, travelling through Scandinavian countries by car with a couple of friends. I was amazed by Sweden’s capital, which contributed to make memorable the vacation. At that time I didn’t know that Stockholm would become my second hometown. In fact, I moved there in January 2012 to start a PhD at Karolinska Institutet, and I left Sweden in August 2017. I must admit that in the beginning it was not easy. I didn’t know anyone, and Swedes are not famous for being warm and welcoming people. Winter for sure didn’t help neither. But slowly things changed.
To visit a city as a tourist is completely different than living in it. This is a quite obvious statement and you can apply it to nearly any city in the world. When you are a tourist you spend only few days visiting the beauties of a city, and you return home with the belief that to live in that city would be amazing. Well, rarely that’s true. Every city has problems, which of course are carefully avoided during few days of sightseeing. Instead, living in Stockholm was definitely better than visiting it just for a few days. Beyond the ability to mix uncontaminated nature and urban touch, Stockholm is able to absorb you and to make you live inside it. In many cities, if you follow the urban rhythm, you might lose your soul and just obey like a robot to your duties, forgetting about everything else. But Stockholm is different. With its gentle touch, it reminds you your duties, sure, but at the same time it allows and reminds you to relax and take care of yourself.
You can have a walk in one of the many parks, so wide and so close to the city center (Djurgården, Långholmsparken, Rålambshovsparken or Tantolunden), or follow the plethora of paths which skirt the waterside of the 14 Stockholm’s islands, or, again, across the tight streets of the old town (Gamla Stan in local language). You can spend some time sitting in a café, close to the water or in a park, reading, talking, thinking, or simply enjoying the environment.
Stockholm gives massive importance to culture. In the city center there is the Kulturhuset (the House of Culture), where it’s possible to find all the information about every event (music, theatre, cinema, exhibition) in Stockholm: this building is organized on many floors, where relaxing areas (cafees) meet temporary exhibitions and other cultural events, game-spaces for children, chess area and much more. I love the Swedish way to approach cultural events, because they never stand per se, but each event is organized to entertain everybody. Therefore, differently than in many other countries, cultural events are not perceived as intellectual and sophisticated, addressed only to a restricted range of “egghead” people.
It’s common that foreign people, thinking of Stockholm and Sweden in general, are worried about the cold winter, darkness and bad weather. It happened to me, a Southern European who moved to Stockholm in the worst period of the year. Luckily, I quickly realized that the city is made to be lived and enjoyed also with adverse weather. Public transport is extremely efficient and allows people to minimize outdoor time when travelling, regardless of where the journey starts and ends. The three subways lines, together with the web of bus lines, generates a perfect network of connections.
Swedish people are always kind and polite. When you ask someone for information, he/she will try to help you in the best possible way, speaking English fluently. On the other hand, no one will start a conversation with you (with rare exceptions), and it is well known that Scandinavian people do not like conversation in general.
Social life in Sweden is dependent on the season. In a really funny way, a Swedish girl I met once on a plane told me that Swedes are comparable to bears: they sleep during winter, wake up in late spring and enjoy summer as much as possible, to be ready to start a new lethargic phase when leafs start falling.
Another thing I really appreciated in Sweden is the importance given to animals. Swedish people love dogs. Dogs are members in all respects of the Swedish social life: they’re allowed to enter shops (not food stores, obviously) and to travel on public transport free of charge. This is possible because puppies are educated by the owner to be obedient and not to mess up with other animals or people, making them perfect citizens.
Sweden cares about children, and the municipality of Stockholm allows a parent with a child in a pram to run for free on buses. The city is full of childcare places, which are affordable for any family, and free playground and children-dedicated areas.
One last advice: if you are planning to move to Stockholm, once there, get a bike as soon as possible. There’s no better way to enjoy the city than running through it on two wheels. The city is full of cycling roads, and cycling is extremely safe.