Author: Dale Thomas Vaughn

Why It Took Me Less Than 48 Hours to Fall in Love with Stockholm

I’m one of those people who watches plane fares. If you’re not, and you like to travel, you’re missing some golden opportunities right now to find great fares and routes to travel internationally.

Flights have never been more competitive than they are right now. This window may close quickly, so pay close attention and you may get a once-in-a-lifetime price on your dream trip.

Dale and Liz on Norwegian Air

For my lady and me, the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway have been waiting on the bucket list for about 7 years. We got a great fare from L.A. to Oslo on Norwegian during one of their promotions (~$280 return), and then we set up flights on SAS from Oslo to Stockholm then to Tromso (which – if you don’t know – is about as far north as you can get). Tromso deserves its own post because we saw the Aurora every single night we were there (7 in a row) and it was mind-boggling every night.

northern lights outside our window
I shot this on an iphone out of our bedroom window in Tromso…

We decided on a whim to do a side trip to Stockholm – and I’m glad we did because it was a highlight of the trip for me. In 48 hours, I fell in love with this jewel of a city. Why?

Here’s the guaranteed 4-part recipe for lovable cities:

1. “Strollability”

Strollability is my invented and laughingly unscientific combination of walkability/accessibility, interestingness and discoverability.

It is my opinion that the best thing about European cities is the conscious setup and preservation of strollable streets. This may be personal because I despise cars, and also because I see the world best with my feet.

Liz in old town Stockholm

We woke up from our budget AirBnB in central Stockholm on our first day and were able to walk from our front door to any part of this great Nordic city in as little as 20 minutes. It’s not just about accessibility though, it’s the sheer frequency of interesting sights and sounds along any 20 minute amble.

Every building and bridge in Stockholm marks a different era in human history. High marks go to cities with pedestrian thoroughfares that cut right through the center of a city… seriously… who wants to see, smell, hear or fight with cars for space?

Stockholm has Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street), which led us from the northern part of the city (Vasasten) down to the heart of the city (Norrmalm) and along the waterfront facing the old town (Gamla Stan).

That leads me to the second key ingredient of a lovable city:

2. Old towns.

Dale and Liz in old town Stockholm

I feel the depth and structure of old cobblestone streets and stone buildings. If your city has an old town and it decides to protect it from being bulldozed – I think what happens next is the best of human civilization: people start caring about the legacy and purpose of their city. That care is evident.

People start to just walk around adoring the ground and marveling at the facades and smiling at the stories. There’s something magic that gets soaked into the stones when people do that enough. I think we call these areas “charming” because magic recycles back into the air, creating a virtuous cycle of enchantment. Sure, some people live in these towns and just walk by without thinking about the old stones, but even they breeze through with a modest respect.

Nobel Museum

The winding cobblestone alleys lead us past the Royal Palace and into the heart of Gamla Stan, where the uplifting and empowering Nobel Museum (entry included with the Stockholm City Pass) anchors a tiny walkable maze of delightful shops, restaurants and cafes.

Which leads me to the third ingredient.

3. Cafes.

Dale and Liz in old town Stockholm outside cafe

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox? It essentially states that if the universe is so mind-bogglingly mathematically huge, why aren’t we seeing aliens all the time?

My answer: cafes.

Hang with me. There’s some data to support my hypothesis.

My theory is that at some point every intelligent species invents cozy cafes with interesting views (before inventing space travel), and then what’s the motivation for them to leave (assuming they solve the environmental equilibrium, world peace, and asteroid avoidance problems)?

Want some data? The most advanced civilizations on our planet (AKA Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands and yes, Sweden) are also the top 6 countries in coffee drunk per capita. Coincidence? I don’t think so.


…cafes are the meaning of life.

I only visited 1% of Stockholm’s delightful cafes, which were pretty much everywhere on its 14 different islands. This leads me to the next ingredient of this completely made up recipe for great cities.

4. Interesting Horizons (with a blend of water/mountains/hills/skylines)

Playful light

I prefer squiggly lines on the horizon. I think it’s because I don’t trust straight lines.

Typically, if we’re going to use any transportation, we opt for the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, which we had access to with our Stockholm City Pass – (highly recommend!). These bus tours often give a really quick cursory overview of a city’s history, key layout, architecture and museums of interest (don’t miss the Abba Museum if you like to be a fun person – not included in the City Pass, but every other museum was).

But to be honest, we didn’t spend much time on the bus this time around because we decided to jump on a great boat tour (also included in the City Pass) after we realized that Stockholm is built on the largest archipelago in Europe.

On a Boat

The water met old towns and forested hillsides in delightfully squiggly fashion, but what really makes the horizon interesting is the light.

The light here is weird.
I’ve lived for 10 years in Southern California, the world’s most constantly vanilla brand of sunlight, so maybe I don’t know what “normal” is. But I mean weird in a good way. The dramatic Nordic sky offers a broad spectrum of color, precipitation and briskness. Yes, there a lots of grays when it’s cloudy, but even the gray clouds have depth and shade and you can just tell the sun is striking them from strange angles.


Sipping espresso while strolling along the pedestrian streets, the horizon playing light shows at me… I fell in love with Stockholm and will make sure to be back for more.

What did I miss? What are your ingredients to fall in love with a place?

Thumbnail and Cover Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash
The rest are by me, Dale Thomas Vaughn… sorry y’all.