Stockholm takes the prize

Stockholm takes center stage on Friday, when the Nobel committee awards its prestigious prizes for chemistry, medicine, physics, economics, and literature. (The peace prize is always awarded in Oslo, in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s will.)

Stockholm is expensive, but the Stockholm Card, a 24-hour pass that costs about $37, helps ease the pain. The card includes virtually all public transit and nearly every sight (70 places), some free or discounted tours and a handy sightseeing handbook. An added bonus is the substantial pleasure of doing everything without considering the cost, because many of Stockholm’s sights are worth the time but not the money. Parents: Up to two children (age 717) can share a pass for about $14. Cards are sold at tourist information offices, Hotel Center (in the train station), hostels, and some subway stations.

Stockholm’s glittering Nobel banquet commences in the historic City Hall, one of Europe’s finest buildings. Constructed in 1923, it’s an impressive mix of eight million bricks, 19 million chips of gilt mosaic, and lots of Stockholm pride. Throughout the year, it’s particularly enjoyable and worthwhile for its entertaining tours. Climb the 400-foot-tall tower – an elevator takes you halfway – and you’re treated to the best possible city view. You can take a break at the City Hall’s cafeteria and get a good lunch for $9, a bargain in pricey Scandinavia.

The wonderful Nobel Museum, which was opened in 2001 for the 100-year anniversary of the Nobel Prize, is a visual smorgasbord. Two video rooms run a constant montage of quick little programs, showing three-minute bios of various winners and five-minute films celebrating various intellectual environments from Cambridge colleges to Parisian cafes. Within the museum, the Viennese-style Cafe Satir is the place to get creative with your coffee and sample the famous Nobel ice cream. The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize for literature each year, is upstairs.

In the early days of the Nobel awards, the ceremony was conducted at the Grand Hotel, and the current winners still stay here. Today, it’s worth popping in for the hotel’s royal smorgasbord. You can stuff yourself with all the traditional Swedish specialties: a dozen kinds of herring, salmon, reindeer, meatballs, lingonberries and shrimp, followed by a fine table of cheeses and desserts. Here are some tips. Resist the urge to pile everything on your plate at once, as many Americans do, “Royal Fork” style. Take your time and dine in stages. Dirty lots of dishes. Note that lunch buffets are often cheaper than dinner buffets.

For more traditional Swedish flavor, stop by Stockholm’s main square, a people-watching scene called “Kungstradgarden” – the King’s Garden Square. Five hundred years ago, it was the private kitchen garden of the king, where he grew his cabbage salad. Today you can watch a life-sized game of chess and enjoy summer concerts at the bandstand. There’s always something happening. Surrounded by the NK department store, the harborfront, and tour boats, it’s the place to feel Stockholm’s pulse.

While many European cities have open-air folk museums, Stockholm has the original – Skansen – founded in 1891 ( Its 150 historic buildings were transplanted from all corners of Sweden. Tourists can explore this Swedish-culture-on-a-lazy-Susan, seeing folk crafts in action and wonderfully furnished old interiors, complete with guides who bring the past to life. Skansen has Nordic animals in a zoo and (in the summer) great music, especially fiddling.

A gleaming and modern metropolis, Stockholm still respects its traditions. Whether celebrating intellectual achievements at the Nobel ceremonies, enjoying the good life on the Kungstradgarden or reliving their folk history at an open-air museum, the Swedes wear their heritage well.

Rick Steves of Edmonds (425-771-8303, is the author of 27 European travel guidebooks including “Europe Through the Back Door” (published by Avalon) and the host of the public television series “Rick Steves Europe.” This week’s schedule:

Monday, 5 p.m.: Western Switzerland

Tuesday, 5 p.m.: Paris

Wednesday, 5 p.m.: London

Thursday, 5 p.m.: Ireland, Ancient and Gaelic

Friday, 5 p.m.: Dublin and Northern Ireland

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