Normally, just the word ‘hipster’ would be enough to have me heading in the opposite direction but, despite the alarming number of 19th century moustaches on display, Stockholm’s hipster capital of Södermalm is a fascinating and fun area to visit. The SoFo neighbourhood might be renowned for boutique shopping, trendy coffee shops, excellent restaurants and vintage clothing, but Södermalm is also home to lovely parks, centuries old traditional wooden houses and spectacular views to Gamla Stan and northern Stockholm.
It’s no surprise that Södermalm was one of the settings for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It wasn’t always this way. Long before ‘artisanal’ and ‘overpriced’ came to mean the same thing, this was a working class neighbourhood. Modern-day Södermalm is a product of a couple of decades of gentrification that have left it with few reminders of its former life, or former population. In 2014, Vogue magazine named it the ‘coolest neighbourhood in Europe’. That might sound like somewhere to avoid at all costs, but it’s a varied area that rises above the cliche.
This was all rural until the 17th century, when working class neighbourhoods were built on the island. The lovely red-stained wooden cottages that can still be found in parts of Södermalm originate in that period. By the 18th century it was known as an impoverished area, famed for lawlessness, hard drinking and other pleasures of the flesh. Topics to which its most famous son, the composer Carl Michael Bellman, frequently referred. This is also the birthplace of early 20th century film star, Greta Garbo.
I arrived on Södermalm from Gamla Stan and walked along the waterfront with views to the island of Djurgården. From here I had to climb up a very steep stairway to get to the top of the cliffs that rise abruptly from the water’s edge. I didn’t have a plan so just followed my nose (and Google maps) to places that seemed interesting. In the scenic Vitabergsparken there were some old wooden houses and an open air photographic exhibition with street food stalls; people sunbathed and families picnicked.
From the Vitabergsparken, I headed deep into hipster territory, the dozen or so blocks of Södermalm known as SoFo. Luckily, hipsters have good restaurants. I settled down to have lunch next to a park filled with young families and watched the world go by. On a warm weekend afternoon the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. I almost managed to forget that there were an inordinate number of people wearing perfectly groomed beards and moustaches.
Over lunch I was looking at the map on my phone and was intrigued by a castle symbol labelled as “The Secret Little Horse”. I decided to investigate and unearthed a statue of two horses near the Fatbursparken, an urban park with, bizarrely, a ‘pop up’ park inside it. It was an inspired decision, Fatbursparken is a modern park that also doubles as an outdoor art gallery. The Secret Little Horse is, in fact, Daphne and Olle, a sculpture by Irish-born, Swedish artist Aline Magnusson, who specialises in animal sculptures.
The area was busy with people enjoying the sun as I made my way through pleasant streets towards Skinnarviksberget, a vantage point above a former brewery that offers splendid views over the city to the north. The area is dotted with green spaces, which give it a feeling of still being semi-rural, in one small park a band was practicing and people were taking the opportunity to have a free outdoor concert. The clamber up the rocks of Skinnarviksberget were worth it for the beautiful views of Kungsholmen.
Afterwards, I walked through the park to the waterfront and back to Gamla Stan, but not before stopping at one of the many boats that also double as hotels, restaurants and bars. I sat out on the deck with a cold beer and watched boats sailing past with Stockholm as a backdrop. It really is a very picturesque city.