Earlier this year, a Swedish newspaper ran an online survey amongst the residents of Stockholm, asking them which of the city’s fourteen islands they would be most happy to see sink, Atlantis-like, without trace. Stockholmers chose to allow Gamala Stan and its tourist hordes to survive; and were content that Södermalm’s hipsters should live another day. Instead, they decided that Djurgården with its museums, historic houses and beautiful parklands was the island they would miss the least. This is the first time in history that hipsters have been chosen to survive over world class museums.
Djurgården was once the hunting grounds of the Swedish Kings, and although it’s in the heart of Stockholm it retains the wild ruggedness of those days. It’s still owned by the royal family, but is now open to the public and is where you’ll find several of the city’s finest museums, the Gröna Lund amusement park and plenty of walking trails. It’s a peaceful place to stroll, paths snake through woodlands and along waterfronts. Even on a warm day when Stockholmers flock here, it doesn’t seem crowded.
Djurgården is often referred to as Stockholm’s green lung but, in a city as green as this, that seems a bit redundant. Walking out of the town centre early in the morning, I passed along the quiet Strandvägen waterfront with views to Gamala Stan on one side and beautiful, aristocratic town houses on the other. I came to Djurgården to visit the Vasa Museum, but the weather was so good that afterwards I went for a long walk in the island’s huge green space.
Thanks to its Royal status the island never developed as a population centre, and even today only around 800 people live there, which helps explain the tranquility. Leaving the Vasa Museum behind, I headed past the wonderfully kitsch ABBA Museum (which I’d have loved to have visited), and around Gröna Lund, before passing a collection of colourful traditional wooden houses – presumably where the majority of the island’s population lives.
I soon found myself in parkland wandering through woodland. The island is home to a number of surprises, the first one I came across was organic vegetable allotments with an attached cafe. A little further on, spotted down a wide sweep of lawns, was the Rosendal Palace. Built in the 1820s for King Karl XIV Johan, it was formerly a pleasure palace ideal for summertime retreats. I thought it was now a public building, but it turns out that it’s still used as a Royal residence, most recently for Prince Carl Philip and former model, now Princess, Sofia Hellqvist.
I reached the waterfront on the northern shore of the island and headed back to town. There are fabulous views to be had of Stockholm and I discovered a couple of pieces of public art along the way. Making it back to civilisation, I realised I’d been walking for a couple of hours in the heart of a European capital city without ever feeling like I was in a city. That is one of the many unique charms of Stockholm.