Stockholm ranks high on many queer people’s favourite cities list — and it’s plain to see why. This waterfront city is a hub of fashion, music, food, nature and progressive queer culture. Let me guide you to my Stockholm.

As soon as you arrive, whether it’s at Arlanda or Skavsta airport, you will be met by the views many associate with Sweden; green pine forests, yellow fields and blue lakes, with red little houses dotted all around. As you approach the city (grab Arlanda Express for the smoothest journey) the houses, as well as the vast open waters, grow in size, revealing the unique character of this capital city. Stockholm is where domestic lakes meet the Baltic sea, and whilst this is the centre of the tech, music and fashion innovation that Sweden is well known for, the city also celebrates nature, tradition — and LGBTQ rights. Let’s dive in.

Get on a boat

Stockholm is built on 17 islands and as a visitor you simply must make the most out of this unique feature. My first tip, therefore, is: find your sea legs.

There is nothing quite like island hopping in the archipelago. Get on a traditional archipelago boat — or it’s high-speed equivalent – and take it out to Waxholm, Möja, Finnhamn, Utö or any one of the other gorgeous little stops along the way. Here you will be able to stop for a bite to eat, have a dip in the sea, and explore the Swedish forestry. Thanks to Allemansrätten, the Right of Public Access, you are free to roam the land (with only a few exceptions). If bigger boats are your thing you could get a ferry from Slussen, taking you to Finland or Estonia for the day.

Get outdoors in the city

Take time to soak in the waterfront in Stockholm. Whether it’s a walk on Djurgården, a stroll along the picturesque Södermälarstrand, or a panoramic tour along Fjällgatan (where my girlfriend asked me to marry her on New Year’s Eve!), I find it is impossible to get enough of the the Stockholm waterfront views. You can count on many a #selfie moment here.

What’s more, on a warm summer’s evening you will find theatre performances in Rålamshovsparken, high profile gigs at theme park Gröna Lund, romantic picnics at Skinnarviksberget, burgers and boules Boule & Berså at Danviksbro, national sing-along at open air museum Skansen and beer gardens filled with Swedes enjoying a well-earned “AW”, after-work. Following a long, dark winter Sweden embraces summer like few others.

Regardless of whether you are visiting in summer or winter, make sure you indulge in a dip. In the warmer months Stockholm’s many beaches fill up with local holiday makers, and during the rest of year (but also in summer) the many bathhouses create a relaxing oasis. Check out well-renowned Sturebadet, situated in the city centre, or Japanese sanctuary Yasuragi, located in the forests outside Nacka, to experience perfect relaxation. For an added twist and a truly Swedish experience, head out to Hellasgården for a dip in the sea — don’t worry, they cut a hole in the ice for you in the winter.

Pride

Stockholm is due to co-host EuroPride together with Gothenburg in 2018 and the city celebrates a huge Pride party every summer — but I have found it to be just as welcoming to queer people all year round.

Strolling through the streets of Stockholm I am always struck by rainbow flags, non-conformative design, boundary pushing initiatives and out gay people just being themselves. Last I was over I just happened upon a small yet mainstream jewellery shop proudly advertising rainbow marriage – that’s just one example. Swedes generally don’t even blink at the thought of same sex couples and when the Pride parade comes to town, the streets fill with people celebrating equality.

Worth noting is that the lesbian scene in Sweden is political; outspokenly feminist and trans inclusive. With lots of lesbian artists and initiatives increasingly gaining recognition across Sweden, the scene is growing particular in the Swedish capital — check out artists such as Silvana Imam, Beatrice Eli and Kakan Hermansson and you get the idea.

And whilst holding hands with my girlfriend (now fiancee!) has never caused me any grief regardless of the time of day, it is at night that the gay scene really comes alive…

Going out, out

Stockholm nightlife thrives particularly between May and August, when the sun doesn’t set and the summer rays stretch on into the early hours. Honestly, it’s magical.

One of the most popular establishments during this time of year (and again, one of my faves) is Mälarpaviljongen, a chic waterfront bar and restaurant buzzing with LGBT clientele, DJs, and staff. Worth noting is that the venue works with LGBT charity Regnbågsfonden and employs LGBT refugees.

Trädgården is another summer club hugely popular with the queer community. Set under the bridges near the waterfront by Eriksdalsbandet, this club invites some of the biggest acts and DJs and it is definitely one to visit. Make sure you go early, though, as queues can be long.

There are lots of club nights aimed specifically at a lesbian/bi clientele. Look out for MoxyBitter Pills, Hotellgänget, Club Wish (for the kinky) and keep a keen eye on Gunn Lundemo Events — this Stockholm-based DJ regularly does clubs around the world but she often also plays on home turf and her latest project with the L Word’s Daniela Sea looks seriously cool. Speaking of new, SPACE Stockholm is a recent initiative by lesbian icon and longtime Stockholm DJ Pamela, promising house music and underground decadence.

Many of the gay clubs in Stockholm attract a mixed clientele and “queer” is the buzzword here, as exemplified by the brilliant-looking Klubb Hångel, playing retro tunes and serving a no-attitude-pure-joy kind of vibe.

DATE is a club night run by underground music superstars Ji Nilsson and Julia Spada and whereas it isn’t advertised as queer, it’s a night I’d personally always try to make.

Mainstream gay clubs, where I might expect to see more men than women, include King Kong, Wonk and party boat Patricia. Bar/restaurant/club Marie Laveau, which is mixed and has a very cool vibe, puts on a queer party, Club Laveau, every Friday.

Queer friendly but not explicitly gay clubs include Debaser, Berns and Södra Teatern – but then again you will struggle to find somewhere that isn’t welcoming in Stockholm. For the latest queer events, see Visit Sweden LGBTas well as the Facebook timeline of JagVillGåPåQueerFest — the information is in Swedish but it gives a good idea of new upcoming nights. You might also want to check out Facebook’s list of gay bars here.

COOL CULTURE

Say Swedish music and one band will come to mind regardless of where in the world you are. And now, finally, we have a museum dedicated to their greatness! Whether you are a huge fan or not, the ABBA museum is a Stockholm must as it lets you step back in time and rediscover pop history. Record your own song, perform in your own music video and (my favourite) learn about the music history that followed on from these super trooper dancing queens. Go, go, go!

Music thrives in Stockholm and the list of hits created here, thanks to producers such as Denniz Pop, Max Martin, RedOne, Nijs and Ji Nilsson, is endless. Spot some of the stars, including Zara Larsson, First Aid Kit and The Cardigans, live in Stockholm this summer — and do consider heading over for Popaganda, Stockholm’s coolest pop festival held early September at outdoor swimming bath Eriksdalsbadet. Years and Years and FKA Twigs were incredible last year.

Fans of modern art head to Moderna Museet or Liljevalchs, where each spring their exhibition Vårsalongen showcases the latest artists and pieces for a small entry fee. Fotografiska, the photography museum, is another must as they never fail to put on incredible and thought-provoking exhibitions, often by queer artists.

Norm critical design

It is no secret that Swedes love IKEA as much as the rest of the world, but there is more to Swedish interior design than that. On a trip to Stockholm make sure you check out the Svenskt Tenn and Svensk hemslöjd in the city centre and discover the origins of Scandi hygge.

Stockholm Fashion Week takes place twice a year but this city breathes fashion 24/7. Home to brands such as ACNE, Stutterheim, Dagmar, Whyred, Swedish Hasbeens, Anna Holtblad, Filippa K, Hope, Nudie, Happy Socks, COS, Polarn O. Pyret as well as high street hits Weekday, Monki and of course, H&M, Stockholm makes for great shopping, especially as many of these big names actively challenge both hetero and gender norms. “Normkritik”, norm criticism is an important concept in Sweden, not least in fashion.

Shopping

For high street fashion head to Drottninggatan and the city centre area between tube stops T-centralen, Hötorget and Östermalmstorg. Whilst you will find specialised (and very good!) H&M stores on almost every corner, Monki and Weekday are other Swedish-owned high street brands well worth checking out. Department store Åhléns has a good fashion department with many Swedish designers and Nordiska Kompaniet, a five minute walk from there, is excellent for your high end shopping. MOOD department store around the corner serves up a cool hipster vibe (with incredible toilets) and Biblioteksgatan, Sturegallerian and Sturegatan is where you find your luxury shopping. Do pop into Efva Attling jewellery shop on Biblioteksgatan — Efva is without a doubt one of Sweden’s biggest lesbian icons.

On Södermalm I would recommend a stroll along Åsögatan where you can discover smaller boutiques by Swedish designer stars such as Acne and Stutterheim but also nip into the shop and studio of Caroline Hjerpe, an up and coming jewellery maker with a great Instagram following. Her work has been spotted both on pop star Tove Lo and Sweden’s biggest vlogger Clara Henry (who, btw is openly bisexual and well worth checking out — YouTube here) and for good reason. If you’re lucky her adorable little dog will come say hi, too.

For vintage fashion check out Beyond Retro and Myrorna, the latter is essentially our version of Oxfam but with huge fashionista status.

Eating out

There is more to Scandi cooking than meatballs and the capital of Scandinavia is well known for its culinary flair. Regardless of your budget, you can eat very, very well in Stockholm and here are a few of my favourite eateries.

Urban Deli — serving local, organic, proper classic Swedish food in a relaxed atmosphere. They have several locations but the Nytorget one is my favourite — possibly because it co-functions as a food shop and also happens to be a big queer hot spot.

Paradiest — a combined organic food store and food court where local produce is at the heart of the operation.

Green Queen — Mälarpaviljonen’s green little sister. This restaurant/deli focuses on “clean” eating, serving up delicious rainbow salads, juices and raw snacks.

Nalle o Kroppkakan — for something very Swedish and rather different, head to this restaurant near Telefonplan. They serve traditional Swedish “kroppkakor”, robust potato dumplings with different fillings. Served with lingonberries and a cold beer, it hardly gets more Swedish than this.

Vigårda — gourmet burgers at budget cost. With an ever changing menu and at least one mean veggie burger at a time this small scale burger chain is the bomb.com. (I will say that mainstream burger chain Max isn’t bad either — they do not one but six veggie options.)

Södra Teatern/Mosebacke — with one of the best views of the city, this classic Södermalm establishment serves Swedish tapas, small courses making the vegetable the star of the show (worry not, you may add meat or fish if you so wish).

Fika

A Swedish must is the tradition of fika, meaning coffee or tea with a small snack (preferably a cinnamon roll if you ask me). Your fika options are endless but these are some of my favourites:

The classic fika: Vetekatten

The posh fika: Wienerkonditoriet

The healthy, soulful fika: Koloni

The LGBT tourist fika: Chokladkoppen (ideal for an Old Town sightseeing stop)

The hipster fika: Vurma

The political, vegan fika: Femtopia

The raw fika: STHLM RAW

The Instagram worthy fika: Pom & Flora

The mainstream fika: Wayne’s

Getting around

The main inner city areas to bear in mind are Södermalm/SoFo (for a relaxed and very cool hipster vibe), Östermalm (high end shopping and first class food), gorgeous old town area Gamla Stan (the cobbled streets see you literally step back in time – make sure you visit the castle), down to earth Kungsholmen and green museum island Djurgården.

When I visit I try to walk as much as possible, just because it means I get to see more of the city, but getting around via public transport is easy. The Oyster-like SL card gives you access to the tube, bus, tram and boat — all of which feel safe and clean. Many of the tube stations are decorated with lovely bits of art and a recent addition is that the escalators are lit up by rainbow lights. You can plan your journeys here.

Getting here

SAS, British Airways, RyanAir and Norwegian all fly non-stop to Stockholm from London. If you fly into Arlanda I would recommend going via Arlanda Express, Flybussarna coach or Taxi 020 — beware of individual taxi drivers trying to grab your attention at the rank and instead pick the big taxi names, asking for a fixed price.