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I’m an art historical novelist. I pride myself on knowing a lot about art. But Stockholm has surprised and charmed me — not only because of its beautiful architecture and glittering waterways (the city sits on an archipelago of 24,000 islands where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic…)
But because of all the art.
You’ll find it not only in museums, but on the streets and in the air.
There are countless galleries in Stockholm — I can’t list them all, so I encourage you to explore this city of islands for yourself — but here are 10 art spots that are worth putting on the top of your list:
Only in Stockholm can you find an entire island dedicated to art (that tends to happen when you have 24,000 islands to choose from). Take a ferry (or drive) out to the Art Island to see an exhibition on art, design or fashion or attend an event — they host everything from circuses to opera. If you’ve ever dreamed of escaping real life and disappearing into a whole world of art… here’s your chance.
2: Subway Art
You’ll find some of Stockholm’s best art underground, in the city’s Tunnelbana stations. Running 110 kilometers long, it’s touted as the longest art exhibition in the world, featuring paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and installations by 150 artists in over 90% of the city’s stations. So in Stockholm, even as you’re traveling from one museum to another, you don’t have to leave your art behind: it’s right out your subway window.
Located on Skeepsholmen island, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet has one of the best collections of modern art in Europe — including works by Picasso, Dali, Miro, Man Ray and Mondrian. It’s also home to many world-class exhibitions, including the current “Reality Machines” showcasing interactive designs that alter your perception of reality, including the maze of color filters pictured above… If you want to change the way to see art and the world, a visit to this museum is well worth your time.
The district south of Folkungagatan is self-styled after NYC’s SoHo — it’s alive with design shops and creative boutiques. Yes, it’s set on the island of Sodermalm, setting of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but don’t let that crime drama scare you off. If you want to get out of the galleries and into the streets to get a sense of contemporary Swedish style, this is the neighborhood for you.
5: Fotografiska Museum
This photography museum has a view of Stockholm (from the top floor in the cafe) that rivals any artistic masterpiece. But it also houses a phenomenal selection of rotating exhibits. On now is Martin Schoeller’s Up Close, including portraits of Jack Nicholson, Hillary Clinton, and a homeless lady, Denise Martin. There’s also a moving exhibition about child refugees from Syria; if you feel emotionally removed from this crisis, a visit to this exhibit will pull you right into the heart of it.
6: Historika Museum
This is one of the biggest museums in Sweden with a massive collection of Viking artifacts, gold and silver jewelry, and beautifully preserved Medieval religious icons. For a walk through 400 years of Swedish Catholicism (the Swedes followed Norse paganism until the 12th century; then turned to Lutherism in the 16th century) there is no better place for such religious iconography than this grand old museum.
If you care about art, you must visit this place when you’re in Stockholm. Known best by its iconic (and controversial) glass obelisk out front (by sculptor Karl Edvin Öhrström), the Kulturhuset is at the very center of the debate about contemporary culture invading this well-preserved old city: which is better, clinging to the past or rushing into the future? Kulturhuset is home to debates, talks and art exhibitions, so stop by to be a part of the conversation.
There are countless art galleries in Stockholm, but this is one of my favorites with works by Munch, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Rodin. Sadly, in 2002, thieves broke in and stole many of the gallery’s most famous works, but this collection still glitters. When you’re on the island of Djurgarden visiting the Vasa (that magnificent 17th century ship that I could have included on this list, except it already gets so much attention, I’ll leave you to find it elsewhere), this gallery is well worth a long visit.
Yes, I’m talking about department store windows. And I know, I know, perhaps this isn’t real art, but commercialism… but for anyone interested in visual design, these windows are worth a look. Kids and adults alike line up to see their Christmas windows, but I assure you NK will be dressed to impress anytime you are in town. So for a more frivolous artistic moment, head up the popular shopping street of Hamngatan to the Swedish icon, Nordiska Kompaniet.
10: National Museum
Even though Sweden’s premier art museum is currently closed for renovations (scheduled to reopen in 2018), you can still see their exhibitions at Konstakademien, Nationalmuseum Design at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, or on the streets of Stockholm through their Public Space exhibition. I love this Public Space exhibit: the museum has put reproductions of their great art on the streets, right around Central Station, so whether you’re a tourist rushing off to some museum or a Stockholmer slogging to work, you’re surrounded by masterpieces. Even though the museum’s world-class collection of Rembrandts, Ruebens, Goya, Renoir is not currently on display, the heart of the National Museum continues to beat in Stockholm.
What are your favorite Stockholm art stops?