A little away from the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, on the island of Stadsholmen, lies the old town known as Gamla Stan. This area is famous for preserving the streetscape of a medieval European town from the 13th century. In this article, I will provide a detailed explanation of the historical value of Gamla Stan, the old town of great importance to Sweden.
Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm
Located a short distance from the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, on the island of Stadsholmen, is the old town called Gamla Stan. This area still retains the streetscape of medieval Europe designed in the 13th century and is an important historical tourist spot for Sweden.
The name Gamla Stan means “old town” in Swedish and is also known as “Staden mellan broarna” (the city between the bridges). Gamla Stan is situated on the island of Stadsholmen, which is composed of 14 large and small islands, and can be explored on foot in half a day to a full day.
The streetscape of Gamla Stan, which is within walking distance from the city center of Stockholm, offers beautiful scenery often referred to as the Venice of the North. The city is lined with beautiful buildings and majestic cobblestones, offering a medieval European world experience as if you have stepped into a story.
It is also famous for being the setting of Studio Ghibli’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” with the beautiful streetscape where Kiki flew around recreated in Gamla Stan. Gamla Stan is a place full of history and an elegant atmosphere that can be called a famous sight.
The History of Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan is a medieval European town built on the present Stadsholmen island in the 13th century. The town has many North Germanic buildings dating from the 17th to 18th centuries.
While it is now a famous tourist destination in Sweden visited by many people, it has a history of being a slum until the mid-20th century. However, after World War II, the town was renovated by the Swedish Parliament and reborn as a beautiful medieval city. The name “Staden mellan broarna,” meaning “the city between the bridges,” was used for the town from the 1800s until the 1980s. The name Gamla Stan was established as the official name relatively recently, in 1980.
Introducing the Attractions of Gamla Stan All at Once
In the Gamla Stan district, historically and politically important buildings for Sweden, such as the Stockholm Palace where the King of Sweden carries out official duties and the Parliament House, are concentrated. Here is a summary of the spots in Gamla Stan.
Stockholm Cathedral, located in Gamla Stan, is a Gothic-style church built in 1279, which was later renovated in the Baroque style. The majestic appearance of the cathedral and the large clock at its top are said to resemble the clock tower featured in “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”
Stockholm Cathedral has been used as a venue for celebratory events such as coronations and weddings of the Swedish royal family. In 1976, the wedding of the current King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and Queen Silvia took place there, and in 2010, Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding ceremony was also held at Stockholm Cathedral.
Stockholm Palace, built in the 13th century, is currently used as the official residence of the Swedish King, Carl XVI Gustaf. The palace, once the residence of the Swedish royal family, has continued to be used for official events since the private residence was moved to Drottningholm Palace in Sweden in 1981.
Stockholm Palace is open to the public, allowing visitors to view exhibits related to the Swedish royal family and admire the elegant Rococo-style chapel originating from France. Additionally, the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place daily at noon in the courtyard of Stockholm Palace. As the historical center of the Swedish royal family, Stockholm Palace is a popular spot visited by many tourists.
Riddarholmen Church is located on Riddarholmen Island, which can be reached on foot from Gamla Stan. The name of the island means “Knight’s Island” in Swedish. The Neo-Gothic style Riddarholmen Church features a refined and beautiful exterior that harmonizes with the streetscape of Gamla Stan. As the final resting place of Swedish royalty, it is also a significant site for the Swedish people.
At the center of Gamla Stan is Stortorget Square, a lively area filled with cafes, restaurants, and markets frequented by tourists and locals alike. The area surrounding the square is dotted with brightly colored buildings in shades of red and yellow, creating a picturesque streetscape reminiscent of a scene from a picture book. Within Stortorget Square, you’ll find the historic restaurant “Den gyldene freden,” established in 1772 and registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest restaurant.
The Nobel Museum is located in Stortorget Square, showcasing exhibits on past Nobel Prize winners and Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize and native of Sweden. Within the museum, there is also a restaurant called “Bistro Nobel,” where you can enjoy Nobel Prize medal-shaped chocolates and the “Nobel Ice Cream” reportedly favored by Nobel Prize recipients.
Gamla Stan is not only home to many historical buildings but also houses the Parliament House, the center of Swedish politics. Located on the adjacent Helgeandsholmen Island, the building features eye-catching curved architecture.
In contrast to the solemn atmosphere of Japan’s Parliament House, the Swedish Parliament House exudes a stylish ambiance. For those interested in Swedish politics, a visit to the Parliament House is highly recommended.
Mårten Trotzigs Gränd
Gamla Stan retains its traditional layout, with maze-like narrow streets characteristic of the town. First-time visitors may find themselves getting lost, but one particularly famous street is “Mårten Trotzigs Gränd.” This narrow alley in Gamla Stan is only 90 cm wide, making it the narrowest street in the area. Although it may be challenging to carry large luggage or pass others in the tight space, the alley’s unique narrowness has made it one of Gamla Stan’s attractions and a popular photo spot for many tourists.
Gamla Stan is a place where you can experience the charm of medieval Europe within a small area, filled with numerous attractions. In just one day, you can explore the maze-like streets, famous tourist spots, and beautiful churches. Be sure to visit and immerse yourself in the allure of medieval Europe.