Water, water everywhere. Not much of a surprise as central Stockholm is built on fifteen islands. So you’ll see why life on the water is pretty integral to the city – but despite this, much of tourism in Stockholm seemed focused on the islands itself. I was keen to experience a different perspective of Stockholm from the water, not on a boat-trip, but something that provided the luxury of taking my own time about it – by kayak.
The waters around the city are actually a kayaking geek’s wet dream (no pun intended). A city of two waters, marked by the old town, Gamla Stan and Slussen, Stockholm straddles both Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea – and I’ve done enough kayaking to know that there is a difference between sea kayaking and its freshwater alternative. In the spirit of adventure, I opted for a bit of both.
My first excursion was to be on the sea, the more challenging option. I headed to Djurgårdens Sjöcafé for my kayak. Advised to stick out of the shipping lanes, they preferred that I stayed on the Djurgårdsbrunnskanalen side of the bridge; but I was told that for the best view of this city as its seafaring ancestors would have seen it, I should first head out to the North West of the island. I was soon rewarded by the view of Skeppsholmen and the architectural majesty of the old city and Strandvägen on the opposite side – not to mention some fabulous old boats moored in the distance; just stunning.
Turning back into the stiller water between Djurgården and Östermalm, the fun really began as I could really relax. The kayak cut through the water beautifully and I enjoyed the somewhat rural environment. That’s the thing about Stockholm, it’s a cosmopolis, but within the city itself you can really feel at one with nature.
Cut to the Mälaren, Långholmen Kajak loaned me my next kayak. The lake waters were calm, perfect for a slow paddle and sunbathe. I spent the afternoon drifting through the parklands and skirting by beaches – my only company were other kayakers and the odd pleasure-boater.
Looking back to land, I saw hundreds of Stockholmers laid out sunbathing on the hills and a few skinny dippers splashing around. This week also marked the end of college for many young locals, I had seen truck-loads of them roaring through the city earlier in the day, heralding the next chapter of their lives. It seemed the trucks had dropped them off and their partying continued on the beach.
As I approached the west side of Långholmen, something struck me. The men were increasing in numbers and the swimwear got more adventurous and vivid. Of course, I had inadvertently stumbled upon Karlshällsvägen, one of the so called ‘gay beaches’ in the city – by complete accident!
As aperitif hour beckoned, my friends rang. They too were gays on the water, but on Kungsholmen sipping cocktails at the gay- owned scenester-spot, the Mälarpaviljongen. I considered paddling across the open water at the wrath of the Vaxholm-Mariefred ferry, but I thought better, returned my kayak and joined the merriment on foot.