riverNow as a precursor to everything I am going to write below, I would like to admit two negative aspects to Sweden -  firstly it is incredibly expensive and secondly their winter (although stunning with snow) is simply too long, with too few sunlight hours. The reason to do this at the beginning, is because I want you to see through some of the gush below and also make it clear that Sweden's government is not paying me to advertise their country... I don't even need to be paid, I like the area that much.

Scandinavia is hands down my favourite area I have visited so far in Europe (unless I'm in France, then that is my favourite or Italy, then that is my favourite etc etc - you get the picture?). From its stunning people, its beautiful design and clothing, to its amazing food, drinks, produce, bread and coffee, I cannot fault it (ahem, read above). By the way, did you know that Sweden has the highest average life expectancy in the world?!

winterWhen I went on study exchange to Belgium in September last year I had just been in Denmark and had decided Copenhagen was the most fabulous city in Europe. So when I made friends with three Swedes and announced this to them, I realized that they share a relationship much like New Zealand's with Australia - Denmark is fine, but have you been to Sweden?! Now these three friends became some of my very best, so of course Sweden had to be visited.

I first went to Stockholm in mid-February of this year and the white powdery snow, frozen lakes and model-esque population all donning the most beautiful winter fashion whilst speaking fluent English and being incredibly welcoming blew me away. (Also, I saw a fox just walking through my friend's garden - winter wonderland or what?!).

I of course reported this back to my parents and told them they simply MUST visit as from the pickled herring to the smoked reindeer with lingonberry sauce, the food culture was fascinating and delicious.

Therefore we touched down in a completely different climate at 21 degrees with no snow in sight, just beautiful sunshine and spring flowers blossoming.

Eating in Stockholm

Eating well in Stockholm is not hard. The meals tend to be simple and light with lots of fresh vegetables, good quality meat or really good seafood. I'd like to think that as long as you avoid places like McDonald's (sorry, Gustav) you can eat very well and if you want to cook, the supermarkets and markets offer excellent quality and selection.

kallesIt may interest you to know that they have outstanding seafood. This is because Stockholm is made up of archipelagos, meaning the city is actually divided up by water. If you are a lover of herring, roe, fish or shellfish Stockholm is the place for you.

One of the rather odd, but in my opinion, delicious foods I had really missed, was Kalles Kaviar. Have you tried it? You should. I had been shown you can eat it alone on bread or paired with a hardboiled egg, but I myself think it can go in just about any sandwich combination. Like nothing you've ever tried before and weirdly housed in what looks like a large toothpaste tube, this typically Swedish fish roe deserves mention.

meatballsWhat of course you really must try in Sweden, are Swedish meatballs. We went to the place with 'the best meatballs', and not only were they definitely the best meatballs I've ever eaten, but Bakfickan served these with scrumptious lingonberries and pickled cucumber, along with incredible potato purée (you know, more butter and cream than the humble mashed spud). We also had pickled herring done about six different ways and Mum enjoyed an outstanding steak. Get to Bakfickan early evening as it has a 'no reservation' system and fills quickly.

breadThe food markets in Stockholm are beautiful and clean, and filled not only with great Swedish produce, but also some of the best on offer in Europe (including some familiar Sabato lines such as Forvm Vinegar, Ortiz anchovies, Sabarot Puy lentils and El Navaricco white asparagus). We went to Ostermalms Saluhall because it was close to where we were staying - but there are many to choose from. We also had a two star Michelin dining experience at Mathias Dahlgren, which was ok, but given huge Swedish prices and my outstanding restaurant experiences with Noma, Eleven Madison Park, Meredith's, French Café and Clooney featuring as favorites, I found it a little disappointing. Good bread though...of course.

Drinking in Stockholm

As with everything in Stockholm drinking is yet another expensive venture, but as accompanies anything Swedish, also sophisticated and trendy. Cocktails are a safe bet and Mum and Dad stuck with Negronis.

If you want to mix your drinks with some physical activity, try Morfar Ginko where you can also play table tennis.

negronisStockholm Activities

After a Spring weekend spent in the Swedish university town of Lund, I learnt that when the sun comes out, Swedes like to go outside and...sit. When in Stockholm I noticed this same trend en mass. But as New Zealanders who like to go and do things, there are many things on offer in Stockholm.

Moderna Museet has a great collection, at Skansen you can see wolves and baby bears as well as traditional glass making. If you go on a boat tour you can see many bridges - the Royal Palace in the centre is beautiful.

But hands down, what we all agreed we enjoyed the most, of what we had time to see, was the Spritmuseum. The Spritmuseum has an Absolut Vodka exhibition which features all of their art from various ad campaigns throughout the years thus chronicling their history, from Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst to Annie Leibovitz and a large neon piece in the shape of an Absolut bottle. The pop art is amazing. There is also an exhibit where you can smell the different natural flavorings that go into spirits, learn about Sweden's drinking history and even do a quiz. The Amarelli liquorice features as a benchmark. Well worth a visit, especially as the line to the newly opened and nearby ABBA museum is huge.

absolutA country where the royal family are liberal enough to let their princess marry her personal trainer and everyone sports beautiful Swedish clothing, Sweden is well worth a visit - even if the Swedish Krone is annoyingly strong against the New Zealand dollar. I definitely plan to return, maybe in August, to witness and consume Surströmming (google it). Maybe not this year though, as averaging a visit once per month to Scandinavia at this stage is perhaps a little excessive!

By Helen Dixon.