By Mary Anne Evans
Compared to Rome or Paris, Stockholm has had a rather staid, clichéd image. It's the "Venice of the north;" it hosts the annual Nobel prize ceremony; everybody sings ABBA songs and lives surrounded by cool Swedish design. But best-selling writer Stieg Larsson has rocketed Stockholm to the top of the list of most popular European cities through the exploits of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, better known as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
It's high time. To me, Stockholm has always been a city of surprises and discoveries. Every visitor should see the main sights: the echoing rooms of the Royal Palace and the winding cobbled streets of medieval Gamla Stan. Not to be missed are the 150 reconstructed old buildings that make up Skansen, the world's first open-air museum, and the Vasamuseet where the sight of the huge 17th-century restored warship permanently moored in semi darkness always raises the hairs at the back of my neck.
But then hop on the 1900 steamboat that takes you past hidden creeks and marshland to the royal family's palace on Drottningholm. Hire a bicycle to take you to the world-class museums on the island of Djurgården. Swim in a restored 1904 Art Nouveau pool; tuck into reindeer or arctic char in a gourmet food market; play golf on one of the city's varied courses or try a distinctly different guided walk over the rooftops. And of course, follow in the footsteps of Lisbeth Salander on the former working-class island of Södermalm.
Mary Anne Evans is the author of Frommer's Stockholm Day by Day Guide. She also currently writes about London for www.gayot.com and France for www.about.com.