Boutiquey but big, with 82 rooms, Berns Hotel was built as a restaurant in 1863; then reincarnated more than a century later as Stockholm's best-loved hotel and entertainment palace. Rooms are cosy but not tiny, and the entire hotel is dripping with style: the wood panelling feels both modern and warm, and the rooms and public spaces are being updated with new Italian and Scandinavian design elements all the time. Sip schnapps on the terrace, explore the different bars, and escape by lift back to your room at some point in the small hours...
Get this when you book through us:
A plate of chocolates and guaranteed early check-in at 2pm
Noon, but flexible. The earliest check-in time is 3pm.
Double rooms from £124.89 (SEK1,479), including tax at 12 per cent.
Some rates include the buffet breakfast (SEK205 each for room-only rates).
The on-site gym has a spinning bike, cross trainer and running machine, as well as some free weights, open from 7am to 11pm every day.
At the hotel
Gym, free WiFi, fresh fruit, library, laundry, late-night bar, Berns club and a concert venue (Stora Salongen). In every room, there's a flatscreen TV, and minibar; ensuite bathrooms have Malin & Goetz toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
The Clock Suite is the biggest, with views over the park. Room 606 is spacious and light, with a rooftop terrace garden. Junior suites feature designer interiors. Room 431 served as a dressing room for Ella Fitzgerald and Marlene Dietrich.
Deck shoes, eye-mask in summer (only three hours of darkness), contemporary-furniture wish list, duty-free booze and smokes.
Berns, the hotel's nightclub, features music from both resident and visiting DJs. Stora Salongen, the concert hall, has been showcasing Swedish and international acts since 1863; recent visitors include M83, Hurts and White Lies.
Welcome, but when the bars and club get busy, it’s not the best family environment. Baby cots (free for children up to two years old) can be added to all but the Cosy Essential rooms). For older kids and adults, extra beds are SEK300 a night.
Underneath the chandeliers, in a baroque restaurant big enough to fit a double-decker bus, is Asian restaurant Isaan. The menu draws inspiration from the namesake region in Thailand, where chef Sayan Isaksson grew up. Brunch (from 11.30am to 4pm on weekends) is an institution here – dishes are inspired by Bangkok street food: flavourful noodles, curries and barbeque. The hotel's second restaurant, Calle P, is in the park just across from the main hotel. Chefs Axel Ohlson & Frans Andersson work from an open kitchen, producing simple but delectable Nordic bistro dishes that are designed for sharing. The food is accompanied by an excellent list of fine wines and seductive cocktails, which become the drinks of choice once the DJ starts spinning in the late hours.
There are a number of bars, a VIP area, and a terrace that gets packed in summer. The lounge bar has huge chandeliers, mirrored walls, balconies and a stage, and is popular with the media and fashion crowd.
Isaan serves breakfast from 6.30am to 10am on weekdays (7.30am to 11am on weekends) and lunch from 11.30am to 3pm. Dinner is served from 4.30pm to midnight Mondays and Tuesdays and 'til 1am on Wednesday to Saturday.
The restaurant's full menu is available 24 hours a day.
Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, 35 minutes away by car, is the nearest airport (www.arlanda.se).
The city’s central station is located a kilometre from the hotel – the journey will take around three minutes by car and 15 minutes on foot. From here, trains go to other destinations within Sweden, as well as to other European countries (www.sj.se).
The main roads leading to the hotel are the E4 and the E18. Car hire and taxis are available from the airport. Valet parking is available for SEK865 for 24 hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
Go for a sauna and massage, or hire a private Turkish bath at the Sturebadet. Head to the beach (yes, really): sandy Flatenbadet is better suited to brisk dips than topping up tans, but it's a popular spot when there's even just a wink of sun. In winter, go skiing in Flottsbro, or skating in Kungsträdgården Park. The Moderna Museet has a superb collection of Swedish and international art. More than 16, 000 paintings and sculptures are housed in the National Museum on Södra Blasieholmshamnen. The open-air museum Skansen on Djurgården recalls the Sweden of bygone days, with flora and fauna, farms, manor-houses and craftspeople at work. The Vasamuseet: the Vasa is the world’s only surviving 17th-century ship. Watch the changing of the guard (12.15pm on weekdays, or 1.15pm on Sundays) daily in the Outer Courtyard of the beautiful Royal Palace.
Biblioteksgatan, near Stureplan, has a concentration of upmarket shops. On Hornsgatan are irresistible interior design and art shops. Södermalm has many secondhand and antiques shops, as well as one-off boutiques and skater shops. For handicrafts and knick-knacks, visit Gamla Stan (the Old Town). Don’t leave without visiting Östermalmshallen Market on Humlegårdsgatan. In a characterful building next to the flower market, it’s a huge delicatessen selling every type of top-quality food you can think of, with bars and restaurants to stop off in.
Get a boat out to the archipelago of Vaxholm in summer and have a champagne picnic (ask the hotel to pack you one). Or sail to the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (two hours from the central port) and visit the pretty beaches and harbour at Sandhamn, on the island of Sandön.
CosyCafé Tranan on Karlbergsv, with its checked tablecloths, provides Swedish favourites. Conducive to romance by night, with its peerless views, Eriks on Stadsgården is a unique structure in the sky with two restaurants: Eriks Grillbar is bistro-style; Eriks Gondolen is more formal, serving French/Swedish dishes. Punk Royale is far from your average fine-dining establishment: rubber-duckies and Lego adorn the table and food sometimes comes with crude smiley faces squeezed onto it; but, its haute credentials are firmly in place and its grimy style shouldn't detract from the fine ingredients and overall deliciousness. Expect anything, from your waiters hand-feeding you, to dishes cooked at the table. Sturehof on Stureplan is a great seafood restaurant with lobster and oyster specialities; there are three floors of which Obaren on the top floor is probably the best. For a sophisticated New Nordic menu, matched by the dining room's style, try Lilla Ego, where there are exposed red-brick walls, white chairs and some artful plating.
Drop Coffee has a modest, minimal space, but lets its strong flavourful brew do the talking. If you’re craving afternoon tea, we suggest the Diplomat Tea House on Strandvägen, for scones with jam and marmalade and sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
Brasserie Godot on Grev Turegatan is a stylish restaurant and bar with excellent mojitos and a hip crowd. Tak is a beautiful space, where pared-back Japanese decor has been given a Midas touch; plus, it has sweeping views from its 14th-floor perch. An 18th-century prison may not seem that glamorous, but Häktet has zhuzhed the place up and put some masterful mixologists on guard duty.
We crossed the leafy square over which Berns hotel presides, and headed straight for the wrong entrance. There are two: a discreet doorway off to the right leads to reception; the exciting-looking glass structure built into the façade is where non-residents flock to drink and disport themselves in Stockholm’s beloved party palace (from dinner in the restaurant to dancing in übertrendy LE).
There’s no lobby as such, but the main bar is big enough to hold a double-decker bus; Berns’ public spaces are on a very grand scale. Hungry, we followed the advice of the beautiful people at reception and wandered up to the Sturehof, a classic brasserie situated on Stureplan, close to leafy Östermalm. There was exuberance in the air (perhaps as it was end-of-the-month payday), and we sat until 1am over five types of Baltic herring and a bottle of rosé, watching the locals go by, and promising each other to whoop it up ourselves the following night.
Boutiquey but big, with 65 rooms, Berns Hotel was originally built as a restaurant in 1863; it got reincarnated 14 years ago as a unique hotel and entertainment palace. Our room was cosy but not tiny, and we loved its style: wood panelling felt both modern and warm, and the groovy cylindrical TV console not only looked great, but also provided me with a screen for undertaking mysterious changes of attire while Mr Smith caught up with current affairs from the comfort of the bed. The modern bathroom was fine, but not as attractive as the room itself, which had the feel of a first-class cabin, without being painfully retro.
In the morning, we explored: the museum-like Red Room and Mirror Room (where we breakfasted sumptuously on, oh, the usual – gravadlax, scrambled eggs, reindeer meat), the ON-bar overlooking Berzelii Park, an upstairs bar that was to get seriously crowded later, an outdoor terrace (a summer institution), and the spectacular main restaurant, which can only be described as Conran goes to the Vienna opera. Mr Smith, jacket junkie, was on a mission to check out Swedish designer Filippa K, find a vintage emporium, and have a rifle through H&M. I was happy to go along with this, since it all had a pleasingly Scandinavian unisex appeal.
We decided to make for Södermalm, a quirkier quarter than the superbly heeled central zone. This took us across Gamla Stan, the mediaeval old town, whose pretty-as-a-picture streets and squares are the big tourist-tat-shop area. In concept boutique c/o Stockholm on Götgatan, we browsed Myla lingerie, vintage sunglasses, Missoni towels, Nuxe and REN products and Lara Bohinc jewellery. In a modern mall, Galleria Bruno, we found the best selection of It jeans we’ve ever seen. Fitted out in new slinky top and manly cropped jacket respectively, we doubled back on ourselves for lunch at Eriks Gondolen, a bridge-like structure high in the air, with the best views in town.
Feeling at home in Södermalm, we headed to Bondegatan, Nytorgsgatan and Skånegatan, where skaters, students and other species of youth hang out in pavement cafes, bars and parks. The scene was beginning to live up to one of my favourite Scandinavian templates: the film Together, where Seventies values and good skin meet thrift-shop chic. We had coffee in an airy, grungey canteen called String, murmured lovingly at some amazingly cheap leather easy chairs, and contented ourselves with some vintage Sanderson wallpaper from one of the secondhand shops on Bondegatan.
We’d forgotten to book for the hotel restaurant, but the front-desk angels saved the evening and got us a table at the last minute. The vast gilded dining hall at Berns Hotel is ornate, grand and lofty, and the staff (like those in every single shop and restaurant we visited) were sweetness itself. Mr Smith had one of the best steaks he’s ever eaten – and he’s had a few – and we drank a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage before heading into Norrmalm.
Hotellet is a packed see-and-be-seen bar, but we preferred the youthful Brasserie Godot, with its reggae soundtrack, great mojitos and bar mural. Bypassing the Footballers’ Wives end of the nightlife scene, we went back to the Berns and were amazed to see our dignified hotel transformed into a heaving continent of dancing, drinking bodies. We sipped schnapps on the terrace, explored the different bars, and escaped by lift back to our room at some point in the small hours, Berns still pulsating away beneath us.
On Sunday morning, we could have done with some salty sea air, but decided that boarding a boat when we had a flight booked late was too ripe for farce. Instead, we walked to Djurgården and spent the rest of our city break in a facsimile of pre-industrial rural Sweden. It’s great: an open-air museum, with reconstructed hovels and playfighting bears. Already sarcastic about my passion for a toy shop in Södermalm (‘Oh, look, a pony with a daisy in its mouth…’), Mr Smith wondered if I was reliving my childhood. Then he discovered the elk enclosure.
Before we left for the airport we found ourselves back at the Sturehof. There’s a café-society feel to the swankier parts of town, and it dawned on me that, as well as bringing out the Bond girl in me, Stockholm was close to fulfiling all the Wallpaper*-fuelled lifestyle fantasies I’d ever nurtured. We sat among the international crowd, all cashmere and ‘ciao’ and tried work out a way of becoming regulars.
Of all the Stockholm clichés we were prepared for – beautiful people, sexy design, social equality, fantastic herring – not all are 100 per cent true: you’ll see the occasional kink in a symmetrically beautiful face; there’s some glum Sixties architecture; and while Mr Smith says he wouldn’t object, apparently Swedish women have to do all the running, dating-wise. Micro-quibbles aside, Stockholm is clean, cultured and cool. And the herring rocks.