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Why Stockholm is clearly one of Europe’s gayest cities

Why Stockholm is clearly one of Europe’s gayest cities

Revelers at Stockholm Pride

My first trip to Stockholm was in 1998 to perform Twisted at an underground club promoted by Swedish producer Per QX. While there, my friend and hard house legend Tony De Vit died.

This led to hysterical, drunken grief and pill-induced sleep. Needless to say, my memories of that period are hazy. Sightseeing was minimal. In fact, aside from ogling a sunrise while sat in a gutter under a concrete flyover, I saw little but illegal raves and the inside of my own eyelids.

My return to Stockholm last month for Pride 2017 proved a refreshing contrast. It was a whirlwind of gastro thrills, queer history and cultural highlights.

Upon arrival we were whizzed straight to Mälarpaviljongen, a semi-floating riverside restaurant that looks like a decadent party in a verdant fairy grotto. It was the aesthetic opposite of wet bus stop in Luton, which I’d experienced a few hours earlier.

Mälarpaviljongen is gay-owned and collaborates with Regnbågsfonden, an organization supporting LGBTI rights worldwide. They serve a rainbow-bottled rosé, which contributes to the charity with every sale.

While getting lashed in one of their many ornate gardens, it’s cheering to know that by drinking, you’re helping.

Prior to the Pride march, we enjoyed a queer tour of The Royal Armory museum titled, ‘More hetero than the king?’

Via an array of glittering outfits and a gruesome stuffed horse, we learned of royals with a taste for rough trade and a queen who slept with the corpse of a king for nearly a year. Her dead hubby was stuffed full of herbs, apparently, so acted like a sentimental air freshener. Grieving was different in those days.

‘Stockholm Pride enjoys the fruits of being entirely celebrated by the city and its residents’

We had a lively brunch at Orangeriet, a cocktail bar and al fresco cafe on Norr Mälarstrand seafront, where we chomped on gourmet pizza and a smorgasbord of cheeses.

It proved a good spot to check out the parade enthusiasts, who swished past in a technicolour blur. Stockholm Pride enjoys the fruits of being entirely celebrated by the city and its residents.

It’s possible to be in London on Pride weekend and miss the eye of the jamboree. Meanwhile, Stockholm comes to a standstill for the entire day and everyone knows it’s happening. 45,000 marchers and half a million spectators in a relatively small city has quite an impact.

Rainbows are everywhere and everyone seems keen. Kids, families, beer-guzzling geezers, daytime shoppers, drag queens and leather bears all dance to cheesy techno with infectious, polite cheer.

The fact that Stockholm embraces its Pride with such gusto is possibly why 15 neo-Nazis briefly stopped the event. Nordisk ungdom (Nordic Youth) spokesman Fredik Hagberg, gave a statement to Swedish daily Göteborgs-Posten.

‘We were there to demonstrate against Pride,’ he said. ‘We need a critical voice that demonstrates in the name of the traditional family values [and] we think that they are threatened. Pride encourages things that harm the traditional family values. It’s not about love any longer. I think you can have sex with whoever you want. But Pride encourages a culture that is extremely bad.’

What’s the betting that a peek into the home lives of Nordic Youth members would reveal they’re not quite the paragons of family values they claim to care about?

Anyway, their petty intrusion was too tiny to sully the surrounding swathes of natural beauty.

Compared to London, Stockholm Pride is highly ordered, civilised and er, sober. At 5pm in the Pride Park, I turned to Darren Milby of Gaydio. ‘Aside from myself, can you see ANYONE who looks vaguely intoxicated?’ I asked. He couldn’t.

In any UK city, there’d be a visible, messy contingent by midday. Gurning and slurring would be endemic by dusk. Unlike us Brits, Swedes don’t do blackouts, stretchers and nosebleeds with quite the same enthusiasm.

It’s uplifting to witness widespread, fresh-faced sobriety. But when you ponder the price of alcohol and the punitive drug laws, it’s also unsurprising.

‘A tongue-thrilling fusion of Nordic and Japanese cuisine’

We had a post-Pride dinner at Tak, Stockholm’s hippest foodie magnet.

The menu’s a tongue-thrilling fusion of Nordic and Japanese cuisine, leading to exquisite presentation and flavor explosions that were a buzz to savour. Their ample terrace is on the 14th floor, offering 360-degree views over the city and a lively cocktail bar with vinyl-spinning DJs.

Tak sits atop a brutalist building that dominates Brunkebergstorg Square, a once shady part of Stockholm that’s undergoing a slick makeover.

We stayed at Hobo hotel on the same square, a boutique affair that’s like living in a hipster’s Tumblr account. Pages of a curated city guide are pinned to the peg walls in your Scandi-style dorm.

Rooms have a Google Chrome facility. You can stream content from your phone to the television and when you look in the mirror, it gives you a curling, ringmaster’s moustache. Actually, that’s not true, but it IS that hipster.

Given the chance, explore Stockholm’s archipelago. We got a boat to the beautiful Fjäderholmarna island and enjoyed a chilled lunch at Rökeriet. Overlooking the water, we ate lightly cured North Atlantic cod, with egg, shrimps, browned butter, new potatoes and fresh horseradish. This was washed down with mango-flavored ‘queer beer’ brewed especially for Stockholm Pride.

Later, we visited The Vasa, a ship that capsized and sank in Stockholm 1628. After 333 years on the sea bed they dragged it up and now it’s the world’s only preserved 17th century ship, housed in Scandinavia’s most-visited museum.

It managed to strike awe, despite a crushing hangover. It’s hard to accept the massive vessel is a real object with history. It looks like a pompous prop from Game of Thrones directed by Terry Gilliam.

‘When the phone rings, visitors know it’s one of ABBA on the other end’

For a camper delve into a more recent history, one MUST visit ABBA: The Museum, located on the island of Djurgården. Even if you’re not a fan of the pop legends, which might be an oversight that needs addressing, it’s brilliantly curated. Truly, it’s a ridiculously interactive and winning exhibition.

There’s a stage where visitors can perform alongside holograms of the band. You can create an ABBA-esque avatar of yourself. You dance with it in a booth that’s booming the band’s hits on a loop.

There’s a real retro telephone which forms part of an exhibit dedicated to the album Ring Ring. Only the four members of ABBA have the number. So, when the phone rings, visitors know it’s one of the band on the other end. It didn’t ring when we were there.

Our last stop was Gamla Stans Polkagriskokeri, a cute shop in the heart of the Old Town of Stockholm that sells nothing but old-fashioned candy canes and sweets in a dizzying range of flavors. Furthermore, the highlight of the store is the workshop, where staff hand-roll and hand-cut the candy canes. It’s hypnotic to watch and very difficult to do, as we discovered after taking a few lessons in the craft.

Stockholm, together with Gothenburg, will host Europride 2018. The main event takes place on Saturday 18 August. Gay Star News had coffee with Karin Wanngård, the Mayor of Stockholm. Judging by her enthusiasm and the support of the city’s residents, it’s going to be a celebration that will prove a benchmark for how Pride events should be organized and enjoyed by both visitors and those who call it their home.

For more inspiration on gay and lesbian Sweden, visit their dedicated LGBTI travel portal atVisitSwedenlgbt.com or follow the conversations on social with @VisitSwedenLGBT and the hashtag#SwedenYoureWelcome.

Gay Star News traveled to Stockholm with Monarch Airlines. Monarch operates flights to Stockholm from London Luton, Birmingham and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £42 one way (£77 return). Monarch offers three night city break holidays starting from £219 per person.