Now is the time to skate Stockholm’s archipelago, says Fraser Nelson
There are two times to visit Sweden: the height of summer or the depths of winter. If you have to choose, go now. Diving into the waters of Stockholm’s archipelago is a joy you can more or less imagine: skating across them, and having a snow barbecue afterwards, is something that has to be done to be believed.
Every year, British lovers of winter sports do head off to the slopes in Italy, France, Austria or Switzerland — it doesn’t really matter what country, because the set-up is the same. But Sweden is unique. The Stockholm archipelago boasts something like 30,000 different islands and at this time of year you can skate between a lot of them. Doing so has become more popular over the years, due to less snowfall in winter. The lakes have stopped becoming arctic wastes, and started being superhighways.
If you can stumble your way around an ice rink, you can long-distance skate in Sweden. The skates are longer, about 40–50cm, but you’ll pick it up within half an hour. Nor does it need to be remotely dangerous. Skaters are given a blood-curdling piece of safety equipment: a pair of mini ice picks, to be worn around the neck. If you fall through the ice, the theory is that you unsheath the grippers, stab the ice and pull yourself up. But that is for those brazen enough to skate over 2cm of ice in shaky weather. If you’re smart, you’ll be skating over 20cm of ice — strong enough to have been polished by a council snowplough.
Last Sunday was the skaters’ marathon, the annual Viking Run between Uppsala and Stockholm. It looks far more exhausting than it is. With the wind behind you, you can open your jacket and be blown to Stockholm for a good part of the way. The marathon is for the more serious skaters. (Those with the energy can, if they choose, join a skate tour and do 50 miles in a day.) But for most of those who take to Stockholm’s lakes for an hour or two, it’s a bit of fun.
In fact, a lot of fun. Messing about on the stretch of ice outside the gorgeous Ulriksdal Palace on the outskirts of the city (a 15-minute tube ride from town) is just sublime. This is, for me, what it’s all about: the skating equivalent of a blue run, as much adventure as I need. You will find children with stalls in the middle of the lake, selling blueberry soup. You can skate a 500-metre loop, then settle down for hot chocolate in the palace café. Or you can take the junctions (in the skate-lanes polished into the ice) and whizz back to Stockholm if the mood takes you. And then head to the sauna, buy a vodka from an ice bar, explore the city, or do some cross-country skiing in a floodlit forest about half an hour out of town.
A skating holiday in Stockholm is never just about skating. It’s about a fusion of urban and rural, spending time in a winter wonderland, enjoying a magical city as well equipped for winter as it is for summer, with its bars and boats. It is like nowhere else on earth — and will be for about five more weeks. So get your skates on.