(Editor’s note: Terry Boyd and Ivana Avramovic contributed to this post.)
The real truth, as opposed to sometimes manipulated online hotel ratings, is hard to come by when it comes to traveling to cities such as Stockholm, London, or even Berlin and Amsterdam. You’ve decided to go for the first time and know you have to book your hotel. The problem is, you’ve never been there. Duh. So, it’s really difficult to decide which is right.
Travelers can screw this up seven ways till Sunday … from choosing the hotel in Istanbul next to the mosque with the 4:30 a.m. call to prayer (been there) to inadvertently staying with your kids in the Paris Red Light District of St. Denis. (Done that. “Daddy, why are those ladies sitting in the windows?”)
The first problem is, you get overwhelmed by the number of hotels. You might find yourself investing a lot of hours, clicking on everything and finding flaws … no windows, shared bathrooms. Astronomical rates. The second problem is, a recent study found negative comments carry a lot more weight in consumers’ minds than positive comments. So, numerical ratings that are an average of positive and negative comments are pretty much worthless.
Finally, it’s all subjective. The hotel is a big part of the experience, so you don’t want to compromise. User review sites rates are posited on the reviewers’ needs. Maybe you want to be in a vibrant area, but the reviewer says it was “noisy.”
We can help cut through the noise. Well, at least in Stockholm, where we went last month on a special mission to test four categories of hotels – boutique (affordable) luxury, corporate, budget design and corporate/student hostel. Instead of just settling in one location, we hotel hopped all over Stockholm. Which meant we saw multiple properties … and a lot more of the city.
The first flaw in our plan, of course, is that we could have ended up in some dismal flea bags we couldn’t recommend. Luckily, Ivana Avramovic thoroughly researched our options, searching for places that looked promising. But you never know till you get there, right?
And let us mention one big plus for Stockholm … and most destinations in Europe: Nowhere were we asked to pay for wi-fi, one of nickle-and-dime issues that drive us crazy at hotels in the United States.
Here are our observations about the four Ivana chose in Stockholm:
Stallmästaregården, Stockholm 113 47
Stallmästaregården is a subtly luxurious boutique hotel/inn aside Haga Park, one of Stockholm’s glorious royal parks. The least expensive room category – “The Classic”– offers rooms that are not huge, but are well appointed, and the quality of bedding and furnishings is very high. Which is why you really want a boutique hotel.
Oddly, they have views of Brunnsviken Bay their more expensive rooms don’t offer. There are also three Royal Haga Suites where, if you’re feeling profligate, you can live like a king, junior suites and a deluxe room.
From the website, which has a lot of good (and accurate) info:
Our Classic rooms are around 18 m² featuring a 180 cm wide bed with the brand Hästens, the bedding is made with Egyptian-cotton sheets. Twin beds are available upon request. The rooms have a small work area, bathroom with bath and shower products from Orla Kiely. Our Classic rooms are located in the outer part of the hotel building. Breakfast buffet and free parking are included.
The little touches are much appreciated. The bathrooms, especially, are roomy and well done. Lot and lots of marble. Remember, this is a 400-year-old complex that’s been retrofitted. But all the accent pieces, wainscotting, fabrics and architectural flourishes make it feel like you’re staying in a room at someone’s chateau. Or whatever the Swedish version of a chateau is. It’s this weird discrete charm of the bourgeoisie thing overlain with the Swedish aesthetic. I’ve never experienced any place as warm and inviting, and I’ve done the 5-star thing from Atlanta to Toronto, Baku to Bodrum. That said, it just works for me. If you’re looking for an over-the-top Four Seasons experience, this ain’t it.
Here’s what we wrote in our accompanying Dispatches post about Stockholm:
The first (hotel), the Stallmästaregården, is very old and pretty much the textbook example of sophisticated Swedish taste and design. Quietly inviting, dark wood interiors, five or 10 dining nooks and a hushed air of Scandinavian reserve. The grounds of the hotel are actually a giant royal park, and the view out of your window is of a bay. The restaurant has a Michelin star. It was incredibly hard to leave.
Rates: Full disclosure: This place is NOT inexpensive, and won’t strike everyone as a “value.” Rates for the smallest rooms start at about 172 euros per night. BUT, sometimes you can do like Ivana did and get the remainder rooms for about 130 euros. And here’s the deal … there are only 44 rooms. So your chances of even booking one are fairly remote. We checked this weekend, and they were sold out on Saturday, but not on Sunday. So if you’re flexible, go for it. You might get lucky.
What it’s close to:
Royal Haga Park. If you’re looking for a hotel that you’d wouldn’t feel cheated if you never left the grounds, this is it. At this recreation center, there are walking trails along an inlet of the Baltic Sea.
The center city is about a 15-minute walk (5 kilometers). Or, if you’re like normal people, a 2-minute taxi ride. We played by the Avramovic Rules, went meant we walked everywhere except a couple of times Ivana relented and let us take the metro.
The restaurant alone is worth the trip. Ivana decided to sample räkmacka, the ubiquitous Swedish shrimp sandwich, at multiple restaurants, then compare. So we both got the shrimp sandwich at Stallmästaregården. For a mere 215 Krona, or 25 bucks American. Each! Two words: Beautiful, and yummy. (Look out Ruth Reichel … you’ll be out a job soon.) Truth is, they could have served us baloney sandwiches in that setting, and it would have tasted like filet mignon. The wine was good and not a bad deal at about 8 euros per glass.
The only flat note was, we ordered the sorbet and told the waiter to bring us something authentic. So he brought us what must have been Swedish farmer cheese sorbet. Neither of us could deal with the flavors, which ranged between what I figure camel milk must taste like, and those red berries in the woods that look so good, but your mom warned you never to eat. Swedes like weird desserts.
Positives: This is the kind of place that attracts people like us, expats. You meet fellow guests and maybe then join them for breakfast. Which is what happened to us. The food was fabulous. The rooms were great. The grounds are inviting and include a 350-acre royal park. What’s not to like?
Negatives: The carpet in the halls needs to be replaced. I know this is nitpicking, and after all, this is Sweden, where guests track in snow and ice all winter. But come on … keeping common areas fresh and inviting is what great hotels do best.
Final recommendation – Would we stay there again? Yes, please! When can we go again?
• Radisson Blu Royal Viking Hotel
Vasagatan 1, Stockholm, 101 24
There are no less than four Radisson Blu locations only a few blocks apart in Stockholm. Ivana chose the Radisson Blu Royal Viking next to Stockholm Central Station.
This is about as far from the Stallmästaregården in terms of ambiance and location as you can get. This is a corporate hotel – part of the Brussels-based Carlton Rezidor Hotel Group – likely built in the 1980s, and almost criminally ugly on the outside. (Fortunately, you’ll be inside.) Pretty much charm-free, but with rooms that have been updated, and are comfortable and contemporary. And, yes, fairly affordable considering you’re in Stockholm, which is way more expensive than Euro Community countries.
Our rooms were relatively large and had excellent lighting. (Always that Swedish attention to detail.)
The beds were corporately predictable. But this being Sweden (and Europe), the quality of linens was far above similar rooms at similar price points in the U.S., for example.
Someone had done a very good job of updating the bathrooms, which had started out as bathtubs, adding sleek glass and chrome, wrapped in contemporary tile. Well played, Radisson Blue!
The restaurant at the Radisson Blue is on the second floor. We were going to have breakfast there, but about 2,000 people got there ahead of us. So we didn’t try it. Remember, this is a 460-room behemoth, and when we were there in mid-May, it looked to be sold out on the weekend with international tourists. The good news is, the central train station is next door, which offers dozens of restaurants ranging from McDonalds to high-end fast casual. Plus, you can walk 1 minute in any direction and find the ubiquitous Wayne’s Coffee or Espresso House for breakfast. You’ll never go hungry in Stockholm.
Everything. Shopping, restaurants and transportation. Walk down the hill via Vasagatan, and you are on the water … and well on your way to the tourist areas.
The location is so central, you are in the heart of the city and right next to the airport train connection.
The staff was very helpful and friendly even though they were always dealing with long lines at their check-in stations. A big plus was, the Radisson Blu – like most big hotels in Europe – has a storage room where you can stash you bags for free before you check in (after 3 p.m. … kind of inconvenient, though normal) or after you check out.
There is also a pool and sauna.
Corporate hotels are not our first pick, but this one works on every level … location, comfort and staff professionalism. Your firm likely has a Radisson rewards account. You won’t be sorry.
Final recommendation – Would we stay there again? Absolutely!
• Motel L
Hammarby allé 41, Stockholm, 120 30
No, we’d never heard of Motel L, either. But we don’t think it’s a coincidence the name is amusingly similar to Motel One, the Munich-based budget-design hotel that’s taken over Europe in the last few years.
Ivana and I both love Motel One, and Motel L is pretty cool, too! And it’s brand new, with about 200 rooms and 34 long-stay apartments. In the style of Motel One, Motel L offers whimsical design. We came here from the Raddison Blu and found smaller rooms. Happily, room size is offset by larger bathrooms with dreamy walk-in showers. Moreover, the Motel L concept encourages you to use the lobby as your “living room.” As with other budget-design hotels such as Motel One and high-concept boutique chains such as 21 C Museum Hotels in the United States, the emphasis is on a communal experience in the common areas. It works for us!
Remember – this is a budget hotel. The Hotel L marketing mottos include, “choose with your heart; think with your wallet” and “design living at a compact price.” Rates start at 725 krona, or $85, and about 77 euros. Yet on the execution side, good design is evident at every turn. Clothes are stowed in the columns by the beds. Beds are perfectly comfortable and rooms are really cheerful.
If we had to choose one word to describe Hotel L, it would be “bright.” Lots of oranges and pinks in the decor pallet.
The restaurant: The restaurant is in the corner of the lobby. The breakfast is very good, with everything from eggs to yogurt. A great deal considering what you’re paying!
Positives: The Stockholm Mårtensdal tram station is right in front of Motel L, so you can get anywhere from here in a few minutes. Also, it’s a fun place to stay, with a young staff. And it attracts a friendly mix of business travelers and tourists. The music and ambiance in the lobby … sorry, living room, just make this a cool place to stay. The price-to-value ratio is excellent as you get quite a bit of bang for your buck.
Negatives: Motel L is not in the heart of the action. It’s right around the corner from a very nice residential neighborhood, where pleasure craft and work boats line a canal. There are several good restaurants including a sushi place. But it’s too far to walk to back to Gamla Stan and all of Stockholm’s attractions. All that said, 20 minutes by public transport is not bad though, considering this is a capital and a major city.
Final recommendation – Would we stay there again? Without a doubt!
• Connect Hotel Stockholm in Älvsjö
Gotalandsvagen 216-218, Alvsjo, Stockholm, 125 44 Älvsjö, Sweden
(Editor’s note: This was Ivana’s second stay at Connect Hotel.)
This is one in a group of five Connect hotels which offer “sustainable comfort close to the hubs of Stockholm,“ according to the hotel website, which we agree with. It is geared to the younger or budget-minded people who expect affordable rates and accept more basic hotel offers.
Connect is clean, the room and bathroom size is actually generous. The lobby is also a social area and you have a feeling you could start a conversation with people sitting there.
You can get a standard room with a bathroom, which can accommodate two people and are typical of what you would expect in a hotel room, or one of their “Quick Sleep Rooms“ for an even lower rate. The quick sleep rooms come without windows and you can use shared bathroom and sauna facilities in the hotel corridor. It is possible to connect the standard and the quick sleep room which may be a great hotel option for families.
The hotel rates are very acceptable, especially for the expensive Nordic region. It costs about half as much as some of the chain hotels in the city center.
Positives: Connect Hotel is budget friendly, with breakfast included, and clean. There’s free wi-fi and it’s only 10 minutes to the center on one of many trains departing every 3-to-4 minutes from the nearby station. The hotel is also very close to the trade fair grounds and Friends Arena, Sweden’s national stadium.
Negatives: Not luxurious or prestigious. The Connect I stayed in is located in a residential area, so there is nothing sightseeing worthy in the immediate environment. If you want to check in before 15:00, you have to pay extra. However, you can leave your luggage at the hotel and come back later for check in.
Final recommendation – Would we stay there again? Definitely – on days when budget is important.
• The Grand Hôtel
Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8, Stockholm, SE 103 27
We’re throwing this one in for yucks. No, we didn’t stay there, but Johnny Depp did. For 8,000 pounds – that’s right, pounds – a night. (Which might explain why he’s selling his art collection including his Basquiats.)
According to a Telegraph Travel post, there are 300 rooms including 34 suites. The post recommends the newer rooms (we’re thinking they mean freshly renovated) on the third floor.
You know any joint with doric columns in the lobby is going to be nice. The Grand is chi-chi to the hilt, with a grand bar and a Michelin 2-star restaurant. We crashed the bar, and as a matter of fact, the staff could not have been nicer. We ordered a couple of bourbons, and I think the bill came to about 40 euros. Seriously.
From our original post:
The Grand Hôtel – one of the most exclusive in Stockholm – sits on the waterfront, beckoning in the early evening. We go in, and the bar is full. Ivana being Ivana, she tells the maitre d’ she would very much like a table, please, and it would great if that could happen right now. The maitre d’, looking at our dress up clothes, tells us he has a table by the piano.
BUT, our table has been reserved by a VIP for the last several days, a VIP who hasn’t shown so far. I’m thinkin’ Russian oligarch and his retinue of twiggy models. Later, we sussed out he gave us Johnny Depp’s table. Depp was staying at the Grand playing with his band, the Hollywood Vampires, while hiding out from soon-to-be ex, Amber Heard.
Johnny never showed, but we sipped bourbon, listened to the music amid the splendor, taking everything in.
After that, Ivana and I made a pact we’d go back when we were rich and famous. Or at least rich ….