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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
December 2005 Email this to a friend

Getting Oriented in gay Sweden

By Jim D'Entremont

city hall
Stockholm City Hall, gay marriage central

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While Sweden is among the most gay-friendly countries in Europe, gay businesses and points of interest are chiefly confined to major cities.

The largest gay community lives in Stockholm, a key port of call in cruise itineraries (some of them gay) developed by steamship lines that serve the Baltic. Anchored to the Swedish mainland, this maritime city extends across 14 islands shielded from the open sea by the Stockholm archipelago, a swath of 25,000 islands littering the Baltic like a vast spill of puzzle pieces.

The Stockholm Pride Festival runs through the first week in August. The 2005 edition included a massively attended gay tour of the Museum of Modern Art; the local premiere of Slutty Summer, a gay romantic comedy filmed in New York by Swedish director Casper Andreas; a musical tribute to Dolly Parton; and a homo takeover of the Gröna Lund, Sweden's oldest amusement park. Additional events took place at Pride House, a center for lectures, debates, and art exhibitions.

The annual Stockholm Pride parade absorbs about 30,000 participants and more than twice that many spectators-- not a huge turnout by the standards of Berlin or Paris, but consistent with its less densely populated locale. Among dozens of march contingents this year were Viking Bears, Stockholm Queer Volleyball, gay Christians, gay socialists, and boys masquerading as Pippi Longstocking.

First-time visitors will discover that Stockholm has no real gay enclave, but that gay venues dot the whole city. The best of Stockholm's gay bars include the restaurant/pubs Torget and Mandus; the cruisy weekend dance bar Club Connection at Cattelins Restaurant in Gamla Stan near the cathedral; Side Track, a gay club in the heart of Södermalm; and the SM/leather clubs LASH (for women) and SLM (for men). Standouts among gay restaurants and cafés are Roxy, a lesbian-run restaurant/lounge in Södermalm's fashion district; the outdoor Djurgårdsterrassen, an ideal vantage point for people-watching on the recreational island Djurgården; Chokladkoppen, a hot-chocolate emporium near the Nobel Museum; and, at least on Sundays, Patricia, a restaurant/bar complex aboard a yacht once owned by the UK's late Queen Mother Elizabeth.

Stockholm's gay-friendly hotels include the Nordic Light, a perennial sponsor of the Pride Festival and a design lab for IKEA; its sister hotel the Nordic Sea, which houses an Absolut Ice Bar; Berns Hotel, a glittering, upscale hotel-restaurant-entertainment complex whose guests have included Marlene Dietrich and Diana Ross; and the Hotel Rival in Södermalm, a boutique hotel co-owned by Benny Andersson of ABBA. The affordable Pensionat Oden occupies three locations; at the opposite end of the affordability scale, the luxurious Grand Hotel, home of the best smorgasbord in Sweden, welcomes anyone who can pay.

Gay Stockholm seldom takes center stage except during the Pride Festival, but it connects with the local cultural calendar all year round. Winter events include festivities surrounding the December 10 Nobel Prize presentation; the elaborate Christmas market at Skansen, Stockholm's outdoor museum; and speed-skating competitions on Lake Malaren. In summer, gay men swim and sunbathe nude at the western end of Långholmen island, at Frescati near the University, and here and there around the city.

Gay scenes also exist in Malmö, site of Sweden's oldest gay club; in Göteberg, host of West Coast Gay and Lesbian Day; and in Uppsala, with its teeming student population. Adventurous travelers can travel into less populated regions to explore the hiking trails of Jamtland, visit native Sami settlements in Lapland, or ski above the Arctic Circle.

Nearly all Swedes speak English and behave hospitably toward foreign visitors. For additional gay-specific information about Sweden, contact RFSL www.rfsl.se or the Stockholm Visitors Board www.stockholmtown.com.

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