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Introducing Stockholm

Sweden's capital is one of the most beautiful major cities in the world, a mirage of saffron- and terracotta-coloured buildings shimmering between blue water and bluer skies all summer, or covered with snow and dotted with lights in winter. It's also a vibrant, modern city, famous for producing sleek designs, edgy fashion and world-class nightclubs.

The old town, Gamla Stan, is a compact little maze of cobblestone streets apparently built for small, thin people with very sturdy ankles. The stucco walls of its red, orange and vanilla buildings sag toward each other exhaustedly over countless souvenir shops and ice-cream parlours, while the Royal Palace crowns the tiny island. Just to the south of Gamla Stan is another island neighbourhood, Södermalm, where high waterfront hills are graced by lovely old residences and the main drags are lined with bohemian shops, art galleries and rollicking clubs. On the other side of Gamla Stan is the main city centre, a buzzing metropolis whose boutiques and restaurants can hold their own against just about any big city on the continent.

Surrounding all of this is every Stockholmer's pride and joy - the 24, 000 or so rocky islands that make up the archipelago (skärgård).

Stockholmers themselves are almost uniformly polite and friendly, making travel both easy and rewarding. Around 16% of greater Stockholm's 1.2 million people are immigrants, which creates a much more multicultural and diverse cityscape than many travellers might expect. It's certainly not all meatballs, ABBA and Ikea these days!

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