With more than 60 million copies of the bestselling trilogy Millennium sold worldwide, late author Stieg Larsson has presented a different side of Stockholm to the world. His lead fictional characters – journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker-extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander – show the reader a grittier, more contemporary face of the capital through tales of espionage, white collar crime and other seedy activities . Visitors to the city and Millennium enthusiasts alike can now walk in the footsteps of Larsson’s characters and take in Stockholm’s beauty from their point of view.
From Bellmansgatan 1 on the island of Södermalm, tour guide Ylva da Silva from Stockholm City Museum showed visitors the views of Gamla stan, Stockholm’s old town, located across Riddarfjärden bay. During the 17th century, only structures made of stone and brick were allowed in Gamla stan after fires destroyed a portion of the city, meaning that most working class residents who could only afford wooden houses had to move south to Södermalm ('Söder'), an island then known as 'Åsön'. Remnants of these red wooden cottages can still be found at the end of popular 'Söder' street Åsögatan.
Larsson’s home was in Söder, which today is an eclectic mix of wealthy, religious and working class residents. Until his death from a heart attack in 2004, Larsson was editor-in-chief of Expo, a Söder-based anti-racist magazine on which the fictional Millennium magazine in his books is loosely based. Larsson’s protagonists and 'good guys' all live and operate from here.
The impressive 21-room penthouse on Fiskargatan 9 that character Lisbeth Salander purchases; the highly-coveted hilltop location of Mikael Blomkvist’s apartment on Bellmansgatan 1; and the Jewish synagogue Adat Jisrael where detective Jan Bublanski often meets with Dragan Armanskij, CEO of fictional Milton Security, are all within blocks of each other in Söder; and Salander lived as a young girl in the industrial-style socialist-era apartments on Lundagatan.
As the museum-led tour continued along Monteliusvägen , with its spectacular views across to Riddarholmen island, da Silva also pointed out Östermalm, Stockholm’s wealthiest and glitziest neighbourhood, where Larsson bases his 'bad guys' such as fictional billionaire Wennerstrom from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who lives on the most expensive street of all, Strandvägen.
Coffee and food culture
Leaving Monteliusvägen, the tour headed along Norra Agnegatan towards the cosy Lebanese tavern Tabbouli, where Larsson often ate lamb stew. The tavern also served as inspiration for the fictional Bosnian restaurant Samir’s Cauldron, where a shoot-out takes place in the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.
All along the popular streets Folkungagatan and Götgatan, as well as in the area south of Folkungagatan (known as 'so-fo') , a variety of ethnic restaurants sit alongside traditional Swedish restaurants. Lisbeth Salander often met with members of fictional girl band Evil Fingers at the restaurant-pub-club Kvarnen, where visitors can dig into classic dishes such as reindeer, meatballs and moose.
Stockholm’s vibrant coffee culture is heavily fuelled by the Swedish tradition of fika – socializing over cups of coffee and sweet pastries. Mellqvists Kaffebar was Larsson’s fika joint in real life and it also served as fictional character Mikael Blomkvist’s regular coffee spot. Larsson was often found working on his laptop at the cafe, which is conveniently located beneath the Expo offices.
Other key spots
Leaving Mellqvists Kaffebar, the tour continued along Hornsgatan towards the synagogue Adat Jisrael, where fictional detective Bublanski regularly worships, and onto the pedestrian drag Götgatan, where the Millenium’s editorial offices were based on the corner of Götgatan and Hökens Gata. A short hilly hike up Hökens Gata leads to Mosebacke Square.
In the books, Salander walks across the square past the iconic statue The Sisters, which was created by Swedish sculptor Nils Sjögren and is said to be inspired by the 1900s suicide drowning of two sisters in nearby Hammarby Lake. Cutting across Mosebacke finally lead the tour to Fiskargatan 9, where Salander’s penthouse has impressive views of the lush, green Djurgården island and the amusement park, Gröna lund.
While Larsson’s books were inspired by Stockholm’s – particularly Södermalm’s -- rich diversity, they are also infused with traditional literature references and socio-political undertones. Larsson pays homage to famous Swedish author Astrid Lindgren and her wildly popular children’s books, and da Siva explained that Lisbeth Salander is meant to represent Lindgren’s famous red-haired character Pippi Longstocking once she reaches her twenties.
Salander is actually red-haired beneath her signature jet black dyed hair, as described by Larsson in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, and her rebellious nature pulls from Pippi Longstocking’s independence. Da Silva also pointed out that the name on Salander’s door at her house is 'V. Kulla', harking back to the name of Pippi Longstocking’s house, 'Villa Villerkulla'. Visitors to Stockholm can find a model version of this fantasy villa at Junibacken, a children’s playground and storybook museum on the island of Djurgården -- which can also be seen from Fiskargatan 9.
As for Mikael Blomkvist, many suspect Larsson’s heroic character was modelled after Lindgren’s Kalle Blomkvist -- who played the lead in Lindgren’s teenage detective series Bill Bergson.
Beyond the geographical split of the author’s good and bad guys, Larsson enthusiasts -- including guide da Silva -- note that his characters are culturally and ethnically diverse to reflect a truer, ever-changing picture of Stockholm, like Armanskij from the Balkans and Bublanski who is Jewish.