A Rooftop Tour of Stockholm, Sweden

A rooftop view of Stockholm

This unusual tour starts by taking an elevator in an unprepossessing building certainly past its prime. We rise to the top floor, then climb a narrow stairway into a cramped attic space where brightly colored climbing gear and shining hardware is neatly organized. I don harness and a helmet, and walk out onto a rooftop from which I have climber’s eye view of old town Stockholm. It is, to say the least, a novel way to tour a European capital city.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • How many chances do you get to don climbing gear and scramble around the roof of a European capital’s old Parliament building?
  • It puts an interesting twist on the normal walking tour script.
  • Good for adventure travelers.

“You will be walking the dog,” our guide explains, although there is no dog in sight. What there is is a cable that runs from the harnesses to a fixed line along a foot-wide metal catwalk. The catwalk  forms  a 300-meter obstacle course up, down, and around the rooftop of the Stockholm’s old Parliament building, which takes up roughly a city block. The course looms six stories above the streets of the old town below. It doesn’t sound like much, but the roof has a steep pitch, and the catwalk is narrow.

"Walking the dog" in Stockholm

I yank at the cable and  find that the dog-walking analogy is quite accurate: As with a real-life dog, the cable seems to have a mind of its own, and sometimes balks at going forward or gets stuck going around a corner. It takes a firm hand, a bit of nudging, and the occasional sharp tug, to keep it moving.

Viewing Swedish History from a Vertical Distance

Our group of 10  brave souls moves over the catwalks, pausing each of a series of three platforms to hear the guided commentary, which  covers the history of the Old Town buildings, the royal family, and interesting methods of execution in the medieval period.  We learn that convicted female criminals were buried alive, not hanged, because it was considered unseemly and perhaps morally dangerous, in an age before underpants, for men to have the opportunity to look up a dangling woman’s skirts. We also learn that the town executioner was himself a convicted criminal who had been sentenced to death, his sentence delayed as long as he was able to execute others.

Climbing to the next platform

It’s similar to what a tourist on a more traditional walking tour of Stockholm’s Old Town might hear, except that we are teetering on catwalks with steep drop-offs, and no railings. That quarter-inch cable is the only promise that a slip won’t become a multi-story plummet, and for those without a mountaineering background, it seems scant assurance. Indeed, some visitors find it hard to keep their minds on Swedish kings and medieval executioners while looking some 60 feet straight down a steep sided centuries-old roof. But the verdict? Exhilarating.

The tour also includes, either at the beginning or the end, a more traditional walking tour around the old town; that is, on the ground. Those who begin with the ground-level tour can get an orientation to what they will see from the air, while those who end with a return to terra firma will undoubtedly appreciate their new and very different perspective of one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities.

Practicalities

The rooftop tour is offered to independent tourists by the Stockholm-based Upplevmer company. It’s also available as a shore excursion for many of the cruise ships visiting Stockholm on Baltic Sea itineraries. Cruise ships charge considerably more than Upplevmer’s posted rate of about $60 U.S. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, for cruise travelers to arrange this excursion independently, as the tours are completely booked when cruise ships are in port. (Only 10 participants are allowed on the roof at a time.) Indeed, for independent travelers, the tours sell out weeks and sometimes months in advance. Off-season is far less crowded than summer.

There’s a weight limit of 265 pounds. The tour takes about 2 hours, and is offered all year in almost all weather: rain and snow, yes; thunderstorms and high winds, no. Those with a fear of heights should probably pass this tour up, but other than a strong stomach for looking down, it requires no special skill or fitness level.

About 

Karen Berger is the author of 15 books. She has hiked, ridden horses, kayaked, scuba dived, climbed, sailed, and marveled on six continents.