Around Stockholm in the Footsteps of Nobel Laureates

Every December the world’s eyes turn to Stockholm for the awarding of the Nobel Prizes, an experience that must surely rank among the highlights of the winners’ professional lives. However, if — like most of us — you’re unlikely ever to win a Nobel Prize of your own, you can still act like a winner and visit the various locations associated with the prizes.

Except for the Peace Prize (awarded at Oslo City Hall in Norway), the Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm, the hometown of Alfred Nobel, founder of the awards. All of the key sites are located within walking distance of each other in central Stockholm.

Start your Nobel experience at Hötorget, the market square in central Stockholm’s shopping district. Flanking the east side of the square is Stockholm’s distinctively blue concert hall, Konserthuset, where the Nobel Prizes have been awarded on December 10 every year since 1926. (The first 25 years of the ceremonies were held at Nybrokajen 11 in a location that was formerly part of the Royal Academy of Music and is now a concert hall specializing in chamber music.)

The Nobel Prizes are presented by H.M. the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, with other members of the royal family in attendance. At the ceremony each winner receives a gold medal and a diploma (the prizes also carry monetary awards).

Designed by Ivar Tengbom, Konserthuset has been the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra since its opening in the 1920s, and hosts an extensive program of classical music concerts throughout the year. The floor mosaics in the main foyer and entrance hall are the work of Einar Forseth. The sculpture group in front of the building is by Carl Milles and is known as the Orpheus Fountain.

The banquet following the Nobel Prize ceremony is at Stadshuset, Stockholm’s instantly recognizable red-brick City Hall with the 350-foot tower topped by three golden crowns. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Konserthuset (head in the direction of Stockholm Central Station, and then take the pedestrian underpass from Vasagatan to the City Hall Quay). Admission to Stadshuset is by guided tour only.

The banquet takes places in the Blue Hall which, despite its name, is not blue at all. The architect of Stadshuset, Ragnar Östberg, decided against applying the planned coat of paint after he saw the finished brickwork. About 1,300 people have the privilege of attending the Nobel banquet each year, with 250 of those spots reserved for students.

Following the banquet, guests proceed upstairs to the Golden Hall for the annual Nobel ball. The Golden Hall takes its name from the gold-leaf mosaics adorning the walls, including the enormous Mälardrottningen (the Queen of Lake Mälaren). Like the floor mosaics at Konserthuset, the mosaics in Stadshuset’s Golden Hall were done by Einar Forseth.

If you’re not invited to the Nobel party you can still dine like a winner at the Stadshuskällaren restaurant, which is located in City Hall and serves a menu of dishes from previous Nobel banquets.

From Stadshuset, head back across the bridge to the mainland and continue along the water to Gamla Stan, the Old Town. At the main square, Stortorget, you’ll find Börshuset, the old Stock Exchange Building, headquarters of the Swedish Academy, which awards the literature prize and announces the laureates from here each fall. Börshuset is also home to the Nobel Library and the small but well-presented Nobel Museum, which opened in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prizes. Here you can explore the story of Alfred Nobel’s life and legacy, as well as the work of Nobel laureates from the first winners in 1901 to the present.

Once you’ve learned all you want to learn about Nobel and his prizes, there’s just one more stop to round out your Nobel experience. Walk down the hill next to the Royal Palace to the waterfront and cross the bridge back towards downtown Stockholm. Facing the Palace along Strömkajen (the Strömmen Quay) lies Grand Hôtel, the city’s most famous hotel, Grand Hôtel has been a Stockholm landmark for more than 130 years. Ever since the Prizes were established, laureates have stayed at Grand Hôtel during their Nobel Week in Stockholm. For three decades the Nobel banquets were held here as well, but they ultimately outgrew the space.

Three days after the awards ceremonies, Grand Hôtel gives Nobel Prize winners a personal taste of the Swedish St. Lucia traditions.  On December 13, the laureates are awakened by a Lucia and her entourage singing traditional songs and serving coffee and saffron buns. Originally this was done as a surprise, but the unexpected sight of white-clad people with candles on their heads came as a shock to some half-awake winners, so nowadays laureates are asked in advance if they would like to be woken up.

Grand Hôtel is famous for its French Renaissance interior, including a stunning Hall of Mirrors modeled after the one at Versailles. The hotel is also known for its award-winning restaurants, including the classic Verandan, which serves a traditional (but pricey) Swedish smorgasbord and has lovely views of the Strömmen inlet and the Royal Palace. Mathias Dahlgren is Grand Hôtel’s newest restaurant addition and has won major awards for its menu and design. If your budget allows it, a meal at the hotel is a fine way to wrap up your Nobel experience.

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