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Stockholm: the city that loves kids

Children love Stockholm because Stockholm loves children. It almost seems that the city had children in mind as it evolved over the centuries. There are parks and play areas among the many green areas; walkways are wide, pedestrian crossings are not only at every corner but wherever people are likely to cross the street. And the city is clean.

Stockholm is kid-friendly any way you slice it. Beyond the long list of destinations geared at stimulating and capturing the imagination of young people, one of the greatest kid-friendly elements is its infrastructure – it’s incredibly easy to get around with children in tow.

There are ramps at nearly every public set of stairs, elevators in all public buildings and public transportation even caters to prams. Kneeling buses are designed to allow pushchairs to be roll on and off and any parent traveling with a child in a baby carriage rides for free. Those same buses have specially reserved areas for strollers. Better still, people almost always respect the rules, making way as you roll aboard. The ride can become part of the adventure (see Ferry and Djurgården tram below).

Slaves to the automobile are well catered for too. There is readily available parking close to nearly all attractions including those in downtown Stockholm, though the parking fees can be steep and you might need to be able to parallel park that Volvo V70. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for” –in this case a parking spot conveniently located smack dab in the middle of a European capital.

Feeding the critters is also part of the child-friendly package. Nearly all restaurants or cafés offer child menus, high chairs and food/bottle warming options, many which offer self-serve microwaves and nappy changing stations.

The largest and most obvious concentration of places where children scream with glee is on Djurgården where Skansen, Junibacken and Gröna Lund are located. And getting there is part of the fun. If you are coming from the southern side of the city you can take the ferry from the Gamla Stan dock (very close to Slussen.) The 30-day SL transport card is valid, otherwise you have to buy a ticket, but it’s the fastest, most fun way over to the island.

If you’re more central a ride back in time on the Djurgården tram number 7. A veritable rolling museum, it runs most of the year. On weekends, these rail enthusiasts also roll out the Rolling Café. Not a bad choice considering you get a hot drink and cake while enjoying the moving views.

The absolutely top spot for kids is Skansen. Actually more devoted to its open-air museum purpose, it is better known by local parents and children alike as a zoo. At some later date someone can remind them that there is a wealth of history and cultural preservation oozing out of each of the preserved structures and period-clad historians sauntering about.

Beyond the Nordic animal sightings complete with moose, bear, wolves and reindeer among others there is the aquarium with a more exotic offering of creatures, including the chance to enter the lemur cage. (My toddler son successfully scolded one which tried to rummage through my backpack). Also fun for kids at Skansen is a small amusement park with lots of rides suitable for young children.

If amusement parks are the draw for your kiddies, then Gröna Lund is place to be. It’s a bit of a concrete jungle with a water-front setting and is a far cry from Disneyland, but if you’re kids aren’t spoiled by Disney and the like they’ll have a fun day out.

Junibacken is a Pippi Longstocking fan’s dream come true. Kids can play in Pippi’s house or meet a range of other Astrid Lindren characters. There’s a story train ride which is wonderfully done, but be warned that it can be rather frightening for children under 5. There are also regular performances to delight those children who understand Swedish.

For slightly older children, discovering and learning about the world around us, places like the Technical Museum, The Natural History Museum and Tom Tits (Södertälje) are hits. Exhibits explain the wonders of physics, biology and other sciences. There’s a new cinema called Cino4 at the Technical Museum. It’s a touted as multi-sensory experience (their words) where they shake, rattle and roll the audience. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive – apparently the kids liked it too.

The Natural History Museum sounds like it could be snoozeville among dusty stuffed animals, but many of the exhibits are well designed with children in mind. Speaking of which, kids can even climb up into the brain cavity of a large human head in the human body exhibit or walk with dino bones on the ground floor.

Tom Tits requires effort to get to from Stockholm (it’s located in Södertälje, a suburb about 40 minutes south of Stockholm). Still, the trip is well worth it if you have enquiring youths. Over the years they have continually expanded the vast expanse of their discovery halls with 600 experiments.

Not quite as far out as Tom Tits, The Butterfly House just north of central Stockholm in the Haga Park is also worth the effort to get to. It’s an enormous enclosure that recreates a rainforest environment. As well as the many butterflies fluttering about there are a host of other exotic species. The restaurant/café, with its scrumptious cakes, is a big selling point.

All the spots mentioned so far require an entrance fee, but some of the best things in the child’s life in Stockholm are free.

Room for Child (Rum för Barn) on the fourth floor of the Culture house (Kulturhuset) is a library-like room divided into sections which accommodate children from 0-11 with books, toys and parlor games. In the workshop activity, which costs 20 kronor, children can choose to paint on an easel or try their hand at the activity du jour. There is even a picnic area for snacks or packed lunches.

The place is extremely popular and the lines to get in during peak hours can resemble the queues at a hot night spot. Often the wait is linked to baby buggy parking. So if you have baby wheels and you can lock them on the bottom floor you could swish past the line.

Many of the traditional museums also offer some sort of child-friendly program or specialized area devoted to the young visitor. During school holidays nearly every museum will arrange some special event to attract families. Check directly with the museums for special events.

Stockholm is one of those cities which appeal to the explorer of any age, enough so that it can satisfy the city pulse needs of a sophisticated adult while entertaining and hosting the restless child.

Top destinations

1. Skansen.

2. Junibacken .

3. Gröna Lund.

4. Technical Museum .

5. Tom Tits Experiment.

6. Natural History Museum .

7. The Butterfly House .

8. Kidzone.

9. <a href=" http://www.sparvagssallskapet.se/djurgardslinjen/english.php

“target=”_blank”>Djurgården Line tram including the Rolling Café.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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