STOCKHOLM — Not long after reaching cruising altitude on our way to Sweden in April, I began to question whether we could sanely country-hop with a newborn and a toddler in tow. Elinor, the baby, made use of her stash of diapers and backup onesie in record time, while her brother, Graham, made repeated use of the facilities just for the fun of it. My husband, Todd, and I spent most of the flight taking turns in a cramped lavatory. I guess that’s why they seat kids in the back.
Our foursome entered the Stockholm airport terminal in a haze of hand sanitizer. Clear signage and free baggage carts, however, restored our faith in family-friendly travel. Arrows guided us along a short path from the claim area to an elevator, which opened directly onto a train platform. There, a smiling attendant ushered us to the center car with space for stroller parking (even our oversized Bugaboo fit). The adjacent bathroom had a changing table.
In Paris, where we live, public transportation is designed exclusively for members of the public who are inclined to take the stairs. In Metro stations, including those that connect with Charles de Gaulle Airport, functioning elevators are a foreign concept. An escalator feels like a modern extravagance. The first phrase I perfected in French: “Would you help me carry my son’s stroller?”
Not only was the Arlanda Express accessible, but it deposited us in the city within 20 minutes. “Mom, it’s like the TGV,” exclaimed Graham, a Francophile in the making. We walked down the road to our hotel, dropped our duffels at the front desk, and cabbed to Skansen, a 74-acre park with a zoo. Touring Europe, we had learned to go straight to a kiddie destination upon arrival.
Skansen is known for being the world’s first open-air museum — the replica farmsteads and cottages brought back memories of school field trips — but we went for the brown bears. They didn’t disappoint, blurring the line between affection and aggression as they played and pummeled each other like two toddler boys. All the wild Nordic animals, including boar piglets, were a hit with Graham, as was the new indoor section with interactive exhibits for children.
Later, we strolled through Old Town, home to a mix of architectural landmarks and tourist traps selling moose T-shirts — not to mention a tattoo parlor only blocks from the Royal Palace. We ate at Paganini, an Italian restaurant that could have been in San Francisco’s North Beach. The lack of local flair was worth Graham finishing his pasta (he has subsisted on rice crackers on past trips).
The following morning brought rain and snow, so we headed to Junibacken, an ode to Swedish author Astrid Lindgren’s works. Happy parents crowded into the museum, their kids uniformly dressed in colorful stripes. (Based on Stockholm and Copenhagen, I would say Scandinavia is the breeding ground for Brooklyn, N.Y., baby style.) I was a fan from the moment the cashier handed me a loaner Bjorn, as strollers have to stay outside. Highlights included taking the storybook train, which felt like riding through a diorama, and exploring Pippi Longstocking’s house complete with slide.
We eventually left for a nap and a grown-up dinner destination, avoiding the sweets for sale and a sugar-induced meltdown. At the sophisticated hour of 6 p.m., we arrived at trendy Volt, a one-room restaurant emphasizing regional produce. Thankfully, our little ones can hang — it simply takes practice, not French DNA. Graham devoured the table’s homemade potato chips and spring chicken the chef prepared just like mom’s, minus the nettles. I was most smitten with the playlist (alas, trade secret — they won’t even tell the folks at Spotify who work nearby).
Well-fed and rested, we spent our second morning at Vasamuseet — essentially a life-size ship in a bottle. The cavernous museum houses and pays complete homage to a salvaged war vessel, which sank almost as soon as it hit the water in 1628. Measuring an estimated 226 feet long, it made quite an impression on Graham, who also enjoyed the space’s echo quality. Meanwhile, I appreciated the cafeteria for its nursing quality: partial privacy and sea views.
From there, we sat through several stops on the Hop On-Hop Off double-decker bus, a first for us. There was a time when Todd and I borrowed surfboards from a couple of kids in Costa Rica and taught ourselves how to catch waves, then hitched a ride to another beach town. But hey, Graham sure looked cute in those informational headphones, and Elinor took a nap. From our perch, we noticed a rack of rental bikes with child seats and boat tours — better options should we come back in nicer weather.
The clouds hovering, we strolled to another hot spot for dinner. Zink Grill claims on its menu to be many things — cafe, cocktail bar, grill, restaurant, bistro — but mostly it’s French, not just because it serves steak tartar, but also because the steak comes with a side of attitude. We enjoyed our cheeseburgers and frites, even if the “barbecue sauce” resembled Thousand Island. At least we didn’t feel pressure to eat our sandwiches with a knife and fork.
The restaurant a reminder of home’s lesser charms, we welcomed a last display of uncynical help the next day at the Arlanda station and the easy return to the airport, where Graham found a play area. He peacefully passed the two-hour flight to Paris drawing while Elinor slept. On landing, a dad with a toddler girl a row ahead of us waved goodbye enthusiastically with a relieved grin. He had maintained a poker face on the plane, as if to say, “Let’s first see how this goes.” Personally, we would do it again.