With 14 islands stitched together by more than 750 years of history, Stockholm is every bit as pretty as Paris or Prague. Once the seat of an empire that stretched as far east as modern-day Russia, the city still exercises influence far beyond Sweden's borders, acting as the de facto capital of Scandinavia and shaping global trends in fashion, food, music and, of course, design. This year's Stockholm Design Week, showcasing the best in Scandinavian design, runs from February 4 to 10 with events and exhibitions taking place across the city (www.stockholmdesignweek.com).
Away from the commercial throb of Norrmalm, home to the flagship stores of Swedish brands such as H&M, the city's sprawling parks hide galleries, museums and outdoor ice rinks. The inner-city population is yet to tip the one million mark, so you'll rarely feel crowded out. But in winter, when the cold grips Stockholm like a vice, it's wise to stay indoors. Head to one of the Old Town's candlelit cafes, order coffee and a sweet cinnamon bun and watch snowflakes flutter down between the medieval lanes. The locals, keen to show off their English skills, will make you feel at home.
A comfortable bed
Stockholm's unusual geography has helped each island maintain its own personality, so, to an extent, the type of accommodation you choose may dictate where you stay. International chains and glitzy, high-end hotels can be found around the T-Centralen subway station on Norrmalm. This area is home to Nordic Light, a 1970s building that has been transformed into a luxury hotel with special "mood rooms" that let guests toggle through different lighting effects until they find one that matches their feelings. Standard doubles start at 1,273 kronor (Dh716), with mood rooms from 1,613 kronor (Dh908) including taxes and breakfast (www.nordiclighthotel.se; 00 46 850 563000).
In Södermalm, it's easier to find cheaper, privately run places to stay, such as the friendly but no-frills Tre Små Rum, which offers guests bike rentals (150 kronor/Dh84 per day), free Wi-Fi and a simple breakfast buffet. Although the name means "three small rooms", there are actually seven to choose from. Doubles cost 795 kronor (Dh447), including taxes and breakfast (www.tresmarum.se; 00 46 864 12371).
On a flying visit? Check out Jumbo Stay at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, a hostel built into the shell of a Boeing 747. The plane has been kitted out with a good mix of dorms and private rooms, but the best place to stay is the Cockpit Suite, built into the flight deck, which has two adjustable beds and a flat-screen TV. Private twin rooms start at 1,200 kronor (Dh675), including taxes and breakfast (www.jumbostay.se; 00 46 859 360400).
Find your feet
Only one station connects all three of Stockholm's subway lines and this stop - T-Centralen - is of equal importance to tourists and commuters. Above ground here, the grid-like network of streets is mostly given over to shopping and commerce. Head south over the water to see real history in Gamla Stan, one of Europe's most magnificent medieval centres, then south again to reach Södermalm. From here, white ferries crash through the icy water on their way to the island of Djurgården, which Swedish royals once used as a hunting ground. It's now home to two of Stockholm's best museums.
Meet the locals
Curious tourists often make it to Östermalms Saluhall, a 19th-century food court in one of the city's most expensive neighbourhoods, but it is regular business from the locals that keeps the place ticking. Here you'll find 17 stalls and restaurants (many of them passed down from one generation to the next) serving everything from blush-red lobster claws to veiny slabs of stinky cheese (www.ostermalmshallen.se).
Book a table
Gothenburg has been wooing foodies in recent years, but Stockholm still has Sweden's most diverse dining scene, with a good mixture of serious gourmet places and fun, themed restaurants.
Rather than preparing one particular type of cuisine, Norrmalm's lavish, boudoir-style Grill (grill.se; 00 46 831 4530) focuses on the preparation method. Every dish (including the puddings) features something grilled. A vegetarian menu is available and there are buffet options on Sundays (295 kronor; Dh166) and at lunchtimes (110 kronor; Dh62).
With a little help from archaeologists and a splash of artistic licence, the people behind Viking restaurant Aifur (www.aifur.se; 00 46 820 1055) have created dishes that might have existed 1,100 years ago. Highlights include an elk entrecôte with a creamy chanterelle sauce and juicy lingonberries (298 kronor; Dh167). The decor, with social bench seats and exact replicas of artefacts found in tombs across Europe, helps to complete the atmosphere.
For more up-to-date flavours, try hotly tipped Nosh and Chow (www.noshandchow.se; 00 46 850 338960), which has just started operating out of a swanky town house in Norrmalm. There are four menus to choose from (North American, North African, Finnish-Russian and South-east Asian) with main courses starting at 195 kronor (Dh110).
Swirling, colourful patterns helped Swedish design company Svenskt Tenn (www.svenskttenn.se; 00 46 867 01600), founded in 1924, achieve cult status. The company's shop at Strandvägen 5 is still the city's hottest address for textiles, cushions, bags and furniture, but be warned: the cheapest sofa here sells for 32,500 kronor (Dh18,298).
What to avoid
Although Stockholm is very safe, taxi drivers have a reputation for overcharging customers. It is best to use metered taxis (with yellow number plates), operated by large companies like TaxiKurir (www.taxikurir.se). A trip from from Stockholm to Arlanda Aiport costs about 520 kronor (Dh293).
The Vasa Museum (www.vasamuseet.se; entry 130 kronor/Dh73) houses a huge Swedish warship built in the 17th century. The boat sank outside Stockholm on its maiden voyage in 1628 (its design was top-heavy) and was not lifted to the surface until the 1960s.
If you go
Return indirect flights from Dubai to Stockholm take eight hours and start at Dh2,280, including taxes, with KLM (www.klm.com).