GOING TO Stockholm WHY GO NOW Stockholm is in the throes of a cosmopolitan rebirth. With Sweden’s entry into the European Union in 1995, and the Internet boom that followed, Stockholm has stepped out of the Nordic cold to take its place on the international stage. No longer just the home of Abba and meatballs, Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, has become a major destination for people interested in design, fashion, technology, arts and fine cuisine. And the city is still evolving. Stockholm may be built on 14 islands near the Baltic Sea, but its neighborhoods are being pushed and pulled like a painter’s canvas. Civic borders are expanding. Old neighborhoods are metamorphosing into hip playgrounds. Street cafes, creative boutiques and other signs of an optimistic society are popping up everywhere Not that Stockholm is strictly about the present. A hot-air balloon ride over this architectural wonderland of latticed spires, candy-colored town houses and chateau like homes reveals a port city that has reveled in centuries of wealth. The sidewalks resemble a fashion runway and the city’s rosy swagger is on full display. Opened in 1874, the Grand Hotel, interesting to see (Sodra Blasieholmshamnen 8,; www.grandhotel.se) added a new wing last month with 76 new rooms, including a 3,600-square-foot penthouse. That’s good news for the Dalai Lama, Madonna and other famous guests who have stayed in the rococo and Gustavian landmark, which is across the harbor from the Swedish Royal Palace. Standard rooms start at 3,700 Swedish kronor (about $514, at 7.2 kronor to the dollar). The once-stodgy Scandic Anglais (Humlegardsgatan 23; 46-8-517-340-00; www.scandic-hotels.com/anglais) reopened last month after a year-and-a-half renovation. The 233-room hotel, built in 1966, was gutted and brought back to its original, United Nations-style splendor. A double starts at 1,350 kronor ($188) a night. If the scene doesn’t matter to you, check out the Hotel Hellsten (Luntmakargatan 68, 46-8-661-86-00, www.hellsten.se), which opened last year in the residential district of Vasastaden, just north of central Stockholm. Housed in a 1898 row house, the 80-room boutique hotel mixes modern amenities like flat-screen televisions with homey antiques like Swedish porcelain fireplaces. Nightly rates start at 990 kronor ($138). Those on a tight budget can find intriguing options. There is a hostel inside a boat (AF Chapman) that is permanently moored off Skeppsholmen as well as a prison converted into a hotel (Langholmen Hotel). WHERE TO EAT Swedes stick to a mob mentality dictated by fashion, and few places are hotter right now than Restaurang Kungsholmen (Norr Malarstrand, Kajplats 464, 46-8-505-244-50; www.kungsholmen.com), the latest creation from the celebrity chef Melker Andersson. Sitting waterside on the cooler-by-the- moment island of Kungsholmen, the young restaurant looks like a swank cafeteria designed by D.J.’s. Put on your game face as you wait in line with Stockholm’s elite. The food may be secondary, but the menu tries hard to be global. Favorites include sashimi and osso buco. For a hot spot in the heart of Stockholm, go to Nox (Grev Turegatan 30, 46-8- 545-82-400; www.nox.se). Don’t let the disco-ball motif fool you. The Swedish- French fare at this year-old restaurant is top-notch. Restaurants with aerial views don’t usually inspire culinary confidence, but Eriks Gondolen (Stadsgarden 6, 46-8-641-70-90; www.eriks.se) is an exception. Suspended 11 stories high, it offers one of the best views of the city’s brick-and- spire skyline. Swedish favorites like herring and veal with mustard sauce compete for attention. And should you get hungry after a long night of partying, stop by one of the many hot dog kiosks around town. Order a classic tunnbrodsrulle (flat bread stuffed with mashed potatoes, hot dogs and so-called shrimp salad) for about 60 kronor ($8) and kiss your hangover goodbye. WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY - here’s plenty to do. The best way to explore this compact city is by bicycle. Stockholm has an extensive network of bike-only paths carved into sidewalks, busy arteries and waterfront esplanades. The Gamla Stans Cykel (Stora Nygatan 20, 46-8-411-16-70; www.gamlastanscykel.se) rents one-speeds starting at 190 kronor ($26) a day. Everything is closer than you think, whether it’s the medieval alleyways of Gamla Stan (Old Town) or the urban parks of Djurgarden (pick up the free Stockholm Green Map). But don’t miss the trail that loops around Sodermalm. Ride past the harbor. Grab a refreshment at the waterside cafes. It’s a bewitching blend of cosmopolitan buzz and maritime calm. WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT night life in Stockholm begins early and ends late. You have two main options: head north to Stureplan, the glamorous hub of Stockholm’s velvet ropes and V.I.P. rooms, or south to the dive bars and beer halls of Sodermalm. The terrace at F12 (Fredsgatan 12, 46-8-24-80-52; www.f12.se), a fancy restaurant, dance floor packed with the city’s young beauties. Admission is 80 kronor, assuming you make it past the tall blond bouncer who looks like a son of Thor. Afterward, the in-crowd heads over to Solidaritet (Lastmakargatan 3, 46-8- 678-1050), where they jostle on the sidewalk while the sun comes up. StureCompagniet, Spy Bar and the newcomer Natkubblen Plaza are other clubs in Stureplan that draw the beautiful people. The bohemian bars of Sodermalm are concentrated around Medborgarplatsen, a large square buzzing with cafes, cinemas and a skateboard park. The crowd tends to be more laid back and egalitarian. One place some avoid due to they charges a coat check fee (15 kronor/ $2) is Kvarnen (Tjarhovsgatan 4, 46-8-64-03-80; www.kvarnen.com), a wood-paneled beer hall Several gay bars are clustered in Gamla Stan. Sunday nights still belong to Patricia (Stadsgardskajen 152, 46-8-743-05-70; www.ladypatricia.st), an old lightship that draws a lively crowd of men, women and people in drag to its party decks. WHERE TO SHOP Forget about H&M and Ikea. Go instead to the underground boutiques and clever design stores in Sodermalm, a former working-class island where an influx of art-minded people has given rise to several fashionable shopping centers. The north end of Gotgatan, the island’s main spine, may have gone mainstream, but there are still some worthy spots. Weekday (Gotgatan 21, 46-8-642-17-72; www.weekday.se) is the hottest retail chain to emerge in Stockholm since, well, H&M. It sells its own jeans label, as well as chic Swedish brands like Acne jeans (about 1,000 kronor--$140). Designtorget (Gotgatan 31, 46-8-462-35-20; www.designtorget.se) is a miniemporium that promotes unknown designers. For up-to-the-second street wear, go to SoFo — South of Folkungagatan (www.sofo.se) — Stockholm’s contrived answer to SoHo. Sneakersnstuff (Asogatan 124, 46-8-743-03-22; www.sneakersnstuff.com) is a temple dedicated to special-edition Pumas and Nikes, some designed by the store’s young owners. Boutique Sportif (Renstiernas Gata 26, 46-8-411-12-13; www.sportif.se) is known for its witty T-shirts. The newest shopping district is Hornstull, along Sodermalm’s west bank. New galleries, cafes and bars seem to be sprouting every week. On weekends, an artsy street fair is held along the water (www.streetinstockholm.se). YES, FREE With more than 70 museums devoted to everything from arts to aquatics, Stockholm has one of the highest concentrations of museums in the world. Luckily, some of the best are now free, thanks to a 2005 tourism initiative. Among them is the modern art museum, Moderna Museet (Skeppsholmen, 46-8- 519-552-00; www.modernamuseet.se), which reopened two years ago after a mold infestation. On view are the politically charged works of Paul McCarthy, an American multimedia artist. HOW TO STAY WIRED Your in-box is only as far away as a 7-Eleven or Pressbyran newsstand, which is to say almost everywhere. A company called Sidewalk Express (www.sidewalkexpress.se) has installed hundreds of high- speed terminals at these stores throughout the city. A 90-minute card costs 29 kronor ($4). HOW TO GET AROUND Stockholm is compact and well suited for walking or bicycling. To hop between islands, the extensive Tunnelbana subway and bus system (www.sl.se) is a model of urban mass transit. A single fare is 20 kronor (unlimited passes start at 60 kronor ($8) for one day). Taxis are plentiful but expensive; a short trip is about 70 kronor ($10).