I'm a huge fan of Atlas Obscura, which recommends "curious and wondrous" places for tourists to visit. If you want to see the things that aren't in guidebooks...Atlas Obscura is the resource for you. This is how I learned about Aifur, an underground experience down a candlelit alleyway in Gamla Stan, the charming Old Town island in Stockholm, Sweden.
Just a few blocks away from Aifur is the Nobel Prize Museum. Here I am with my husband Josh in front of colorful homes and shops in the Gamla Stan square.
Now, what kind of underground experience was this...why, a VIKING experience!! Aifur Krog & Bar is a unique restaurant that celebrates the rich history of the seafaring people of Scandinavia through some of my favorite things: food, music and art.
You could almost miss the entrance, which is located at the bottom of steep stone steps lined with flickering candlelit. But the Norse signage (and Norse singing) will let you know that you're in the right place. If you are a wheelchair user, there is an accessibility ramp to make sure you can safely enjoy the festivities downstairs!
Stepping down these stairs is like stepping into a time machine away from modern Stockholm and into the wild Viking era.
Once I stepped inside from the cold, I felt like I was whisked away to the 800s or at least to an episode of The Witcher. Even though Geralt of Rivia didn't join us that night, the interior of Aifur is everything you'd hope it would be. Aptly named after the legendary ship, Aifur's environment is dimly lit with candles and outfitted with massive wooden tables, fur pelts, rich tapestries and rustic tableware. The sounds of traditional Nordic music fill the arched cave with an ancient sort of energy that makes you want to dance on the table or at least bang your mug on it for more mead. It's hard to remember if you're on land or out at sea in the belly of a ship.
And before you go thinking I'm a total freak that got swept away with some sort of Medieval Times nonsense...Europe just doesn't really lean into stuff like that. And definitely not the Swedes. This place was actually founded by Martin Erikson (aka E-Type), a well-known eurodance musician, songwriter and record producer who is a Viking aficianado who wanted to create a truly original and authentic experience in the heart of Gamla Stan. Because he's a musician himself, E-Type makes it a priority that no modern instruments are used on stage.
Between the candle light, fur pelts, haunting Nordic tunes and runes on the walls...I was pretty deep in the Viking vibe.
And E-Type is definitely on to something. This place does feel about as authentic as you can get and not in an amusement-park-sort-of-way. For example, all of the menu items are inspired by actual food that fueled the Vikings and each dish tells the story of its origins.
Here's what I ordered from their unique storytelling menu:
1. DRINK: Non-Alcoholic Honungsmust Mead ($5)
Often referred to as "honey wine," mead is the world's most ancient fermented beverage, with the earliest record of mead dating back to Ancient China in 7000 A.D. It was such a treat to enjoy a traditional drink without alcohol...and the clay pot it came in made the experience even better.
2. APPETIZER: Lans aux Meadow’s Mead and Cream Boiled Mussels ($17)
The Vikings were all over the place and traveled as far away as Newfoundland. Lans aux Meadows is a location on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, where the remains of a Scandinavian settlement from the 1000′s were discovered in 1960.
3. MAIN COURSE: Salmon Plate from Stallarholmen ($29)
This is Aifurs' home smoked salmon topped on a bed of buttered spinach with herb bulgur and sauce from Byzantium. Stallarholmen is a small town across the Bay of Birka, which hosts the world's largest Viking Festival every summer. Looks kind've awesome, so maybe I'll have to come back to Sweden again soon. This was the best smoked salmon I've ever had!
About half way through my mussels, a bearded musician named Magnus Smedman took the stage and played the most curious string instrument I'd ever heard. It sounded a bit like an accordion, lute, drum and harmonica wrapped into one. Somehow, the sounds he was producing (with a little hand crank) made it feel like there was an entire band up there with him! I later learned that this instrument is called a hurdy-gurdy, which was a popular instrument in the Viking era. There are still a few who play it around the world. All of the bar's patrons (including yours truly) were banging on the tables along with the music and locals sang along to lyrics they knew.
Ever since our dining experience at Aifur, we've been listening to Viking & Nordic tunes on Spotify to complement our travel journeys around Scandinavia.
I was so full from the meal that I couldn't bear to look at a dessert menu, but I trust that it's amazing. After our epic evening, Josh and I somehow managed to take a long evening walk around the quaint and quiet streets of Gamla Stan. It's a charming area that truly transports you back in time. Aifur was definitely the highlight of my visit to Stockholm. Thank you to Atlas Obscura for recommending it and being the best travel guide on the planet!
Atlas Obscura also showed us where to find this ancient stone with rune symbols...it's more than 1,000 years old and was used as building material on an unmarked street corner!
- It can get busy, so I highly recommend booking a table!
- We visited on a week night, but I bet that Friday & Saturday nights would be incredible
- Don't eat tooooo much for lunch, so you have room to try all of their dinner courses
- Download the Atlas Obscura Travel Guide app so you can receive amazing travel recommendations wherever you are in the world. Because of the app, I discovered Aifur just a few hours before eating there!