Hotel Rival

ABBA’s Benny Andersson has transformed a former classic theatre into an avant-garde boutique hotel- creating one of Stockholm’s best places to stay. Lawrie Holmes samples its charms.

If you’re visiting a city like Sweden’s beautiful capital Stockholm, two of the most important things you might be seeking are great location and atmosphere. Hotel Rival, situated in the city’s picturesque island of Södermalm has both in abundance.

Sited on one of Stockholm’s most beautiful squares Mariatorget, with panoramic views of the city’s beautiful harbour within a short stroll, the hotel is in an ideal spot. A few minutes of walking takes you effortlessly into the old town and a little more of a yomp across one of harbour bridges gets you into the city’s vibrant centre. Otherwise, local transport links are good.

Hotel Rival in Stockholm

Given the hotel is owned by Benny Andersson, founder of Sweden’s all-star quartet ABBA- one of the greatest musical acts of all time- it’s no surprise the hotel is at the heart of a lively social quarter featuring trendy bars and restaurants.

It’s also in keeping that the hotel is on the site of a famous theatre- that has been revamped as a modern venue- drawing in excited crowds for one of Sweden’s leading comedy cabaret acts when I was there. The hotel’s design reflects this past, featuring corridors carpeted with geometric cinema-inspired artwork.

It was partly the continual hubbub of concertgoers, combined with hotel guests, that gives the hotel a real sense of excitement. In the daytime, much of the action focuses on the adjoining Café Rival- which has walls adorned with pictures of ABBA and contemporaries of their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. By the evening it’s the hotel’s lounge area with its relaxed club-like vibe that is the draw.

In fact, the whole hotel plays homage to the pop music genre that made its owner into a household name the world over. From the drum kit in the middle of the restaurant to the ABBA CDS in the bedrooms, you are unmistakably in an environment owned by one of Sweden’s icons. I asked to meet Benny but he couldn’t make it- but his spirit is definitely in every room.

The hotel is no museum. It’s chic, even quite funky interior is immediately welcoming. I arrived gripped by the early evening cold of deepest February and was warmly welcomed into the hotel. Up a lift, in which upbeat 1980s sounds was being piped, I found my way to an extremely comfortable bedroom.

Hotel Rival in Stockholm

From a well-sized balcony, a fantastic view stretches out across the snow-covered square where mostly dads pushed prams with the odd cyclist braved icy streets. Inside, the room’s Swedish minimalist cool and the most comfortable bed imaginable, combine to make you feel very relaxed.

Useful features include Jetpacks for connecting various electronic, USB outlets in headboards and in-room libraries with selection of DVD movies and over 300 more available at front desk. The bathroom had a walk-in shower and toiletries from Crabtree and Evelyn.

Although early diners had already departed in time for the Friday evening performance, the restaurant was still very busy when I arrived- an eclectic crowd maintaining a constant buzz throughout the evening. In the background, gentle laughter emanated from the restaurant bar and from another in the floor below- which is the entrance area for the auditorium.

I opted for seafood- shrimps on toast for starter and a main of deliciously red trout and fennel, washed down with Chablis- a perfect French companion to Nordic fayre- all served with friendly Swedish charm.

After dinner I decided on a quick meander around the hotel, to pick up more on the atmosphere. I made out several accents competing with Swedish. The evening was filled wit the sounds of a happy throng- defining the hotel as being very much on the go-to list of Stockholm’s evening spots.

Hotel Rival in Stockholm

I could have happily have stayed later in this warm and hospitable atmosphere but decided to call it a night- drawn by my so deliciously comfortable bed. Without the need for a nightcap I fell into the deepest sleep I’d had for months.

On waking I was met with the brightest of mornings streaming in through the giant window pane almost the length of the outer wall, prompting me into action. On arrival at breakfast I seized on a couple of English language newspapers from amongst a good selection of international and local titles.

Hotel Rival in Stockholm

The restaurant had become an excellent breakfast room- with the same fabulous views of the square surrounded by beautiful old buildings. The buffet was well stocked- with very fresh fruit, and Scandinavian specialty fish and meat, which I savoured with delicious coffee. The perfect start to the day!

With a free pass to the modest, but friendly gym next door, I thought I’d exercise away the effects of all the delicious food. It worked a treat, and I was able to head off into Stockholm, fully refreshed after my stay at the Hotel Rival.

In rejuvenating the old theatre Benny Andersson has created a fabulous hotel with all the trappings to make your stay as relaxing and enjoyable as possible, but with enough of a homage to the pop and film world to make your stay a truly enjoyable experience.

Address:  Mariatorget 3, SMariatorget 3, Södermalm, 118 91 Stockholm, Sweden. | 00 46 8 545 789

Room rate: Rival provides excellent value for money with standard rooms from 1,495 Swedish Krona ($185)
Disabled access: Several lifts on-site which are wheelchair-accessible. There are wheelchair-friendly and accessible rooms available.
Child friendliness: Connecting rooms available with children’s movies, stuffed teddy bears in all rooms, kids’ menu, and cots/cribs for free.