Stockholm, Sweden: ABBA The Museum

After spending most of an unusually hot summer working in an even hotter brewery (on days when we had the mash kettle heating and the pasteurisation tanks on, it got up to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit in there (37 Celsius)), boy, was I ready for a holiday (actually, I quit my awful job so now every day’s a holiday until I find something new, which hopefully won’t take as long as it took to find that job)!  And preferably, a holiday somewhere relatively cool, because I really do not cope well with heat, which pretty much left out everything south of Scandinavia and the Baltic states. I initially quite liked the idea of Estonia and Finland, but we couldn’t find any flight deals, so Stockholm it was!  Which actually worked out perfectly, because the weather was pleasingly cool (in the shade, almost too cold without a jacket), and it meant I got to visit one of my dream destinations: ABBA The Museum!

  

You might think I’m being sarcastic, because maybe I don’t really seem like the sort of person who would love ABBA, but I genuinely do (I’m also way more into Eurovision than I should be, which is probably also ABBA’s fault). And though I knew that ABBA The Museum would be super overpriced (I mean, c’mon, you can tell from the name alone), I didn’t even care. If I was going to Stockholm, nothing was going to stop me from seeing it.

  

Based on the crowds I’d seen the night before when we walked around the Old Town, I knew July was prime tourist season, and I wanted to ensure that other tourists didn’t ruin my ABBA experience, so we got there right after it opened, even though we had to skip the free breakfast at the hotel to do so (and they had Swedish pancakes on that buffet, so it was a sacrifice, though I made up for it by eating obnoxious amounts of them the next two mornings). This was a smart move, because there were only a handful of visitors in the museum, and we didn’t have to wait for any of the activities, but by the time we left, there was already a queue to get in (it’s located on the same island as a bunch of other museums, so it attracts loads of visitors). And boy, was it ever expensive!  250 SEK, which is about 22 quid. A LOT more than I’d normally drop on a museum, but when in Stockholm…

  

Since the entire museum was in Swedish and English, we did not rent audio guides, but simply headed into the museum, which began on the floor below the admissions hall with an exhibition about Eurovision, including an array of famous costumes worn at the competition from Sweden and beyond (most notably the hideous tutu/blazer combo Celine Dion wore when she won it for Switzerland in 1988). There was also a Eurovision quiz, a chance to sing along with some Eurovision hits in front of everyone (which I was way too embarrassed to do), and some screens where you could watch videos of seemingly all the Eurovision grand final competitors, maybe since the competition started(?). I was too eager to get to the actual ABBA bit to find out how far back their Eurovision archives went, but I did stay to watch one of my favourite Eurovision contestants in recent memory – Sunstroke Project and their infamous thrusting saxophonist, representing Moldova. They originally competed in 2010 (video here), and though they didn’t come close to winning, they were such a fan favourite that they came back again this year, much to my delight!

  

After getting my fill of terrible Moldovan music, I ran down another flight of stairs into the museum proper, and it was pretty much an instant ABBA assault (as I was hoping). It opened with a giant semi-circular movie screen showing clips of all ABBA’s hits, and there were TV screens in pretty much every room blasting out more ABBA. The first gallery was really the only traditional museum room with lots of text. There was a biography for each member of ABBA before they all got together, as well as a few key ABBA artefacts, like the guitar Bjorn used when they won Eurovision in 1974 (which is what really put ABBA on the map).

  

The next room, in addition to containing a ’70s style crime against wallpaper, held the infamous ABBA phone. Supposedly, only the members of ABBA have the number, so if it ever rings and you pick it up, you will be talking to either Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, or Frida, but somehow I highly doubt that it has ever actually rung. And if it had when I was there, I imagine it would have been a very awkward conversation, because what the hell am I going to say to ABBA anyway?

  

It was the next section where things really started to get fun. In addition to ABBA’s recording studio (either a replica, or they dismantled the whole damn thing and reassembled it, I didn’t really pay attention), it had three main interactive stations. The clever thing about this museum is that you had to keep hold of your ticket the whole time, and scan it for access to the activities, meaning everyone only got one try at everything and they couldn’t stand there hogging things all day!  Also, everything you did was recorded and loaded onto your own personal private page on the museum website, accessed by entering in your ticket number, which made for cringe-worthy viewing after we left. The first activity was simply to mix one of ABBA’s songs, and try to make it sound as good as the actual version, which was not easy.

  

Then, there were karaoke booths where you could sing along with ABBA songs to see if you had the chops to become the fifth member of ABBA (though not really, because they’re broken up). Fortunately, these were fairly private booths with a curtain that closed behind you, so I felt free to belt it out. As much as I would love to be the fifth member of ABBA (we would be called JABBA, obviously), my singing voice is terrible and I know it, so I don’t see it happening. I made up for my disappointment by going on to the next activity, which scanned my face and then “dressed” me in some of ABBA’s most famous outfits. I don’t think I can pull off Agnetha’s number, but I genuinely quite like Frida’s dress and hair on me (on the right, above). Maybe it’s time for a new hairstyle?

  

After walking past a hall of more ABBA-artefacts, we entered a rather confusing room which was dark and contained a stage. I think we were supposed to get up on the stage and dance around with ABBA holograms or something, but there was a women who worked there who was standing in the corner, ignoring us and staring at her phone, and since I didn’t really know what to do, and didn’t particularly want her watching me while I did whatever it was, we skipped it and moved on to the next section.

   

Which somewhat made up for missing the holograms (or whatever), because we got to be in an ABBA music video (we picked “Chiquitita” solely because of the creepy snowman in the background). And let me tell you, watching the video of us halfheartedly dancing around is way more cringing than listening to the karaoke, even (see above for evidence of my dancing ability, or lack thereof). Still fun though.

  

There was also an ABBA quiz, wax figures of ABBA, and some creepy ABBA puppets that came from some music video I’ve never seen before. The ABBA part of the museum concluded with a gallery of the actual costumes they wore on stage, and though many of them were remarkably ugly, I did dig the fox dress and of course the cat outfits, which were for sale in t-shirt version in the gift shop; and finally, there was a brief acknowledgement that the group had indeed broken up (and gotten divorced) long ago, though this clearly wasn’t something the museum was trying to dwell on (I guess ABBA lives forever in here).

  

The museum also contained a temporary exhibition about the musical artists that have performed at Grona Lund over the years (an amusement park that is literally next door to the museum), but as I have never been to Grona Lund (it was expensive just to get in, and then you had to pay for rides on top of it), I wasn’t terribly interested. I should also note that the museum contained the only clean public toilets that I encountered in Sweden, possibly because I was one of the first people to use them that day, but still, take advantage if you need to, because the other options on Museum Island are grim.

  

The gift shop felt more like a merch table at a concert than a museum gift shop, with prices to match, but they did have some excellent ABBA shirts, and I splurged and bought myself one of the aforementioned cat shirts (Frida’s version, simply because the yellow cat was derpier than the blue one, and thus obviously superior). So counting the shirt, I ended up spending about 50 quid here (not counting Marcus’s ticket), which is definitely a lot of money, but relative to what we paid to see some of the other museums in Stockholm, I can’t really complain too much (and at least I left with a wearable souvenir!). It might be light on content, but the interactive elements genuinely were a blast (except for the one I skipped on account of the unhelpful employee), and if you’re an ABBA fan, I think this is a must!  Non-fans can of course skip it, because you probably won’t get much out of it, though even Marcus admitted that he had fun here, just maybe not 22 quid’s worth of fun. I’m so happy I finally got to go though, and it did very much live up to expectations (including the overpriced part, but at least I was expecting it, so I wasn’t that bothered). 4/5.

 

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10 comments

  1. This was brilliant. I was equal parts excited to hear that you quit your job (I’ve got some quitting-envy there), and that you got to vacation in Stockholm. Like you, I’m not that great with the heat – so I’ll have to make note of this as a possibility for future travel.
    I’ve always liked ABBA so it was a lot of fun to read about all the exhibits, though I am woefully un-familiar with Eurovision. (What little I know is probably based solely on Father Ted. That “My Lovely Horse” often gets stuck in my head.) Anyhow, I’m amazed at the number of activities they had at the museum. I’m going to share this post with a friend whose six-year old son is obsessed with ABBA (he’s been to several ABBA sing-along concerts, believe it or not) and he’s going to lose his mind when he sees all this.
    For the record I like the Frida look for you too – though to be fair, I’m not even considering the Agnetha simply for the pant ruffles alone.

    1. I do feel a bit silly for having quit my job without having another lined up, but I just couldn’t take it there anymore. I worked with a couple of guys who were much younger than me, and they both had back problems on account of working there. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to be doing in the long term, so in the end, I thought it was just better to get out before I ended up giving myself some sort of permanent injury. No low-paying job is worth that!
      Father Ted is really pretty accurate, particularly Dick Byrne’s song (I find myself singing My Lovely Horse all the time too!). I didn’t get into it until I moved to the UK, since it’s not something televised in America, but I do love it, even though the quality (meaning cheesiness and flamboyance) of the songs has rapidly gone downhill in recent years. I’m kind of jealous of that six year old – I’ve never been to a sing-along concert! But I bet he’d love this!
      Yeah, pant ruffles are never a good look. I don’t think I could pull off Frida’s look either though just because it would be too much maintenance. My hair has a tiny bit of wave, and I’m certainly not going to be straightening it every damn day!

  2. I would never get John into something like this! He despises ABBA even though I tell him how well crafted the songs are – as acknowledged, admired, and even imitated by people he likes such as Elvis Costello. Will he listen? Guess! However, I have been to Singalonga ABBA, another ABBA tribute band and, of course, Mamma Mia with various female friends so all is not lost.

    I am astonished at your report on Swedish toilets! I imagined they would be pristine.

    1. Oh no! Marcus isn’t into ABBA, but he still doesn’t mind listening to them from time to time (though I think he’s less keen at my singing along…I do have a truly terrible voice). At least you have female friends to do things like that with though!
      I was really surprised myself, because I thought of Scandinavia as being very clean, but they were absolutely foul at every museum except this one. I think some of the problem may have been that most of the ones I encountered were unisex; I’m not saying that men are totally to blame, but I don’t think it helped! They were also mostly those self-contained stalls with a sink and everything in there, and a lot of them didn’t even have a bag hook, so I’d either have to awkwardly attempt to balance my bag without it falling into the toilet, or else put it down on the disgusting floor. At least the toilet in our hotel room was clean!

  3. I would have never guessed you were an ABBA fan. That is too funny. I thought the museum was really well set-up to interactive, but I don’t really know ABBA well enough to really appreciate all of it. And I was there with a ton of other people all posting to social media, so I wasn’t about to try my hand at singing or dancing (no one was drunk enough yet for me to get away with that.) As usual, your write-up was fabulous! One question, did you look at the Swedih music hall of fame section? If so, have you ever seen so many concertina players in your life?! It was a cool museum, but I’m glad I got to visit free as part of an event. (Don’t hate me for that. Remember, there were lots of other people there! It’s a trade-off.)

    1. I guess I’m full of surprises! I like Hanson too (which is more of a dark secret than ABBA) because I was exactly the right age for them when MMMBop came out, which probably doesn’t excuse liking them as an adult, but what can I say? Taylor grew up kinda cute.
      Anyway, thanks for the compliment. I don’t know if I saw the Swedish Hall of Fame or not. There was that section on Grona Lund, which I think was a temporary exhibition, and maybe a case off to one side with some other random outfits from Swedish entertainers. I don’t remember an excess of concertinas though, so maybe not! I don’t blame you for not wanting to pay to visit (nor hate that you got to visit for free) if you’re not that into ABBA. It’s so expensive!

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