I’ll admit that when I decided to visit Stockholm and spend a month there, planning my trip around the TBEX Travel Conference, I was a little skeptical of spending as long in a city. True to my usual last-minute travel style, I hadn’t done a lot of research, and simply didn’t know what to expect.
But from the moment I stepped out in the cool Södermalm district and saw the city for the first time, I knew Stockholm wasn’t like other cities; its character wasn’t made homogenous by skyscrapers that made the sky seem small, rush-hour traffic, and the cacophony of too many people or too many cars.
As I walked under beautiful blue summer skies by colorful toy-box like buildings (some from the 1850’s), vintage stores with window displays that can only be described as adorable, and leafy, shaded parks, I knew that I had found the perfect city to base myself to slow down and work.
Over the next month, I spent my days wandering around the city’s many neighborhoods, visiting museums, enjoying summer like the locals in the parks, writing by waterfronts, hopping on ferries to explore the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, and eating at market halls, all to realize that while there was plenty to do and see in Stockholm, life in the city never felt rushed like it can in other cities.
There are certain nuances of the lifestyle in Stockholm that contribute to overall wellbeing in a big way, and if you stay long enough, you begin to understand why so many people want to move to the city.
Stockholm is one of those cities I’d happily return to because I know I’m not exaggerating when I say that I love Stockholm.
Traveling around Sweden? Here’s what it’s like to visit Småland and you might also be interested in planning a visit to Utö in the Stockholm Archipelago or a trip to Swedish Lapland.
Here are some great reasons to visit Stockholm and why you might just fall in love with this Nordic capital like I did.
Don’t forget to watch my Stockholm video at the end of this post.
Reasons to Visit Stockholm & Why You’ll Love It
1. Stockholm’s Island Cityscape is Gorgeous
The most striking thing about Stockholm is how gorgeous its waterfront promenades and harbours are and how many there are. The city is made up of 14 islands where the freshwater Lake Mälaren flows out into the Baltic Sea, and along them are the 30,000 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, a ferry ride away.
Bridges and walkways connect the different islands of Stockholm, making the city a joy to walk or bike around in summer when the weather is good. Stockholm’s beautiful architecture is even more photogenic as it rises from islands surrounded by water. There are boat tours as well as kayak tours available to see Stockholm from the water.
To get one of the best views of Stockholm, head to the Skinnarviksberget hill in Södermalm, the highest natural point in central Stockholm, and a favorite spot for locals to enjoy a picnic, or a conversation over beers and a cigarette.
2. Stockholm is Greener Than You’d Imagine
One of the big reasons I love Stockholm is how green it is; in fact, it’s the greenest city I’ve seen. While walking around the city, it isn’t too long before you come to a trail through a leafy park or a garden with outdoor gyms, bike paths, or a lake or fountain. Parks and green spaces constitute one-third of the city’s geographical area and Stockholm’s 400 parks (!) are the best place to enjoy glorious Swedish summer like the locals.
In summer, Swedes like to spend their entire day outdoors, sunbathing, reading, playing games, working out, running, and enjoying picnics and beers in parks until the sun slowly begins to dip below the horizon. I took a page out of their book and spent time running, writing, enjoying picnic lunches outdoors and found that it did wonders for my creativity.
There are parks such as Millesgården with sculptures created by artists Carl and Olga Milles and parks that offer entertainment and activities for families and children, such as Aspuddsparken with a playground and pool. Kungsträdgården, the city’s oldest park, has manicured lawns, the 1873-built Molins Fountain, and cafés. Djurgården is a lovely park in the vicinity of museums, galleries, and other attractions. At Rålambshovsparken, you can enjoy live entertainment in the 5000-capacity amphitheater, enjoy barbeque, play football, exercise, skateboard, or go swimming.
You could spend an entire month visiting Stockholm and still not see all of the parks. Then of course there is Parkteatern, a cultural summer festival with events such as theater, dance, workshops, concerts, and other events at stages and amphitheaters in various parks around the city.
Search here for places to stay in Stockholm or skip to the end of this post for my suggestions.
3. Stockholm is Active and Healthy
Coming from a city that likes to drive everywhere, I have a real appreciation for healthy cities such as Stockholm where while walking around in summer, you won’t go ten minutes without seeing a really fit Swede running in your direction and passing you by, making you question what you’re doing with your life, and the entirety of your diet choices over the past decade.
I have to admit that the Swedes’ attitude towards health and fitness, and their active lifestyle of running and cycling everywhere is both motivating and infectious, and I can only imagine how much of a positive impact it must have on anyone who’s moved to the city. There are Stockholmers running and working out in outdoor gyms in parks, on bridges, along the water, and everywhere in the city. On my free days, I found myself doing the same, even if a little self-consciously as I was nowhere close to how fit they were. I’m happy to share that after a month of eating on a budget (mostly cooking), walking everywhere and running in Stockholm, I lost five kilos, after having gained four of those being gluttonous in Italy.
4. Stockholm Has Fascinating Architecture
The Swedish capital impresses with its different architectural styles, from 17th century Baroque buildings and grand masterpieces, and contemporary minimalistic structures, to historical wooden cottages. Walking tours in Stockholm through different neighborhoods or seeing them on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour offers a glimpse into various periods of the city’s history.
Of course, there is Gamla Stan, or the fairytale-like Old Town (founded in 1252) that is the #1 spot for tourists who visit Stockholm. Its narrow cobbled streets are home to the Royal Palace, Nobel Museum, Stockholm Cathedral, and other museums, points of interest, shops, and cafés and Stortorget, the city’s oldest square. The buildings are beautiful in shades of ochre and mustard and rust and brown, some with ornate windows. Walking along the Riksbron Bridge, you come to Riksdagshuset, the impressive complex of the Swedish Parliament House.
In residential Södermalm, an erstwhile working class, rural neighborhood, you’ll find modern plastered apartment buildings, churches, 300-year old wooden cottages and bright, beautiful Baroque buildings. Some cobbled streets wind half uphill and half downhill connecting the street to buildings constructed on different levels on the same street, making for a quirky but cool urban plan.
Outstanding examples of modern architecture are spread across the city such as the award-winning Victoria Tower, futuristic Stockholm Waterfront, burnished brass and oak Strömkajen Ferry Terminal building, and Stockholm Stadsbibliotek.
5. Stockholm Does Summer Like Nowhere Else
I highly recommend to visit Stockholm in summer; it’s a truly happy affair; the temperatures are just right, the days are pleasantly long, and everyone is outdoors. If people aren’t making the most out of the brilliant weather in parks or on beaches, then they’re away in summerhouses or sailing around the Stockholm Archipelago in their boats.
Summer, in June, is when the sky never completely plunges into darkness; after a canvas of pale blue and white cloud streaks in the day, it just turns into a deeper midnight blue, even when you shut your blinds and get into bed.
Summer is a time of outdoor festivals and pop-up markets and food trucks, and when it’s always a good time to grab an ice cream (glass in Swedish) and enjoy it as you stroll along the water.
Summer is when you don’t need an excuse to head to the pier to jump into the water or go to the beach to sunbathe.
And what better way to experience summer in Sweden than to spend Midsummer there? Midsummer is a Swedish tradition and is celebrated on the longest day of the year, when the sun doesn’t set in some parts of the country (such as Swedish Lapland) and sets only for a few hours in Stockholm.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be invited to a local Midsummer celebration in the countryside which involves eating and drinking excessively (think pickled herring, potatoes, shortbread, and fresh salads, and bitter snaps), women and children with wild flowers wreaths in their hair, and dancing around flower-adorned maypoles (phallic symbol that originates from paganism) in jolly drunken revelry, and find yourself in Stockholm instead, join the public Midsummer celebrations at the Skansen Open-Air Museum, that involves three days of folk music, dance, workshops, and delicious Midsummer food.
6. The World’s Longest Art Exhibit is in Stockholm
The Stockholm subway (T-bana or tunnelbana in Swedish) system is often referred to as the ‘World’s longest art exhibit’ as 90 of the city’s 100 subway stations, spread along 110km of the subway network, are home to unique and interesting art installations, sculptures, painting, engravings, mosaics, relics, and other works by over 150 artists.
The subway is a vital and reliable mode of public transportation, and while visiting Stockholm you’ll find yourself using it often to get around the city, or even to get to the city from the airport.
The artistic transformation of the subway system began in the 1950s with the work of different artists exploring political, social, environmental, and cultural themes such as feminism, deforestation, and the working class. It resulted from the opinion that art needed to be accessible to every class of society and not something just to be enjoyed by the elite in museums and galleries.
At the Kungsträdgården subway station, you’re transported to the site of an archaeological excavation and underground garden with historical relics. At Östermalmstorg, the work of artist Siri Derkert features drawings drilled into the cement showing female icons. The rainbow colors of the rock walls at Stadion represent the five rings of the Olympic movement, as Stockholm hosted the 1912 Olympics close to this station.
At T-Centralen, Stockholm’s Central Station that you’ll surely pass through at least once, the blue and white ceilings and walls feature silhouettes of the very workers who built it, tiny figures hard at work with tools and equipment, and are the work of artist Per Olof Ultvedt, created in the 1970s.
Each station is a glimpse into the political and cultural context of the time in which its art was created, and the art exhibit is always evolving as the work of new artists replaces or builds on older works, creating an interesting and dynamic backdrop against which daily life plays out.
7. Fika or Swedish Coffee Culture
Stockholm has a strong coffee culture or fika which translates to a coffee break, taken any time of day, often with a slice of cake, pastry, or piece of pie. What makes fika special is that it’s that time of day where you can pause, slow down, and reflect over a steaming cup of coffee, indulge a little with a slice of cake or treats like kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) and chokladboll (chocolate ball coated in coconut), either by yourself or over intimate conversation with a friend or family.
It’s unhurried and allows for a moment of stillness in the middle of your day, preferably at a cozy café with clean, minimalistic Scandinavian design with just the right aesthetic to suit your mood. Of course, if you can experience fika by a bonfire in the countryside or on the islands, there’s nothing like it, but if you’re just visiting Stockholm and looking for cafés there, here are some recommendations.
While I was careful about eating out too often, seeing as how quickly sit-down restaurant meals depleted my budget, I couldn’t help but indulge in this Swedish ritual, fuelled by my own love of coffee and bright summer days. Fika is a great excuse to check out the city’s cool cafés, of which there are many, indulge your sweet tooth, and people-watch. If you’re deeply interested in fika, read more about it here.
8. The Stockholm Archipelago Is a Ferry Ride Away
Not being much of a city person, I was comforted by the fact that I could hop onto a Waxholmsbolaget ferry and explore one or more of the 30,000 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago or take bus and train connections to some of them. As it turned out, Stockholm wasn’t the kind of city that needed escaping from, however, I took every opportunity to head into the Stockholm Archipelago and really embrace the best of Swedish summertime.
The archipelago’s islands and islets, some no more than a rock with enough space for two, offer landscapes that get more rugged and jaw dropping the further you get away from Stockholm with jarring rocky cliffs, marshland, sandy beaches, pristine forests, and hidden coves.
The city’s residents escape to summerhouses on the quieter islands for days of fishing, hiking, swimming, and being in nature, or sail around the archipelago for days, sleeping overnight in their boats docked in harbors. While those closest to Stockholm, such as Fjäderholmarna see plenty of tourists (and are still interesting), there are many islands further away that are home to between 20-100 people, even in the summer, and are the perfect place to detox, disconnect, and slow down.
A random online search for accommodation that wasn’t too expensive took me to Bryggholmen to enjoy four days of hiking bliss in a nature reserve staying at a lovely family-run B&B, a press trip took me to the islands of Utö and Sandhamn and to tour the archipelago by RIB, something I highly recommend doing when in Stockholm. I also visited the islands of Svartsö, Ingmarsö, and Stora Kalholmen, staying in hostels and attending a community music festival. If you’re planning your own trip, you’ll find this list of islands useful.
“How did you find this island?” was a question that I got from locals who were surprised to see a foreign tourist on lesser-known islands that didn’t have any sights, attractions, museums, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, or in some cases, even running water.
On one of the islands, a teenaged cashier at the only supermarket in town, a 4km. hike from my hostel, blushed as he observed my suntanned brown skin, confiding he hadn’t seen anyone with my skin color on his island before. Perhaps that was the moment it dawned upon me that I had ventured far into the Stockholm Archipelago. Back at my hostel in Stockholm, when I told the receptionist where I’d been out exploring the archipelago, he admitted he’d never heard of some of the islands I’d been to; he had no reason to know of them unless he had a summerhouse there.
To me, a trip to Stockholm is incomplete without a venture into the Stockholm Archipelago. Even if you don’t have the time to spend overnight on one of the islands, do a day cruise of the archipelago or a kayaking trip to see its beauty.
Traveling around Sweden? Read about the perfect day trip to Malmo.
9. Stockholm’s Museums are Far From Boring
I’m not a museum person at all and I’d rather spend time hiking through the countryside than in a museum looking at ancient manuscripts, coins, clothing, armory etc, you get the idea. But even I have to admit that of Stockholm’s many museums (there are over a 100!), I found some to be especially interesting. Now of course this really depends on your own interests, so do your research before you decide which museums are worth visiting, but museum hopping is one of the most legit things to do in Stockholm.
The great part is that many museums offer free entry while some offer free days during the week. It’s worth finding out about that and checking if the museums you are interested in are included in the Stockholm Pass. With free entry to over 60 attractions including museums and bus and boat tours, it’s good value for money if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing and use public transportation.
As a keen photographer, I absolutely loved visiting Fotografiska and spent an afternoon seeing the deeply impactful work of some talented documentary photographers and contemporary exhibitions. It was also great to visit the quirky cool Dansmuseet and look at Rolf de Maré’s collection of art, costumes, and objects associated with dance and theater sourced from around the world. If you grew up listening to ABBA, you shouldn’t miss the fun and interactive ABBA Museum where you can karaoke and dance on a stage with the band in a mock concert, meet ABBA holograms, and look at the epic costumes of the band.
Other museums to visit include the Vasa Museum that exhibits the 17th-century preserved Vasa warship that sunk on its maiden voyage, Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum that showcases rural Swedish life and farms in the 16th century, Spritmuseum that explores the history of alcohol, and Moderna Museet, the museum of modern art with pieces by acclaimed contemporary artists and the likes of Dali and Picasso.
10. Stockholm Feels Safe
For the most part, Stockholm feels safe; there are no scams to watch out for, no rampant pickpocketing, you don’t expect your wallet to be stolen or your purse to be slashed on the subway, and you don’t expect to be mugged as you walk home through a park. Traveling in summer, at all hours of the day and late into the night, I never felt once like I had to look over my shoulder.
If you’re lost as a tourist or need help, everyone speaks English, so while you might be waiting a while to make eye contact with a Swede, if you just go up to one and ask for help, you’ll almost always get it.
That being said, at times, especially late evenings, I was cautious of suspicious looking groups of boys and men in the immediate vicinity of T-Centralen and the station itself. Why might I think of them as suspicious? There was something about the way they eyed people, pushed and shoved each other, and their body language that intuitively made me want to avoid being around them. But I never faced an untoward incident, and everywhere else in Stockholm felt a hundred percent safe.
11. It’s Great To Travel Solo To Stockholm As a Woman
When you’ve traveled a fair bit by yourself as a woman, you can usually tap into how a culture views women by experiencing how it feels to be one, solo, in a new city. In some cities, you garner attention by just being a woman out and about on her own, in others, men think their unwanted attention is flattering, and in some others, you’re an object of curiosity. I’m happy to report that in Stockholm, no one cares that you’re a solo-traveling woman, and that is just perfect.
The Swedes are known for their reserved nature, but from experience, I can say that once you get to know them, they’re friendly, helpful, and open-minded.
Yet their ability to handle silences without making them awkward, their lack of need to ask inappropriate questions or pry out personal information (“Are you married?” or “Where’s your husband?” or “Where are you staying in Stockholm?”) and their respect for privacy and discretion makes it an absolute joy to travel in Stockholm as a woman. While I chatted up many locals in festivals or food markets or on beaches, not one asked me an inappropriate question or made a distasteful comment, something I can’t say for everywhere I’ve been.
12. The World Can Learn From Stockholm’s Latte Papas
Sexy, smartly dressed bearded men pushing baby strollers around the city in the afternoons and groups of young dads at cafés, each with their infant, are a fairly common sight in Stockholm.
During my first week there, I wondered why these men who looked like they’d stepped out of a fashion magazine, new dads no doubt, weren’t at work. As it turns out, ‘latte papas’ is a term used fondly (or dismissed as silly, depending on who you ask) to refer to stay-at-home fathers on parental leave as sole caretakers of their children while mothers return to their careers. Yes, this means changing diapers, potty training, and cooking for their child while their spouse returns to work or education, for at least 90 days.
How great is that?
This cultural shift took place over the last decade and is applauded worldwide for its contribution to level the playing field for women in the workplace in Sweden.
“In 1974, Sweden was the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave, giving both partners the chance to spend time at home with their children. Parents are entitled to share 480 days of parental leave for each child, including adopted children. Mothers and fathers get three months each, then split the rest as they see fit, and can even take the leave at any time until the child turns eight.” (Source: The Times)
What makes this truly special is the shift in the Swedish cultural mindset, without which of course any effort would be cosmetic at best. Young Swedes of all genders view latte papas as sexy and desirable, mature and evolved, modern and nurturing, and as fathers who aren’t afraid to step up and embrace the entirety of their roles. It’s cool to be someone who can become a latte papa, and it’s cool to show off your sensitive, caring side along with your masculinity.
In Sweden, there is no stigma attached to being the man who took nine months off to care for his child while your partner goes back to work. After all, child rearing is a responsibility that should fall equally on both spouses, not heavily on the woman.
Every time I passed a latte papa in Stockholm, it brought a smile to my face thinking about how great it must be for the mother to return to work knowing that her loving, capable, and responsible spouse is looking after her child.
13. The Vintage Stores Are Great
My obsession with flea markets and all things vintage led me to spend several hours browsing through the vintage boutiques and second-hand stores in hipster Södermalm to chance upon delightful finds such as a beautiful pashmina scarf, a vintage leather briefcase, handcrafted boots, retro sunglasses, flapper dresses, embellished leggings, antique jewelry and what have you. Inspired, I even wrote this piece on the blog.
When I needed a pair of denim shorts, I headed straight to one of the second-hand shops to spend a cool 30SEK ($3.63) for a pair that has lasted me two years and is still going strong. If you find yourself looking for a winter coat or warm clothing, try one of these stores rather than spending a small fortune for something brand new.
There are also some great vintage furniture and décor stores, and if I had the luggage space and wasn’t visiting four countries before returning home to Dubai, I’d have definitely tried to bring something back for my home.
Some second hand and vintage stores to visit are Myrorna (proceeds go to the Salvation Army) and Stockholm Stadsmission, both of which have a few branches around Stockholm, Siv & Åke, 59 Vintage, Beyond Retro, Modern Retro, Humana, and Lisa Larsson.
14. Stockholm is Home to the Biggest Ikea Store
Even back home, I’m obsessed with Ikea. For Scandinavian design lovers decorating on a budget, Ikea is a mecca of clean, minimalist, functional, and aesthetically pleasing pieces and décor that oozes hygge. Since I had an entire month in Stockholm, I couldn’t resist taking the free shuttle from Vasagatan 10, just across from the main train station in Stockholm to pay my respects at the world’s biggest Ikea store in Kungens Kurva that opened in 1965 and is spread over 56,301sqm and five floors.
Even on a weekday, it was busy (but not overcrowded) with shoppers buying home furnishings and furniture. I spent a few hours admiring the room displays, ate my most value-for-money meal in Stockholm at the restaurant (meatballs, mashed potatoes, and lingonberries plus dessert), and hopped on the last bus back to the city.
If you’re an Ikea fan, you might also enjoy reading about these Ikea secrets revealed by Ikea employees.
15. Stockholm is Multicultural
It didn’t take long to realize that Stockholm was very multicultural; on my first day in the city I saw faces from all around the world, and they weren’t all tourists; they were cashiers, bank tellers, students, restaurant staff, and store managers. Being born and raised in a city as cosmopolitan Dubai, I like cities that are a melting pot of cultures and home to international communities.
Thanks to its multiculturalism, when it comes to eating out in Stockholm, the options are endless, even if you’re on a budget. You’ll find fiery fish tacos, and tangy Vietnamese banh mi. You’ll find avocado toasts and overnight oats. You’ll find butter chicken and biryani, and thin-crust Margaritas baked in wood-fired ovens.
Interestingly, you’ll find the Swedish delicacy herring, served deep fried on rye, with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam, or in a burger or wrap with pickles at the Egyptian owned Nystekt Strömming, a legendary food truck outside the Slussen metro station that has been feeding hungry commuters for over two decades.
One time, I had a serious craving for Lebanese food and hummus (being a Dubai kid), and I headed to Falafelbaren in Söder for the crunchiest, tastiest falafels and creamy hummus I had tasted in over a month, so much that it almost brought tears to my eyes (no one saw).
16. Stockholm is Organized and Orderly
I like order. I like knowing that the bus/train/ferry will be right on time and that it will take me exactly X number of minutes or hours to get somewhere. I like knowing that I can count on a host to pick me up at the train station at exactly the time they said they would. I like standing in a queue with the security that no one is going to try to skip ahead of me. I like waiting for the traffic lights to change so I can calmly cross over instead of scuttling like an M&M run astray from its packet in the middle of oncoming traffic (I’m looking at you Hanoi).
While the adventure appeal of chaotic cities is undeniable, it’s nice to be traveling through cities like Stockholm that are orderly and organized, especially when you’ve been on the road for a while and the novelty of everyday things posing a challenge has worn off.
17. Stockholm Has Just the Right Vibe
I found the temperament of the reserved Swedes ideally suited to my own introverted nature. Constant conversation and eye contact are both overrated in my opinion anyway, and I always found it easy to find local company when I needed it.
One of the things I liked about my interactions with locals is they don’t do small talk, something I detest anyway, and so you can skip to the real stuff, as long as you’re non-intrusive and respectful. The Swedish don’t sugarcoat their opinions and recommendations and it is refreshing to not have to peel away layers to get to the heart of a conversation.
Just like the Swedes, Stockholm has a calm stillness to it, even though it’s busy and active. The city has a great nightlife, so it isn’t like there’s a lack of energy or fun vibe, but the balance between that and the quietness is just perfect.
18. Stockholm Has Great Food Markets
If you’re visiting Stockholm, definitely visit one or more of the city’s saluhallar or food markets where you can shop for local and organic produce (useful if you cook to keep costs down), everything from local cheeses and cured meats to pickled herring, lingonberry jam (delicious!), preservatives, and sweet treats that you can bring back home as gifts for friends and family.
Inside, you’ll also find cafés and restaurants selling freshly prepared market style meals. And it isn’t just that you’ll find Swedish food here, you’ll find everything from Lebanese and Italian to vegan meals. The three main market halls to visit are Östermalms Saluhall in Östermalm (currently undergoing renovation but there’s another covered market right across in the meantime), Hötorgshallen in Norrmalm, and Söderhallarna in Södermalm.
I had one of my most happiness-inducing meals in Stockholm at Beirut Café Deli in Östermalms Saluhall as a result of yet another Lebanese food craving; the food was authentic and delicious and really fresh. Lisa Elmqvist Fish, Seafood, Delicatessen & Restaurant in the same hall, also comes highly recommended if you want to try local seafood dishes. While you’re there, indulge your sweet tooth at Betsy Sandberg Chocolate.
Where To Stay in Stockholm
While many tourists look for places to stay close to Gamla Stan and the main sights, my absolute favorite part of town is Södermalm. Each time, I returned from the islands, I stayed in Söder because of how non-touristy, safe, and green it was. Plus accommodation is cheaper around here than other parts of the city. It’s hipster and cool and you’re never jostling crowds of tourists like you might be in the old town. Here are my picks for best places to stay in the area.
This is where I spent most of my time in Stockholm seeing as I was on a strict budget and I absolutely love this hostel in Söder. The hostel is clean and comfortable, has good beds, has female-only 4-bed dorms, two kitchens you can cook in (that I used every day), an onsite restaurant and bar, several common areas, a lovely garden, and is close to the metro. Just across from the hostel is a big park and walking along it you get to a waterfront promenade. It is popular with local families visiting from other towns and travelers of all ages and is perfect for introverts like me who won’t do party hostels or overly social hostels. Several restaurants and supermarkets close by.
Hostel on a boat? Yes please.
Scandic Sjofartshotellet (a lovely art hotel)
Watch The Video
Have you been to Stockholm? What did you love most about it?
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