Updated: 9/1/2018 | September 1st, 2018
Most of the people who know me know that I love Sweden. It’s filled with beautiful landscapes, lakes, mountains, fjords, buildings, and of course people. If the country didn’t have such a harsh winter, I’d move to the capital city of Stockholm. It’s one of the most beautiful Old World cities I’ve ever been to. The people are nice, the city is easily walkable, it’s clean, it’s hip, and it has a great nightlife.
I think what makes Stockholm so charming is the setting. It’s a small city set among a bay full of little islands and inlets. Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) was built on the central island in the 13th century. The city was the capital of the Swedish empire and rose to prominence as a major trading center. Now it’s known for its architecture, expensive drinks, beautiful people, and green initiatives.
Most of the city’s historical charm is preserved in Gamla Stan, where the Royal Palace is located. But even outside of Gamla Stan, the buildings look historic and beautiful. The red, green, and yellow painted houses are especially so juxtaposed with fall foliage.
Moreover, the city is filled with nature. Trees line most of the streets, there are a lot of squares and parks, and you are never too far from the water.
There are a lot of things to do in Stockholm. I’m never bored when I go there, and many of the activities cost little money, which is great because Stockholm isn’t a cheap city.
Here are my top picks for what to see while in Stockholm:
Walk through Gamla Stan
This is the “Old Town” of the city, with gorgeous architecture and cobblestone streets. This was the original part of the city, and here you’ll see centuries-old buildings, the Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace, and the ancient homes of the aristocracy. The winding roads and alleys make for some great exploring and photography. In the summer it can get quite busy, so get there early if you want to explore without a crowd.
Tour the archipelago
It’s worth spending a day island-hopping. Take a bus or car to one of the main islands, and from there you can travel by boat to explore some of the other islands in the vicinity. You can find tours from many points within the city. The good tours are the full-day ones that take you out to more secluded islands.
Spend the day at Djurgården Island
This gorgeous island is located right in the middle of Stockholm. It’s a very popular place to go in the summer, with locals and tourists alike coming to visit. It’s a great place to take a stroll or have a picnic, visit the amusement park (Gröna Lund) or visit the historic Swedish village Skansen (which I’ll talk about below!)
The Vasa Museum
This museum houses the world’s only preserved 17th-century ship. This massive ship was supposed to highlight the power of the Swedish empire. Instead, the ship actually sank as soon as it left the dock and set sail. The cold waters of the bay preserved it the ship and now you can view it all in its unsailable glory.
Galärvarvsvägen 14, +46 8-519-548-80, vasamuseet.se. Open daily from 8:30am-6pm (June-August) and 10am-5pm for the rest of the year. Admission is 130 SEK for adults with discounts available. Free for anyone under 8.
The Royal Palace
Sweden still has a monarchy, and the King is the official head of state (though it’s mostly just ceremonial). The palace was built between 1697-1754 in Gamla Stan and is where all the official duties are performed. It’s also where representatives from other countries can be met for official events. When there are no state events going on it’s open to the public.
Slottsbacken 1, +46 8-402-61-30, kungligaslotten.se/english.html. Open daily from 10am-4pm (5pm in the summer). Admission is 160 SEK for adults with discounts available for students and children.
This was actually the first open-air museum in the world. It’s is also a zoological garden specializing in Nordic fauna (featuring moose, reindeer, bears, lynx, and wolverines). The museum and historic village are located on Djurgården (an island in Stockholm). There are over 150 historic buildings from previous centuries that give a glimpse at life in pre-industrial Sweden. The hosts and hostesses of the park dress in historic clothing to give you a more realistic sense that you’ve traveled back in time. The hosts also illustrate traditional skills and jobs such as spinning, weaving, and glass blowing.
Djurgårdsslätten 49-51, +46-8-442-82-00, skansen.se. The park opens daily at 10am, but some attractions open later. Avoid going in the winter. Admission is 125 SEK for adults, with discounts available for children, seniors, and students.
Swedish History Museum
If you’re interested in Scandinavian history, this museum covers the Stone Age to the Vikings. Here you’ll find ancient treasures that date back to the Bronze Age all the way to the 16th century. The museum was founded in 1866 and the first collections were all of the items gathered by the Swedish monarchy over the centuries.
Narvavägen 13-17, +46 8-519-556-00, historiska.se/home. Open daily from 10am-5pm from June-August with reduced hours of operation during the rest of the year. Admission is free.
This art museum has works by famous painters and artists, including works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya, Renoir, Degas, and Gauguin, as well as famous Swedish artists like Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, C F Hill, and Anders Zorn. If you’re a not a huge art buff you’ll still enjoy the museum, and if you are a big fan then this collection will keep you busy for a while. It’s been under renovation recently but it reopens in October 2018.
Södra Blasieholmshamnen, +46 8-519-543-00, nationalmuseum.se/en. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-7pm (9pm on Thursdays).
The Medieval Museum is actually located underneath the Royal Palace. It’s one of the better history museums in the city (most are not that great, to be honest). It covers life in medieval Sweden and life in Stockholm during the middle ages. The exhibits are detailed and informative, and the museum does a great job of illustrating how the city grew into what it is today.
Strömparterren 3, +46 8-508-316-20, medeltidsmuseet.stockholm.se. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 12pm-5pm (8pm on Wednesdays). Admission is free.
Fotografiska is a photography gallery in the city that is home to numerous exhibits that showcase some awesome works of contemporary photography. The collections are quite expansive and there is also a bar on the top floor that also offers a great view of the city.
Stadsgårdshamnen 22, +46 8-509-005-00, fotografiska.com/sto. Open Sunday-Wednesday from 9am-11pm and Thursday-Saturday 9am-1am. Admission is 145 SEK for aduls and 115 SEK for students and seniors.
ABBA: The Museum
A trip to Stockholm wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the quirkiest museum in town: the ABBA museum. While admission isn’t cheap, this is a fun and interesting museum that’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the pop sensation (or if you just want to see how silly the museum is!)
Djurgårdsvägen 68, +46 8-121-328-60, abbathemuseum.com/en. Open daily from 10am-6pm (7pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays). Tickets are 250 SEK for adults with discounts available for students, children, and families.
Stockholm’s City Hall is a historic brick building with daily guided tours. On the tour, you’ll visit the official government areas and learn about the history of the building and local government You can also go up the tower (for an additional 50 SEK) for amazing views of Gamla Stan and the city.
Hantverkargatan 1, Kungsholmen, +46 8-5082-9058, international.stockholm.se/the-city-hall. Tours are available several times a day, depending on the time of year. Tickets are 110 SEK per person, with discounts for students and seniors. No pre-booking.***Stockholm is an expensive city to live in, but after having lived in many parts of the world, I found the city to be no more expensive than a bad day in New York. You can find cheap meals, relatively inexpensive cider and beer, and hostels that cost as much as a cheap motel. It’s more expensive than Paris, but it’s not as expensive as people expect it to be. (For that, go to Oslo!)
I spent most of my money in Stockholm on food. While there are “cheap eats,” most restaurants turn out to be quite expensive when the price is converted back into dollars. A Vietnamese dinner in Stockholm, for example, cost me around $30 USD, and all I had was a beer and soup. Going out to dinner will ruin your budget.
But despite its costs, Stockholm is a magical city, and I’m happily willing to pay the price if it means I get to visit. There’s just so much beauty there, and in the summertime, the city is one of the most alive places on earth. Swedes value the small amount of nice weather they get, so expect lots of late nights (after all, the sun sets at 11pm and rises at 3am), festivals, and people looking to sociable time.
Be sure to visit Stockholm.
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