Nicknamed the Venice of the North, Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, quickly became one of my favourite cities. Made up of 14 islands in the inner city, Stockholm is a Scandinavian gem with tons to offer. Although it is also one of the most expensive places I have been (yay for $10 beers), my two days in this city were worth every penny.
Stockholm boasts four airports. The Arlanda airport is the main international airport and served by many major airlines. As the biggest airport, there are plenty of ways to get into the city centre including airport busses, city busses, the Arlanda express train, regular train, and of course taxi. Your best bet is to take a stop at the welcome office and ask for advice on the best (and possibly budget friendly) way to reach the city depending on the time of your arrival.
The three other local airports are Bromma: mostly for domestic flights or flights to nearby Scandinavian and Baltic countries, Skavsta Airport: home to Ryanair and Wizzir flights, and finally Västerås airport, which runs Ryanair routes to London. I recommend using Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights.
Stockholm also has a major bus station (Cityterminalen) and Train Station (Stockholm Central) which offer connections to other major cities within Sweden as well as Copenhagen. Some bus lines also offer journeys to major European capitals including Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Zagreb.
Of course, being on the water, Stockholm is also home to several ports in which you can find ferry and single of multi day cruise services throughout the Scandinavian and Baltic areas. Multi-day cruises are on of the most budget friendly options for the Scandinavian area (even the locals use them and refer to them as ‘party boats’). If you plan on only going one way, do yourself a favour and check the return price as well before you book; it just may be cheaper. *If you are interested in Baltic cruise lines check out my review for the Tallink Silja line here*
Stockholm is well connected; but it’s much cheaper to use your own feet. However, as the city is made up of multiple islands, this isn’t always the most time-friendly option.
For those unable to walk large distances, or are pressed for time, the city offers regular public transportation by way of bus, metro, train and boat. Bus stops can be found throughout the city, but be aware that tickets need to be purchased ahead of time (your hostel or hotel will usually sell them) as they are not for sale on the bus.
For those looking to hop over to another island, a boat is probably your quickest option. Tickets can be purchased at the machine on the dock, where you may also have to press a button to call the boat to you. It’s not cheap, I paid $7CAD in 2014, but it did save me probably 30-40 minutes of walking.
For those staying a couple of days, it may be worth looking into a hop on hop off bus and boat ticket, or Stockholm Pass which includes the cost of transportation. If the weather is nice, you may also want to consider renting a bike.
Where To Stay
Stockholm offers a variety of accommodation choices. If you are looking for a neat experience, I highly recommend staying on a ship. I choose the AF Chapman Hostel and it quickly became one of my favourites in terms of the ‘cool’ factor. There are plenty of boat hostels in the city, just make sure to read the reviews first; I was told by other travellers that some are rather old and dirty. If you are looking for something on land, check out the Scandic Gamla Stan in old town (Gamla Stan) And don’t forget about Airbnb, which often has affordable options.
Stockholm is full of 4* hotels, but they come with a high cost. Last minute bookings are generally not a problem, and although they may be a little cheaper, will still cost a pretty penny. Inexpensive beds in dorms are hard to come by, so make sure to book in advance.
Given that the city is so large and spread out, location is an important thing to keep in mind. Accommodation near Gamla Stan or the Sergels Torg and Drottninggatan areas will have lots to offer in terms of restaurants and entertainment. While other areas, such as Skeppsholmen Island (home of the af Chapman) have no restaurants to speak of and require a 20-30 minute walk to find food.
What to See and Do
Stockholm has no shortage of things to see and do to keep you busy during your stay. Full of art galleries and museums, history and architecture, and of course ghost stories, there’s something to peak everyone’s interest. A few of my favourites are:
Gamla Stan, or Old Town, is, in my opinion, the prettiest area of Stockholm. Once considered the grungy part of the city, this island has been cleaned up and is now boasts some of the most expensive real estate. Exploring the cobble stone alleys, and winding paths is the perfect way to spend a few hours. Little stores, coffee shops, and restaurants are a dime a dozen, making it the perfect place to shop for souvenirs and sit for a break. Gamla Stan is also home to some of Stockholm’s most impressive buildings including the Nobel Museum, Stockholm Cathedral, and the Royal Palace. Fun fact: ABBA used to live in this part of town- you can still find the building.
The Royal Palace
Like any good European Capital, Stockholm boasts a beautiful Royal Palace. Located on Stadholmen in Gamla Stan is open to visitors (but check the schedule before visiting, when I was there it was closed Mondays). Although the Palace is not the actual residence of Swedish Royalty (you can find them in Drottningholm palace), the Royal Palace is still considered to be a working palace as it where the offices for the Royal Family and the Royal Court of Sweden are located. In a nutshell, this means they have guards. Why is this exciting? Because the guards for the Swedish Royal Palace will actually talk to you, unlike many of their European counterparts (ahem England). Go ahead and say ‘hi’ – I dare you!
The tourist and local favourite, Drottninggatan is a major pedestrian only street. Usually packed with people it’s a fun area to wander and, if your wallet can afford it, shop! Drottninggatan is the main shopping area of the city, and here you can find everything from big chains to smaller, more specialized shops.
The main square of Stockholm, Sergels Torg is probably the city’s most central spot. It is here that people will rally for demonstrations, to celebrate Swedish sports wins, and to meet friends. It also makes a great place to take a break and people watch.
The Vasa Museum
As an adamant museum avoider I was shocked when I found myself purchasing a ticket to the Vasa Museum. But, after a friend in Copenhagen told me I HAD to see it I decided to take his advice- and was I ever glad I did. If you only have time for one museum during your stay- go here. Spend a few hours with an impressive a monster of a ship that sank in the harbour in the 1600s, only to be discovered and reclaimed over 300 years later. It’s incredible.
Another recommendation from the friend I met in Copenhagen, Skansen is a unique outdoor museum showcasing Sweden’s heritage. Little villages offer insight to traditional Swedish lifestyles while the zoo is home to a variety of Swedish wildlife including moose, reindeer, lynx, and bears. Before you leave make sure to also stop by the traditional bakery and grab a treat on the way out (just follow your nose- and the people in front of you!)
Free Tour Stockholm
Stockholm is another city taking advantage of their tips-only city tours, and being one of the top rated things to do in the city, it’s definitely worth your time. Tours meet at Sergels Torg and run about 1 hr 30min or so. I took the Old Town tour where we spent our time learning about the city’s dark history, finding traces of Viking history, and checking out ABBA’s old home. Check the schedule online to find tour times and dates.
Food and Drink
Two words of advice in this incredibly expensive city: Grocery Shop. Although there are lots of restaurants and cafes, the prices are jaw dropping. Example: I paid the equivalent of $17CDN for a bowl of soup. And no, it wasn’t anything fancy or special.That being said there are many popular places to eat, especially in Gamla Stan. If you are looking to eat out on a weekend make reservations ahead of time as these places fill up fast.
In terms of alcohol, well that may be scarier than the price of food. If alcohol is a must, try buying your own at one of the cities liquor store (note that they have normal working hours and are not open late or on Sundays). For the best deal, do as the locals do and sign up for a 2 or 3 day cruise of the Baltic area.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Sweden
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.
Planning a Trip? Don’t Leave Home Without
*Article updated January 2018