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The Ultimate Guide To Stockholm

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is the home of Norse gods and Nordic Noir. Shaped by its archipelago of fourteen islands, all linked by bridges and walkways, it is easily one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe.

Here you’ll discover a rare city that mixes natural splendour, waterfront promenades and harbours, striking architecture and unforgettable attractions as well as sophisticated shopping and dining. The perfect destination for all types of traveller, from the backpacking wanderer to the honeymooning couple seeking luxury.

While it’s not cheap, Stockholm deserves at least a short stop from anyone travelling through Northern Europe, and is certainly mandatory on the classic continent-wide Eurotrip.


In This Guide

1. Map of Stockholm

2. Where to Stay in Stockholm

3. Day Trips

4. Getting Around Stockholm

5. Getting a SIM Card in Stockholm

6. Safety in Stockholm


Map of Stockholm

Stockholm is completely transformed between summer and winter; seamlessly endless sunny days, and atmospheric cold nights. Where you choose to stay in the city can also transform your experience.

In the map above I have outlined the four best areas to stay in Stockholm when visiting as a tourist. Each area is unique, so below we’ll break each one down; general vibe, things to do, plus some recommendations on where to stay. Everything you need to know on finding accommodation in Stockholm is detailed below.


Where to Stay in Stockholm

Gamla Stan (Old Town)

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

The medieval heart of the city, Gamla Stan is a bit like an open-air museum. Its maze of cobbled streets hide excellent museums, colourful churches, cosy cafes, trendy wine bars and boutiques. In snowy winter, you might even imagine yourself wandering through an old Viking village 😉

Start on Vasterlanggatan and Osterlanggatan, the oldest streets in the city, that lead to Stortorget, Stockholm’s oldest square. Fun fact: It was in this square in 1520 that the Danish conqueror Kristian II had 82 Swedish dignitaries arrested and beheaded.

Here you’ll also find Stockholm Cathedral, the country’s national cathedral, the Royal Palace, one of the largest in the world with over 600 rooms, and the Royal Armory, displaying a range of arms and armour. If you visit the Armory at right time you should be able to catch the daily changing of the guard, very cool indeed. Also remember to dive into the small side streets, some are as narrow as 90cm wide, but you’ll find some charming little shops and bars down there.

If you’re after a snack, stop in at Naturbageriet Sattva, a small bakery that does vegan versions of Swedish baked goods. At sunset, head over to Ridderholmen, Gamla Stan’s partner island, for the view across the water to Soldermalm and Kungsholmen. In the evening, head to the waterside square of Kornhamnstrong, which is full of friendly pubs. Try the Engelen for live blues and jazz.

Things to see in Gamla Stan:

  • Royal Palace, home to the current Swedish Royal Family, it stands on the same spot as the medieval Tre Kronor Castle that was destroyed in a fire in the 17th century. It is also home to five museums exploring the history of the state and the royal family.
  • Swedish Parliament, located on the island of Helgeandsholmen, the Neoclassical Riksdaghuset takes up half the island. It has a large glass gallery where visitors can observe live sessions of parliament.
  • Nobel Museum, a museum dedicated to the Nobel laureates, their achievements, biographies and acceptance speeches. It’s small, but there’s a lot to see and read in there.
  • Museum of Medieval Stockholm, shows the finds from a massive archaeological dig in the 1970s and tells the history of the city from the 13th to the 16th centuries.

Stay in Gamla Stan if:

  • Want to be in the historic medieval centre;
  • Are looking to travel to the Nordic past;
  • Are interested in the history of the Sweden’s Royal Family and Parliament.

Where to Stay in Gamla Stan

For the Backpackers – Hamilton Old Town Hostel

Right in the centre of Galma Stan, this hostel offers dorms only, but it’s pretty stylish. Staff are awesome and speak a variety of languages, and wifi is decent. You’re also only a stone’s throw away from some quality affordable eats. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotell Skeppsbron

Choose between a private or shared bathroom if you are trying to save money, and make the most of the well-serviced shared spaces in this hotel to mingle with other travellers. The hotel is actually located in a refurbished underground vault that is pretty darn cool. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – First Hotel Reisen

Situated right on the Gamla Stan waterfront, many rooms have stunning views of the Baltic Sea. It has a fitness room and massage parlour, and the onsite restaurant delivers top-end Swedish and international cuisine. There is also an award-winning bar frequented by guests and locals which often feature some locally loved DJs. If you want to do Stockholm in style, here’s your spot. Best rates here.


Djurgarden

Djurgarden, Stockholm

Located on Stockholm’s wealthy east side, this is one of the most naturally beautiful and affluent areas in the city. Once a Game Park for the Royal Family, it is part of the National City Parks and has vast areas of forested and open spaces that will make you forget that you are in the centre of a big city. Make sure to visit the Rosendals Tradgard, which explores the history of gardening (cooler than it sounds!). It has a rose garden with more than 100 species of roses, and you can get food made from produce grown in their organic vegetable garden.

Skansen is also worth a visit. The first open air museum and zoo in Sweden, sharing five centuries of Swedish history. Over 150 traditional Swedish farmsteads and dwellings have been reconstructed, and there are 75 different species of Scandinavian animals.

This is one of many museums in the area dedicated to history, but also the weird and wonderful. Try the Abba Museum and the Spirit Museum, where you can also enjoy a tipple. The outdoor bar at the Nordic Museum is also a must visit in the summer months.

For something a bit more exciting, head to Grona Lund, a small amusement park with some impressive rides.

Things to see in Djurgarden:

  • Nordic Museum, showcases Swedish livelihood, work and traditions from the 1520s to the present, and is the largest museum of cultural history in the region.
  • Vasa Museum, shows the salvaged remains of a 17th century ship, the worst built warship of all time that sunk just a few minutes into its maiden voyage in 1682. You can view all six levels of the reconstructed ship (it’s actually pretty cool).
  • Spirit Museum, explores Sweden’s complex relationship with alcohol, which was a major problem in the 1800s and is still one of the most regulated booze markets in the world.
  • ABBA Museum, dedicated to the Swedish phenomenon of the 1970s, discover the history of Swedish music and pick up some amazing souvenirs.
  • Junibacken, a children’s museum, and one of the city’s most popular. It celebrates the toys and cartoon characters that form part of the psyche of all the city’s children.

Stay in Djurgarden if you:

  • Want to experience the natural side of the city;
  • Are interested in an eclectic range of museums.
  • Are not on a very tight budget.

Where to Stay in Djurgarden

For the Backpackers – STF Gardet Hostel

Located just on the other side of the water to Djurgarden in Ostermalm, offering both dorms and privates. They offer a good breakfast to start the day, but you can also take to the street and try some of the different things on offer. Should have everything a seasoned backpacker needs. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Mornington Hotel Stockholm

Also located in Ostermalm, this hotel is just 150 metres from the metro station, and a less than a 20-minute walk to the main attractions on Djurgarden. The onsite restaurant does Swedish cuisine daily and offers an excellent brunch on the weekends. The hotel’s inner courtyard is also a great place for afternoon coffee or evening cocktails. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Hotel Hasselbacken

Stay in the heart of Djurgarden in the Hotel Hasselbacken. Many of the rooms have a waterfront view, and there is a gym and sauna for all guests. The restaurant is popular with tourists and locals alike, and the main sites of Djargarden are just a stone’s throw away. The premises itself is stunning, easily one of Stockholm’s finest. Luxury seekers won’t be disappointed. Best rates here.


Vasastan

Vasastan, Stockholm

While this northern corner of downtown Stockholm lacks the historic feel of Gamla Stan, it is trendy as hell and is full of excellent cafes. This is your spot if you’re hoping to really indulge in life as a Stockholm local. It is also the place for any of you thrift shoppers out there (me!!!). The streets are full of classic treasures, but among the best is A Bit of the Old Touch, which sells fashion and accessories from the early 1900s.

Head up to the 300-year-old Stockholm Observatory for a beautiful oasis garden and a fantastic view of the city. Do it like a Swede and take a picnic, or reward yourself with some excellent waffles at the café. Sven-Harry’s Art Museum is also worth a visit, housed in a six-storey glittering edifice, most famous for its rooftop, which is a replica of Sven-Harry’s home.

For food, head to Greasy Spoon for a killer brunch, or grab a cheese scone or cardamom bun for a morning snack at Café Pascal. In the evening, rock fans should head to RoQ for live rock and arcade games. For a beer and a feed, head to where Odengatan and Sveadagen meet – you will find some of the Stockholm’s best pubs and most affordable pints. Also try Tranan, a former beer hall that is now a seafood bistro, or Tennstopet, the Swedish answer to Cheers!

Things to do in Vasastan:

  • Cajsa Warg, a unique shopping experience full of small and personal boutiques. It also has an amazing food section full of healthy and organic produce.
  • Jewish Museum, founded in 1987 by a donation from Aron Neuman and his wife, this museum provides an interesting perspective on modern Swedish history, and the influence that Jewish culture has had.
  • Stockholm National Library, designed by renowned architect Gunnar Asplund, it is considered the most iconic landmark of Vasastan.
  • Stockholm Concert Hall, another architectural landmark, the Neoclassical building hosts world class events, including the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.

Stay in Vasastan if you:

  • Want to live like a local;
  • Want easy access to a vibrant but relaxed nightlife;
  • Enjoy shopping for vintage treasures.

Where to Stay in Vasastan

For the Backpackers – Hostel Dalagatan

If you’re after a highly affordable bed in the middle of Vasastan, this is the answer. They manage to keep prices down with a lot of smart services, and has everything you need for a great price. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Lilla Radmannen

This family run hotel has free wifi and a gorgeous rooftop terrace for observing the city skyline. The buffet breakfast includes a rich range of foods, and snacks and drinks are available all day in the cosy lobby bar. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Hotell Hellsten

You will feel like royalty in these stylish rooms, and when sitting down to the exceptional buffet breakfast. The hotel is also a destination for locals, hosting music events a few nights each week. Amazing place. Best rates here.


Sodermalm

Sodermalm, Stockholm

Stockholm’s south island is its most populous and its trendiest. It is full of independent cafes, markets, bars, clubs and music venues.

This area is also for shoppers. Start at Hornstull Gallerian, full of the most interesting boutiques. Next make your way to ‘Grandpa’ for some of the latest designer items and fashion, and then Sneakersnstuff for the ultimate shoe experience. If you’re after second hand treasures, head to Stockholm Stadtsmission.

Arguably the city’s best breakfast is at Pom och Flors. When it comes to lunch, head to the waterfront and check out the impressive variety of food trucks. You can also go to Teatern, in the Ringen centre, which is a food hall with theatre like seating and offers everything from fresh organic vegan to fish stew. If you want to eat more like a Swede, head to Meatballs for the People, where you can try a variety of meatballs including moose and wild boar (it’s really good).

Nightlife is bumping here. You can start the night at the Clarion Hotel which has a plethora of bars and restaurants for every taste. Head to Stage Bar and Kok for pub grub and live music, or try out Sodermalm’s floating bar Loopen. Akkurat is a must for beer lovers; they serve a huge selection of Belgian ales and Swedish-made microbrews.

If you visit in the summer, head to Eriksdalsbadet, Sweden’s National Swimming Hall, which has both indoor and outdoor pools. It has Olympic-size pools, diving pools, plus some waterslides and floaties, Jacuzzis and saunas.

If you want to get away from it all, head up to the cliffs of Sodermalm, which offers outstanding views of the city. It’s one of the oldest and wealthiest parts of the city which you can poke around. There are wooden paths laid out along much of the cliffs. Be sure to visit Monteliusvagen, one of the most charming streets in Stockholm.

Things to see in Soldermalm:

  • Fotografiska, photography museum with constantly changing exhibition.
  • Zinkensdamms Idrottsplats, venue for watching Sweden’s precursor to hockey with 11 players a side.
  • Tantolunden, trendy park that combines allotments, open spaces, outdoor gym, play area and waterside walks.
  • Folkoperan, modern opera venue with cutting-edge and often controversial productions.
  • Leksaksmuseet, museum of toys where you can fantasise about everything you ever wanted to own as a child.

Stay in Soldermalm if you:

  • Are interested in cool, modern Stockholm;
  • Love modern Swedish style and design;
  • Want to participate in the best of Stockholm’s nightlife.

Where to Stay in Sodermalm

For the Backpackers – Skanstulls Hostel

A friendly and vibrant hostel offering dorms and privates, it has some of the best bathrooms you can expect from a hostel. The friendly atmosphere makes it a great place for meeting other travellers to share experiences. Great prices too. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Hellstens Malmgard

This 18th century hotel has individually decorated rooms full of charm. They serve breakfast daily and have a beautiful terrace that guests can enjoy during the summer. They also rent bikes as an alternative way of exploring the city. Great value. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Hellstens Glashus

Beautifully furnished rooms, incredible staff, and perfectly located. Metro station is just across the street. Onsite restaurant does Nordic classics plus international favourites in fine dining style. This is boutique luxury at its best in the heart of Soldermam. Best rates here.


Day Trips

If you are staying for longer than a weekend and want to see a bit more of what Sweden has to offer, then there are a variety of day trips you can make from the city.

Uppsala

Uppsala

Located just 70 kilometres north of Stockholm and reachable in 40 minutes by train, Uppsala has been the ecclesiastical seat of Sweden since the 12th century, and is home to Scandinavia’s oldest university.

Small enough to explore on foot, visit Uppsala Cathedral, that was initially built around 1270, and Uppsala University, in particular its impressive 19th century library. Pop into Gustavianum museum to learn about Vikings and see mummies, and explore Uppsala castle, the 16th century stronghold of the Vasa dynasty.

I actually stayed a few nights in Uppsala – it is really charming and for just a short train ride away, definitely worth it.


Stockholm Archipelago

Stockholm Archipelago

While Stockholm is built on 14 islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, the archipelago itself has more than 30,000 islands.

A regular boat service leaves from central Stockholm to most of the larger islands. There you can join a boat cruise or rent a kayak to explore the individual islands, many of which offer excellent hiking. Make sure to stop off at Vaxholm Citadel, a 19th century fortress on the island of the same name.

If you aren’t confident to explore on your own, plenty of day trips leave from the city.


Tyresta National Park

Tyresta National Park

Just 30 km south-east of Stockholm, this beautiful national park can be reached in the car in 30 minutes, or by a combination of subway and buses, or as part of an organised day trip.

It is the largest untouched woodlands in Sweden outside the alpine areas and has a wide variety of unique plants and animals.

Hike, swim in its lakes, pick fresh berries to eat, and visit the Naturrum, a building shaped like a map of Sweden that is entirely eco-friendly.


Sigtuna

Sigtuna ruins

Just 50 kilometres north of Stockholm and reachable by train in under 2 hours, Sigtuna is Sweden’s first town, founded in the 10th century.

It is characterised by charming wooden buildings lining Lake Malaren and feels like stepping back in time.

There are lots of rune stones in the district that will appeal to Viking buffs, and nearby Skokloster Castle is one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions.


Birka

Birka

Just two hours from central Stockholm by boat, Birka is known as the Viking Village, founded around 750AD.

Today, traces of the people who once lived there are still visible and have been excavated and studied since the 19th century. It seems that Birka, on the island of Bjorko in Lake Malaren, was the most important trading centre in the area at its height.

It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site sharing a wealth of history and beautiful natural landscapes.


Getting Around Stockholm

Stockholm has an excellent public transport system that makes getting around quick and easy for locals and tourists alike.

The subway is the easiest way to get around. You will need to get an SL card to use the subway, as well as buses, trains, trams and ferries. It is not possible to pay in cash on the service. But you can buy and recharge tickets at most newsagent kiosks, and there is also an app for topping up. Subway lines will get you to most of the major points in the centre of the city, from where it should be easy to walk to your destination, but buses and trams are also available for those who prefer.

Stockholm is served by four airports, all of which are connected to the city by dedicated coaches, as well as public transport alternatives.

Arlanda is the busiest of Stockholm’s airports and has an express train that leaves every 15 minutes for a 20 minute journey. Slower Flygbussarna buses operate to and from all other airports.

Taxis are also available (but they aren’t cheap). Uber is available in Stockholm, but does not have as many drivers as most other big European cities.

Ferries are also a great ‘tourist’ way to get around if you have the time. There is a tourist ferry with multilingual audio-guides to help you get your bearings in the city.

However, during my time in Stockholm I spent a lot of time walking. Public transport is a little pricey and the city is reasonably small. It’s also a great city for walking, very safe and plenty of offbeat things to see and explore as you stroll.


Getting a SIM Card in Stockholm

Sweden has four networks: Telia, Tele2, Telenor and 3.

For data, it’s probably best to go for a data-only SIM from 3. However, Telia offers better coverage if you plan on travelling to more remote areas. If you need calls and data, the most affordable option is Tele2.


Safety in Stockholm

Stockholm is a very safe city, considered one of the safest in the world. The streets are also very well lit, which is not surprising considering the long, dark winter days.

Naturally tourists should be wary of pickpockets, and keep an eye out for people who have had a bit too much to drink late at night.

The areas of Varberg, Taby and Liljeholmen are not dangerous per se, but could be avoided at night if you don’t have a reason for being there. However, for the most part you can relax in Stockholm. Common sense is all that’s required for a safe and enjoyable stay.


Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Featured Image