Stockholm glistens majestically in the warmer months as residents pour into the streets and explore the city’s 30,000 islands and islets. Meander through the picturesque old town, explore a historic sailing vessel or take a ferry to a sparsely populated outer island for a unique vacation that, thanks to a stronger dollar, is no longer quite as expensive as it used to be.
The history of Stockholm dates back to the 13th century, when it was established and quickly became the largest, most powerful city in Sweden. Today, the city has a diverse population of nearly 800,000.
What to See
Stockholm may cover thousands of islands but the main sights are located in a relatively compact area in the center.
The city’s old town is full of quaint houses and cobblestone streets. The Royal Palace anchors the hill in unremarkable fashion but beyond is a neighborhood meant for exploring. Gothic brick cathedral Storkyrkan (Sankt Nikolai kyrka aka the Great Church) sits in a tiny square near the palace. Around the corner in another picturesque square, the Nobel Museum (Stortorget 2, www.nobelmuseum.se) celebrates the life of Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize winners. The old town’s two main streets, Stora Nygatan and Prastagan, overflow with shops and restaurants. Just be careful when walking on the stones – comfortable shoes are a must.
The SpritMuseum (Djurgårdsvägen 38, www.spritmuseum.se/en/) is a fun destination detailing the history of spirits in tightly regulated Sweden. The standing exhibits include the Absolut Art Collection, with 850 works showcasing the vodka company’s contributions to the art world and Sweden: Spirits of a Nation, a four season sensory exploration of alcohol in Swedish culture. Don’t bother buying the sensory package that accompanies the main exhibition as it doesn’t enhance the experience. Open daily until 6pm (until 5pm Sept 1 – May 31); Admission $12.50, $6.25 seniors, free 17 and under. The restaurant is excellent and highly recommended – see below.
Practically next door is the Vasa Museum (Galärvarvsvägen 14, www.vasamuseet.se/en), a giant 17th century ship stuffed inside its own building. It may seem
odd to devote a museum to a ship that sank on its first and only journey, but the visit is surprisingly engaging and worthwhile, especially for history and sailing buffs. Open daily until 5pm Sept 1 – May 31, 8:30am – 6pm. Admission $16, Students $12.50, free 18 and under.
Kids will enjoy Skansen (www.skansen.se), an open air museum of Swedish historic buildings, gardens and zoos.
Stockholm’s downtown is a vibrant, crowded destination best known for shopping. NK (www.nk.se/stockholm) is the city’s best known, and quite swank, department store, housed in a building dating back to 1915. Nearby, Bibliotekstan is a micro-neighborhood full of Scandinavian and international designers alike. Whyred and Acne are just two shops worth checking out for a taste of the local design scene. Afterwards, head up hill to the Östermalms Saluhall (Östermalmstorg 114, www.ostermalmshallen.se), a vibrant food hall full of antique stalls selling meats, fish, cheese and pastries, as well as restaurants.
Once considered sketchy and downtrodden, Södermalm has reinvented itself as the city’s hippest district. Like so many other revitalized neighborhoods around the world, this island is full of boutiques, bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Stroll up from Slussen to Hornsgatan or the pedestrianized Gotgatan. Don’t miss the hike up to Monteliusvägen, a narrow path that wends its way atop a cliff and offers stunning views of the city across the harbor.
Getting There: Intercontinental flights arrive at Stockholm Arlanda. Skavasta and Vasteras handle low cost airlines like Ryan Air and are far removed from the city. From Arlanda, take the Arlanda Express train (www.arlandaexpress.com/) to Stockholm’s central station. The trip is a quick 20 minutes and trains depart every 15 minutes most of the day. Tickets are around $34 one-way but you can save up to 45% by purchasing 90 days in advance. Groups can also purchase fares for 2, 3 or 4 so explore your options online far in advance. The Flygbussarna Airport Coach (www.flygbussarna.se/en) travels between downtown and each airport. Trip time varies from 45 minutes to Arlanda to 80 to Skavasta and Vasteras. A one-way ticket to the city from Arlanda is about $12.25.
Getting Around: Using public transportation takes some getting used to and payment options are not particularly visitor friendly. There are three zones and tickets are valid for 75 – 120 minutes depending on the zone. While you can purchase an individual ticket or even have one texted to your phone, this is the most expensive option at about $4.40 for a one-way, single zone trip (with transfers within 75 minutes). If you are taking multiple trips, spring for an SL Access Card, which costs about $2.50 (non-refundable). You can add on 100 SEK ($12.30) or more to cover trips that start at 25 SEK ($3.10) – if you plan right you can save money this way but you are left with the card after your trip. The tickets and SL Access Cards work on the metro, busses, trams and many (not all) ferries – just touch the card to a reader. Note, you can get 1 card for couples or groups but then you need to go to an agent every time to be let into the metro system.
Other transport options do exist but taxis are extremely expensive and since fares are not regulated, prices can vary greatly. Popular ferry routes include Slussen to Djurgården – be prepared for packed boats in the summer.
Language: Swedish, English is spoken nearly everywhere
Currency: Swedish Kroner (SEK)
Tipping: Not mandatory, a general rule is to round up on restaurant and bar bills, leaving 5% will suffice in an upscale establishment
Weather: The best time to visit Sweden is in the summer from June to September or early autumn. Spring can be rainy and winter dreary, though temperatures are not as frigid as you might expect. The average high for mid-summer is generally in the low 70s so a jacket is advisable at night.
Where to Eat & Drink
Prinsen (Mäster Samuelsgatan 4, www.restaurangprinsen.eu/en/) pairs classic European brasserie cooking with an extensive wine list. The beautiful dining room’s walls are lined with sketches, portraits and paintings by the many artists who have passed through the doors. Try the Swedish meatballs, which come bathed in a tangy cream broth, or minced veal topped with lingonberries.
Near the ferries and Metro station at Slussen is Nystekt Stromming (Sodermalmstorg 1), the city’s fried fish emporium. Stromming means herring in Swedish and the must get here is fried herring on rye bread. Prices are super affordable – sandwiches start around $4.30 and combo plates top out at $9.25.
Top Swedish tocque Mathias Dahlgren (www.mathiasdahlgren.com) has two restaurants in the Grand Hotel (Södra Blasieholmshamnen 6), Matbaren and Matsalen. Matbaren serves bistro fare with a side of whimsy, while the upscale Matsalen offers a tasting menu in the dining room or Matbordet, a chef’s counter tucked into a corner of the room. Ask to see the Grand Hotel’s wine list, which is extensive with numerous bottles dating back decades.
The restaurant at the SpritMuseum (www.spritmuseum.se/en/) on Djurgården serves a menu full of fresh, locally sourced produce, meat and seafood paired with a natural wine list and microbrews. A summery soup with oysters, peas and salicorn, essentially green beans of the sea, brims with flavor, while succulent lamb from Skane in southern Sweden pairs well with earthy beets and chard.
Housed in a refurbished boat shed, Oaxen Slip (www.oaxen.com) is best enjoyed in the summer as the outdoor patio provides a picturesque view of the neighboring island of Beckholmen. Hit it during crayfish season to enjoy this delightful delicacy. The infused aquavits with flavors like dill and coriander or cumin, anise and sherry are a great way to end the meal. Upstairs, Oaxen Krog holds two Michelin stars and serves 6-course ($220) and 10-course ($260) tasting menus.
Natural wine lovers flock to 19 Glas (Stora Nygatan 19, www.19glas.se), a cozy room with a smattering of tables where you can enjoy a $60 four course prix fixe menu with dishes like pork with lingonberries and green cabbage. Ordering wine proves a bit of a challenge – yes they have a list but they don’t have all the wines listed. Just tell the staff the producers you like and they will find you something. The collection of craft brews is also stellar.
A fun place for a drink or dinner, especially at sunset, is Erik’s Gondolen (Stadsgården 6, www.eriks.se/gondolen/). This popular restaurant juts out over the harbor offering sweeping views. It’s not cheap but it certainly isn’t a tourist trap either.
Unfortunately, the city’s cocktail scene is not as developed as in other major cities. Set on the site of Sweden’s first pharmacy way back in 1575 in the same square as the Nobel Museum, Pharmarium (Stortorget 7, www.pharmarium.se) is worth a visit. Here it is all about the infusions – up to recently illegal under Swedish law –the use of medicinal herbs and local spirits. Try the richly complex Wooden Ships with Wild Turkey Bourbon, Palo Santo (a South American tree), birch-smoked vermouth, Carlshamns Flaggpunsch liqueur, apricot and bitters, which arrives under a cloud of smoke. Pharmarium closes at 11pm Sunday – Tuesday (last call being half an hour earlier) so don’t expect it to be open late at night.