We’re not quite sure how a country once renowned for being home to three of the nerdiest things ever produced (those would be Volvos, ABBA and IKEA) made the transition to super hip holiday destination; but this is exactly what Sweden’s managed to do in just a few years.
Stockholm, the country’s capital, seems to be the vacation hub of choice for most Europeans nowadays (not just Norwegians), but it’s not all that difficult to figure out why that would be. The city, as much of the country, is outstandingly beautiful. The city is perched atop 14 bridge-connected islands, boasts a mix of superlative modern and old-Nordic architecture, has more green open spaces than most other European countries and, let’s not forget, it’s inhabited by an indecent amount of impossibly leggy blondes.
This may require further field research…
As far as European capitals go, Stockholm is definitely on the diminutive side which works to its advantage; its compact centre, and easy to access outer suburbs, makes it ideal for those who don’t want to waste half their holiday time actually getting from place to place. The city is clean, the air blissfully unpolluted and, even at the height summer, the temps temperate enough to make sightseeing an enjoyable venture. The public transport system is one of the most efficient in the world and the locals are not only drop-dead gorgeous, but they’re very friendly and speak perfect English!
It’s really quite good that Stockholm has all this going for it…considering how expensive the city can be. Still, even in these times of world-wide economic uncertainty, Stockholm’s popularity is on the rise proving that when it comes to a quality, hassle-free getaway, a little extra splurge is considered worthwhile.
What you should know before you go
If it’s an incredibly diverse and effervescent vibe, eccentric scenes and avant-garde-anything you like most, then Stockholm may not be your cup of tea. Sweden may be clean, sleek and modern, yet it’s not exactly groundbreaking, unless it’s in the design and technology sectors.
People are still conservative at heart and there is a sense of uniformity and tradition to be felt, even along the streets of its largest city. Stockholm may be a European Capital, but the feel it exudes is that of a small village, where everyone knows one other and the emphasis is on intimate experiences rather than huge and raucous ones. As much as this may sound like a negative aspect, we truly believe it’s actually one of the city’s most endearing characteristics.
No matter how long you stay, or how often you visit, Stockholm is not a city you ever tire of visiting. It’s not one of those bustling metropolises which gets on your nerves after a while and catapults you to the airport utterly exhausted.
There’s is so much to see and do here that return visits are almost the norm. There may still not be that many people who have discovered Stockholm’s charms, yet those who do keep on coming back for more.
About those prices…
Sweden is just coming to grips with tourism, an industry which accounts for merely 2% of its GDP. As such, the choice of accommodation in Stockholm is not extensive and the options for cheap accommodation are even more restricted. If you’re not in a position to splurge excessively, we suggest you take your usual holiday comfort level down one notch. The city’s compact size and efficiency of transport means you need not stay in a central hotel to facilitate sightseeing. Head to the outer suburbs and you’ll not only save some cash but you’ll also get to experience the authentic suburban Swedish lifestyle.
Indulge in delectable meals from the myriad of food stalls to cut your restaurant expense account and stick to beer instead of wine or cocktails if you don’t want to run the risk of having a minor coronary when the bar bill arrives. If you think hotels are expensive, just you wait and see the alcohol prices!
The three best choices for accommodation in Stockholm
Gamla Stan: the city’s historic centre is set on its own isle smack bang in the middle of the city. Wonderfully enchanting, the cobbled stone hamlet is quaint and oh-so adorable, even though being so compact, it is about the only spot in the city which can get a bit crowded, especially when cruise liners dock in for the day.
It’s home to the Royal Palace, which is well worth a visit, as well as a plethora of delightful old buildings and lovely squares traversed by narrow pedestrian-only alleyways. Here you’ll also find lots of kitsch stalls selling souvenirs of the local arty kind.
Whilst this is by far the most expensive accommodation choice it is also the more convenient, especially if you’re visiting Stockholm just for the week-end.
Norrmalm: the city’s CBD and its commercial core, this is where most of the action is and where you’ll find most hotels, restaurants, clubs and bars. This is also the shopping mecca of Stockholm and home to Drottninggatan, the city’s main pedestrian shopping strip.
If a local tells you to meet them ‘in the city’, this is the area they’re talking about.
Sodermalm: if Stockholm could be said to have a hip, bohemian neighbourhood, then Sodermalm would be it. The architecture is diverse, the people young, arty and working class, all things which lend Soder a rather different vibe. Major attractions are lacking here but the heightened elevation means you’ll enjoy some of the best city views in all of Stockholm. If you want easy access to some lovely beaches then this would also be a great accommodation choice for you. Nudists welcomed!
Stockholm is service by four airports, the largest of which is Arlanda International Airport. It’s located about 40kms out of the city, yet getting there and back is made effortlessly thanks to a few well-organized transport options.
Unless you’re planning to pay for your bus/train tickets with your Credit Card it’s definitely recommended you change some cash at the airport before you do anything else. Exchange rate is about 10 Swedish Kroner for one British Pound.
Choose your preferred method of transport from the options below and purchase your tickets from the arrivals lounge to make your transfer swift. Here are your transport options into town, in order of expense:
Bus & Train Combo- £6: This cheap and cheerful option may be a bit of hassle, especially if you’re loaded with bags, travelling in the heat of summer or in Stockholm for the first time. It also takes almost twice as long to get into the city using a combination of local bus (# 583 to Mastra) and local train (from Mastra to Central Stockholm). This may just be ideal solely for cash-strapped backpackers!
Private bus transfer-£9: Arlanda Airport is serviced by two bus companies which connect passengers to Stockholm Central Station in about 40 minutes. Tickets cost the same for either and both run every 15 minutes during week-days and every half hour on week-ends. Flygbussarna and Swebus have ticket machines at the airport, although you can purchase tickets onboard if using a CC.
Airport Express Train-£26– the most expensive city transfer is also the fastest, so if time is of the essence head to the lower ground floor of the arrivals terminal and hop on a speedy train.
Stockholm’s other airports are serviced primarily by discount airlines from the UK and short-haul flights from Denmark and Belgium. It pays to confirm which airport you’ll be flying into, especially if on a low-cost flight.
Both Vasteras and Skavsta airports are about 100kms out of the city (in different directions) and both are well serviced with convenient and speedy connection into Stockholm. Airport express coaches in both airports will see you into the city in about an hour and a half, with tickets costing about £15.
Getting out and about:
Stockholm is home to the one of the most efficient public transport systems in the world; between buses, trains, light rails and ferries you’ll be able to reach every corner of the city with ease.
Considering the fact that even public transport can be expensive here (think £2 per 5 minute train ride) getting a Stockholm Card definitely a worthwhile investment if visiting for more than just a day.
The card grants you access to over 80 POIs as well as free public transport rides for the duration of your stay. The most sold option is the 3-day card for £80. Use this nifty online travel planner before setting off and visit the humongous Tourist Info Office next to the city’s Central Station as soon as you arrive and grab a free city map.
Stockholm by night via Wikimedia
Old Town Centre via Wikimedia
Stockholm canal, Matthew Zimmermann via Flickr
The Vasa, Akasped via Flickr
Royal Palace, Ivar Struthers via Flickr