Sweden’s capital continues to be rated as one of the most liveable, as well as one of the most expensive, cities in the world. While this may seem contradictory to some, it does make a lot of sense when one considers the city is made up, in the vast majority, by wide open spaces. Whether that be in the shape of waterways or pristine parks, lakes, forests and beaches, the sheer amount of ‘free for all’ enjoyment the inhabitants indulge in help cement its sterling reputation as one of the cleanest and most relaxing ‘big’ cities in Europe. Add a healthy array of historic sites and that gorgeous and unmistakable Nordic architecture, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nifty holiday destination.
Head to Stockholm on vacation and you’ll also discover why the Swedes are madly in love with their sparkling hub. Day or night, summer or winter, the city that really never sleeps (at least in July!) is a fantastic holiday destination and offers something to see, do and experience for everyone.
Here’s our list of the best Stockholm experiences of all.
Channel you inner Viking in Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s medieval Old Town Centre is an absolute historic jewel and, while it may not be nearly as old as some other in Europe, it is spectacular nonetheless thanks to its pristine condition and distinctive architecture.
This is where the city was founded in the 13th century and where the most iconic historic sites of Stockholm can be found. This centre is very compact and extremely colourful, making it a pedestrian and photographer’s dream. Within Gamla Stan you’ll find a plethora of old churches, including the Stockholm Cathedral (the oldest church in the city) Riddarholmen (a 14th Century Abbey and possibly the most beautiful of all) and Tyska Kyrkan, the first German parish ever built abroad.
On the northern fringe of Old Town is where you’ll find the 17th century Royal Palace which is nowadays used by the Royal family mostly for ceremonial events. Gamla Stan is also home to various museums, the most important being the Nobel Museum in the old Stock Exchange building and the Medieval Museum (which is small but very educational).
No matter how many daylight hours you spend scouring every nook of Gamla Stan, make a point to come back here when the sun has set and the town centre drenched in the romantic hue of soft lighting. Should you be travelling at the height of summer, it may help to know that the ‘darkest’ part of the day will be about 2am. Bring your sunglasses.
Get your history fix with superlative views at Stadshuset
The Town Hall is one of the most visible sites in Stockholm and one of its people’s most beloved landmarks, even though it’s been around for less than a century. Its tall spire, complete with gilded three-crown national emblem, gifts some of the most breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and is definitely worth a climb.
The Hall was built using some 8 million red bricks and, while the outer facades may not be all that enticing (it’s as ‘extravagant’ as the North can get) its interior halls most certainly are. Used to hold the yearly Nobel Prize Banquet and the most significant political functions in Stockholm, the interior halls are beautifully designed and decorated, especially the Golden Room which is literally illuminated with 18 million gold mosaic tiles.
The Town Hall can only be visited by joining a guided tour (offered in various languages), something we’d highly urge you to do.
Be a real Stockholmer and stay up all night
We’ll start by stating that this is obviously a summer-only activity, for many an obvious reason. City dwellers in Stockholm have an obsession about not missing a single second of their summer, especially at the beginning of the season when they start emerging from their bona fide hibernation. As such, you’ll see plenty of locals enjoying their first cup of coffee out on their city balconies at 2am. At this time, the city is drenched in magnificent hues of magenta, rose and blue and the spectacle is one not to be missed.
Indulge in a delicious fika break
It may surprise you to hear that Scandinavians are world-leaders when it comes to coffee consumption, although because the statistics are based on money spent on coffee (certainly not cheap here) this could definitely be argued. Nevertheless, the Swedes’ love-affair with coffee is obvious, as is their weakness for sweet pastries. In Stockholm, the ritual of enjoying the two in one sitting is called ‘fika’. This coffee-break-with-a-sweet custom is as part of Swedish culture as braid-wearing and Volvo-driving.
Walk the streets of Stockholm and you’ll no doubt encounter scores of families and friends enjoying a leisurely fika complete with numerous cups of brew as well as several sweet treats. Do the same and order a moorish cinnamon scroll (kanelbulle) with your coffee several times a day and, if you manage to not put on weight after a few days, do let us know how you unlocked this most enigmatic and baffling Swedish secret.
See the city from a different perspective…with a kayak!
Most visitors will attest that Stockholm is a stunning city from every which way, yet few would argue that seeing it from the comfort of your very own kayak would not be tops. You can rent a kayak from Stockholm Adventures or join one of their guided tours through the city’s narrowest canals, all the way out to the archipelago taking in plenty of island visits along the way. You could also go on an overnight kayak/camping safari to one of the many uninhabited islands, taking in some of Stockholm’s most striking natural escapes.
Sweden’s passion with eco-everything extends to these tours, regarded as the first and best eco-tours in the whole Northern Hemisphere.
Go in search of some horny locals
Before you catapult yourself on one of the stunning young things walking around, we urge you to hold yourself back. We meant the other horny locals: the moose! Or is it elks? Urgh…the long-held dilemma of the naming of the alces alces may cause frustrations in both Europe and North America, yet the easiest solution would be to call them whatever you like. They don’t seem to show preference to one name over the other!
Sweden is home to several prime nature parks, yet you need not venture very far to encounter a few specimens of the country’s most distinctive wildlife. From spotting elks-moose, deer, wolves, lynx, boar and even a few shy foxes if you’re in luck, the Wildlife Safari offered by Stockholm Adventures is another priceless experience you ought not to miss.
These evening wildlife trips last 4 hours and cost about £63, which is actually one of the best-priced experiences in Stockholm. Transport is with air-conditioned coach, groups are small, guides are excellent and the forest walks simply brilliant. Oh…and you’ll also get to fika so, you know, way to combine 2 experiences!
Get an eyeful of village life in Sweden during the good ol’ days
We’ll be the first to admit that the shenanigans you’re likely to experience in the world’s oldest open-air museum were authentic to Sweden some 500 years ago. It still doesn’t make them any less authentic because they are now re-enacted for the masses of tourists!
The Skansen Open Air Museum & Zoo is a wonderful park which expands over 75 acres. It was the brainchild of one Artur Azelius, a scholar and folklore aficionado, who was adamant that Sweden should not lose its ties with its agricultural past.
This park aims to bring Sweden’s culture and life of the past five centuries to life and it does this in brilliant fashion. More like a ‘mini Sweden’ complete with all the varied architecture, period costumes and entire villages of days gone by (from every corner of the country) Skansen is a great place to spend a whole day in, and a fantastic way to learn all about the real-life history of the country without even leaving the confines of Stockholm.
The compact but well-kept zoo is home to some of Sweden’s most popular wildlife and is a great addition to the already enticing museum. You’ll find Skansen on Djurgarden island, Stockholm’s premier free-time hub and a place well worth exploring at length.
Let us help you with that…
Step into the wild, right in the centre of town
What started as a Royal Game Park has become by far the most visited island of Stockholm, by both tourists and locals. Djurgarden is an absolute oasis of green and the best place in town if varied entertainment is on your wish list. This is where you’ll find Skansen of course, as well as Grona Lund amusement park and a plethora of museums, monuments and even an original 17th century wooded-cluster village.
Here, you can follow enticing pathways through endemic forests, or enjoy a picnic by the shores of a lake. Watch locals indulge in watersports or join them in their Sunday afternoon impromptu football games. It really matters not what you end up doing in Djurgarden; the city’s ultimate playground is one of the most delightful and relaxing spots in Stockholm so take some time out of your busy sightseeing schedule to do absolutely nothing more than enjoy it.
Take in the best sights of the city in style
If you’re travelling to Stockholm over a week-end and are looking for a special little splurge, look into taking a spectacular brunch cruise aboard one of the most characteristics ships in town. The SS Stockholm was built in 1931 and although it may have sailed the high seas in its golden days, it now leisurely escorts ravenous and eager visitors around Stockholm’s most gorgeous canals.
Stromma’s week-end brunch cruise is advertised as the only one of its kind in Stockholm and it’s certainly a great way to take in the best sights of the city while enjoying a superb brunch based on locally produced and prepared brunch. If you’ve shied away from herring during your entire stay in Stockholm you’ll have no more excuses…try them!
Unlike most ‘tourist’ based cruises around the world, where the food tends to take second place to the experience, the fare on the SS is actually exceptional, making this an absolute double-whammy in our eyes. Drinks are not included and, as you may guess, they’re not all that cheap; yet the 3-hour cruise and smorgasbord brunch costs merely £63, a price we think is worth its weight in herrings.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all…
Taking a harness-strapped rooftop walk around Gamla Stan may not be ideal for vertigo sufferers, yet if you get easily frazzled by crowds, or think there’s nothing left for you to see here, you may be in for a pleasant, and rather breath-taking, shock.
The guys at Upplev Mer have come up with an incredibly unique concept: showcasing the best of the Old Town Centre from the dizzying heights of an 8th storey rooftop. The safety-conscious Swedes ensure this activity is absolutely fail-proof, even though one should note that if you have difficulty with narrow ladders and unhindered ledges this may present a problem.
Rooftop tours run all day long, although your preferred guide-language will determine your allocated time-slot. You’ll be given a short safety briefing and all the necessary climbing gear, before being led up to the roof of one of the highest buildings in the Old Town Centre.
On a gloriously sunny day, your views will be majestic and all-encompassing. The one-hour climb may not be the cheapest activity in Stockholm but if it’s an eye-popping adrenalin sightseeing rush you’re after, then this may just be the ideal splurge.
Gamla Stan via Wikimedia
Stadshuset, Glam via Flickr
Stockholm White Night, Dimitry B via Flickr
Fika time, Timothy Boyd via Flickr
Kayak ride, David Ardvidsson via Flickr
Elk/Moose, via Wiki
Skansen scene via Wiki
Djurgarden via Flickr
SS Stockholm via<a href=%2