For some reason over the past years, I always felt like Stockholm was very far away from continental Europe. I assumed it wasn’t an easy destination to reach so I always had it on my travel list but Stockholm never made it to the top of the list. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Jeez, I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to check this gem off my travel bucket list.
First, let’s clear up one misnomer that Stockholm is far away or difficult to reach. Yeah right. Stockholm is easy and convenient to reach when planning your European adventure. The flight is fairly short with many direct connections from other European hot spots. It’s a 2-hour flight from Brussels or Vienna or Frankfurt, a 2 and ½ hour flight from Paris or London, or a 3-hour trip from Rome. Alright, so that makes it easy-peasy to fit into your European vacation itinerary.
Next, let’s explain why you want to add to your "cities to see" list. There’s history all the way back to the Stone Age, plenty of nature destinations, architecture to swoon over, fun shopping spots from department stores to boutiques, crazy food spots, and to top it off, the locals were extremely social and more than helpful. I thoroughly enjoyed my long weekend getaway and can’t wait to visit again.
TIME NEEDED: 2 – 5 Days
Scandinavia is the place of confusing currency where you get your dinner bill and it is above 1,000 SEK. For me, I tend to carry a small paper the size of a business card with a few values as illustrated below in my wallet to help me adjust while I’m shopping, determine how much the ferry costs, and learning to avoid a taxi ride at all costs.
As of September 2016
10 Swedish Krona (SEK) = 1.17 USD = 1.05 Euro
100 SEK = 12 USD = 10 Euro
500 SEK = 58 UDS = 52 Euro
1000 SEK = 117 USD = 105 Euro
2500 SEK = 291 USD = 262 Euro
Know that you can do Stockholm on a Budget once you figure out the conversion game from SEK to your own currency realm of understanding.
- If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing and hit up the museums, the Stockholm Card gives you access to the city’s public transportation and free entrance to many of the main museums and canal tours. The next alternative is the metro card. The metro card is rechargeable, can be used on the metro and the ferries, and it a better deal than the expensive 24 hour passes being sold.
- Beer seems to be the budget friendly alcohol choice. You can find reasonable prices for some wines. Mixed drinks should be avoided if you are trying to conserve the funds.
- If you don't even want to pay for your drink then refill your water bottle – either the
reusable one that you bring or the bottled water you purchase at the store (for around 30 SEK). Tap water is perfectly fine to drink in Stockholm.
- Lunch buffets (called "dagens ratt" typically between 85 and 125 SEK) or a hotel breakfast are great options to fuel yourself for the day and stick tosmaller meals while you are out and about. There are street snacks available, including the famous hot dogs, scattered throughout the tourist spots. Also, picking up some food from the grocery store is a great idea. Enjoy a picnic along the water or in the park with some pre-made salads, meat and cheese trays, bread, and/or fruit. There are plenty of delicious options.
- Taxis are expensive and not regulated by the government so be cautious if you try to hail a cabbie. The prices are written on the side of the cars and you are not obligated to take the first taxi in line. Public transportation works fine and is quite convenient to and from the airport as well as around the city. Again, grab that metro card.
THINGS TO DO:
- WATERSIDE WALKS & FERRY RIDES - The city is spread across 14 islands and there is no shortage to walk along the shoreline, enjoy the boats, and even set sail on the water on one of the ferries. There are plenty of cafés to stop along the way for a drink, ice cream, a snack, or your planned picnic. It’s such an enjoyable way to spend a day.
- DJURGARDEN (walkable island) – Originally, this was the king’s hunting grounds. Now, this is the island protected as a national park which is filled lush green scenery. It is a perfect destination to rent a bike, enjoy a stroll, have a picnic (yes, I really want you to have a picnic), and even comes complete with an amusement park, aquarium, and a few museums just outside the green areas.
VASA MUSEUM (on Djurgarden Island) – This 17th century warship set sail in 1628 on her maiden voyage and within minutes sank to the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor for a 333-year rest of sleeping with the fishes. In 1961 it was salvaged and turned into the museum on the Djurgarden island. The museum shows the history, painstaking retrieval, and restoration. This is the world’s only preserved 17th century ship, which is more than 98% of the original structure adorned with its 700 carved sculptures still intact. There are lockers and cloakrooms to park your gear and weightlessly enjoy the museum. You can opt for a 25-minute guided tour, a 17-minute video, or enjoy wandering around the 5 different levels solo.
- SKANSEN (on Djurgarden Island) – Europe’s first open-air museum located on the island of Djurgarden (by the Vasa and ABBA museums) shows the way of life in the different areas of Sweden before the industrial era. It has more than 150 old homes, churches, shops, and schools. In addition to the rescued buildings, there are music and events during the main tourist seasons, a glassblower’s workshop, and a zoo filled with moose, reindeer, lynx, and other native wildlife that is sure to be a hit with the kids.
GAMLA STAN (walkable island) – The Gamla Stan (Old Town) is historic core with winding cobblestone streets glowing by the lights of the lanterns complete with a Royal Palace and plenty of tourist shops, restaurants, and cafés. Stortorget is Stockholm’s oldest square with the colorful buildings seen in all the advertisements as well as the Nobel Museum.
- NOBEL MUSEUM (on Gamla Stand Island) – Situated in the middle of Gamla Stan, this museum is dedicated to Nobel Prize laureates honored in physics, chemistry, literature, medicine, and peacemaking. It has over 700 portraits rotating like dry cleaning along with two video rooms. There is a restaurant in the museum; pick your chair carefully as all Nobel laureates who visit the museum are asked to sign the bottom of a chair in the café.
- ARCHIPELAGO (get on a boat!) – Nearly 30,000 islands and islets are just a stone throw’s away from Stockholm making Archipelago a destination for rugged nature, wooded islands, rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches granting tranquility from the city crowds. Keep it simple with a ferry ride through the islands (bring snacks for the ride) or pick an island that the TI tells you about and adventure on your own to enjoy your choice ofbike riding, swimming, sailing, paddling, hiking, and even camping overnight. There are also a few hotels if you want a tranquil night away from the city lights.
- WANT MORE IDEAS? - Once you get to town, visit one the Tourist Information (TI) centers. The TIs in Europe are always a great way to gather see brochures, get maps, and talk to people who want to tell you all about the city. A spot at a TI is always one of my first things I do when discovering a new city; it's amazing how many tips and new things you learn from just browsing the flyers.
FOOD & SHOPPING FINDS:
Ah, the food and the restaurants! Stockholm takes its dining seriously as well as its coffee. Coffee is such a part of Swedish culture that they even have turned a coffee break into a verb: FIKA. You can fika in the morning or the afternoon by having a seat a café, ordering your coffee, and enjoying your caffeine fix with a traditional kanelbulle (Swedish cinnamon bun) or a pastry of your choosing.
As far as restaurants, there are so many but my favorite meals from my trip were served at Rolfs Kok (near my hotel) and B.A.R. (closer to the tourist spots). Other recommendations include Operakallaren, Sturehof, Herimage, Restaurant Kryp In, and Den Gyldene Freden. The last three are all in Gamla Stan.
The top end department store is called Nordiska Kompanient (NK) and is fairly easy to find as it dominates the far end of Kungstradgarden, right above Gamla Stan. There are plenty of boutique stores as well to find some souvenir home decor or clothing. Keep in mind that the boutique stores will tend to keep European store hours meaning closing time in around 16:00 during the week and remain closed on Sundays.
I prefer to stay in the Norrmalm area (modern downtown area). It has many hotels, shopping areas, restaurants galore, near the train and metro stations, and a fairly short walk to the main tourist sites. In addition, it's just a cheaper to stay in this area than have your hotel be on Gamla Stan or the waterfront. Since it is a bustling area, be sure to request a quiet room when booking your hotel.