June 15, 2024

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Stockholm Travel Guide: 15 Things to Know Before Visiting the Capital of Sweden

8 min read
Scott Hartbeck

Scandinavia is a sensational travel region home to a unique combination of quintessential European appeal and distinct northern character. Often overlooked due to the logistics of heading north and perceived expense (more on that later), the region is perfect for escaping the crowds and the oppressive heat that much of Europe experiences—especially in summer. 

Stockholm makes a strong case for being Scandinavia’s most exciting city, and the following list of things to know before visiting should set you up for a successful trip with a mix of practical advice and personal recommendations that your author wholeheartedly stands behind after a recent visit. 

The City Has an Island Identity

One of the foremost pieces of information you need to know about Stockholm is that while most European capitals can be described as a patchwork of neighborhoods, Stockholm is a collection of islands. No matter where you go, you’ll always be within a stone’s throw of water and this pleasant fact is likely to leave a lasting impression on you long after you leave. 

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Gamla Stan, Stockholm (Photo via Hans Brunk)

Gamla Stan Is Great (but There’s a But)

Gamla Stan is the name of Stockholm’s atmospheric old town, and you’re probably going to spend a decent amount of time there because it’s home to the Royal Palace, The Nobel Prize Museum, The Stockholm Cathedral and the swoon-worthy pastel facades of Stortorget Square. But it’s also very crowded and can be a bit, well, tacky in parts. With that said, take an early morning or late night stroll through the district to have some of its most romantic alleyways and cobbled streets all to yourself, and you’ll see Gamla Stan in its best light, and probably love every minute of it.  

Södermalm is Super Cool

To be clear, Stockholm is home to a dozen districts worth exploring, each one offering a distinct slice of Swedish city life. But if you can only make it to one, make it Södermalm, the large island south of Gamla Stan. The classic tale of “working-class district turns trendy” definitely applies here, with rooftop bars hanging out where factory workers once toiled and resided. From the vintage shops hiding in back streets full of interesting architecture to the bustling bars on Folkungagatan and Götgatan streets, this district fizzes with fun. 

Another reason to love Södermalm? The viewpoints. No trip here is complete until you’ve savored the Stockholm skyline from one of the many viewpoints in the district. On my first morning, I went to the Monteliusvägen walking path, and gazing upon Gamla Stan and the surrounding water served as the perfect opening ceremony. Trust me, you’ll be pinching yourself that you are actually in Stockholm.

Vasa

Vasa (Photo via Emilio García / flickr) (Emilio García / flickr)

The Vasa Museum Deserves Its Reputation

What happens to a Swedish warship when it sinks on its maiden voyage in the 1600s and sits on the seafloor for centuries? Luckily for us, not a ton. The ship in question was the Vasa, and it was preserved by the cool local waters before being raised—nearly fully intact—in the 1960s. After a restoration project was complete, a shed-like museum was built around the Vasa, and now you can see the ship in all its glory while learning about the life and times of its crew and compatriots. Often touted as the number one attraction in the city, I’m happy to report it lives up to the hype. 

Cash Is No Longer King

Do they accept cards in Stockholm? Oh yeah, they do. I didn’t even see a Swedish note the entire time. If you’re nostalgic for paper money, feel free to hit up an ATM and keep a few on you, but you won’t need it. Be aware though that on some public transportation, each traveler has to provide their own distinct payment card.  

Sweden, Stockholm, Swedish Meatballs

Swedish Meatballs at Meatballs For The People in Stockholm. (Photo Credit: Julia Hartbeck)

You Will Meet Great Meatballs

It’s not a myth: meatballs are a big thing in Sweden, and I found a great mix of quality and cool vibes at Meatballs For The People. Pick your meat (everything from classic beef & pork to chicken, reindeer and vegan), and soon you’ll have a ball feasting on a plate full of meatballs, mashed potato and zingy lingonberries. Wash it down with a local craft brew or a chilled shot of aquavit, Sweden’s favorite liquor. Speaking of craft beer …

Beer, craft beer, Omnipollo

Beer from Omnipollo brewery in Stockholm. (Photo Credit: Scott Hartbck)

Omnipollo is Awesome

One of Europe’s elite craft outfits, Omnipollo owns a collection of bars around the city, all shrines to creative brewing. Located on a side street in Södermalm, Omnipollos Hatt serves a selection of their best beers alongside epic pizza and sides. Who knows, you might end up going three times like I did. 

It’s Not As Pricey as People Say

Let me start by saying that Stockholm will never be considered a budget-friendly or “cheap” destination, but I’m telling you, the sticker shock that previously prevailed there seems to be gone. Whether Sweden has gotten cheaper or other countries like the US and UK have gotten more expensive is a question for someone else, but when I was there recently, prices seemed in line with most European cities. A couple of slices of locally-loved Princess cake and two refillable coffees at famed bakery Vete-Katten? $19-something. A sit-down meal with a couple of drinks at hip fried chicken spot Bird? $90. You get the drift. Normal big-city pricing, nothing zany. 

Stockholm, Metro Station

Just one of the striking Metro stations in Stockholm. (Photo Credit: Julia Hartbeck)

The Metro Stations Are Marvelous

You don’t have to be a content creator to get excited about the paint splashed over certain stations on the Stockholm Metro. Keep your eyes peeled and you never know what you might see!

You Don’t Have To Take the Arlanda Express

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if there is an express train from an airport, then it must be the best way to get into the city. In the case of Stockholm, there are plenty of options besides the pricey Arlanda Express to get from the airport to the city center. If you’re in a hurry, by all means, jump on because the Arlanda Express takes off every 15 minutes and will get you to the airport in only 20 minutes. But be aware that there are less frequent local trains that travel the same route (some even get you there as quickly) and buses that take a little bit longer, but both will save you some krona.

Östermalm Market Hall, Stockholm, food hall

Östermalm Market Hall in Stockholm. (Photo Credit: Scott Hartbeck)

Lunch With Lisa Will Be Lovely

The undisputed star of the Östermalm Market Hall, Lisa Elmquist started as a seafood stall on the harbor nearly a century ago but has now blossomed into so much more. Linger over a long lunch full of fresh shellfish and great wine and you’ll leave Stockholm in love with this iconic brand. 

Coffee Culture Rules

The Swedes love their coffee, and you’ll find batch-brewed filter java poured everywhere in Stockholm. From department store cafes to coffee shops, it is usually quality stuff—and usually refillable quality stuff. After a morning of sightseeing, there’s no better way to spend an hour or so in the afternoon than by putting your feet up and enjoying a few cups with a cinnamon bun or cake on the side. After all, it’s the Swedish way. 

Stockholm, Stockholm archipelago, boat

Boat departs for the Stockholm archipelago in Stockholm, Sweden (Photo Credit: Scott Hartbeck)

Visiting the Archipelago Is Essential (but Do Your Research)

Remember that tidbit about Stockholm proper being a collection of islands? Well, just wait until you see what’s waiting for you in the Stockholm Archipelago, which fans out from the city and contains thousands of rocky, sandy and forested islands. Frequent ferries shuttle travelers and locals between the isles, which range from the close-in Fjäderholmarna, where I enjoyed sunset drinks under the summer sun at Rökeriet restaurant, to honeypot Vaxholm and distant Sandham, the latter offering Martha’s Vineyard vibes. 

Find your dream island, then dedicate a little time to finding out the details of the ferry schedule, so you don’t have to sprint for (and miss) a ferry at the last minute like I did. 

You Should Stop for Supermarket Sweets

You will walk past a decent-sized supermarket at some point in your trip. Make sure to stop in and swing through the candy aisle because you are in for a treat in more ways than one. Swedes adore their sweets, and it’s common for them to fill huge bags of self-serve goodies. So why not join the locals in this unique custom?

ABBA The Museum in Stockholm, Sweden

ABBA The Museum in Stockholm, Sweden (Photo via Hans Brunk)

You’ll Leave the City Singing

If you don’t automatically associate Stockholm with music, you will after a visit. The most famous musical export is ABBA, and the iconic band has helped create an enthralling experience for fans at the ABBA Museum, located on leafy Djurgården Island. Whether or not you’re a huge fan or not, there’s no doubt that ABBA had a huge impact on pop culture, and you’ll probably walk out tapping your toes. But that’s just the start. Stockholm is also the city of Avicii, and you can trace the life story of one of EDM’s most influential music makers at the Avicii Experience. 

Like many other great European cities, Stockholm is also home to great jazz clubs, with the quirky Stampen leading the way with its combination of knick-knacks on the wall and ace acts taking the stage like The Beat From Palookaville, who rocked the house the night I was in attendance. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humming a mash-up of 70s pop, 2010s dance and classic ska for weeks after you say goodbye to Stockholm.


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