I completely underrated Stockholm. My attention was on perennial European favorites like Paris and London and up-and-coming places like Budapest and Romania. So, imagine my surprise as I slowly discovered Stockholm and wondered how and why it hadn’t been more front and center on my radar.
Words like clean, pretty, and smart come to mind when most of us think of Scandinavian countries like Sweden. Stockholm is no exception whether we’re talking about its streets, architecture, people, or culture. But, it’s Stockholm’s understated vibe and effortless elegance that draws you in.
Stockholm is welcoming. It’s situated on 14 islands alongside the waters of Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, with its 57 bridges serving as links. Even as a first-time visitor, the city feels familiar and easy, like catching up with an old friend. Stockholm’s sensible balance of old and new, chic and classic, not only distinguishes it from other Nordic capitals but stirs up a lasting fondness that entices visitors to return.
Stockholm has plenty to offer all its visitors, whether it’s a first visit or not. The list below of Stockholm things to do would make for a fantastic Stockholm trip, regardless!
14 Fantastic Things to Do in Stockholm
1. Vasa Museum
You don’t have to be a museum-lover to be totally awed by the Vasa Museum! The Vasa is a 17th-century ship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was top-heavy and had a second row of cannon portholes too close to the water. When the ship began to list, water rushed in and sank the Vasa in just over 100 feet of water right in Stockholm’s harbor. After more than 300 years submerged in the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic Sea, the Vasa was pulled to the surface. It has since undergone decades of preservation and restoration. Visitors to the custom built museum can admire the Vasa, which is more than 95% original. You can see the ship from the museum’s different levels, as well as learn about the crew artifacts and skeletal remains discovered along with the ship. Make time to see the Vasa even if you have just 1 day in Stockholm. It’s that incredible.
Pro Tip: Go when the museum first opens. The Vasa is a top Stockholm sight and crowds form quickly.
2. Gamla Stan
Meaning “old town” in Swedish, Gamla Stan’s narrow winding streets and alleys are lined with shops, eateries, and history. The architecture is from centuries past and gushing with old world charm.
Begin in or find your way to Stortorget, the public square lined with classic, colorful merchant houses. Stroll along (without your map) and simply take in the enchanting atmosphere.
3. Royal Palace
Located in Gamla Stan, the Royal Palace welcomes visitors to glimpse several of the 600 Palace rooms. The present-day Palace was built in the 1700s after an older castle was burned in a fire. It is the official residence of Sweden’s King and Queen, as well as home to government offices. Visitors can walk through the public areas on their own or opt to take a guided tour. Highlights include the state reception rooms and the Queen’s silver throne.
Pro Tip: Time your visit for the Changing of the Guard, which happens every day. The full ceremony is best seen between May and August.
4. Stockholm Cathedral
This is the oldest church in Gamla Stan dating back to 1279 and located near the Royal Palace. The brick design combined with the wooden carvings and sculptures make this Cathedral unlike many others made of stone found in western European cities. Most notable is the carving of St. George and the Dragon. Overall, it was interesting to see the smooth silver pipes on the organ, the rough-faced bricks, and the ornate wooden carvings blending in the same space for a design all its own.
You must have fika or simply fika while you’re in Stockholm. Swedes love and value their coffee breaks or fika. Tea can serve as a substitute for non-coffee drinkers. A baked sweet treat alongside your beverage is a must. You might rush to think fika is just another coffee break. However, fika speaks to the belief in the Swedish culture of slowing down, even pausing. It’s a daily ritual, perhaps happening more than once. Fika is all about taking a break and savoring the moment, the exact opposite of running with a cup of coffee in hand. Whether you’re in Stockholm for a day or a week, do as the Swedes do and fika.
6. Underground Art Gallery
Not a gallery in the traditional sense, but rather on the walls of Stockholm’s subway (a.k.a T-Bana) corridors, platforms, and stations. Street artists went to work decades ago and the result is totally cool and unique to Stockholm. Spend a late morning (avoid rush hour if you want decent photos) or a couple of early afternoon hours hopping trains to see a sampling of the underground art. Check the red, blue, and green lines for station stops at Radhuset, Solna Centrum, Fridhemsplan, Thorildsplan, and Universitetet. Explore more stations if you have the time!
A modern photography museum with poignant, provocative exhibitions that change throughout the year. The museum stays open later than other museums making it a great choice for the late afternoon and evening hours. You can browse the exhibitions at night and then dine and have fika in the restaurant upstairs. The Fotografiska’s vantage point along the water is a fantastic spot to admire the city views. As a fan of photography, I loved visiting this space. It’s popular with visitors and locals alike and consistently in the Top 10 sights to see in Stockholm.
Pro Tip: For another Stockholm viewpoint, head up the staircase along the cliff across from the Fotografiska. From this part of Soldermalm, there are great vantage points to photograph a city panorama.
Traveling to Stockholm Soon?
I had a great stay a the Park Inn in Solna, just 10 minutes by subway from T-Centralen, Stockholm’s main train station. I saved money and earned Club Carlson points! Research and book more fantastic Stockholm hotels on TripAdvisor and Booking.com.
8. ABBA Museum
Located close to the Vasa Museum, the ABBA Museum is an interactive ABBA experience with everything from the actual costumes the group wore to exhibits about ABBA’s rise to fame to replica dressing rooms. You can even sing along in visitor-friendly recording studios and watch yourself later by entering an ID code from your entry pass! This museum does a great job of combining music history and fun! You also have access to the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, which is also located inside. After your visit, you can enjoy a drink at the ABBA-themed bar and restaurant upstairs.
9. Stockholm City Hall
This classic Stockholm building is famous for its large halls, most notably the Blue Hall where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held and the Golden Hall with its 18 million mosaic tiles just upstairs. The building itself is a work of art. Pay attention to the details put into the walls, ceilings, and decor. Visitors can climb the stairs to the top of the tower, however, this was closed at the time of my visit. Stockholm City Hall can only be toured with a guide. When you purchase your entry ticket, you’ll join the next available public tour in your language. An absolute must see while in Stockholm!
10. Stockholm Food Tours
Stockholm Food Tours offers several different food tours that highlight both local cuisine, as well as the range of ethnic foods available throughout Stockholm. Some tours focus on a neighborhood while others are all about an experience. I took the Culinary Sodermalm Food Tour which featured the neighborhood’s diverse and trendy food scene. Tastings included Chinese, Italian, Indian, and Swedish bites with, of course, chocolate, sweets, and fika to finish. The guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and adapted the tour to meet everyone’s dietary needs. This was my one of my favorite tours in Stockholm. I highly recommend it as a way to go local and get to know Stockholm through its food.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have the time or budget for a food tour, still make time to eat in Soldermalm. From ethnic cuisine to classicly prepared Swedish fish to sweet treats, Soldermalm is a foodie’s delight.
11. Millenium Tour
Have you read Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? The books were written and set in Stockholm, as well as other areas of Sweden. The Millenium tour retraces the steps of the lead characters, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Starting along Bellmansgatan and continuing into Soldermalm, the guide passes by the Millenium Office and where Mikael and Lisbeth lived. Along the way, the guide interweaves information and anecdotes about Steig Larsson’s life and influences in order to analyze the books further. I’d read this series of books before my visit to Stockholm. When I returned home, I reread the first book. Wow! The story sprung off pages with the images of Stockholm fresh in my mind.
12. Stockholm Free Walking Tour
These tours are available in many cities around the world. The Stockholm Free Walking Tours include a city highlights walk, as well as tours through Soldermalm and Gamla Stan. You don’t need a reservation to take part in the roughly 2-hour tours. Check their website for a complete schedule. Remember, if you’re happy with the tour, tip your guide appropriately at the end.
13. Archipelago Tour
In the warmer months, Stockholmers retreat to the archipelago to enjoy the summer sun. The round trip 3-hour tour departs from Stockholm harbor and heads out to the islands in the archipelago closest to the city. The guide will narrate as you pass private homes and landmark sights. Getting out to the archipelago, even for a bit, gives you a glimpse of how the locals enjoy the natural beauty that is just steps from the capital. Before visiting Stockholm, I had no idea how integral the islands of the archipelago near Stockholm and along Sweden’s coast were to the Swedish way of life. The experience illustrates the Swedes love of the outdoors and their dedication to protecting the environment.
14. Explore Beyond Stockholm
Head north to Skelleftea in Swedish Lapland. Regardless of the season, Swedish Lapland is spectacular. In summer when I visited, the pristine wilderness and craggy coastline offered every imaginable outdoor activity from hiking and boating to quad adventures and husky excursions. Prefer to just soak up Sweden’s perfect summer sun? Picnic and relax on one of the archipelago islands in the Bay of Bothnia. I’m already thinking about a winter return!
Stockholm Travel Tips
Sweden is a member of the EU but uses its own currency, the Swedish Krona.
Credit cards are accepted everywhere, though. There is no need to have or carry large amounts of Swedish currency. In fact, some places do not accept cash.
English is widely spoken throughout Stockholm and Sweden. You’ll have no problem communicating with locals.
The Stockholm Pass is a card that can be used for over 60 popular sights, museums, and tours around the city, including the Vasa, the Royal Palace, the Fotografiska, the Royal Canal Tour, and the Archipelago Tour. Buy a 1, 2, 3, or 5-day pass and save a ton of money! The more you see and do, the more you’ll save.
How to Get into/around Stockholm
Arlanda Airport is Stockholm’s main international airport. Several public transportation options exist for a seamless transfer into the city. Flygbussarna and Swebus run buses from the airport a few times an hour. Rides typically take about 40 minutes and drop you at City Terminal just next to T-Centralen, the central train station for commuter and metro trains.
The Arlanda Express also runs speedy train service directly into T-Centralen. The express train is pricier than the bus transfers, but discounts are available by purchasing tickets in advance online or with bundle packages for multiple travelers. The train runs every 15 minutes and whisks you into the city in just 20 minutes. I took the Arlanda Express train for my visit to Stockholm and it couldn’t have been easier.
While in Stockholm, the metro is known as the Tunnelbana, or T-Bana for short. It’s convenient and simple to navigate. Buy a 24-hour or 72-hour travel card if you plan to use the T-Bana as your primary source of transportation while in Stockholm. It’ll work out cheaper than purchasing single-use tickets. The travel card can be used on buses and some ferries, as well.
Stockholm has taxis, however, they’re extremely expensive. Considering how convenient and easy Stockholm’s T-Bana, buses, ferries, and trams are, there’s hardly a reason to justify spending so much to get around. I never found it necessary to take a taxi in my week-long Stockholm visit.
So, have you visited Stockholm? What’s your favorite thing to do? Is Stockholm on your travel list?
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