For a place founded over seven centuries ago, Stockholm is ridiculously cool. Sweden’s capital is at the forefront of fashion (and we’re not just talking H&M here) and has pioneered experimental music genres most people probably haven’t even heard of. It’s also one of the most liberal, progressive and democratic societies in the world.
But people don’t travel to Stockholm just to immerse themselves in a city of trilby-topped hipsters. With its bridges and islands, towers and steeples, Renaissance splendour and glass skyscrapers, Stockholm is also an architectural nirvana. In fact, as capital cities go, you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere so arrestingly attractive (although if you could get arrested for being attractive, Stockholm would have very few locals walking around).
From the bustling City Centre, you can cruise via water over Lake Malaren, pass the historical façade of Old Town, and catch views of the Royal Palace. Disembark and take a century-old tram through the lavish shopping towns of Norrmalm and Ostermalm, or just soak up Sodermalm’s gritty hipness – and hope that it’s contagious.
To most people, Sweden is best-known for anything to do with initials – IKEA and ABBA spring to mind. But there is of course far more to it than flat-packed furniture and infuriatingly catchy middle-of-the-road pop music. Stockholm is the best place to discover that for yourself.
Stockholm’s Top 10
10. Fotografiska Stockholm’s most recent attraction by about 100 years, Fotografiska showcases world-class international and local photography.
5. Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace This seemingly simple task takes far longer than you’d expect, but it’s also far more interesting.
9. The Nordic Museum With exhibits dedicated to Nike sneakers and bits of old fabric, this museum focuses on the development of Swedish life and culture.
4. Stadshuset(City Hall) The Nobel Prize annual dinner is invitation-only, but anyone can walk around the magnificent building it takes place in.
8. Grona Lunds Tivoli Amusement Park When in Scandinavia… do as the Vikings do? This place has all the standard amusement park rides, plus a Viking ship.
3. DrottningholmPalace and Court Theatre: You can also travel to this extravagant castle by subway or bus. Don’t – the boat ride over is half the fun.
7. Stockholm Adventures Why waste Stockholm’s magical islets and waterways by exploring the city on foot? Kayaking is a far better option.
2. SkansenOpen-Air Museum The first of its kind (and one of the least cheesy), Skansen features historic houses, actors and live animals to replicate life in old Sweden.
6. Rosendal Botanical Gardens Features the world’s largest water lily. Get in quick – you know, just in case…
1. The Vasa Museum Scandinavia’s most visited museum isn’t just full of old things, it is an old thing – it’s the only preserved 17th Century ship in the world.
- Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) – This museum offers English tours of well-preserved artefacts from the sunken Vasa warship.
- Katarina Church (Katarina Kyrka) – This beautiful church has several famous Swedes buried in its cemetery.
- Stockholm Cathedral (Storkykan) – This cathedral is the stage for royal weddings and coronations in Stockholm.
- Stockholm Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet) – The official and grand royal residence of the Swedish monarch.
- City Hall (Stadshuset) – This municipal building was built with more than 8 million bricks in the 1920s
Stockholm Art & Culture
- Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) – Showcases a collection of all things Swedish items.
- Slottsteater – One of the oldest theatre in the world, with original stages and equipment.
- Royal Opera (Kungliga Operan) – This beautiful neoclassical building has a marble grand staircase and a gold foyer.
- Midsummer (Midsommar) – This major Swedish festival occurring around the summer solstice involves dancing, eating and drinking.
- Lucia Day – Sweden’s official “Lucia” is crowned at Stockholm’s Skansen every mid-December.
- Ahlens – A noted department store offering everything under one roof.
- Birger Jarlspassagen – A street with jewellery and boutique shops for fashionistas.
- Kalika – A unique shop featuring Russian-made toys that support single mums and their children.
- Castor Konsthantverk – Offers a range of traditional Swedish products, including handicrafts.
- Chokladfabriken – This famous shop offers a variety of artisanal chocolates that are hard to resist.
Gay & Lesbian Stockholm
- Stockholm Pride Festival – This festival takes place in late July and early August each year, with a large, enthusiastic crowd.
- Kolingsborg – There are weekly gay parties at this Stockholm club.
- Patricia – This hotspot offers dancing and dining in a former steamship.
- Torget – This nice-looking, popular gay bar located in Old Town has crystal chandeliers.
- Zipper – This huge club boasts three dance floors and multiple bars.
- Royal Game Park (Djurgården) – This island park is home to historic and cultural attractions.
- Millesgarden – Explore an outstanding collection of tended gardens and sculptures by Carl Milles.
- Tivoli Grona Lund – This amusement park offers roller coaster rides and summer concerts.
- Berzelii Park – This 19th-century park has nice grounds to stroll through.
- Katarinahissen – The top offers spectacular views of Stockholm and a rooftop bar.
- Watch bandy matches at Zinkensdamms Idrottsplats.
- See the football team Djurgårdens IF play at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
- The ice skating rink at Kungsans Isbana is the place to be during winter.
- Check out the Stockholm Globe Arena, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
- Sail around the archipelagos making up Stockholm.
When you’re in a city built on 14 islands, exploring different places is half the attraction. Board a ferry and explore Stockholm’s top neighbourhoods, from the old to the oh-so-modern.
The trouble with most historic towns is that they’re usually both really cheesy and kind of boring. Gamla Stan, which dates back to the 13th century, is neither. Featuring historical buildings like the Stockholm Cathedral, the Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace, half the fun is simply wandering around the cobblestone streets. Have lunch at Den Gyldene Freden, Stockholm’s oldest restaurant – prices have increased slightly since 1722, but it’s a great excuse to treat yourself in the name of sightseeing.
OK, so with attractions such as the Vasa Museum and Skansen, you’d be daft to miss the forested central island of Djurgarden. But you’d also be daft if you visited only for the tourist attractions. Djurgarden’s gardens and parks are as idyllic and calm as Grona Lunds is hectic, so make some time for walking around the Djurgardsbrunn Canal and Blockhusudden.
Djurgarden might be the strolling central of Stockholm (a title more prestigious than it sounds), but it’s still acceptable to get around on the Djurgarden trams – some of which are almost 100 years old.
With the trendsetting epicentre of Sodermalm locally known as ‘SoFo’, it’s easy to compare Stockholm’s gritty-turned-trendy town with New York or London. But it would also be incorrect, because Swedish hipsters are in a league all of their own. View them from the Montelius Vagen walking tour, or over a mid-morning snack at the Fafangan Café, before perhaps updating your own threads at stylish store Kocksgatan 17. Follow it up with a coffee amidst the eclectic knickknacks at Gildas Rum, or something stronger at the ironically named Grandpa.
Yes, Stockholm is expensive, but it still plays to splash the cash a bit in one of the world’s leading fashion and design capitals. Norrmalm is the commercial centre of the archipelago, and a great excuse to splurge on edible delicacies (for the saltiest meats and softest wheels of cheese, you can’t go past Hotorgshallen) or pretty much anything else. In fact, for ‘anything else’, head to the busy pedestrian shopping street of Drottninggatan. Don’t collect too many shopping bags, though – Norrmalm is also an entertainment destination and you want to have a free hand to hold a cocktail at the nightlife hub of Odenplan Square.
Close to the city centre is Ostermalm, an affluent commercial and residential area. Sweden’s elite (and cash-dropping jet-setters) find spending nirvana in Stureplan Square, while Karlaplan contains many of Stockholm’s museums. For those not fussed about fitting into size zero designer threads, the 1880s Ostermalm Food Hall is a destination in itself. Numerous cafes where you can sample Swedish delicacies open at the fashionably late hour of lunchtime onwards (mornings in this bustling district are probably reserved for nursing hangovers).
Stockholm Eat & Drink
One thing the Swedes don’t do is boring. The cuisine in Stockholm is often as intriguing as the architecture, so open your mind (and wallet – good food doesn’t come cheap) at these dining destinations.
Gondolen The food is good, but let’s face it – you’re here for the suspended (off a bridge) dining room and incredible gondola-like city views.
Restaurang Lux Hard to find, but the outdoor setting and lack of other tourists make the trip well worth it.
Operakallaren Transformed from an Opera House to an elaborate dining hall in 1981, Operakalleren no longer needs theatrics to entertain its diners.
Wedholms Fisk If you don’t like seafood, you probably shouldn’t even be in Stockholm. If you do, Wedholms Fisk is a gastronomic nirvana.
Grand Hotel A Swedish smorgasbord is a bit different to the one at your local Chinese takeaway. If you’re not invited to a lavish wedding while in Stockholm, try one at the Grand Hotel.
Esperanto The food here is like Stockholm’s elite – creative, dainty, and beautifully presented.
Brasserie le Rouge How is it possible to have such a cosy atmosphere in a restaurant three stories high?
Mathias Dalhgren Don’t be fooled by the lumberjack shirts – the staff here are extremely knowledgeable about excellent food and excellent wine.
Mistral Don’t you hate when an expensive dinner is gone in around 15 minutes? This doesn’t happen at Mistral, where eating your way through the tasting menu can take up to four hours.
F12 Cool, modern, Nordic food in a cool, modern, Nordic setting.
A Furniture Fair in any other city might be dull, but in one of the world’s leading design capitals it’s anything but. Takes place in February, when the nights are looong.
Can’t figure out where to wear that gaudy Viking helmet you bought at the souvenir store? If it’s spring (April, to be exact), try Walpurgis Night – a Swedish tradition wrapped in Scandinavian Viking history.
Incredible food isn’t exactly a rarity in Stockholm, but the reasonable prices at June’s Taste Stockholm are worth holding out for.
The Swedes get pretty excited about summer – so much so that at the Midsummer’s Eve celebration in June they put flowers in their hair and dance around a maypole holding hands.
Stockholm is at the forefront of experimental electronica, but it’s happy to leave the jazz up to international acts at the Stockholm Jazz Festival in July.
The Stockholm Summer Games in July is one of Stockholm’s funnest events –and you don’t have to settle for being a spectator.
Liberal Stockholm is the place to be in August. The Pride Festival is the biggest and brightest in Scandinavia.
The cultural capital gets even artsier in November for the Stockholm Film Festival.
December’s Nobel Prize Day isn’t open to the public, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement of Stockholm’s most important annual event.
When To Go
Rates go up in the high tourist season of summer, but longer hours and more attractions balance things out.
Many travellers love the nearly 24-hour days of sunlight in summer, but some find it a bit unsettling.
Stockholm is not particularly rainy, but winters can drop to below freezing, meaning sneakers and a few jumpers just won’t cut it.
What To Miss
The main streets of Gamla Stan are pretty, but you get better value for money off the beaten track.
For a city at the forefront of architecture, the Stockholm Arkitekturmuseet is a huge disappointment.
A traditional Swedish spa should be at the top of your list if you want to be surrounded by hairy old men. Otherwise, save your cash.
The city centre is small, so use your feet and save cab rides for travelling at night.
For getting a bit further out, busses are quick thanks to special bus lanes.
Stockholm is an archipelago – make the most of the water and take a ferry.
At just under 2 million people, vibrant Stockholm is the nexus of Sweden. The archipelago capital city at the mouth of pristine Lake MÄlaren is a modern metropolis, with avant-garde sophistication and a congenial lifestyle typical of Scandinavia.
The 1998 European City of Culture, Stockholm has a wealth of heritage architecture, museums, theatres, festivals and monuments in store for intrepid travelers. The city is easy to navigate, thanks to one of the best public transit systems on the continent. A simple walk around Stockholm however, is enough to convince anyone that inhabitants indeed have a wonderful quality of life.
A good place to start in Stockholm is the Gamla Stan, or Old Town. A virtual leap back in time, the area on the island of Stadsholmen dates back to the 13th century. The best way to enjoy the Old Town, replete with North German heritage architecture, is on foot. Principal attractions include the main square, or Stortorget, Nobel Museum, Stockholm Cathedral and Royal Palace.
In stark contrast to the aesthetic of Gamla Stan, many Art Nouveau masterpieces from the last century line Stockholm streets. As a consequence, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm Public Library, Hotel Esplanade and in particular, Stockholm City Hall, are imperative attractions.
Museums are everywhere in Stockholm, many of them world class. The Nationalmuseum is the national gallery of record in Sweden, with over 45,000 works of art. The Moderna Museet is one of the most faithful tributes to modern art in Europe, with works by Dali, Picasso and Warhol. For a matchless glimpse into the cultural history of Sweden, the Nordic Museum has wonderful exhibits in store.
A worthwhile attraction as a paramount Art Nouveau specimen, the Royal Dramatic Theatre has eight stages, on which hundreds of dramatic performances are put on throughout the year.
Built in 1773, with a new construction in 1899, the grand Royal Swedish Opera House is one of the most iconic in Europe. Whether or not you take in a performance, the Opera House deserves a visit.
Stockholm is awash with festivals and events, ceaseless from one month to the next. A pre-eminent sports hub, the city has a number of popular clubs that field teams in soccer and ice hockey.
The world famous Nobel Banquet is held every December 10 at beautiful Stockholm City Hall.
One of the best jazz festivals in Europe takes place in the city every July, spread out among several superb indoor and outdoor venues. Another event that takes advantage of summer sunlight abundance is the Culture Festival. With attendance as high as 300,000, the festival is the most popular in Stockholm, with eclectic emphasis on music, art, photography and various performances. The city also hosts the most popular Pride Festival in Scandinavia, with crowds that number a half million strong to watch the requisite parade in late July.
Though Sweden is a country with four distinct seasons, winters can be quite mild in Stockholm. With the Gulf Stream in full effect, the cold months do not bring abundant snowfall, though daylight is at a premium. Summers can be quite hot and humid, with up to 18 hours of daylight.
- Winter (November to February) -3-5°C
- Spring (March to May) -3-16°C
- Summer (June to August) 11-22°C
- Fall (September to October) 5-15°C
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