Comprised of 14 islands on an extensive Baltic Sea archipelago, Stockholm has often been called "beauty on water" and serves as the capital (and most populous city) of Sweden. While it's well-preserved old town, Gamla Stan, remains one of Europe’s most historic hubs, this city is also dynamic, modern and ever-evolving.
I had the pleasure of visiting with my friend (and photographer) Sarah last summer on behalf of Visit Stockholm. Neither of us had ever been to Scandinavia (with the exception of the few days we spent in Copenhagen prior to this trip) so we both were a little unsure as to what we could expect. Within moments of setting foot in Sweden, we immediately noticed how beautiful everything was--from the design to the natural landscape (and don't even get me started on the people!)
Before planning a trip of your own (which I can't recommend enough) here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- LANGUAGE: Swedish, although pretty much everyone I came into contact with spoke English. As always, I recommend at least saying "thank you" in the local language- in this case: "tack" (pronounced tah-k).
- CURRENCY: Swedish Kroner. Currently, 1 USD equals roughly 8.58 SEK. While a lot of places do accept bank cards, we did run into some issues with other places only accepting cash, so I'd advise getting some from an ATM at the airport once you arrive.
- GRATUITY: Tipping is rare and usually reserved for great service. With that said, I always leave a little something, even if it's just rounding up to round out the SEK to an even number.
- GETTING AROUND: Getting from Arlanda Airport to the Stockholm city center is incredibly easy thanks to the Arlanda Express. For ~ 280 SEK, this train runs non-stop from the airport to Stockholm Central Station and takes only 20 minutes (it's the most affordable and efficient option). Once you're in the city, you can quickly travel between different locations thanks to Stockholm’s safe, punctual and efficient public transport system. We honestly walked a lot (and took a few taxi's) but the options are endless. To learn more, read this page from Visit Stockholm.
We were advised by Visit Stockholm to get familiarized with the stunning scenery of the area with a guided archipelago boat tour. As previously mentioned, Stockholm encompasses 14 islands and more than 50 bridges on an extensive Baltic Sea archipelago (which is simply a group of islands). This tour allowed us to experience the city from the water, learn about the history and be inspired by the beauty of Stockholm’s natural landscape. It was such a relaxing way to spend our afternoon (they had beverages on board and the entire trip was comprised of stunning views).
NOTE: During the summer it is a good idea to visit the ticket booth early the same day to collect your sightseeing tour ticket. Sometimes there are a lot of visitors and some tours may be full during the high season. And be sure to pack lots of layers even if it's warm-- the wind will get you!
One of my favorite things we did in Stockholm was visiting the Vasa musuem. The Vasa is the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world and makes for a truly incredible story.
The 69 meter-long warship Vasa sank after about 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628 and was salvaged 333 years later in 1961. Because of the brackish water, so much of it was preserved (more than 95 percent of the ship is original). For nearly half a century the ship has been slowly, deliberately and painstakingly restored to a state approaching its original glory. The three masts on the roof outside the specially built museum show the height of the ship's original masts. Today the Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in Scandinavia, with over one million visitors a year.
There are several different exhibitions around the ship to tell the incredible story (it was truly so impressive-- it sucked us in!) There is also a film about the Vasa (shown in 13 different languages so make a note when you first get there about what time it will play in your language of choice). Tours of the museum take place every day and admission is free for children up to 18 years (it's also included in with your Stockholm pass).
Rosendals Trädgård is a garden open to the public situated on Djurgården, west of Rosendal Palace, in the central part of Stockholm, Sweden. It’s s open to public visitors and exists so that visitors can experience nature and learn about different cultural effects on gardening throughout history. Sarah and I biked there from our first hotel, Oaxen (more to come about that in a minute) and fell in love with how charming and picturesque everything on the property was.
For more than thirty years Rosendals’ Garden Foundation has cultivated and spread biodynamic farming practices (a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but it includes various esoteric concepts).
Rosendals Garden is a driver of the farm to fork concept, as they harvest vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits directly from the gardens to use for ingredients in their café and woodfired bakery.
As a visitor you can enjoy strolling in the garden, as well having a meal, sandwich or something sweet from the artisanal bakery in their greenhouse café. They also have a farm shop and plant shop on site with loads of fun kitchen items you can bring home with you. Throughout the year they also organize events, private functions and exhibitions.
Biking here and having lunch (then Fika!) was honestly one of my favorite things we did in Stockholm. I highly recommend paying them a visit so you can experience it for yourself.
You may be wondering what I've meant by my aforementioned "Fika" reference. The Swedes are known for their afternoon "Fika", which basically means having coffee and a piece of cake or a pastry (which, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest cultural traditions of all time). Sweden has a highly developed culture when it comes to baked goods, so you’ll find loads of cafés and cake shops all over the city. Again, Rosendals Trädgård (pictured above) is probably my favorite that we had. Wherever you go, you can't visit Sweden without a proper Fika experience!
Oaxen Prince van Orangiën was easily one of the most memorable hotels where I've ever stayed. This vessel was originally a home and office for a shipowner who sailed around Europe with his dredge-fleet. Today, it's luxuriously furnished with decor consisting of oak, ebony, rosewood and Belgian slate (as well as five different kinds of marble). It has been meticulously managed and maintained by its former owners (serving as a private home until 2007 when it became this small boutique hotel).
We stayed in the Chief Mate's Cabin #6: A magnificent cabin with panoramic view. The room is 18 sqm with a Queen-size bed, private bathroom and a shower. The cabin is located at the bow on the upper deck with an exit to a private outdoor deck (with great views of Gröna Lund amusement park and Kastellholmen). Breakfast was also included and was served in another beautifully decorated cabin.
I can't think of a more quintessentially Swedish experience than staying directly on the water. I highly recommend this unique and luxurious hotel to anyone looking for a memorable accomodation.
Under the same ownership and directly across from our hotel, we were fortunate enough to dine at Oaxen Slip: where they serve a unique interpretation of Swedish bistro fare with hearty and uncomplicated dishes. The ambiance is airy and inviting with prominent nautical features. The dishes were all delicious and the staff did a great job of educating us on the traditional Swedish fare as we tried each course. Even still, I very much got the impression that we were mostly surrounded by locals rather than tourists. If you're looking for a contemporary spin on traditional Swedish food in an enjoyable atmosphere, definitley pay Oaxen Slip a visit.
One of the best meals we had in Stockholm was at Den Glyden Freden (translation: The Golden Peace). They've served classic Swedish cuisine since 1722. Whether you're a well-known cultural figures, along-distance visitor or a local regular, chances are you're heading to Den Glyden Freden to enjoy the good food and the authentic atmosphere. It was here that I had the best Swedish meatballs of my entire life (served as they are traditionally: with mashed potatoes, creamy gravy, and tart lingonberry preserves. While you're enjoying the delicious food, you're also sure to appreciate the cozy candlelit ambiance and beautiful antique decor.
We loved walking to Södermalm, a prominent island directly south of Gamla Stan. This part of town has a relaxed, creative ambiance with artistic shops, eclectic cafes, and most famously, Fotografiska (a contemporary photo gallery in a former industrial building by the water). For sweeping views over the city, head to the Katarina Elevator (or even better, try dinner at Erik's).
For the second half of our time in Stockholm, we stayed at Hotel Birger Jarl. Built in 1974, the hotel has been revamped to become a lovely showcase for Swedish design. Their lobby doubles as an exhibition space for local artists, while 12 local designers have been roped in to create suites and bedrooms.
While I loved the unique experience we had at Oaxen, I will say that Birger Jarl is more centrally and conveniently located if that is a concern for you (and it was still a very lovely accomodation!). Their rates include breakfast, discounts at several local shops and restaurants, and free entrance to Kulturhuset and the National Museum of Fine Arts.
There is much more to do in Stockholm than I could fit into a single blog post, but hopefully this provides you with some insight as to what you can't miss while visiting! For more information about planning a trip, be sure to review Visit Stockholm's site.
As always, I appreciate you stopping by and reading about my travels! You may have noticed I haven't been posting quite as often as I once did... and there is a reason for that. I'm still very deep in all the planning so I can't disclose too much quite yet, but come June I'm planning to leave Nashville for about six months (fingers crossed all goes according to plan and I'll be able to share more about why!) In the meantime, know that I'm not getting lazy or halting my travel plans- just a lot of moving pieces I'm getting sorted at the moment! Stay tuned for more...
Until then, have a lovely week!