Most of the people who know me know that I love Sweden. It’s filled with beautiful landscapes, lakes, mountains, fjords, buildings, and of course people. If the country didn’t have such a harsh winter, I’d move to the capital city of Stockholm. It’s one of the most beautiful Old World cities I’ve ever been to. The people are nice, the city is easily walkable, it’s clean, it’s hip, and it has a great nightlife.
I think what makes Stockholm so charming is the setting. It’s a small city set among a bay full of little islands and inlets. Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) was built on the central island in the 13th century. The city was the capital of the Swedish empire and rose to prominence as a major trading center. Now it’s known for its architecture, expensive drinks, beautiful people, and green initiatives.
Most of the city’s historical charm is preserved in Gamla Stan, where the Royal Palace is located. But even outside of Gamla Stan, the buildings look historic and beautiful. The red, green, and yellow painted houses are especially so juxtaposed with fall foliage.
Moreover, the city is filled with nature. Trees line most of the streets, there are a lot of squares and parks, and you are never too far from the water.
There are a lot of things to do in Stockholm. I’m never bored when I go there, and many of the activities cost little money, which is great because Stockholm isn’t a cheap city.
Here are my top picks on sights to see while in Stockholm:
Walk through Gamla Stan. Visit this distinct area and learn about its history by strolling down its cobblestone streets. This was the original part of the city, and here you’ll see centuries-old buildings, the Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace, and the ancient homes of the aristocracy.
Tour the archipelago. It’s worth spending a day island-hopping. Take a bus or car to one of the main islands, and from there you can travel by boat to explore some of the other islands in the vicinity. You can find tours from many points within the city. The good tours are the full-day ones that take you out to more secluded islands.
Spend the day at Djurgården Island. An island right in the middle of Stockholm, this is a very popular tourist attraction worth seeing for yourself. You take a walking tour, eat at a relaxing restaurant, enjoy the amusement park (Gröna Lund), and visit a historic Swedish village (Skansen [see below]).
The Vasa Museum. This museum houses the world’s only preserved 17th century ship. This massive ship was supposed to highlight the power of the Swedish empire. Instead, it sank the second it left the dock. The cold waters of the bay preserved it, and now you can view it all in its unsailable glory.
The Royal Palace. Built between 1697 and 1754 and located on the east side of the Old Town, the Royal Palace is open to the public. Tickets to the Royal Apartments, the Tre Kronor Museum, the Treasury, and Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities cost 100 SEK each ($11 USD as of 2/27/2017), with the sumptuous apartments being the main draw. It is closed when dignitaries are being hosted.
Skansen. The first open-air museum in the world is also a zoological garden specializing in Nordic fauna such as moose, reindeer, bear, wolf, lynx, and wolverine. Located on the island of Djurgården, it features over 150 historic buildings from previous centuries. Hosts and hostesses in historic costumes further enhance this attraction, and domestic occupations such as weaving, spinning, and glass blowing are demonstrated.
Museum of National Antiquities. If you’re interested in Scandinavian history, this museum covers the Stone Age to the Vikings. In the Gold Room, you’ll find gold treasures from the Bronze Age to the 16th century.
National Museum. The National Museum has art by Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya, Renoir, Degas, and Gauguin, as well as well-known Swedish artists such as Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, C F Hill, and Anders Zorn. The collection is quite good, and those interested in these styles of art will be greatly pleased.
Stockholm is an expensive city to live in, but after having lived in many parts of the world, I found the city to be no more expensive than a bad day in New York. You can find cheap meals, relatively inexpensive cider and beer, and hostels that cost as much as cheap motel. It’s more expensive than Paris, but it’s not as expensive as people expect it to be. (For that, go to Oslo!)
I spent most of my money in Stockholm on food. While there are “cheap eats,” most restaurants turn out to be quite expensive when the price is converted back into dollars. A Vietnamese dinner in Stockholm, for example, cost me around $30 USD, and all I had was a beer and soup. Going out to dinner will ruin your budget.
While alcohol is taxed heavily, prices are comparable to drinking in NYC, with most beers costing around $8 USD. Wine and imported liquor, however, is really expensive. I spent over $100 USD buying my friends a round of drinks because two wanted wine and one wanted tequila.
But despite its costs, Stockholm is a magical city, and I’m happily willing to pay the price if it means I get to visit. There’s just so much beauty there, and in the summertime, the city is one of the most alive places on earth. Swedes value the small amount of nice weather they get, so expect lots of late nights (after all, the sun sets at 11 and rises at 3), festivals, and people looking to sociable time.
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