Scandinavia is probably my favourite place on the planet to visit, and after visiting Iceland and Norway, Sweden was next on the list. Stockholm was my first Scandinavian city experience as I’ve always gravitated to more nature-related spots before, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The people were just as friendly, the food was just as tasty and the scenery was still spectacular, although slightly different from the dramatic landscapes I’ve seen before. After a long weekend spent in Stockholm, here are my tips on travelling to this beautiful city.
How to get around in Stockholm
Stockholm has one of the most beautiful underground train systems in the world, and there are tours dedicated to navigating the tunnels and admiring all the art. It’s also pretty easy to use, and all the tickets are bought and activated through an app on your phone, called SL. The app isn’t without its flaws though and tends to crash a lot (especially if you have poor signal), so but if worst comes to worst, you can usually buy tickets at most big train stops. If you’re staying pretty central you can walk between lots of the main attractions too, and Stockholm is a stunning city, so you’ll probably be rewarded with some gorgeous sights along the way.
Where to stay in Stockholm
If you’re travelling on your own like I did, or even with a friend, I couldn’t recommend City Backpackers enough. It’s a hostel so it’s super affordable and crazy easy to meet people, but it has loads of little perks. There is a free sauna in the evenings, as well as a variety of events you can take part in, and free pasta and coffee all day. There’s a cute private courtyard you can hang out in the summer or ‘gram the snow falling in winter (which is what I did), and a fantastic restaurant next door where you get tokens for cheap beer and meatballs. I was in an eight-bedroom female dorm, where I met five amazing Russian girls who I ate and drank with every evening, while also meeting loads of other really friendly people from the hostel who joined us on our nights out. It was also located really central as well, walking distance to the central train and bus depot, main shopping street and loads of the attractions. Overall, it was easily one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in.
Foods you have to try
Anyone who’s been to Ikea knows the Swedish do a mean meatball, so a day in Stockholm without consuming a meatball is a day wasted in my opinion. Nomad Swedish Food & Bar do a fantastic serving for a great price, plus the actual restaurant is quite young and cool and the staff are super friendly. They serve the meatballs up in a really tasty, rich gravy, alongside mashed potato, lingonberries and pickles. It’s hearty and nourishing, exactly what you want to warm you up after a long day exploring a new city.
Another food you absolutely must try when you go to Sweden is kanelbullar, or cinnamon buns. They’re wildly different to any other cinnamon buns I’ve ever had (erase any thought of Cinnabon from your mind) in that they use cardamon which gives them a slightly savoury taste to balance out all the sugar-sweetness. If you’re like me you can get them any time of day (cinnamon buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner please), but they’re commonly found being consumed as part of fika. Fika is a really strong part of Swedish culture, and it essentially means to sit down and have a coffee or afternoon tea with a friend, and they believe everyone should make time for fika at least once a day.
Visiting the museums
Stockholm has some fantastic museums, and when the weather is cold and snowy outside, visiting one of them is a great way to spend a few hours warming up inside. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re interested in Sweden’s history, Viking history, the Nobel Peace Prize or just a massive ABBA fan.
As I only had three days in Stockholm, I picked the museum that seemed the most unique to me: the Vasa Museum. It’s a maritime museum and the feature piece is a perfectly preserved 17th-century warship that sunk on its maiden voyage, before being salvaged and restored in 1961. The low levels of oxygen in the Baltic Sea allowed 95% of Vasa’s wooden structure to remain intact, so most of the ship you can see at the museum is still original. As well as viewing the actual ship, there are about five or six floors where you can learn about the Vasa and view some of the artifacts found onboard, the maritime history of Sweden and also the incredible story of how they actually raised the ship from the seafloor. I spent about three-to-four hours here in total, and it was definitely worth the entrance fee.
The drinking situation in Stockholm
It’s no secret that alcohol is EXPENSIVE in Scandinavia, but it’s also no secret that when on holiday, one must drink (especially if you’re Australian). If you’re smart you can pick up some fuel from duty-free at the airport before you hop on your plane, but if not, not all is lost. Beer is generally not too expensive (compared to wine and spirits, anyway), and there are some spots around town that offer happy hour specials and deals.
If you’re travelling solo and are looking for a fun Friday or Saturday night out, I’d recommend joining one of those tourist pub crawls you get in every city in the world. Seriously, I think you could go to Antarctica and they’ll be running a pub crawl tour there. Some are definitely better than others though, and the one in Stockholm was pretty decent. If you’re staying at City Backpackers they have one that picks you up from the hostel, and you get a 20% discount on the price, making it 200 SEK. Included in the price is entry to all the pubs, bars and clubs, as well as a free shot at each venue, and a wrist band that gets you discount drinks (usually beer or wine) at the bars. It’s probably the best and cheapest way to spend a night out in Stockholm, and you’re almost guaranteed to come out of it with a bunch of new best friends from all over the world.
Where to get out and immerse yourself in nature
I know I said this was my first Scandi city experience, but you just cannot go to Sweden and not squeeze in a little bit of nature. If you’re visiting in the summer months you can kayak or take a boat tour through the archipelago and stop off at some of the beautiful islands there. If it’s in the winter you can engage in all the snow sports you desire, with lots of spots for ice skating as well (City Backpackers has ice skates you can use).
I went in autumn, so neither of these options were available to me. I was incredibly lucky to be blessed with some light snow during my time there though, so I caught the public bus to a nearby national park, Tyresta. Here you can hike, ride a bike, camp, and just enjoy your time wandering through the forest, and by lakes and rivers. If you have the time, I’d recommend stopping by a bakery and stocking up on sandwiches, kanelbullar and water, and then spend a day losing yourself in the wilderness.
Warm-up with some shopping
Like most things in Stockholm, shopping is not cheap, although there is a large shopping spot near central station if you wanted to have a little wander. Norrmalm is the area to head to, with loads of street and shopping centres all packed together. One of the big ones is Sturegallerian, with shops like Zara and Calzedonia inside.
Personally I wouldn’t really advise getting any souvenirs of touristy-gifts in Stockholm. They’re all really quite expensive (around £10-20+, or $20-40 AUD), and there’s nothing really that memorable or must-have at the souvenir shops. You’d be far better off spending that money and time on fun experiences while you’re in Stockholm.
What’s the deal with the airports
If there is one piece of advice you take away from this article, let it be this. If you’re planning on catching a bus to the airport (there are four airports and the trains don’t go to all of them), you’ll be getting the Flygbussarna. This isn’t like a regular airport bus that leaves every half hour, these buses are tied to the flights leaving from the airport. So say, if there is only one flight leaving from that airport that day, there will only be one bus to the airport that day, at a certain time. Miss it and that’s too bad.
That’s exactly what happened to me, as I didn’t realise my flight was the only flight leaving from Västerås Airport that day, therefore there was only one bus from central Stockholm to that airport. I arrived at the bus depot, ticket in hand, ten minutes after the bus had left (which was a good three hours plus before the flight) to be told this, and the next couple of hours were SO STRESSFUL. I had to buy a new ticket for a train to the closest city to this airport, which didn’t leave for another 45 minutes, and then run through the snow, carrying my suitcase above my head, pay 350 NOK (around £30 or $55 AUD) for a five (FIVE) minute taxi ride to the airport, to which I ran into exactly 30 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. Fortunately for me, the airport is little more than a shed, the plane hadn’t arrived yet, and 80% of people still hadn’t passed through the small door that was security/passport control. I made my flight, but spent a good £70 more than I needed, and lost years of my life stressing in the process.
Lesson: check to make sure there is more than one bus that goes to the airport that day, and if there isn’t, don’t miss that one.
Take the time to stop and smell the (figurative) roses
When visiting a new city, one of the best things to do is just take an afternoon or so to wander around the area. You’ll never know what hidden gems you’ll find along the way, and this way you get a really good feel of the heart of the city. My favourite area to do this in was Gamla Stan, which is the old town. Think tiny cobblestone streets, old stone buildings with awning signs, and quaint little cafes perfect for a little fika. Make sure you note down any interesting restaurants or bars you find along the way so you can come back later that evening!
Stockholm was the perfect city to get away for a long weekend, as it was so different from other places I’ve been to before. All the waterways weaving under old stone bridges and stunning architecture made it a dream to walk around in. The culture is really friendly and loveable as well, with so many little customs and plenty of history to learn about. There truly is something for everyone in Stockholm, whether you’re a foodie, a Viking buff or a lover of nature.