After booking a ticket midday Thursday, Andy and I were on the plane Friday night after work. Since traveling Europe was the reason we decided to move to the United Kingdom (U.K.), we booked a weekend trip to Stockholm, Sweden.
It’s almost spring in Sweden, which is the perfect time to visit. The water still a hard surface of slowly melting ice with highs around 40-degrees (~4-degrees celsius).
Fourteen islands make up the city of Stockholm, which is located on the Baltic Sea archipelago. The city is very walkable for tourists but also has bus, ferry, and Underground public transportation options. We opted not to use the public transit as walking would slow our travel pace to enjoy the views and neighborhoods of the city.
First thing to know: Stockholm is not cheap. Most of the food and hotel options are expensive even on the off-season. You have options though. I’ll be sharing more about the food separately.
Gamla Stan – Old Town
Gamla Stan is one of the more romantic places to wander around. Why? Because it’s a central location and is a quaint area for walking around. Small bakeries line the streets. Don’t forget to stop in and try the cinnamon buns or the semla.
We’re early-risers when on vacation because we want to see as much as possible. Stockholm, at least this time of year, isn’t a place for the earlybird. Most places didn’t open until 9 am, and we found ourselves walking around trying to find a coffee to warm up from the brisk morning air. Fortunately, walking around gave us ideas on what to do the rest of the day.
Kungliga slottet – The Royal Palace
It’s hard not to find your way to the Royal Palace when exploring Gamla Stan. Here, you can find Royal Guards protecting its walls. The Royal Family does business at the palace but no longer resides here. If you want to see where the family lives today, take a day trip out of Stockholm to Drottningholm Palace.
You can see the Royal Gems (the Treasury), learn about the history of the palace (Tre Kronor Museum), or view old artifacts and weapons (The Royal Armoury) throughout the palace. Some have free admission and some require payment. With so much to see, I was happy spending our money elsewhere. For more information head to the palace website.
Nobelmuseet – The Nobel Museum
Located in Gamla Stan and opening at 10 am, it’s a good place to start your day. They have guided tours included as part of the entrance fee. Here, you’ll learn about the Nobel ceremony and recent recipients. Every year, the judges select from a pool of nominations for the following categories: physics, chemistry, peace, medicine, economics, and literature. As you enter, the ceiling has a rotating belt of all past winners that takes six hours if one were to stand there and read all the posters. Walk around and learn more about the featured and most renowned winners with displays of their work.
Medeltidsmuseet – Medieval Museum
The Medieval Museum is located on the small island of Helgeandsholmen. The admission is free and you can see the original 16th century wall of Stockholm within the museum. It displays history from the early days of Stockholm. The main exhibition includes the remains of an old warship, known as the Riddarholmsskeppet.
Vasamuseet – Vasa Museum
Do you like big boats? Then you’ll love the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a ship ordered by the Swedish king, Gustav II Adolf, in 1625. The Vasa was supposed to be an indestructible warship measuring 69 meters long and more than 50 meters tall. However, as it took its maiden voyage, wind gusts caused the ship to sway and lost stability causing it to flood slowly. The Vasa was only 1,300 meters from the shore and could still be seen from the shipyard. After sinking, the ship was forgotten about.
It wasn’t until 333 years later that the ship was recovered after digging tunnels under the ship for cables to thread through to pull it out of the water. Fortunately, the Baltic Sea has small traces of salt water, which has preserved the boat over the years. It was reconstructed, dried out, and placed on display for the public.
Stockholms Stadshus – City Hall
Wanting another high view of the city, I wanted to climb the City Hall Tower, so Sunday morning I headed to City Hall to join their first public tour at 10 am. Unfortunately, my little research led me to learn that the tower is only open from May to September.
I did have a great time on the hour-long tour, which involved the Blue Hall (Blå hallen) the Gold Hall (Gyllene salen), the Oval Room, and the Council Chamber (Rådssalen). Stockholm is progressive and currently has 50 out of 101 municipal council held by women. The building was made with over 8 million red bricks. Half the hall is open to the public while others sections are offices for the municipal employees.
Stockholms Stadsbibliotek – Stockholm Public Library
Wanting to explore a new area, I decided to walk to the Public Library. Here, you can visit without payment and skim the shelves for books. I suggest visiting Observatorielunden Park, which overlooks the library and has more rooftop views of Stockholm. The observatory has the longest continuously recorded weather station in the world.
Stockholms Centralstation – Stockholm Central Station
Need a break from sightseeing? Consider heading to Stockholm’s Central Station, the biggest station in Sweden, to people-watch instead. Find a seat and use this time off the streets to plan your next move. As someone from the United States, these types of stations are a rare find. It’s interesting to see how many people use the trains and buses as transportation. There are even a few good places to eat or grab coffee at as you people-watch.
Stockholm Winter Boat Tour
It’s a little bit more spendy than museums, but if you’re spending the weekend in the city, it will showcase the archipelagic features that make up the area and the city. Spend an hour sitting on fur coats and wrapped in fleece blankets, which are provided by the tour. Choose the comfort of a heated inside area or brave the weather and sit on the top deck wrapped in blankets. The tour takes passengers out to the Fjäderholmarna islands before turning around and heading back to the city. The waterways have few boats traveling this time of year making it an escape from the traffice. We learn that 1 in 6 Stockholm residents own boats, so when the weather is warmer, I’m sure there is more water traffic than what we saw. Learn light history and relax as the guides tell you about the buildings and islands the boat passes.
Getting to Stockholm
There are four airports: Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Stockholm-Bromma Airport, Stockholm-Skavsta Airport, and Stockholm Västerås Airport.
Stockholm Skavsta Airport – We flew into the Skavsta (NYO) airport, which is a bit far from the city center. Your best bet is taking the 80-minute Flygbussarna Airport coaches bus ride. It is a little expensive, but way less than what taking a taxi or renting a car would cost.
For more information on getting to the city from the airports, check out Visit Stockholm’s recommendations.
Where to Stay
I booked a last-minute boat hostel in Södermalm that overlooked City Hall (Stockholms stadshus) and other parts of the city. On a map, it looks far away from Gamla Stan but was only a 20-minute walk across the bridge. The walk had views of the city and was definitely worth the longer commute as I found most beer and restaurants I wanted to see on this island. Rygerfjord Hotel & Hostel has private rooms with shared bathrooms. I opted for the cheaper room with a small porthole view. Other than sleeping, I didn’t spend much time exploring outside of the room. The wifi worked well, and it was clean.
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