Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, has a wonderful old town, amazing views and plenty of museums to explore. The city is spread across 14 islands which means you are never far from the water, which makes for a pleasant atmosphere. It is one of the most beautiful urban areas in Europe, if not the world.
Stockholm has always been somewhere I’ve planned to visit, and it did not disappoint. I’d only been to Sweden for a whole 4 hours before. Yes you read that right. It was a brief trip to Malmö from Copenhagen in 2014. So it was great to actually go back to the country ‘properly’ and spend decent time there! This was my first trip abroad with my girlfriend Beth, so I had added excitement.
Of course, Stockholm is expensive. That’s probably whats springs to mind first for many travellers. But don’t let that put you off, it’s a great city and well worth a visit. There are loads of museums around the centre and historical sites to visit. History and culture buffs will love it! Of course it’s modern urban city too. Which means there is lots of shopping, restaurants, cafes and bars to be found too!
Flying from Bristol (UK) we had 3 nights in total. Our flight to was early, and our flight back late, so in effect we actually had 4 days. And we packed them out! Here’s what we got up to in the city. I hope it also acts as a guide for anyone thinking of visiting themselves!
Arriving into Stockholm we caught a bus from the airport to our hotel. It was fast and efficient. We stayed at First Hotel Fridhemsplan on Kungsholmen island. The room was small but we all we needed, perfect for a couple on a weekend break. The breakfast is fantastic! Its buffet style with tonnes of options. We stuffed ourselves each morning! The hotel is near to the Fridhemsplan metro stop. Stockholm’s metro is really quick and easy to use. It’s a very good way to get around the city. This station is only 2 stops from the city centre too, perfect for exploring!
Stockholm’s metro also had some amazing artwork on display too. The longest art exhibition in the world, the stations have different designs and are well worth checking out. T-Centralen is the central stop, where all 3 of Stockholm’s metro lines meet.
Stockholm’s old town is one of the best preserved in Europe. As the country was neutral in World War 2 it wasn’t bombed, thus Gamla stan (as it is known) has survived in much better condition that many other old town’s in Europe. Founded in 1252 Gamla Stan is the core of Stockholm and a great place to wander around. After we had deposited our bags at the hotel and grabbed some lunch we joined a free walking tour to learn about the area. Starting at 1pm we took part in the Old Town Tour run by Free Tour Stockholm. Our guide was Melanie, it was actually her first tour and she did a great job! There is a lot of history to learn about Gamla Stan and Stockholm in general, so it was really worth doing to learn about it.
We covered a lot of things so here is a few that I found particularly interesting:
The Royal Palace is located on the island. We learnt about how the original palace burned down in the 1600’s and the palace standing now was finished in 1754. The Royal family do not live here, they live elsewhere at Drottningholm Palace on the outskirts of Stockholm. Our guide also told us about one of the Royal Palace’s ghosts, ‘The White Lady’. She is said to show up when someone in the royal family is about to die.
Stockholm’s smallest public statue is ‘Järnpojke’ (Iron Boy). Know as ‘little boy who looks at the moon’ this guy is tiny, only 15 centimetres high. Apparently it’s good luck to rub his head.
On one street you can find a Viking Runestone that has been taken from its original location and built into the side of a house.
The Stockholm Bloodbath took place in November 1520.
Melanie told us the story of Christian II of Denmark and how he had 82 members of the Swedish nobility decapitated in Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan. After lengthy war he had won out and been crowned King Of Sweden. He then had those who had opposed him killed in brutal fashion by an executioner said to be drinking a bottle of Schnapps. The executions were said to have led to the square being bathed in blood, hence becoming known as a ‘bloodbath’.
The stones on the red building below are said to represent those executed. Though whether this is actually true no one knows.
We covered plenty of other history on the tour and I would encourage you to take it yourself and learn about Gamla Stan’s history!
After the tour we walked around Gamla Stan ourselves. We checked out some of the streets we’d missed but also went back and reexamined the sights we’d been shown. A very nice area to explore!
On the walk back from Gamla Stan we found the attached Riddarholmen island. There is a very photogenic square here with some really nice buildings. It contains a statue of Birger Jarl, the statesman considered the founder of Stockholm.
In the evening me and Beth ate some food in an Italian restaurant near the hotel then had an early night, we were exhausted! Our first day has been very successful and it was good to get some rest before the next!
After a big breakfast we purchased a 72 hour travel card each to use on the metro system. Stockholm is pretty walkable but when you are cramming in a lot of things it’s always good to use the metro to start and end your day, plus make the odd journey in between!
We then started out Day 2 exploring with another free walking tour, this time the City Tour with our guide Ben. After learning about the old town yesterday it was good to learn more about the rest of Stockholm.
There were plenty of things that Ben told us about, so again I will mention some of my favourites!
The Stockholm Concert Hall is where the Noble Prizes are given out annually. Ben told us some information about the prizes and how they started.
In front of the concert hall is Hötorget (Haymarket), a local market square. On the opposite side from the concert hall is this building.
This used to be the PUB Department store, a major department store in the city. An interesting fact about that store was that Greta Garbo‘s career really began here. She was working for the store and then started doing modelling for the stores catalogues. One thing led to another and she became a huge Hollywood star!
Whilst walking along a street we stopped to look at a Gym. Odd stop for a walking tour? Well it turns out the Heir to the Swedish throne met her husband here! Crown Princess Victoria was attending the gym run by Daniel Westling who also her personal trainer. Our guide told us about how this eventually led to their marriage.
After this we learned about Stockholm Syndrome. We went to Norrmalmstorg square where a bank robbery there gave birth to this term! We learnt the details of the robbery and how the hostages ended up sympathising with their captors. The building is no longer a bank, but this is the infamous site:
After the tour finished we headed over to Södermalm (Söder for short). This island is just south of Gamla Stan. It gives some great views of the old town, as well as around. Traditionally it was a poor working class area but has experienced rapid change and is now seen as a hipster/bohemian area. This has also brought gentrification and house/rental price increases.
We found this mural painted on one of the buildings here. We mused for a while about its meaning. What do you think?
After this we headed for a vegetarian buffet Hermans restaurant. I really enjoyed the food and if you are a vege or vegan then this is a must in Stockholm. Buffets are the best value for lunch in the city. Elsewhere you will see lots of Asian buffets, particularly Chinese food. The restaurant also had great views over the water towards old town and other parts of the city.
Sofo is an area of shops and cafes that is regarded as one of the most ‘hip’ places in Stockholm. We actually found it a bit disappointing, not really meeting out expectation. I suppose as we have Bristol so close to us here in the UK we are used to these kinds of places. There are some vintage shops which stand out in particular, so if that’s your thing then stop by the area if you visit.
After a walk we came across the Skinnarviksberget area. It was a sunny day and the area was full of people, many of them on the younger side. Its got some green spaces and a hill to climb that gives great views.You could see the town hall nicely from here. That is where the annual Nobel prize banquet is held after the award shave been given out.
After Söder we headed back to the hotel for some rest, before heading back into the city. Pub Anchor is a metal pub so we felt right at home there. The decor and clientele are generally pretty metal/alternative. We had some food and some reasonably priced booze. Then it was time to catch some sleep!
We started the day by checking out some more of Stockholm’s metro stations.
First up was the ‘cave like’ orangey brown colour of Rådhuset. This had a really interesting effect. It nicely sums up the feel of many of Stockholm’s stations, you kind of forget you are in a metro system and have a different feel instead.
Then we visited Kungsträdgården. Here there is a display that looks like old roman ruins. There are also paintings over the roof and floor. It’s all very colourful, we though it was very cool!
Djurgården island was next up on our list to see. It’s one of Stockholm’s central islands and easy to reach from the centre either on foot or by tram. We actually walked there from Kungsträdgården as it was a nice day and we got some good views across the bay.
There are several museums on this island, and we were focusing on 2 that day.
In 1628 the warship Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage, and sank almost immediately. In 1961 it was salvaged almost entirely intact, and it is now on display at the Vasa Museum. We were really impressed by being able to see such a warship displayed, this really is a unique display.
As well as information about the ship the museum covers the lives of those on board. When the ship was salvaged several skeletons were recovered and there is information about those remains. The historical context for the warship is explained in detail as well. Sweden was involved in a power struggle for the Baltic sea, particularly fighting Poland at the time of Vasa’s construction. There really is a wealth of information here and we spend over 2 hours exploring it.
Skansen Open Air Museum
Next up was the Skansen Open Air Museum. This was the first open air museum opened in the world, in 1891. Its purpose is to show what life was like in Sweden before industrialisation. There is also a zoo with Scandinavian animals such as wolves and elk.
One of my favourite things here was the Sami camp. They are a people indigenous to the north of Sweden. They also live in parts of Norway, Finland and Russia. It was cool to see the types of buildings they historically use as they are very different from the others on display.
The Town Quarter is really interesting too. It contains old buildings from Stockholm that were moved to Skansen in the 1920s and 1930s. They date from the 18th and 19th centuries, their purpose is to show you what urban life was like then. There are workshops there too. This includes for example a glass works which dates from the 1930’s. There was loads of glass objects on sale if your into that kinda thing.
I also enjoyed seeing the old farm buildings that are dotted around. For example the Älvros Farmstead which comes from Härjedalen in northern Sweden. Those buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
If your interested in learning more about the museum then you can check out the museums website here: http://www.skansen.se/en/
That evening we joined another tour, this time a paid one. It was the Stockholm Ghost Walk in Gamla Stan and it was a lot of fun! We were shown around the ‘darker’ side of Gamla Stan by our tour guide. Whilst some of this information had already been told to us on the old town tour it was cool to hear it again with a different twist. I won’t give too much away other than it was really enjoyable and I highly recommend it!
After this we grabbed a drink at The Liffey, an Irish pub in the old town. It was very busy, it being a Saturday night after all. Not a bad pub though if you fancy a drink whilst your in the old town.
On our last morning in Stockholm we checked out one last metro station for its artwork. Thorildsplan is the station in question, and it was definitely worth the trip! This was a particularly cool one, featuring retro video games.
Back to museum island
After this we returned to Djurgården island. This time we went to see the Nordic Museum. Nordic culture is the focus here, particularly that of Sweden itself. The museum had a temporary exhibition focusing on 1950’s life, particularity on women and fashion in Sweden at that time. The post war period was of course one of big change and increasing US influence, so it’s a good one to cover. There was also another temporary exhibition, this one being on light in the Nordic region. Given how the region experience both very dark winters and midnight sun in the summer its interesting to look at importance it has played in the local psyche. Both were interesting to walk round and have a look at. There is also one called Sápmi which is an exhibition about Sami life in Sweden.
Before we had to headed to the airport we spent a bit more time in Gamla Stan, to browse the shops for a while. In particular there is a sci-fi shop there, named Science Fiction Bokhandeln. It had tonnes of stuff that was of interest and if your into that then make sure you stop by.
I really enjoyed visiting Stockholm, it is a beautiful city. The old town in particular is really fun to explore, and it was fun to walk around the waterside areas too. I enjoy visiting museums which is another plus point for the city, there are some great ones to see. The Vasa Museum is particularly special! The costs of exploring Stockholm were expected and yes the city did live up to its expensive reputation. But don’t let that deter you, it is worth it. The free walking tours were a fun way to see the city and all the paid activities we did I felt were worth it. I definitely would like to go back to Sweden to see more of the country!
Thanks for reading this blog post about Stockholm! I love exploring European cities, some others I’ve visited include Sofia, Athens and Berlin! If you’re exploring Scandinavia in particular that I hope my guide to Copenhagen can help you out!