Stockholm has a very unusual geographic layout for a capital city. It is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges on an archipelago of 24,000 islands and islets. If that sounds daunting, it need not be as it is a city easily explored on foot or a short ferry ride from one island to another. Goway’s Robert Glazier explores this fascinating city and the must see sites on your Sweden vacation.
What I personally find is that each island has its own character and individual attractions. The more time you devote to Stockholm, the more satisfaction you will experience. It is impossible to give a total rundown on everything that is available to the visitor (Stockholm has 70 excellent museums) but here are some of my recommendations.
Nobody should miss Gamla Stan which literally translates as Old Town and is a must visit while on your Sweden vacation. It is in many ways the heart and soul of the city and is surrounded by other islands on all sides. It exudes charm mainly because of its many pedestrian cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved old buildings. It is a pleasure to simply stroll around.
The imposing Royal Palace is the first thing you will see as you approach Gamla Stan from the north. This official residence of the King of Sweden consists of 600 rooms and dominates the skyline. It is open to the public and within its interior it has 5 museums together with the Armoury which contains items such as royal costumes, armour naturally and coronation coaches and carriages.
You might want to catch the Changing of the Guard which takes place around midday. I thoroughly enjoy visiting the Nobel Museum which in a very simple way through viewed self-directed monitor screens gives you a comprehensive review of every Nobel Prize winner going back quite a few years. There are also exhibits about the founder, Alfred Nobel and the history of the prize. As you meander through the narrow streets of Gamla Stan, you will find many boutiques, cafes and bars all very inviting. You may also perhaps come across a restaurant which you can earmark for your evening’s dining pleasure.
Norrmalm is the commercial centre and an excellent place for department store-style shopping. This is also where the bus and railway stations are to be found for when you eventually journey outside of the city for other great Sweden vacation destinations. There are two venues offering live performances, the ornate Royal Swedish Opera House and the Stockholm Concert Hall for symphony and musical concerts. One of Stockholm’s principal museums is located here, the National Museum with its collection of paintings by major International artists. Unfortunately it is currently closed for renovations until 2017. Some of its contents however have been transferred to the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts.
Ostermalm is a very attractive upscale residential district. You can start here by strolling along the Strandvagan for great views across the water to Gamla Stan and other nearby islands. It is home to the Museum of Science and Technology where you can carry out your own experiments and the Swedish History Museum. You might enjoy a visit to the exquisite covered Ostermalm Food Hall dating back to the 1880’s. You can check out traditional Swedish delicacies while watching the locals do their upscale shopping. If you explore the back streets of Ostermalm, you will find quite a number of very good restaurants, cafes and bars frequented for the most part by the locals.
Sodermalm is Stockholm’s Greenwich Village/Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood located on an island immediately south of Gamla Stan. It is lively, somewhat trendy and attracts the younger generation especially in the evening. It is the place to shop at vintage and small designer stores. There are many pleasant cafes at which to mingle with Stockholmers taking their daily caffeine supply. Sodermalm also offers two of the best viewpoints in Stockholm. One is Fjallgatan, a historic neighbourhood situated high up on the edge of a cliff with amazing views of the city and the harbour and has some well preserved wooden buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The other is Monteliusvagen, a 500 metre/quarter of a mile long walking path with wonderful views of the harbour and the city especially at sunrise and sunset. It is lined with charming houses on one side and the views on the other. If you are a fan of the writer, Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.), Sodermalm is the setting for his novels. You can walk in the footsteps of Larsson’s characters here. The Stockholm City Museum in Sodermalm is unfortunately closed until 2018. It used to have an exhibition about Stieg Larsson but I am not sure if it will still be there when the museum reopens.
Another island is Kungsholm which is not particularly interesting as it is mainly residential. However, it is the home of the Stockholm City Hall, one of Stockholm’s most famous buildings due to its grand ceremonial halls and unusual art pieces. It is also the venue for the Nobel Prize banquet. The only way to enter the City Hall is on a guided tour.
Skeppsholmen is a small island adjacent to Gamla Stam and houses the Museum of Modern Art. Just off the island is an interesting old sailing ship which is now a youth hostel. Each year, the Stockholm Jazz Festival is held on Skeppsholmen, usually in October.
We now come to the “Jewel in the Crown”, Djurgarden, an island which is a verdant park and which used to be a royal hunting ground. This delightful green area is pleasant enough for a long walk through the wooded glades and by its small lakes or around its perimeter with great views of the water and the neighbouring islands. But it is also home to one of Stockholm’s most treasured and most visited museums, the Vasa Museum.
Although it is dedicated to just one object, a ship, it is an absolutely fascinating museum. The Vasa was a huge 17th Century built sailing ship which sank in the middle of Stockholm’s harbour, unfortunately on its maiden voyage. It lay on the seabed for more than 300 years before it was dredged up from its resting place in 1961. Since then, this 69 metre/225 feet long ship has been cleaned up and restored to all its finery and is now displayed in the middle of a large open auditorium with views of and into the ship decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures. You cannot go aboard or even touch it. However, there are wonderful stories and exhibits about not just the salvaging of the ship but of life at those times and the people who lost their lives when it sank.
For a change of pace, down the road is the ABBA Museum. This museum may not be for everyone but if you enjoy the music of Sweden’s famous singing quartet (think Mamma Mia), you will have a couple of hours of fun and music. You will see their costumes, gold records and other memorabilia. You can watch videos of them performing and talking and also go into a studio and sing along with them. The Skansen Open Air Museum is also close at hand. This is the oldest open-air museum in the world and is combined with the zoo. It represents Sweden in miniature with 150 farms and dwellings from various areas of the country including artisans’ workshops, dairies, bakeries and handicraft centres. If you have any time left, not far away is the Nordiska Museum, Sweden’s largest culture and history museum. It is a collection of everything Swedish from an exhibition on the Sami (Laplanders,) to fashion, home interiors and paintings. From Djurgarden, you can hop on a ferry for the short ride to Gamla Stan.
A little out of town, but a great addition to any Sweden vacation, is Drottningholm Palace. Actually this is where the royal family really reside even though the Royal Palace is designated their official residency. This 18th Century beautiful Versailles–like palace is situated on Lovo Island in Lake Malaren.
An interesting way to see Stockholm is on a cruise. These vary in length but probably the most popular one is around the central islands with a passageway cutting through Djurgarden. Another unusual ride is on the Stockholm subway system. Apart from being a convenient way of getting around, a large number of the stations have artistic decorations including sculptures, mosaics, paintings and engravings, mainly on the platforms. It has been called “The World’s Longest Art Exhibition”. If you only see one station, head to the central Kungstradgarden Station.
If this article on Stockholm has you considering a visit to Stockholm, one, you will not be disappointed if you decide to go and two, allow yourself enough time to do justice to this fabulous city.
4-Day Stockholm In-Depth
Get the latest travel trends & hear about the best deals on vacations around the world.
If you’re a Globetrotter, these are the newsletters for you!