I flew to Sweden, leaving the city that never sleeps to come to the city that seemingly is always sleeping (at least in the winter); entering Stockholm not having any kind of expectations. I knew very little about Scandinavia, but have always been very curious about it.
A little more about Stockholm. . .
Stockholm is known as the capital of Scandinavia and is also the capital and largest city in Sweden. Some refer to it as the Venice of Scandinavia because of its 57 bridges that connect the 14 surrounding islands that make up the city.
As much as 90% of Stockholm residents live within 100 feet of a public park or green space – something that the Swedes take much pride in. They are a very active and outdoorsy country. In the summer there are a ton of outdoors activities to keep you occupied in Stockholm. Even in the winter time, the Swedes manage to stay active.
You can tell even by the pace of their swift walk to work in the morning that Swedes like to move. I don’t usually get passed by many on the sidewalks, however, in Stockholm that wasn’t the case. Many locals ride bikes through the city. Very rarely will you need to use public transport if you are just visiting Stockholm. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly city.
Stockholm has three airports (don’t be fooled into thinking there’s only one like I was). However, there is one main airport and that’s Arlanda. It’s very convenient to reach Stockholm City from Arlanda, however quite pricey. Hop on the Arlanda Express to Stockholm City for 300 Swedish krona which is their currency; equivalent to about $34 for a round trip fare so that you can get back to the airport at the end of your time in Sweden. The Express will get you to the center of the city in about 20 minutes traveling at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour! As a cheaper alternative, Flygbussarna offers roundtrip fares for around $23 – still quite expensive for airport transfer.
I stayed at two hostels while I was in Stockholm, both located five minutes from each other and the central station. The Generator was a pleasant stay with a lively environment. The ensuites there almost felt like a private hotel room. However, there’s no kitchen which I found to be tough on the wallet in such an expensive country.
I recommend staying at City Backpackers Hostel just down the road. In addition to being the same price, there’s also more opportunity for social interaction, FREE pasta every day at your convenience, and FREE long board and ice-skate rentals (I told you Swedes like their outdoors). In addition, on Fridays, they provide a great discount on a Stockholm Pub Crawl that is actually very affordable and will save you a lot of money if you are trying to experience Stockholm nightlife.
Before leaving for Sweden, I was told a million times how crazy I was for traveling to Stockholm in the middle of winter. It is true, a Scandinavian winter can be Hell (or the opposite depending on how you think about it). It can get very cold. However, for the week that I was there, I was never too cold. The wind (or lack thereof) never played a factor. But as many Swedes told me, I need to come back for the beautiful Swedish summers.
There are a lot of native English speakers living and visiting Stockholm. My city tour guide was actually from New York. You won’t have any problem getting around speaking English. Almost everyone can speak fluent English in Sweden.
They are ahead of the environmental protection game which was a breath of fresh air (literally). Most of their transportation ran on electricity or hybrid systems. Sweden gets a large portion of their energy from converted garbage. Yes, you read that right – garbage! The Swedes actually import garbage from other countries to be converted to electricity. How cool!
Random Tip: Be patient! Swedes obey pedestrian traffic signs very well. Don’t jaywalk if you don’t want to be pegged for a tourist.
Lastly, for a country that gives up roughly 65% of their paycheck to taxes (or so I was told by a local), everyone seems to be living a happy, worry-free lifestyle in Stockholm. The atmosphere is very laid back in the city.
What to do
There are a lot of attractions, and even more things to do in the summer, but for me, the attraction was learning my way around the beautiful city itself. I spent most of my time in three areas: Old Town, Sodermalm, and Drottninggatan.
Old Town (Gamla Stan)
This area of Stockholm is definitely my favorite. Gamla Stan was originally the only area that Stockholm occupied before its population boomed and much of it has been left unchanged and still inhabited. The stone streets, colorful buildings, and narrow alleyways make for great photos and even better avenues of exploration. Vasterlanggatan, although truly a beauty, is the busiest street in Gamla Stan and full of souvenir shops. Take the free walking tour of Old Town that meets every day at 10 A.M. in front of the Gamla Stan metro station for more of its history.
Recommended to me several times, I explored Sodermalm every day I was in Stockholm. Supposedly, this area of the city is the part that the younger crowd has kind of adopted as their own. They’ve made it into the hipster hangout of Stockholm with music shops and cafes lining the streets. In addition, I saw live music venues and art studios, too – if you’re interested in that kind of stuff.
To get an authentic taste of Swedish cuisine, grab a bite to eat at Meatballs for the People in the Sodermalm neighborhood. I had a traditional meatball and mashed potato dish that the staff recommended. The menu is in English and the waiters are all fluent and friendly. My friend who joined me even brought her dog inside this restaurant with no problems! Very laid back establishment.
This street, located just outside of Gamla Stan and runs throughout a majority of the city center, is the largest pedestrian street in Stockholm. It’s full of shopping (the Swedes are very stylish) and restaurants of all kinds. I didn’t do any shopping (you know because this is a budget blog), but I can bet you can find just about anything in the shops on Drottninggatan. It’s not hard to find Drottninggatan. Just wander around the city center and you’ll find yourself there soon enough.
Other notable advice. . .
- Visit Hornstull to pick up street food every Saturday and Sunday from 11-5 o’clock.
- Alcohol is only sold at government-run stores. Look for the green and yellow signs labeled “Systembolaget” for alcohol. Be quick, they close around 7 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
- Grab a relatively cheap meal at Falafelbaren and then go window shopping around the SoFo district.
- Having a night out? Try out Tradgarden. Be warned, clubs in Stockholm almost always have a steep cover charge.
- Dovas and Lions Bar are the cheapest bars that I saw. Don’t expect glamor, but this is where you’ll find the cheapest pints.
- Take a day trip to the university town of Uppsala.
- Monteliusvagan offers the best views of the city and is my favorite place to take in the city of Stockholm. It’s actually just a public park and can be a great place to check out the sunset. Don’t forget the sun sets extra early in a Swedish winter and extra late during a Swedish summer.
More. . .
- Visit Kulturhuset and see if you can help me understand exactly what it is. I was told by several people (my tour guide included) that it was a cultural hot spot for young people, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you exactly what it is. Anyway, it’s free.
- Check out the Laurin House near Sodermalm. It’s the castle-looking building with round corner towers that can be seen from all over the city. It’s a pretty cool area with a lot of history.
- In the winter, go ice-skating on any of the many frozen ponds or lakes. In the summer use the lakes for kayaking among many other things.
Stockholm was an enjoyable time and definitely a must-see of Scandinavia. If you have questions about your trip, don’t be afraid to reach out to me and I will see if I can help.