Stockholm: city guide. Café culture, waterside living, art and design and the friendliest Scandinavians
December 8, 2015 | By: High50
Stockholm. Waterfront. Flickr 620x349

Stockholm is a city built on islands and the sea is a big part of its culture

Why go

Stockholm is a beautiful city to visit, shyer and smaller than its Scandinavian sisters, made up of almost 30,000 craggy islands. These range from vibrant areas full of sleek Swedish design to clusters of rock formation (not all of the islands are inhabited). It’s possible to walk almost everywhere in this open-minded capital – everywhere that you don’t need a boat to get to, that is!

Stockholm. Gamla stan (Old Town). Flickr Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

Gamla Stad, Stockholm’s charming Old Town

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Stockholm may have hit the headlines when Stieg Larsson set his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series here but the islands that make up this stunning archipelago actually boast some of the friendliest Scandinavians we’ve ever encountered.

It may be a little more sedate than Copenhagen, but there’s still plenty to see and do in this graceful city that shimmers with sun on the water in the summertime, and glistens with snow on the ground during the winter.

What to do

As with most island people, the seas are the Swedes’ pride and joy so taking to the water is an absolute must when you visit. For those looking for a general overview of the archipelago there are a number of hop on/hop off sightseeing boats available.

Just as they are all different shapes and sizes, so each island has its own distinct character. Two of the best island adventures are Artipelag and Djurgarden.

Stockholm. Nobis Private Rooms

Elegant rooms at Nobis

Artipelag houses a modern art museum, designed specifically to blend in with its surroundings, in Gustavsberg. It takes about two hours to get to Artipelag but once you’re there, you can explore the island around the museum, enjoy the exhibitions and even take a dip in the crystal-clear water where you dock.

Thrillseekers may prefer Djurgården, which houses amusement park Gröna Lund, as well as the fascinating open-air museum and zoo, Skansen. Loved by locals and tourists alike, Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. All this – and a stunning view of Stockholm’s old town across the water.

Where to stay

Stockholm. Cafe Rival at Hotel Rival

Traditional Swedish food at Café Rival in Rival Hotel

Most of the large hotels are represented in Stockholm and many of them have fantastic views. The Sheraton is just a few minutes’ walk from the central station but still offers views over the water, while the Radisson Blu has prime position right by the harbour.

The Nobis offers international luxury mixed with Swedish minimalism, has a popular bar and is located on one of the premier shopping squares in the city. Lydmar Hotel is a gorgeous boutique hotel with huge rooms, stone-clad bathrooms, and views over the harbour and Old Town.

Rival is a 1937 hotel that has been reinvented by its owner, Benny Andersson from Abba. Alongside modern, light Scandi-style rooms, it has a traditional Swedish café, a bistro, an Art Deco cocktail bar and plush 700-seat red-velvet theatre with a full programme.

Where to eat

Stockholm. Nosh and Chow restaurant

Nosh and Chow restaurant has a buzzy yet relaxed atmosphere

There is everything from fine dining and set menus down to decent street food. We loved the tasting menu at Smörgåstårteriet but, while they are happy to cater for vegetarians, some of the veggie courses seemed to be little more than garnish.

For a buzzier, more European vibe, try Nosh and Chow. It is slightly more relaxed and you can opt for as many courses as you like but make sure you save room for the decadent desserts. Nosh and Chow also has a pretty courtyard bar on its roof, perfect for either an aperitif or a sundowner before or after your meal.

Getting around

Within the old town, it’s easy to walk to most places, but Stockholm also has an efficient metro system. And of course there’s always the boat to hit the outer islands.

When to go

Stockholm is stunning in the summer and it’s the best time to visit the islands but July can be particularly quiet. Depending on your viewpoint, this can be either a good or bad thing. There are definitely less crowds but some of the smaller shops may be shut.

Don’t miss

Stockholm. Beach at Södra Grinda. Wikimedia Commons

The beach at Södra Grinda, one of the island’s in Stockholm stunning archipelago

A boat trip around the Stockholm archipelago of around 24,000 islands and islets. For centuries these were populated only by fishermen and farmers, but today the fishing industry has almost disappeared and they are a popular holiday destination, peppered with holiday cottages. All the islands are accessible by boat in the summer; less so in winter, depending on the ice. But at any time they for make for a shimmering, scenic boat trip.

Three things we like

  1. SoFo. SoFo (south of Folkungagatan) is a play on New York and London’s Soho districts. It’s a creative area, specialising in quirky vintage shops and great cafés.
  2. Did we mention the cafés here? The Swedes are such fans of café culture that they’ve even invented their own word for it: Fika, which means to have a coffee and cake break.
  3. While Scandinavia is universally seen as an expensive destination, Stockholm is packed full of free things to do. There’s lots of green space, you can walk everywhere and their subway is often referred to as the world’s longest art gallery as many of its tunnels, stations and networks are covered in art, engravings and mosaics.
Stockholm. Archipeligo sunset. Unsplash Anders Jildén

Sunset over the archipeligo, well worth taking a boat trip around

Something we don’t like

For a design-conscious country, Stockholm’s Arlanda airport is nothing to write home about.

High50 insider tips

  • Don’t waste your money on a cab when you can easily jump on the airport train. They’re cheaper, will drop you into the centre of the city and run every 15 minutes.
  • Fotographiska museum – an insider favourite. This groundbreaking museum, whose work is often controversial, has a delicious café and a magnificent view of the old town across the water.
  • Don’t bother to buy water in restaurants. Stockholm is so green that even their tap water is probably clearer than the bottled stuff you might buy back home.

Need to know

  • The currency is Swedish Krona so don’t load up on Euros.
  • Sweden is one hour ahead of the UK (GMT +1).
  • The flight time for direct flights from London is just under two and a half hours.
  • You can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets, bars have to offer food in order to sell it, and you won’t be able to buy any at the airport to take home with you if you’re returning to an EU country.
  • Before you waste money turning on your phone’s data roaming option, check your WiFi – it’s free in most places across the city.