The self-declared “Capital of Scandinavia,” Stockholm likes to pride itself on being the cultural and economic hub of Northern Europe. While its Danish and Norwegian neighbors may have a thing or two to say about that, the Swedish capital has deservedly earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With almost 2 million residents in its greater metropolitan area, Stockholm manages to offer all the attractions of a big city at the same time it maintains a small-town feeling.
The Venice of the North
Due to the city’s high northern latitude (just a bit south of Anchorage, Alaska), Stockholm’s climate varies dramatically along with the seasons. The long summer nights make its archipelago, made up of 24,000 islands, a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, while the winter months call for lots of cozy cafes and candlelight.
Whether you’re in Stockholm in December or July, you can’t avoid the water. Every other summer, Stockholm harbor hosts The Tall Ships’ Races, the world’s biggest annual event for large sailing vessels. For backpackers, Waxholmsbolaget offers a reasonably-priced “boat hikers” card for island hopping throughout the archipelago, which also has a network of affordable hostels and Bed & Breakfasts (although remember to bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent).
In the winter, Riddarfjärden – an inlet of Lake Mälaren – freezes over and locals walk across the water from the City Hall to the northern shores of the island of Södermalm. Ice skating is another popular winter pastime, while hockey is big both as a leisure activity as well as a spectator sport (in particular when Sweden has a match against its
neighbor rival Finland).
The city center is pedestrian friendly and the excellent public subway, known locally as the T-bana, seamlessly gets you to where you need to go. Stockholm’s 14 islands make for a natural division between the city’s diverse neighborhoods, ranging from the laid-back Södermalm to the posh Östermalm. Below you’ll find a brief guide to some of the best haunts and habitats of Sweden’s capital.
Whatever the season, Stockholm offers a little something for everyone – just don’t forget to bring a jacket.
The locals also refer to Vasastan, the area surrounding Central Station, as “City.” Here you’ll find some of the larger department stores, such as Åhlens at Sergelstorg and PUB at Hötorget, as well as smaller shops and boutiques along Drottninggatan, Stockholm’s main shopping drag. Kulturhuset (the House of Culture) and Hötorget, a large market square flanked by Konserthuset (the Stockholm Concert Hall), are also worth a stop.
Gamla Stan, the Old Town at the very core of the city, fits just about every cliché you can muster – storybook houses with windy cobblestone alleys, quaint cafes with steamy hot chocolate and adorable squares that are so cute you want to scream. Notable landmarks include the Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace), Storkyrkan (the “Big Church”) and the Nobel Museum on Stortorget, the big square at the heart of the Old Town. For plastic Viking horns or Dalecarlian horses (the iconic handpainted red equines from the Swedish province of Dalarna), stroll down Västerlångatan, the main tourist street, but if you’ve got the time, try and get lost to discover some of Gamla Stan’s hidden treasures.
The island of Djurgården hosts many embassies and museums, including the famed Vasa Musuem, which is the final resting place of an excavated 17th century warship that never made it past its maiden voyage. If you have the kiddos in tow (or are just young at heart), check out Junibacken, where Pippi Longstocking and other characters from Astrid Lindren’s stories come to life. Other must-sees include the Skansen open-air museum, Moderna Museet (The Museum of Modern Art) and Nordiska Museet (the Nordic Museum).
Once a sleepy residential quarter, Kungsholmen is an increasingly lively neighborhood, with oodles of cafes and pubs, in particular along Scheelegatan. In the summer, take a stroll down by the water along Norrmälarstrand or have a drink at a boat bar such as Kajplats 464.
Östermalm is known for its trendy nightclubs, exclusive shopping and chic lifestyles. Biblioteksgatan and Grev Turegatan offer high-end designer shopping, while Stureplan is the epicenter of Stockholm’s nightlife. Clubs such as Spy Bar and Café Opera are where the true believers go, but those seeking a bit more laid-back scene should head across town to Södermalm.
Whereas Östermalm is known for its penchant for the luxurious, Södermalm is haunted by artists, hipsters and other creative types. Götgatan offers small boutiques and shops, such as the newly opened American Apparel and the Cheap Monday flagship store. There are cafes and galleries on every corner, especially in the area known as “SoFo,” which is short for “South of Folkungagatan,” one of the major thoroughfares on Stockholm’s southernmost island.
This area includes St. Eriksplan and Odenplan, which are both a bit off of the typical tourist path. Several up-and-coming fashion designers, including Carin Wester and the Stray Boys, have set up shop on and around Rörstrandsgatan, a street at the heart of St. Eriksplan. You’ll also find cafes galore, such as Xoko, run by chef Magnus Larsson, who caters the desserts at the Nobel Banquet every year.