In Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, the day begins and ends on the water. Situated at the foot of a 30,000-island archipelago, Stockholm is, as the locals say, “beauty on water.” From its storied Viking past to its ever-evolving modern waterfront, and from its fresh seafood to its elegant seaside homes, Stockholm is best enjoyed by the water.
While it is one of the most historic cities in Europe (it was founded in the 13th century), Stockholm is also a dynamic, modern city. In the historic Gamla Stan (Old Town), with its fairy-tale charm, and in the city’s palaces and world-class museums, Stockholm’s history is alive and well. But amidst the historic architecture and cobblestone streets is a lightning-fast society focused on art, culinary fusion, spa experiences, nature, photography, and more.
Stockholm is also one of the easiest cities in the world to navigate, with its safe, timely public transportation and roads designed for walking and biking. Be sure to invest in a Stockholm Pass, a card that grants visitors free access to more than 60 attractions, museums, and tours. Stockholm Passes start at $70.
Whether you’d prefer to immerse yourself in the city’s Nordic history and traditions or experience the 21st-century European city, Stockholm will deliver. Here are eight fantastic things to do while you're in town.
1. See The Old Town During The ‘Golden Hour’
Stockholm is an easy city to navigate on foot or two wheels. Walking is the European way, after all, and you will be hard-pressed to find a city as well suited for it as Stockholm. One of the most picturesque walks is the self-guided tour around Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, one of the best-preserved medieval city centers in Europe. In fact, the area is where Stockholm was founded in 1252.
Picture cobblestone streets, medieval frescoes, and the small island of Riddarholmen, as well as charming restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops. At the center of Gamla Stan is Stortorget, one of the oldest squares in Stockholm. Its 14th-century streets lead to museums like the Nobel Prize Museum and churches like Stockholm’s cathedral, Storkyrkan.
The best time to experience Gamla Stan is during the “Golden Hour,” when the sun is coming up or going down. The lighting is remarkable and bathes the buildings in shimmering shades of gold, turning any amateur photographer into a veritable pro.
2. Discover The Photography Community
Speaking of photography, both amateurs and professionals alike will adore the Fotografiska, a photography gathering spot with branches in international destinations like New York, London, Tallinn, and, of course, Stockholm. The photography hub consists of a gallery, gift shop, restaurant (with sweeping views of the water), and more. Stop by for an afternoon, or give in and take a whole day. Start with a gallery tour before heading up to the restaurant to drink in the panoramic views. The menu features vegan options as well as more traditional Swedish fare.
This is a wonderful place to encounter other photographers, look through photography books, sip coffee, and soak up a bit of Stockholm’s culture.
3. Take To The High Seas
Unbeknownst to many, the Stockholm archipelago consists of a whopping 30,000 islands that extend as far out as 50 miles into the Baltic Sea. It’s no wonder that this part of Scandinavia was a veritable playground for Vikings. You can take a day trip from Stockholm to some of the many islands in Sweden -- or even spend the night on one!
Viking Line offers day trips and overnight cruises with a stay on the Finnish Åland Islands. The cruises feature a breakfast buffet on board the new full-size cruise ship, Viking Grace. Drink in views of the luxury homes along the water and the endless sea of islands. Add a spa treatment for the ultimate relaxation.
Another option is to explore by ferry. Visitors can book a range of trips with ferry services Cinderella and Waxholmsbolaget. Locals and visitors alike love boating, hiking, fishing, sea kayaking, swimming, and camping in the area.
4. Soak Up The City’s Culture
Like any European capital, Stockholm has its fair share of museums. Ranging from the classics to the quirky, there are museums and galleries for art lovers of all varieties to explore.
Start with the Nationalmuseum, which recently reopened after five years of renovations. The new space is modern and airy, housing paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints from the Renaissance to the early 20th century.
But Stockholm is a haven for much more than classical art. At the Vasa Museum, a maritime museum that is one of the most-visited museums in Scandinavia, you can see the giant ship that capsized and sank in Stockholm in 1628. In addition to fascinating maritime artifacts, the museum features exhibits about the ship’s passengers, the rescue operation, and the ship’s preservation. Admission is free for children, and adult admission costs roughly $15.
There is also Skansen, an open-air museum that covers about 500 years of Swedish history. The museum opened in 1891 and is also home to the Stockholm Zoo. Admission costs approximately $20 for adults.
No trip to Stockholm would be complete without a visit to ABBA The Museum, an interactive experience where visitors can try on ABBA's costumes, mix original music, and so much more. Even if you’re not a huge fan, it’s impossible to come out of the museum not singing ABBA classics. Adult admission costs approximately $26.
5. Experience Stockholm On A Plate
Sure, IKEA has brought the Swedish meatball international recognition, but Sweden, and Stockholm in particular, is home to a veritable smorgasbord of foods. From Nordic dishes and Michelin-star cuisine to street food and beyond, Stockholm has it all.
But where to begin? We’ll start with the meatballs. Meatballs For The People has elevated the iconic Nordic snacks to a haute yet approachable level, serving them with mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and a beef broth sauce. Located in the trendy Södermalm area, this restaurant has mastered the classic meatball, but it also offers innovative variations (including one for vegetarians).
Speaking of vegetarians -- and vegans, for that matter -- Stockholm is leading the charge in appreciating and accommodating all sorts of diets. IKEA sells vegan, gluten-free desserts in Stockholm. Hermans is another local treasure for traveling vegans.
At some point, of course, you must dine on the waterfront. Visit the shores of Stockholm's city island, Djurgården, for a unique dining experience at Oaxen Krog & Slip, a nautical-themed Nordic bistro located inside a restored shipyard. The restaurant, which has two Michelin stars neatly tucked in its belt, serves seasonal tasting menus and boasts one of the best Sunday roasts in Stockholm.
Be sure to snag a table at Häktet, the minimalist restaurant with just five main courses on offer (though each one is outstanding). The European fusion restaurant, housed inside of an 18th-century jailhouse, pulls in a creative crowd: You’ll see writers, academics, artists, and more.
6. Take The Plunge
Swedes value health and fitness. They love to visit spas and fitness facilities, so you’ll have your pick of both while you’re in the Stockholm area.
Among the best of these facilities is Hellasgården, a lakeside center in the Nacka nature reserve. Here you can participate in the local ritual of a cleansing sweat followed by a refreshing jump into Lake Källtorp. Summer might be the most comfortable time of year to do this, but keep in mind that the locals love this year-round. Some even drill into the ice.
Hellasgården itself is a wonderful fitness center that offers more than 20 sports and activities throughout the year. In addition to the sauna, the center offers canoeing, hiking, ice skating, yoga, fishing, and more. Test your skills at kubb, a Swedish lawn game that's a blend of bowling and horseshoes.
7. Rub Elbows With Royalty
Believe it or not, Sweden is still a monarchy (though a constitutional one, much like the United Kingdom). The Swedish monarchy dates back more than 1,000 years. Today the king is Head of State and serves as the voice of the country, though his power is regulated by the constitution. The current king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, has reigned since 1973.
You can experience the royal culture of Sweden at the Royal Palace, a must-visit not only for its elaborate architecture but also for the historic soldiers' parade. The palace contains more than 600 rooms, so while it's impossible to see it all in a day, it is the best place to learn about the Swedish monarchy. The palace is the official residence of the king and his family, and you can witness the daily changing of the guard. Adult admission costs approximately $16.
Need another dose of palace life? Drottningholm Palace is one of the best-preserved royal palaces in Sweden; it was built in the 17th century and is one of Stockholm's three UNESCO World Heritage sites. One of the more unique ways to view the palace is on a boat tour on Lake Mälaren. Boat tours depart from the city center and cost about $35 per adult.
8. Go Au Naturale
Stockholm may be at the base of the Arctic Circle, but summertime in Sweden is absolutely beautiful. Locals relish the summer sun, which stays out an average of 12 hours a day in June. Among the many green spaces, parks, and waterfronts of Stockholm, Monteliusvagen stands out. This quarter-mile walking path offers views of Lake Mälaren, the Stockholm City Hall, and Riddarholmen. It's one of the best spots in the city to watch the sunset.
Stroll past the charming waterfront houses and check out the Norr Mälarstrand Trail, which offers views of the Old Town. If you're lucky, you can catch the Northern Lights here during the winter.
Skinnarviksberget is Stockholm's highest natural point. This lookout point perched on a hill is a local favorite for lounging, picnicking, and outdoor parties. Take in sweeping views of Stockholm while relaxing in nature. There is a park beneath the hill where you can grab a bite at an open-air café and kick back in one of the many hammocks.