If it feels like Stockholm, Sweden is a city that has it all - then that just might be true. After all, Stockholm is built on 14 islands and has an archipelago encompassing over 30,000 islands! Having spent my twenties living in Stockholm, I’m here to dish out the best spots and how to explore Stockholm like a local.
Day 1: The heart of Stockholm, Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan literally translates to Old Town, which is an accurate name for the city’s oldest neighbourhood that dates back to the 13th century. As you wander through these winding streets oozing Middle Ages flair, you’ll reach Stortorget - the island’s main square with brightly coloured buildings that are emblems of Stockholm.
An awesome way to discover Gamla Stan and the rest of Stockholm is by a self-guided bike tour around the city. The Swedes love cycling, so if you’re exploring the city by bike - you’ll fit right in. With the many bridges and pedestrian-friendly corners, biking around Stockholm is a fun way to go at your own pace in your own time.
Close by is Alley of Marten Trotzig, aka Marten Trotzigs Gränd, the narrowest, skinny street in the city. At 35 inches wide, as you ascend to the top of the stairs, you’ll find yourself being flanked closer and closer by the two buildings on your side.
Other highlights in Gamla Stan are the Parliament House aka Riksdagshuset (you’ll definitely walk through its arched open gates), Riddarholmen Church (which includes sarcophagus burials of former Swedish royals!) and The Royal Armoury, a free museum that showcases artefacts from Swedish royalty.
Now one of my favourite things to see in Gamla Stan is the Royal Guards Ceremony at the Royal Palace. This is essentially the changing of the guards, happening each weekday at 12:15pm in the outer courtyard. While the guards are marching, a military marching band also play their instruments - but the thing is, they do a rendition of modern songs. One time I got to hear them play the Game of Thrones theme song as the guards had their foot parade. Atmospherically fitting, isn’t it?
You can also do a walking tour through Gamla Stan to learn more about its enriching history.
Also be on the lookout for Storkyrkan, the clocktower of Stockholm’s medieval cathedral. It’s a piercing symbol of Gamla Stan and you can see this 216 feet tall tower from other islands in the city too!
If you’re on a self-guided bike tour, it’ll also be easy to just cycle to the next neighbourhood Södermlam. Otherwise, you can take the Stockholm metro, which is another dear favourite thing to do in the Swedish capital. You may be wondering, what’s so special about an underground transit system? The thing is, the metro stations of Stockholm are like open art exhibitions.
Each station is made in other-worldly designs - and I’m not talking about murals on the walls either. Solna Centrum station looks like you’ve stepped into the Upside down in Stranger Things, while T-Centralen station is a blossoming blue cave. Other Stockholm metro stations that I love are:
- Kungsträdgården station: It’ll look like you’re in an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, with green cavernous arches and checkered ceilings.
- Hötorget station: Look up! Neon lights electrify the station’s ceiling while the escalator at the end of the tunnel is lit in a chromatic rainbow for every step.
- Mörby Centrum station: The bedrock of light pink resembles a cotton candy cloud pouring down rainbows.
- Citybanan - Odenplan station: over 400 metres of LED lighting that resembles a heartbeat line running above the ceiling
- Stadion station: While this area is the main starting point for the Stockholm Pride festival, Pride is all year-round at the station with the big burst of rainbow painted over the station’s grotto-like ceiling.
Where to stay in Stockholm's Gamla Stan:
Castle House Inn
This historically chic hotel is smacked centre of Stockholm's Gamla Stan - within walking distance to all the sightseeing spots.
The Red Boat
But how cool would it be to stay overnight on an actual boat in Stockholm? The Red Boat is a private accommodation that makes that experience come true!
Nothing is more epic than staying in converted underground vaults turned sleek Swedish hotel for your trip in Stockholm.
Day 2: Södermalm and SoFo, the trendiest neighbourhood
For the creatives, the bohemians, and the stylish set - nowhere beckons the cool kids like Södermalm. Stockholm’s trendiest neighbourhood on the city’s southern island is stacked with thrifty boutiques, eclectic coffee shops, and some of the best views of the city - all charged with youthful energy.
Like many cultural hotspots around the world, Södermalm started out with working-class humble beginnings. Streets like Mäster Mikaels Gata is a time capsule of that old world, with traditional wooden houses and cobblestone streets. Another street is Yttersta tvärgränd, where you’ll see terra cotta buildings with giant frame windows akin to Swedish design styles. This stroll will give you a sense of the Södermalm pre-hip bourgeois time. For a guided walking tour around this much loved neighbourhood, check out this bookable Sodermalm walking tour here.
At the end of the street are steps up to Skinnarviksberget, a gigantic rocky hilltop - a locally beloved yet basically tourist-free spot in the city. When I was living in Stockholm, my friends and I would often go up here for picnic dates. You can also see Stockholm City Hall just across the lake from this spot!
Another jaw-dropping spot is Mariaberget. This is where I first fell in love with Stockholm, and I’ll bet that if you haven’t yet then you will too. This lookout point is a panoramic view of the city, capturing all the boats on Lake Malaren, bridges, and historical buildings in one breathtaking vantage point.
No hang-out in Södermalm would be complete without SoFo - the area south of Folkungagatan street. It’s made up of vibrant blocks with cafes and restaurants like Meatballs for the People (specializing in the best Swedish meatballs in town! Try the ones made out of Moose meat or wild boar). There’s also a relaxed shopping atmosphere here with stores like Grandpa Södermannagatan and POP Stockholm, a vintage boutique with a marvellous throwback collection.
From art bookstores like Konst-ig to rock ‘n roll cafes like Louie Louie, there’s a unique gem in SoFo for anyone. Keeping up with the vibes of Södermalm, a short walk from SoFo is Fotografiska. A hybrid between a museum and a contemporary photography exhibition centre, Fotografiska showcases world-class photography in a Soho House-like industrial space.
Also if you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series - you can visit the real-life streets where the main protagonists have their apartments. Mikael Blomqvist’s apartment is set at Bellmansgatan 1 street while Lisbeth Salender’s apartment is at Fiskargatan 9. If you know nothing about the series, these buildings are architectural gems to just see themselves!
To end the day, you can catch the Swedish sunset at one of the many observation points in Södermalm, or get away from the crowd and kayak in the island’s surrounding waters itself! Especially if it’s the summer, you can kayak to a smaller island, and then just go for a dip. This is a favourite past-time amongst Stockholmers, especially when the ethereal Scandinavian light shimmers as you paddle around.
If you wanted more than golden hour to venture around Stockholm by kayak, definitely check out spending a whole day kayaking around the archipelago. As there are so many little islands that you’ll get to uncover, along with the wildlife you’ll see, it makes for a gentler, quieter side of Stockholm that many travellers don’t often get to experience. 1 day of kayaking in Stockholm’s archipelago combines the best of what makes this city just so special - its proximity to nature.
Where to stay in Stockholm's Södermalm:
Mälardrottningen Yacht Hotel & Restaurant
What's more iconic than staying overnight in a yacht on the waters of Stockholm? Ambience? Check. Great location to the hottest bars and trendiest cafes? Check. Stunning views from the deck? Double check!
Since Sweden can be so pricey, this budget accommodation is the perfect balance of privacy without breaking the bank!
Stay where the locals are also living - so you're away from the touristy crowds but you're within walking distance to everything that makes this neighbourhood so loved.
Day 3: Museum hopping around Djurgården… and ABBA!
Djurgården is a central island in Stockholm, that is known as the city’s neighbourhood of royal monuments, regal buildings, top-notch galleries and museums that make any inner-child squeal with joy.
You may be thinking, ok, museums - cool, that’s typical of any other thing to do while travelling. But unlike other cities, here you won’t just be amongst other travellers, you’ll be exploring with Swedish locals too. Stockholmers are proud of their cultural spaces, especially since a lot of the ones around Djurgården are free to the public - so you’ll see many coming here after work to enjoy the art. Since Sweden is known for how expensive things are (and their own currency the Swedish krona is amongst the highest in the world) when it comes to anything free in Sweden, take it!
Moderna Museet near Djurgården is one of these free admission institutions, where you can see the best modern art. We’re talking Dali, Matisse, and Picasso along with Andy Warhol, Duchamp and Kandinsky!
Down the street, Nationalmuseum is a treasure trove that takes you on an admission-free expedition from the 1500s up to present-day Sweden. From gigantic oil paintings to sculptures carved out of marble, classic art and design are housed in an enchanting Renaissance building.
The other two free museums close by are the Museum of Ethnography and the Maritime Museum. The Museum of Ethnography covers Swedish explorers who brought back various artefacts from around the world. It’s a peek into history that’s often not told beyond the shores of Scandinavia. For the Maritime Museum, there’s a ship-theme playroom for kids, as well as wonderfully crafted ships on display. Taking you to Sweden’s seafaring history, there are also well-preserved war canyons around the museum to see.
Now for the paid-entry museums on Djurgården itself, they’re just as marvellous to experience. Even if you’re not interested in nautical history, the Vasa Museum is hands-down one of the best museums in Stockholm. This building houses one star: the Vasa, a Swedish warship that sank in the middle of Stockholm’s harbour during its initial voyage back in the 17th century. It was then lifted from the waters and is, to this day, still fully intact and preserved. It’s like seeing the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean, except the Vasa is a full living piece of history that engrosses you right into its grandeur.
Now, when you think of Sweden, Swedes won’t fault you for conjuring up images of wearing flower crowns during Midsummer, or the midnight sun, or even the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. While Sweden is the home nation of impactful artists like Robyn, Avicii, Trove Lo, Lykki Li, Zara Larsson, and so many more - ABBA still comes out as the biggest. So much so that there’s a whole museum in Stockholm dedicated to the pop band, ABBA The Museum. There are several floors, even a section hailing Mamma Mia! The Musical, along with countless displays of the band’s fabulous performance outfits. If you need tickets, it's best to reserve in advance here.
Another place home to Djurgården is Skansen. Now, if you ask any Stockholmer - they’ll tell you a sweet memory associated with this open-air museum. Skansen takes you through a traditionally built Swedish village, tripping you back into town when life in Sweden was much simpler. From little red farmhouses to baby goats and baby bears, you can walk anywhere in Skansen to experience Swedish pastoral life.
Where to stay in central Stockholm:
Haymarkt by Scandic
This uber chic hotel is where all the Bright Young Things of Stockholm frequent. Don't be surprised if you run into a Swedish star at the hotel bar, or if your room feels like it teleports you to the glitzy 1920s!
Mornington Hotel Stockholm
A well-designed Scandinavian hotel with a sleek library-inspired restaurant, prime central location and cosy rooms - are we even surprised? Leave it to the Swedes to combine everything we need into one hotel.
For those looking to meet other travellers easily, as well as a social environment - the Generator is the best of both worlds in Stockholm.
Day 4: Discover the outdoor beauty of Stockholm’s archipelago
The surreal beauty of the Nordics can be summed up in Stockholm’s archipelago. Here, wherever the light touches, glimmers - from the deep blue waters to the clusters of uninhabited islands. Some islets have iconic red Swedish cottages, others, a prime swimming spot for the day.
Exploring Stockholm like a true local is a fine balance between the urban escapades and the natural surroundings since Stockholmers take full advantage that their city is basically islands and water. Whether it’s by sailing or taking a speedboat adventure, you can’t go wrong as long as you set out into the Baltic Sea of the archipelago.
If you explore this area by speedboat, you’ll feel like you’re on a racehorse dashing through the water as sublime lush wildflowers, craggy isles, and forests pass you by.
Or, head deeper into the open Swedish landscape, and venture on a Scandinavian wildlife safari. This is where you’ll truly get to connect with Sweden’s nature, from the tranquil lakes to the tall swaying forests. Since it’s a wildlife safari, you can spot moose, deer, and boar - or all three! Out in the nature reserve is where you’ll also get to go hiking, being able to spot animal tracks and possibly more sightings.
From foxes, hares, and lynx to badgers, it’s really a treat for how close you are to the city, yet far enough to be connected to such a varied environment. Pair this with a traditional lunch around the campfire - and you’ll be truly exploring off the beaten path!
If you want a no hassle, easy way to explore the archipelago, then check out this best of sightseeing tour that you can book here.
Where to stay in nature around Stockholm:
Imagine roaming around an 18th-century mansion on the shores of the archipelago, deep in the Swedish nature yet not too far away from Stockholm. This hotel isn't just fit for Swedish royalty, but for anyone who loves the richness of the outdoors too.
The Winery Hotel
Where an industrial transformation becomes Nordic cool, this hotel has its own on-site winery that you can tour while you're staying there... Not to mention, the rooftop pool has stunning panoramic views that's amongst the best of Stockholm.
Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden
If you're looking to truly get away - this place has it all. From free breakfast, free parking, to the spa and pool, the hotel is a grand dame that knows how to luxuriate her guests.
Extra Days in Stockholm? More Swedish beauties to explore!
If you have more time during your travels, there’s definitely so much more to explore in Stockholm. There’s still the affluent Östermalm, the upscale district of Stockholm with Strandvägen street. Or Kungsholmen, where you can hang out by the lake at City Hall.
Then there’s Stockholm Public Library, my other favourite gem of the city, where an architecturally magnificent rotunda houses a book lover’s paradise. One of the most stunning libraries in the country, and all free for anyone who wants to visit!
Also, since you already got a teaser of Sweden’s airy nature, why not dive more into it with a sailing trip through the archipelago? There’s nothing more Swedish than taking a boat out into the finite number of islands, docking wherever you please to jump off for a swim.
In between sails you can go fishing, followed by having a bbq on one of the remote islands with your catch-of-the-day. Sailing through Stockholm’s archipelago is one of the most relaxing things you can do for a taste of an authentic Swedish summer.
If you want to switch the pace up for something more active, go on a hiking trip into the Swedish wilderness. Unlike hiking in other countries, Swedish forests are so wide and boundless that you’ll feel like you’ll have all of these multiple trails to yourself.
With your hike, you’ll pass by multiple freshwater lakes, great for swimming in. Along the way, you can camp anywhere (hey, by law in Sweden that you’re allowed to!) and make your own campfire to cook your food on the open burning wood. During this time, definitely keep your eyes out for wildlife like beavers and owls too! Yep, a hiking trip here in Sweden is just that much more magical.
No matter how you spend your extra days in Stockholm, you can never go wrong with more time exploring Sweden’s capital!
Know before you go
Do you want to experience Midsummer - a celebration at the height of the summer’s solstice? Or just see Stockholm at its best? Then definitely visit during the months of May to September. This is when the Scandinavian light looks so ethereal on anything it touches, when the Swedes flock to the streets and the surrounding city’s water enjoying the long sunny days.
The in-between months from October to early November, and late March to May are gentler, calmer months for visiting Stockholm too. There may be less daylight, and the weather can be unexpected between rain and sun, but you’ll definitely have less crowded streets to explore. Nature will still be gorgeous these shoulder seasons too.
Having lived in Stockholm all seasons of the year - I would say winter is the cosiest time, where lights twinkle all around the city. However, as a traveller - you’ll have to plan accordingly. From December to February, daylight hours are notoriously short. The days get dark around 3-4pm, so that doesn’t leave for much time to do things outdoors (never mind the cold winds and sometimes snow).
How to get from Stockholm airport to city centre:
If you’re flying into Stockholm, Sweden, you’ll be landing at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. You can get an uber or taxi from the airport into the city centre or take the more cost-effective options.
- The Arlanda Express train costs €28 and takes about 20 minutes direct.
- The Flygbussarna coach bus costs €14 and takes about 35-45 minutes direct.
Stockholm is a city I most definitely would not recommend driving. Forget renting a car, and rent a bicycle or go on a self-guided biking tour instead! Not only is car parking expensive in the city, they’re also impossible to find. Stockholm’s clean streets are wonderful for cycling, and the bridges around the city make biking easy to get from one end to the other.
Another popular way to get around amongst locals is using the effortless Stockholm public transit system - including the sleek metro. You can buy single travel tickets or a travel card for however many hours you are visiting.