50 bridges connect the 14 different islands that make up Sweden’s über scenic capital of Stockholm.
With only 72 hours in Stockholm, I barely scratched the surface of what there is to do and see in Stockholm. But at face value, the combination of Stockholm’s picturesque waterfronts and towering steeples with boats drifting past island after island, made me feel like I was staring at a postcard come to life. A visit in late March meant we narrowly escaped the harsh winter, but come nightfall, you couldn’t go outside without bundling up! In the summer, the endless sunshine, known as “The Midnight Sun,” brings Scandinavians out of their homes to enjoy picnics in lush, green parks on the banks of Lake Mälaren. But despite the cold weather, there’s still so much to do indoors and if the weather is insufferable, you can always spend a vacation becoming a master of Fika (see tip No.4).
1. Sleep in an airplane
Ever dream of sleeping in a treehouse or playing out winter wonderland fantasies in an igloo made for two? When it comes to places of respite, the Swedes are not afraid of the unconventional. I booked a night’s stay at Jumbo Stay Arlanda, a decommissioned Boeing 747 jetliner converted into a functioning hostel featuring 27 cabins outfitted with beds. Keeping to theme, the airplane hostel is stationed at Arlanda International Airport, perfect for those looking to catch an early flight or arriving late. Many retro features, such as the overhead luggage storage and business class seats, are purely decorative. But some facets of this plane have been repurposed for use and you can enjoy your complimentary breakfast out on the airplane wings or sleep in one of the engine rooms.
Where? Jumbovägen 4, 190 47 Stockholm-Arlanda, Sweden
Room Rates Cabins start at $90 per night
2. Order a Mountain of Meatballs
There’s meatballs… and then there’s Swedish meatballs. Just when I thought IKEA’s signature cafeteria fare couldn’t get any better, I visited Stockholm. A plate of Köttbullar (pronounced “sheut-boolar”) is usually accompanied by lingonberry jam, a glob of mashed potatoes, and a ladle full of creamy, light brown gravy. As its name suggests, Meatballs For the People in the hipster neighborhood of Södermalm, is dedicated to feeding meatballs to the masses. The meat, ranging from the norm, like pork and beef, to the more adventurous like reindeer and moose, is all locally sourced. And not to fear vegetarians! They serve plant-based “meat”balls too. This cozy restaurant is busy at all hours of the day so its highly recommended to make a reservation online in advance.
Where? Meatballs For The People is located at Nytorgsgatan 30 in Södermalm
Pro-tip: The restaurant is closed for the summer until August 3, 2018 but you can pick up their famous meatballs at sister restaurants Nytorget 6 at 6 Nytorget in Södermalm and Österlånggatan 17 in Gamla Stan.
3. Hop from Museum to Museum in Djurgården
A pedestrian paradise, Djurgården is home to a number of interesting museums. The Vasa Museum is a museum dedicated solely to a 17th century salvaged warship that sunk during its maiden voyage (130 SEK/$15 USD entry). Because of minerals in the bog, the ship is 95% in its original state, making it the most well-preserved vessel of its kind.
For fans of the groovy Swedish pop group ABBA, you can live out all your Dancing Queen dreams at the ABBA Museum (250 SEK/$28 USD entry)! This museum is seriously one of the most fun museum-going experiences I’ve had! You can digitally remix their songs, record their classic hits in private studio rooms, or take the stage and sing with life-size holograms of the troupe -kinda creepy, but also kinda cool.
On the island as well is the Spiritmuseum, a tribute to the love affair Swedes have with alcohol. Your 250 SEK/$28 USD entry comes with a tasting tray. The open-air museum Skansen, which shows Swedish life pre-Industrial Revolution. Outside from Djurgården, you cannot miss the Fotografiska Museum, housing one of the best contemporary photography collections in the world (they were showcasing an Ellen Von Unwerth’s Devotion! 30 Years to Photographing Women Exhibition when I went in March). They have a very famous bar and restaurant at the top with a great view of Stockholm’s bay and the entrance is 145 SEK/$16 USD entry. Another great museum is Moderna Museet, a modern art museum on the island of Östermalm. The main collection is completely free and you only have to pay extra for special exhibitions.
Pro-Tip: Unless you are planning to visit a ton of museums, the Stockholm Pass might not be worth it. The pass, which offers free admission to over 60 attractions, as well as unlimited bus and boat tours, costs 645 SEK (~$72 USD) for a one-day adult pass and 845 SEK (~$94 USD) for a two-day adult pass. I brought my student ID card and almost every place (save for the subway) honored the student discount.
4. Do as the Swedes Do and Enjoy Fika
Fika anyone? The definition of Fika, simply put, is to take a break. It is done usually socially, with friends, family, coworkers. You could even have a Fika date! One usually orders pastries to go with the java and the most popular orders at Fika is kanelbulle (cinnamon buns), kardemummabulle (cardamom buns), mazarins (almond tarts), kladdkaka (sticky chocolate cake), and prinsesstårta (princess cake). I’m a big fan of kanelbulle because of the chunky pearl sugar although I also learned that you can also opt for a nice savory smörgås, or open-faced sandwich, if you don’t have a big sweet tooth. Fun fact: Swedes make the top 10 list for biggest coffee drinkers in the world, drinking a total of 8.2 kilograms a year per person, no doubt, a direct result of Fika breaks. Best of all? You can have/take/go for Fika at any time of the day. You’re welcome.
Where? Vete-Katten is located at Kungsgatan 55, 111 22 Stockholm, Sweden and Cafe Schweizer is located at Västerlånggatan 9, 111 29 Stockholm, Sweden
5. Get Lost in Gamla Stan
There’s no better place to wander aimlessly than Gamla Stan, the medieval heart of Stockholm. A literal translation for “Old Town,” it was here, over 750 years, where Stockholm first began. Spice-colored facades frame the twisting and turning cobblestone streets, leading you to secluded spaces like Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm. Tourists begin to crowd the narrow walking streets after 10 am, but get out to Gamla Stan before that and you’ll be rewarded with nothing but the sound of your own footsteps to accompany you as an early morning soundtrack.
Don’t Miss… From April 23 to August 31, The Changing of the Guards that takes place daily outside of the Royal Palace at 12:15 pm on weekdays and 1:15 pm on Sundays.
- A vegetarian paradise, HERMANN’S (Fjällgatan 23B) all-you-can-eat buffet concept and a panoramic terrace, makes it a must-eat while in Stockholm. And if you bring your student ID, it is 50% off! Don’t forget it!
- A nightclub that changes its identity season-to-season, In winter, it’s called UNDER BRON. During summertime, it becomes TRÄDGÅRDEN (Hammarby Slussväg 2). Get there early because it is the most popular nightlife destination in town.
- Graphic designed, thematic menus that rotate periodically is what you’ll find at PHARMARIUM (Stortorget 7), a bar located in Stortorget, known for innovative cocktails that inform your food order.
- Stockholm has a number of great lookout points for the ultimate bird’s eye view, go to KATARINAHISSEN (Stadsgården 1). Katarinahissen is 38-meter elevator, but there is also a staircase you can take to access the skydeck.
- Think you have what it takes to try the world’s hottest hot dog? Visit the pop-up food stand HELLDOG (Kornhamnstorg 10) and order the Harikari, a notoriously spicy hot dog clocking in at over 2 million on the Scoville Scale (a habanero pepper is only 300,000 Scoville!) Order the milk, you won’t regret it!
- By land, by sea, and now, by sky! You can take in all of Stockholm on a critically-acclaimed ROOFTOP TOUR, scaling parapets of Stockholm while being clipped to a harness. The tours book out way in advance so book it fast!
- A specialty bookstore in Södermalm that specializes in indie, underground magazines, PAPERCUT (Krukmakargatan 24), is the place for fans of hard-to-find paper goods and print media.
- An outdoor weekend street market that’s increasing in popularity in the food communities, HORNSTULLS MARKNAD (6, Hornstulls strand 4) is open only from April to October from 11am to 5pm, and is the only spot where you can claim you ate Swedish street food in Stockholm.
- For the child at heart, venture out to GRÖNA LUND (Lilla Allmänna Gränd 9), an amusement park in Djurgården with a drop tower ride that can be seen miles around.
- Street art fans make a pilgrimage to the suburb of Rågsved for a taste of Swedish tagging at the SNÖSÄTRA GRAFFITI WALL OF FAME, an open air exhibition that invites respectful artists to make their mark on a blank wall. And for public art enthusiasts in general, a number of Stockholm’s METRO STATIONS are works of art themselves.
- If you find yourself visiting Stockholm in the biting cold, head to ULGGAN (Närkesgatan 6), an underground arcade in the SoFo district of Södermalm, to warm your hands up while playing an invigorating game at a pinball machine or foosball table.
- STRÖMTERRASSEN (Strömgatan 14) at the Royal Opera House is a great nightlife spot to enjoy a good wine-and-dine while watching the sun set over Stockholm
To my huge surprise, I found hotels in Stockholm to be pretty inexpensive (around $100 per night for four-star hotels.) So naturally, for a traveling couple, this was what we chose.
Scandic Hotels is a popular hotel chain in Sweden and they have 13 properties around greater Stockholm. The property we stayed at, Scandic Continental, is right across from Stockholm Central Station, where the Arlanda Express terminates from the airport (super convenient!) By some people’s standards, the rooms may be too small but thanks to intelligent Scandic design, we felt it was enough space for a one-night stay. And the hotel bar, The Capitol, was a sleek lounge with one of the best playlists I’ve heard while I’ve been abroad. Rooms begin at $90.
Another popular option is the Scandic Camper, named one of the coolest spots to stay in Stockholm. The look they’re going for is glamping but indoors, appealing to urban explorers. For example, their wellness space is a giant bird’s nest structure. Rooms starts at $150.
POP HOUSE Hotel is a boutique hotel that shares the same address as the ABBA Museum, featuring funky (but tasteful interior decoration), as well as ABBA music-themed rooms. On Fridays at POP HOUSE, you can catch live music from the up-and-coming Swedish talent. Rooms begin at $100.
… Or To Save?
The Red Boat Mälaren, parked right outside of Gamla Stan, is a boat hotel with shared dormitories, as well as private rooms. The beds in the nautical-themed rooms are modest, but for a $40 price tag per night, it’s enough for the transient backpacker.
- Sweden is on its way to becoming a cashless society. This means that most places do not accept cash. So no need to take out a ton of money at an ATM. Tim and I were scrambling to spend our cash, which was a bit of nuisance.
- There are a number of ways to get from Arlanda to downtown Stockholm, but the two preferred routes are taking the Arlanda Express and the Flybussarna Airport Shuttle Bus. The Arlanda Express gets passengers to Stockholm in 20-minutes (280 SEK/$31.50 USD) while the airport shuttle (99 SEK /$15 USD) takes about 50-minutes depending on traffics. PRO-TIP: If you are traveling with 2 people between Thursday and Sunday, you can buy a one-way ticket to Arlanda for (350 SEK/$39 USD). There is also an option for a 6-hour return ticket for those on a layover to Stockholm for 370 SEK/$42 USD. And during summer months, travel is cheaper for those traveling in groups of 2 to 4.
- SL Access Card is the smart card used for metros. Most people confused the Stockholm Travelcard for the SL Access Card. The Stockholm Travelcard is purchased with the Stockholm Pass but the SL Access Card is something that can be bought separately and for much cheaper. For those planning to use the metro extensively, you can load an SL Access Card for 24 hours (SEK 125/$14 USD), 72 hours (SEK 250/$28 USD), and 1 week (SEK 325/$37 USD) unlimited use on bus, ferries, and subways. But you cannot use the SL Access Card for the Arlanda Express.
- Bring your student ID card! I cannot stress this enough. Tim and I saved roughly $50 USD by using our student ID cards as a majority of the attractions offer student rates.
- In the summer months when the sun is out past midnight, the sunshine can be disorienting for a jetlagged traveler so bring a sleeping mask if you have shoddy room curtains.