Travel highlights: Stockholm, Sweden

I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in Stockholm recently. I visited with my then-fiancé/now-husband in August of 2011 after having spent a week meeting and spending time with my distant Swedish family in Gothenburg.

One week we’d be living like Swedes, the next we were tourists sleeping almost every night in a different room in our hostel. It was a big change, but we couldn’t help but spend time in Stockholm on our first trip to the country.

Here I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts of the city so that you might enjoy your trip as much as we did.

Seasons

IMG_1353 copyWe visited Stockholm in the late summer, which is ideal for tourists looking for mild weather, but not so ideal if you’re looking to get an idea of what life in Sweden is like. Much of Sweden goes quiet in the summer, when almost everyone takes their vacations, heads up north or gets out of the country altogether for a while. This leaves room for the tourists to swarm into the city, occupying every narrow alley.

You’d be among few tourists in the winter, but of course the weather might not be to your liking. The city does set up a huge ice skating rink in Vasaparken, though, if you’re into that.

Spring might be a happy-medium, catching the Swedes before they head out and the tourists before they rush in.

Lodging

For about $30 a night, we stayed in the Gustaf af Klint, a hostel located in the lower levels of an old ship.

The Gustaf had a lovely complementary hot breakfast with plenty of options, served with – of course – coffee. The view from the common area overlooked the water and had a nice view of historic Gamla Stan. It’s centrally located off the Slussen subway stop, so you can easily get to all parts of the city.

We had a room to ourselves the first night, shared a room with another couple a few more nights and stayed in a common bunk room with 14 others the last night. All experiences went just fine, although the French couple we bunked with left some pretty dank towels hanging to dry at a few points. I prefer the solo rooms, but I don’t mind sleeping in bunks, either.

Where to go

If you’re like me, you’d rather wander than plan out your day around museum and tour schedules.

Wander aimlessly through Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s “Old Town” area with beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets. There you’ll find a mix of tourist shops and fine goods, along with some delicious restaurants.

Take a tour of the archipelago. There are several hop-on-hop-off boat tours of the archipelago, which you can take to learn a lot about the history of the Swedish capitol and see some stunning views of the islands. Their beauty cannot be understated. If you want to just sit back and relax, hanging out on the boat all day taking in the views is an option. Or, get out at any of the stops and explore.

There is plenty to do in Stockholm, but the first step is to get a lay of the land. Take a walk and take note of where the tourists gather. Avoid those places if you can.

Things to do

Figure out your priorities: History? Shopping? Art? Museums? Animals? Architecture? Politics? Crazy awesome food? It’s all there and more. Make a list of your top to-dos before you head out each day so you won’t miss anything.

Politics, culture & history: Visit the Riksdag (Congress), the royal palace or the Nobel Museum. The Vasa Museum is a must-see if you’re into ships, or even if you’re not. It’s a ship that was preserved for hundreds of years in the brackish Baltic waters, and it’s in remarkable condition. It also has a hilarious backstory. There’s also the Swedish History Museum, Gripsholm Castle, Vaxholm Fortress, and about a hundred more historical museums and sites to visit.  (More suggestions.)

Shopping: This is the birthplace of H&M. There is shopping everywhere. You’ll find stores you love whether you intend to or not. Head to Nybroplan if that’s your thing.

Art: I loved the Fotografiska museum. They happened to have an exhibit with Robert Mapplethorpe when we visited, which was a beautiful coincidence, since I love his work to pieces. There’s also the Royal Dramatic Theatre, the Royal Opera House and, yes, the ABBA museum.

Animals: Skansen is a must-see zoo and cultural park where you’ll learn about vikings, Saami people, Swedish animal species and more. The aquarium is neat but underwhelming. You’ve been warned.

For everything else, there’s visitstockholm.com, which can guide you through the city with ease.

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