The capital of Sweden is beautiful, but go to Mexico if you want cheap. You’ll need to be a bit of a tightwad if you’re traveling on a budget, but that’s part of the fun! We visited Stockholm during a pretty cold and rainy week in June. Obviously, we didn’t have time to see everything, but here are my tips!
Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands and dates back to the 13th century. Its prime location immediately elevated the city among European capitals. It soon became a major hub. By the 15th century it was the commercial center for shipping and trade, most notably copper and iron. The Danes attempted to besiege the city in the late mid-16th century, causing uprisings and revolution of the Kalmar Union.
When the dust settled, Gustav Vasa became the ruler. Under his heavy hand, trade and religious rule decreased as royal power and taxes increased. By the end of the 17th Century, Stockholm’s population reached 60,000. It was declared the capital and city planners laid out a more modern street grid outside the medieval center.
Famine and plague in the 17th century wiped out over a third of the population and put development on hold. Great strides in arts and sciences were made in the 18th century while the 19th saw a few more setbacks and riots.
Suburbs sprang up in the mid to late 20th century much the same as in American cities. The tourist industry boomed, and Stockholm is now one of the most visited cities in the world.
Weather and Timing
Think of Stockholm like Cleveland, only with less poverty. It’s on the water and the weather sucks much of the year. Expect about 23°F in the winter and 75°F in the summer. We were there in June and it was quite pleasant, apart from the rain. Spring or Fall are the best time to visit, but you’ll want to pack pants and a light jacket.
Brace yourself for crowds in the summer months— big crowds. Hostels and hotels will be in short supply, so plan ahead! We learned this the hard way. We were unfortunate enough to visit on the same weekend as a Kiss concert. So, we had to rock-and-roll all night in a budget-busting hotel in the suburbs. Yuck.
TIP: Some entry fees and tours are cheaper in the winter. If you are really pinching pennies, head to Stockholm in December or January!
Architecture and the Channels
One of the most enjoyable activities in Stockholm—weather allowing—is strolling through the narrow streets and bridges of the medieval Gamla Stan (the historic center). Spend some time walking from island to island over the bridges and simply take in the view. There are great walking paths right along the water and renting a bike is a great afternoon activity.
We took this photo in June. That’s Stockholm Cathedral in the background.
Museums and Interesting Sites
If you love museums, this town is for you! Stockholm has over 100 museums not to mention the historic building tours. You can’t see them all, so I’ve got a few recommendations (in Euros for simplicity):
- Vasa Museum – The Vasa Museum features the most complete 16th century ship on Earth. It is quite a sight to see and is the number one sight on my list. Be sure to catch the movie near the entrance which details the ship’s raising and restoration after centuries on the sea floor. It is gigantic and quite impressive. Cost: 12€
- The Royal Palace – You’ll want to see the official residence and workplace of the Swedish Royal Family, but make sure it’s open first. We were there right before the Royal Wedding in June 2010, and they were closed for business. Not a good time to drop in on the Royal family! Cost: 10€-15€
- Stockholm Cathedral – An oldie but goodie from 1279, Gama Stan’s oldest building and an amazing sight from the inside. It’s cheap for Swedish standards. Don’t miss the famous dragon statue. Cost: 4€
- National Museum – Sweden’s premier collection of art. The collections comprise older paintings, sculpture, drawings and graphic art, and applied art and design up to the present day. Cost: 11€
- Moderna Museet – Modern Art, collections include works by Picasso and Dalí. Cost: 9€
- Skansen – Open-air museum of Swedish history and life of the Swedes. There are lots of animals and reenactments. Great for kids! Cost: 9€-16€ per attraction, a little expensive and outside the city
- Stockholm City Hall – Beautiful interior and you can climb the iconic tower for the view of the city Cost: 5€-9€
- Royal National City Park – The Swedes claim this is the first urban park in the world. Cost: FREE
I’m not a fan of traditional Swedish foods like pickled herring, blood sausage, fish balls, or boiled Salmon. I wasn’t impressed by the quality of food either. Breakfast usually consisted of some slightly stale rolls and low quality meat and cheese with mustard. You could also get some marmalade and lingonberry or cloudberry preserves, which I preferred.
It was even hard for us to find a decently priced place to enjoy some Swedish meatballs. I do recommend springing for that at some point. Don’t skip the Lingonsylt. If you’d like to know some of Clark’s impressions of the food we tried, read this People of The Week post.
TIP: Street food is the cheapest route and a good way to taste the cultural influences of the city. Although, we weren’t overwhelmed by any of these places either.
If you are interested in seeing the original (and biggest) IKEA, it’s right outside of Stockholm and makes for a cheap trip! Take the T-bana to Skärholmen and walk under the highway and along the walking path. There will be signs pointing the way to various shopping areas, IKEA included. Warning: Just like the IKEA’s at home, it will take you 30 minutes to find your way back out of this place!
TIP: To save money, consider getting outside the touristy, city center and experiencing the city as the locals do!
Stockholm has a lively medieval city center. If you are there during any of the festivals, you will be entertained all day by lively reenactments of jousts and other medieval type activities. You’ll also be shoulder to shoulder with hoards of other tourists.
We passed a lot of bars advertising live jazz in the evenings. And there are also a lot of nightclubs and bars open late, if that’s your thing. If you venture a little outside the city center near the center of Södermalm, you’ll find some alternative types of cafes and shopping for a lazy afternoon. Don’t venture outside the main touristy area after dark though, it can be a little dangerous with the usual urban risks. Watch for pick-pockets, especially on public transportation.
From what I could tell, this is not an ice cream city. We did find a few places that are worth visiting. While in Gamla Stan, find a Belgian waffle shop. There will probably be a line. Get a waffle topped with ice cream. YUM!
Spend at least three days in Stockholm, five would be better if your budget can handle it. I suggest planning a couple museums a day and giving yourself enough time to rest and relax in Gamla Stan in the afternoon. Europeans love their afternoon coffee and cake, so join in!
- Stockholm T-Bana (Metro) Map
- City Center Map
- Useful Swedish Phrases and Pronunciation – Good luck with that.