Heading to the beautiful Scandinavian country of Sweden? Here’s a list of things to do in Stockholm (that shouldn’t be missed):
1. Get Out on the Archipelago
The city of Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands and the city center is virtually surrounded by water. Seeing that I visited Sweden in the dead of winter, I was skeptical about whether a boat ride on the archipelago would be enjoyable. Sure, a boat ride (or heck, spending the entire day on a boat) in summer would definitely be warranted, but what about when there is snow on the ground? Well, rest assured, this first timer became even more smitten with the city after seeing it from the water.
Was it freezing outside? Oh, yes! With this in mind, we chose a short, 75 minute ride with the tour company Stromma. The small boat had reindeer pelts on the top deck for those who were willing to brave the elements (Do you really have to ask? Of course I was up there!) and sold piping hot glögg and Swedish pea soup inside the boat to warm us up.
Bonus: the harbor where the boats leave from is across the street from The Grand Hotel, an establishment whose hotel bar certainly lives up to it’s name. If you’re not traveling on a budget, grab a (very fancy) drink at the bar before or after your cruise.
2. Visit the Vasa Museum
While in Stockholm, be sure to head over to Djurgården Island to check out The Vasa Museum. I was told that the museum is a “must” – even for those who aren’t huge museum fans. Personally, I would consider myself a “museum light” type of gal. Basically, you’re not going to find me at a museum just because my guidebook tells me to go. I do enjoy them… just so long as they are focused on a topic that actually interests me. I wouldn’t have thought that 17th century Swedish maritime life would have been one of those topics, but I found the Vasa Museum fascinating!
In short, the Vasa was a huge 17th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage just out of Stockholm’s harbor, only 1,300 meters from shore. The ship was salvaged in the 1950’s and painstakingly reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle (and is more than 95% original wood). It’s not only the story of the Vasa that’s enthralling, but the museum exhibits are extremely well done.
3. Explore Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan, or Stockholm’s Old Town, is one of the best preserved medieval city centers in Europe and is a “must-explore” for any visitor. I spent a fair amount of my time in Stockholm wandering through the 13th century cobblestone alleyways, stumbling upon charming cafes and delicious restaurants. Make sure you find Stortorget, or Big Square, where you will find the iconic, often-photographed old merchants’ houses and head to the Royal Palace to watch the changing of the guards.
While in Stockholm, I chose to stay at the luxurious Victory Hotel in the heart of Gamla Stan. This historic hotel blew me away and is in itself a tourist attraction. The hotel is decorated with priceless maritime antiques curated by the hotel’s founder and parts of Stockholm’s original fortress wall was discovered during construction of the hotel’s restaurant. As impressed as I was with the rooms and elegant decor, the service was the cherry on top – port wine and chocolate was placed in my room nightly (complete with a personalized note), and the front desk attendants were cheerful and helpful.
4. Saunter Around Södermalm
Södermalm, just across the bridge from Gamla Stan, is another part of Stockholm you should definitely explore. One of my (awesome) readers suggested that I head to the swanky restaurant, Eriks Gondolen, for a drink and to experience the most magnificent city views. Per usual, she was right – the views (and drinks) were fantastic! The cocktails are not cheap, ringing in at $20+ USD a piece, but experiencing Erik’s should not be missed.
After Eriks, head to Södermalm’s bohemian SoFo district for shopping, galleries and dining options. We enjoyed our dinner at the hip restaurant, Nytorget 6. Everything we tasted was great, but I was particularly a fan of their unique fusion starters such as fried cheese (similar to my hometown favorite, Wisconsin fried cheese curds) and reindeer heart. Yes, you read that right – we ate reindeer heart. When in Scandinavia, do as the Scandinavians do, right?
5. Indulge in Swedish Delights
Okay, it’s a given (or at least it should be, in my opinion), that if you travel to Sweden, you’re going to indulge in the obligatory meal of Swedish meatballs with lingonberry. And, if you choose your meatballs carefully, I can assure you that they will not taste one bit “obligatory.” After careful research and consideration I chose to experience my inaugural Swedish meatballs at Gastabud. I chose Gastabud due to it’s close proximity to my hotel, reviews on Trip Advisor and it’s price point (Scandinavia is quite expensive, but this place was very reasonably priced given it’s prime location in Gamla Stan). Did I choose correctly? YES. I loved my Swedish meatballs so much that I ate meatballs once a day during my stay in Stockholm. And, although I didn’t return to Gastrabud because I was opposed to eating at the same restaurant twice while only in the city three days, I probably should have because none of the other (more expensive) restaurants that I tried had meatballs quite as tasty as theirs.
Aside from meatballs, make sure you sample some of the sweets and pastries that the Swedes are famous for. And, if you are lucky enough to visit Stockholm around Christmas (or right after the holidays, like I did), you MUST try glögg. Glögg is Swedish spiked mulled wine garnished with almonds and raisins and served with gingerbread. It’s delicious. And, addicting. (So much so, that I made some myself days after I returned to the States). If I had it my way, glögg would be the go-to worldwide all winter long.
Stockholm truly surprised me. I knew that I would enjoy the city, but I had no idea just how much I would love it. It’s one of the most beautiful large cities I’ve ever been to and I can’t imagine how picturesque it must be in summer!
Have you visited Stockholm? What was your initial impression of the city?
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Although I was a guest of the Victory Hotel, my love for the beautiful historic hotel (and the hospitality I was shown) is all my own.
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