Things to see & do in Stockholm

Water is everywhere in Stockholm. It makes up a third of the city and, along with an abundance of green space, ensures that it never feels crowded. Swedes love getting out and about in the great outdoors and in their capital city there are endless opportunities to do so, from walking or cycling the streets, exploring the huge central Ecopark or kayaking in the city’s waterways. And just outside the Swedish capital, a patchwork of fields, forests and water stretches out towards the sea, whether you’re headed for the unspoiled islands and deserted beaches of the Stockholm Archipelago or the laid-back rural idyll of Sörmland, to the southwest.

It’s not all about the outdoors, though. This is a modern, forward-thinking metropolis with a thriving arts scene, and plenty of cool cafes, bars and galleries to explore. And at its heart, the historic old center unravels like a fairytale town in a children’s picture book, its compact layout easy to navigate on foot. Read on to discover more of our Stockholm highlights.

Gamla Stan

Stockholm’s historic and geographic heart, Gamla Stan is a maze of cobbled streets and narrow lanes that welcomes all comers - a place where you can just as easily hunker down in an off-radar candlelit cafe as squander cash in a tourist trap souvenir shop. It’s one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe and dates right back to the founding of Stockholm in the 13th century. Here you’ll find Renaissance churches, Baroque palaces and elegant squares, including the famed Stockholm Cathedral, gorgeous 14th century Riddarholmen Church the only remaining medieval abbey in town, and the 600-room Royal Palace, where you can watch the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of the guard.

Västerlånggatan is the area’s main drag, and is lined with galleries, cafes and boutiques. Tourists descend in their thousands and in July and August, when you might well have to fight your way through the crowds. So follow our advice, and visit out of season.

Museums

Museums are a big deal here, with some 70 of them in and around Stockholm, not including the numerous independent galleries that have sprung up around the city, showcasing everything from ancient history to contemporary design and architecture. The most-visited in Scandinavia and the jewel in Stockholm’s museum crown is the Vasamuseet. It’s home to the Vasa - the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. The 69 metre-long warship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was dredged up 333 years later in 1961. Almost as popular is hilltop Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world, where you can learn about traditional ways of life throughout Swedish history and visit artisan workshops and settlements. Other hits with visitors include the National Museum, which displays painting, sculpture and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present; and ABBA: the museum. A loud, colourful shrine to those Swedish pop heroes, it’s packed to the rafters with memorabilia and offers tons of interactive fun.

Our top Sweden Vacation

Sweden self guided cycling vacation, Stockholm countryside

Sweden self guided cycling vacation, Stockholm countryside

Self-guided cycling in Stockholm's picturesque countryside

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Outdoor living

Despite having only three months that could really constitute summer, Stockholm goes full throttle for outdoor living, with parks and green spaces making up more than a third of the city. Head outside the city boundaries and there are two national parks, almost 300 nature reserves, and a whole host of lakes and islands, all of which are easily accessible, by public transport as well as by road. Every suburb has plentiful green areas, and midnight swims, beach barbecues and campfires are all standard activities.

And thanks to “allemansrätten”, a constituted Right of Public Access, the public has the right to camp, hike, and paddle pretty much anywhere.

Stockholm vacations

Some vacations only touch down in Stockholm before heading out the next day such as up to Swedish Lapland. But the capital deserves more than a hurried afternoon, so you could either base yourself in the city, or arrange to spend more time here at the beginning or end of your stay. Several of our Sweden vacations are based in the Stockholm area, where self guided walking and cycling vacations take in the Stockholm Archipelago and the Sörmland countryside, to the southwest. These breaks move at a gentle pace and aren’t too strenuous, so are suitable for families. The terrain, particularly on Stockholm’s archipelago, is easy going, and the tracks are safe and largely traffic-free, with trips including good maps and luggage transfers.

Swedes love to cycle and hike around Stockholm, too. A particular highlight is the city’s Ecopark, a green oasis combining cultural heritage and natural features.

Practicalities

Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) is the biggest airport in Sweden, served by direct flights from destinations across Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East. Dedicated airport buses and express trains depart regularly for the city center.

Despite being spread across 14 islands, the city is fairly compact, so it’s easy to get around on foot or by bike. If you’d prefer to use public transport, which includes buses, trains and boats, the good news is that it’s safe, accessible and efficient and connects almost every corner of the city, as well as its suburban outposts.

You can visit Stockholm year round, just be prepared to wrap up in winter, when temperatures can drop to -5°C. If you’re all about the festive atmosphere, then come in December for atmospheric Christmas markets and twinkling lights. If getting out and about in the surrounding countryside is more your thing, then visit from May to September, avoiding mid-July to late August if you want to steer clear of the summer crowds and corresponding high prices.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Julian Herzog] [Intro: chas B] [Gamla Stan: edward stojakovic] [Outdoor living: Tommie Hansen]
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