Stockholm the ‘capital of cool’ and of course Sweden, totally blew me away this summer. Whether you’re talking restaurants, interiors or clothing, it’s certainly earned the title. I mean where would we all be without IKEA, H&M, Cos, Daniel Wellington and vodka?! And that’s before we get to all the music! Here are a few of my recommendations on things to do in this Scandinavian gem.
A city break in Stockholm
Situated on the Baltic Sea this stunning city is spread across 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, each with their own distinct personality. Jam-packed with gorgeous parks, incredible restaurants, attractions and remarkable museums, I wished I’d book more than a four-day break.
In the summertime the archipelago city basks in the midnight sun. It was a joy to wander and get lost among the historic streets and grand buildings, – where Gustavian grandeur mixes so well with the modern architecture and minimalism we all know and love from Sweden.
Stroll the streets of Gamla Stan
One of the first things we did as soon as we’d dumped our bags at the hotel was to wander the winding, narrow cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan. The old town is the heart of Stockholm and one of the best preserved medieval city centres in Europe. Make sure to visit the Stortorget (Big Square), where you’ll find the iconic, insta-friendly colourful merchant houses.
The imposing royal palace Kungliga Slottet is well worth a visit, with 608 rooms it’s the world’s largest royal castle still in use for its original purpose. We were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guards too which takes place in the outer court.
Learn to Fika
What? Is this some new dance craze sweeping the country? Not quite. To Fika is however, a huge part of Swedish culture. It essentially means to drink coffee or tea with a sweet treat usually in the form of a pastry.
We indulged in our first Fika at one of Stockholm‘s most photographed café – Chokladkoppen. A gay-friendly café in the Old Town, it’s a convenient spot for taking a break from the sightseeing.
True to its name, which I think translates as chocolate cup. They’re famed their hot chocolate, which is oh so yummy and served in a big bowl.
Sail around the archipelago
Dubbed the Venice of the North due to its stunning architecture and abundance of water, Stockholm is part of an archipelago consisting of around 30,000 islands (give or take). I don’t think you can say you’ve had a city break in Stockholm if you don’t experience a boat or ferry ride to some of its beautiful islands.
Stromma offer many different tours, but we opted to do our own thing via their Cinderella boats. These are the everyday commuter boats. A welcome change from your groundhog journeys on the tube I can tell you.
Nothing beats a Kate Winslet moment and the Baltic breeze through your hair (or not in the case of Mr S).
The day was split between the charming island of Grinda and one of the furthest away, Sandhamn.
Two very different islands, you can read about our day trip here.
Admire a preserved 17th century warship
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to museums in this city but if you’re going to choose one make it this one! Especially if you have mini-mes with you, it will blow their minds. The Vasa was a ship built so badly it sank a mile from the dock.
With a King in love with the beauty of such a gargantuan ship (69 metres long and 48.8 metres tall) the engineers were too scared to tell it him wouldn’t sail for long. So, on its maiden voyage in 1628 the top-heavy vessel tipped and sank, unfortunately with many of the crew on board.
333 years later it was pulled from the waters and due to the cold waters of the Baltic sea was remarkably preserved. You can see it in all its glory at the Vasa Museum. An incredible sight.
Step back in time at Skansen
Make your way to Skansen on the island of Djurgården and experience the Sweden of old in the world’s first open-air museum.
It’s a historic theme park come village a bit of a tourist-cliche but at the same time pretty cool. If you have kids – a guaranteed winner!
You can wander the village and pop into old-world stores showing how trade was done as well as see glass blowing and traditional food preparation methods.
The Nordic Zoo is based there too, so you can wow the kids with the bears, reindeer and moose. My girls enjoyed a wonderful day at Skansen with their school friends who luckily were holidaying at the same time.
Chill out with the trendsetters and hipsters of Södermalm
A laid-back neighbourhood just across the bridge from Gamla stan is where all the cool kids hang out. The Stockholm version of Shoreditch known to the locals as SoFo – A must to explore.
You’ll find the streets alive with boutiques, record stores, art galleries, stylish locals and stores selling vegan leather goods, eco-friendly wares and vintage clothing. The girls hunted down the local park too. Another thing Stockholm does very well.
We enjoyed lunch at the hip restaurant Nytorget 6, I was sold on the deep fried halloumi salad.
There is also reindeer heart on the menu. On this occasion I refrained from doing as the Scandinavians do.
Get your photographer geek on at Fotografiska
A must for all shutterbugs this beautiful industrial building in the neighbourhood of Södermalm showcases Sweden’s best photography exhibitions.
Fotografiska isn’t too big, so easy to fit into a busy sightseeing day in the area. There’s a great bar and restaurant on the top floor where you can capture some great views of the city.
Indulge in Stockholm’s food scene
Stockholm is fast becoming Europe’s culinary capital with its ever-increasing Michelin starred restaurants, Bib Gourmands (Michelin’s excellent but budget-friendly range) and a number of local Swedish classics. From succulent meatballs, hearty herring and sweet cinnamon kanelbullars, even as a vegetarian I found the most incredible restaurants to dine in.
For a family-friendly gastropub try The Flying Elk in Gamla Stan. The menu is inspired by a blend of Swedish culinary traditions and British pub culture. It’s the sister restaurant to the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Frantzén. Great to experience the famous restaurants cuisine but in a simpler, relaxed and purse friendly way.
And when you do fancy breaking the bank for one evening Gastrologik in Östermalm is the place. This ‘new nordic’ style of gastronomy puts great emphasis on the quality of its raw materials. There is no set menu, it’s the seasons that decide what’s served. More on my 22 course tasting menu here.
Switch off at Junibacken while the kids go nuts!
The magical fairy tale world of Astrid Lindgren comes alive at Junibacken on the island of Djurgården. Whilst you fika, the kids can immerse themselves in what is essentially a massive dolls house.
As well as showcasing well-loved Swedish children’s books through playful exhibits. The story train is central to the playcentre. It’s a short ride which the kids found enchanting and the adults quite morbid. My girls love the stories of Pippi Longstocking, so were totally bowled over to see her world come alive.
There is also a great restaurant with lovely views across the waters, which is where you’ll find all the grateful adults hanging out.
Be wowed by the epic architecture
Some of the buildings in Stockholm date back to the 13th century or even earlier. It’s historic buildings in the Old Town have been conserved largely due to Sweden’s neutrality in World War II.
Teeming with architectural treasures my eyes were alight with some of the most picturesque city scenery.
The Royal Palace, Tessin Palace, The Royal Dramatic Theatre and the Riddarholmen church were my personal faves.
There’s no denying Stockholm isn’t the cheapest place in the world to visit, but believe me it’s so worth it. Something which will help you on your travels and city break is the Stockholm Pass. It’s valid for 24, 48, 72 or 120 hours from the first time you use it. You can visit some of the city’s amazing museums and attractions, experience certain boat tours and have unlimited travel on the Hop On-Hop Off buses and boats. On a three-day pass you can look at saving a 1000 SEK (around £100), so worth it.
Travelling with two kids I was also impressed with the family-friendly attitude of the city. It’s almost as if the city is built for them there is so much to do! Most of the sights and attractions are designed with kids in mind and nearly all are free for under 18s. Across Sweden pram ramps are common, most shopping centres have nursing rooms and buses are also free for those with strollers. These Swedes, they think of everything.
My girls left this city with four words ‘Can we come back?’ The apples don’t fall far from the tree do they?!
Have you been to Stockholm? Is it somewhere you would consider for a short break with the family?
Below are more posts from our Stockholm adventures:
Where would we be without our Lonely Planet Guide!
Below are some easily bookable activities to help plan your trip:
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