Sweden’s picturesque capital should be every traveler’s first port of call for any great trip to Scandinavia. Stockholm is one of those cities that truly feels a little bit magical, as if you may have accidentally walked through a portal and slipped into a fairytale. It has everything: sleek modern design, breathtaking old-world charm, world class fashion, food, museums, galleries and even a royal palace, all spread across an archipelago of 14 islands, ready and waiting to be explored. Don’t let that intimidate you, though; the city is incredibly easy to get around, with bridges connecting most of the islands and ferries and a metro for those not so keen on walking. Stockholm is a city that you’ll want to let yourself get lost in for more than a quick two days. If you’re strapped for time, though, here’s a simple guide to ensure you make the most of your time in Scandinavia’s ‘Venice of the North.’
Any self-respecting trip to Stockholm must start in Gamla Stan, the city’s Old Town and one of the most well-preserved historical centers in all of Europe. A stroll through the winding cobblestoned streets and warm-colored buildings will give any first-timers a real feel for what Stockholm is all about, as this place is dripping with charm. Treat yourself with some retail therapy as you explore the many boutiques and keep an eye out for some unique sights, such as Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, Stockholm’s narrowest street, or Järnpojke (The Iron Boy), Stockholm’s smallest statue at just 15cm tall. There are plenty of iconic places of note here but the baroque style Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace) is a must-see and it’s well worth it to take a tour. If you arrive around midday, you’ll even see the changing of the guard at 12:15pm. Make sure to buy tickets online beforehand! For lunch, stroll on over to nearby Tradition, for a delicious upscale take on Swedish fare. If you’re not familiar with Scandinavian cuisine, you should make it your focus on this trip; it is just too good to miss out on authentic fare in the land of meatballs.
Next, say goodbye to Gamla Stan and make your way to Moderna Museet, Stockholm’s go-to spot for all things modern and contemporary art. The collection is impressive and boasts work by Picasso, Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and many notable Swedish artists, including the magnificent Hilma af Klint. When you’re done exploring, head on up to the restaurant for a snack, a drink and incredible city views. For dinner, try cozy Agrikultur, one of Stockholm’s finest restaurants, with delectable modern Swedish classics and a focus on sustainability. The menu changes daily to reflect ingredient availability. If you’re not completely exhausted, finish your day back in Gamla Stan with a cocktail at Pharmarium, a bar and restaurant in the very building that was once Stockholm’s first pharmacy in 1575. This place is popular, but it’s for a reason. Enjoy some people-watching and let yourself be lulled to sleep by their house specialty cocktail, Delirium.
Your second day in Stockholm should begin in the elegant district of Östermalm. Stroll through the tree-lined streets and expensive homes or enjoy a more upmarket shopping experience, and then wander down the promenade of Strandvägen for some sea views from one of Stockholm’s most prestigious streets. Next, head on over to Östermalms Saluhall, one of the world’s best food halls, and enjoy an assortment of Swedish delicacies for a late breakfast or an early lunch. Afterwards, visit the incredible Vasamuseet (The Vasa Museum) for an experience you surely won’t find anywhere else. The Vasa Museum showcases the Vasa, an immense warship which sank in Stockholm Harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged over 300 years later. The museum was purpose-built around the ship, which is on full-view, and as 98% of the ship is original, it is the best-preserved ship of its kind you will ever see. To continue your journey of Stockholm’s best museums, make your way to ABBA The Museum to immerse yourself in the lives of one of the world’s best pop groups. Whether you are a fan of the supergroup or not, this interactive museum is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re visiting with children in tow.
To wind down a busy trip, finish your day with a visit to the creative district of Södermalm. First, head to Johan & Nyström for a coffee and a pastry, or as the Swedes call it, fika. Fika is a Swedish ritual, focused on taking a pause during your day to rest, usually with a coffee and a fluffy cinnamon bun; it’s encouraged daily, as if you needed any more reasons to up and move to Sweden. Once you’ve fueled up on caffeine and sugar, stroll through this trendy neighborhood filled with eclectic shops, vintage and design stores. If you still have some time, visit Fotografiska, an amazing spot focused on contemporary photography with an ever-changing collection. For your final dinner in Stockholm, get your fill at nearby Meatballs For The People, a cheap and cheerful spot completely focused on the humble meatball. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, head to Frantzén, a restaurant with an experimental menu centered around Nordic and Asian fusion and three Michelin stars.
Stockholm is a city in a league of its own, with buckets of charm and delightful experiences to be had whether you visit in the height of summer, the depths of winter or anywhere in between. As you chomp your way through meatballs, mash, lingonberry jam, pickled fish and cinnamon buns and spend your time exploring the wonders this fairytale city has to offer, I have no doubt that you’ll be eager to return for a longer trip, because if there’s one thing I know about Scandinavia, it’s that there’s always something new waiting to be discovered.
Bryony Parker is a writer and artist currently living in São Paulo, Brazil and working on her Masters in International Affairs. You can find her at @par666ker on all social media.