Contemporary and urbane, though rooted in traditions, complete with a royal family, Stockholm is stylish, pedestrian friendly, and home to some of the world’s most eye-catching functional design. Read on to discover things to do, neighborhoods to know, and how the locals get around in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Topography and Architecture
Stockholm spreads across a tapestry of 14 islands, where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea. Fifty bridges connect fingers of land, while massive amounts of green park-space and woods edge busy streets and bikeways. Built over centuries, the city boasts well preserved medieval architecture in Gamla Stan, with NeoClassicism and a type of Art Deco called Swedish Grace bedecking newer neighborhoods. Look for Nordic folk motifs playfully incorporated into the facades.
For centuries, artists have cooed about Stockholm’s uncanny rosy light. But, it’s not always illuminated. In winter, the city get’s dark as coal mid-afternoon, with night-like hues lasting up to 17 hours. As expected, most wintertime confabs with locals include some mention of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). On the other hand, in summertime, the days can stretch for 18 hours. Midsummer’s Eve, Stockholm’s most beloved holiday (June 25th in 2022) celebrates the longest day of the year with music, dancing, and feasting.
The Swedes fuel their tanks on strong black coffee, sipped at a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break called a fika. More than a coffee break, the fika, deeply entrenched in Swedish culture, operates as a metaphorical reset button. All over town, at any hour, you’ll find Stockholmers stepping away to sip a dark brew and nibble kanelbullar, a yeasty cinnamon bun.
As in most European cities, Stockholm’s dining scene is sophisticated and diverse. But, as a visitor you’ll want to taste authentic fare. From juicy meatballs and Skagen Toast (a prawn topped bread) to lingonberry jam and Jansson’s Temptation (a potato anchovy casserole), an array of earthy food awaits. Ubiquitous for holidays and midsummer celebrations, however, pickled herring stands alone. Nibble it with a variety of sauces, plated with boiled eggs, potato salad, sliced onions and dill pickles. Wash those down with a sip of schnapps — or ten.
You haven’t been to Stockholm if you haven’t cruised through its vast archipelago, an inviting seascape, littered with 24,000 islands — some of them tiny as a stone. In warmer months, half the city’s population disappears to islands large and small for camping, fetes, biking, beach walks, cookouts, kayaking, and swimming. Waterside cottages abound, many for rent, While private boats make the best ferries, many commercial shuttles voyage to the major islands, ideal transport for day trips. For a quick jaunt, sail to Fjäderholmarna, a group of four islands just 30 minutes from downtown, known for their artists’ ateliers.
Djurgarden by Bike
Hundreds of thousands of Stockholmers take to bicycles to commute each day, making use of 500 miles of bike paths. Grab your wheels at Rent-a-Bike on Strandvägen, the dynamic harbor straightaway, rife with anchored yachts, pleasure boats, and cafes. Take the short route to cross the bridge into Eden-like Djurgarden. The island once served as the Royal Hunting ground, but today encompasses both unspoiled parkland, as well as some of Stockholm’s top museums — such as the Vasa Museum. Circle Djurgarden on its tranquil waterside path bordered by woods. When hunger strikes, dismount at Rosendals Garden Café, a bio-farm amid the trees. Settle into the charming greenhouse for a seasonal lunch, prepared from the restaurant’s own bounty.
First with ABBA, now with Avicii, Stockholm pays homage to its modern music history and their worldwide fans. The long awaited, interactive ABBA Museum opened in 2013, Visitors virtually join Björn, Benny, Frida, and Agnetha as they sing along, try on the troupe’s costumes, and walk down memory lane. Just as tunefully enticing, the new Avicii Experience pays tribute to native son and late musical artist Tim Bergling, as well as Stockholm’s electronic music culture.
Cruise through the archipelago to Lidingo Island, where astonishing sculptures by Sweden’s most famous sculptor, Carl Milles, enliven a cliff and the gardens of his former home. At the Millesgarden Museum, with the sky as backdrop, 140 mostly colossal-sized, 20th-century pieces complete Milles’ vision to create an art island dubbed as a fantasy retreat. Don’t miss The Hand of God, a mesmerizing sculpture, which appears to reach into the clouds.
Gritty in a good way, hip and trendy, this district (and island) in Central Stockholm’s southern realms buzzes with creative energy. The setting for much of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, with hills that sport some of Stockholm’s most breathtaking views, Soder exudes a fearlessly exciting, edgy vibe. With a plethora of popular restaurants and tons of design stores, fashion boutiques, vintage shops and galleries, the area begs for a day of exploration.You can wander SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) for hours. Have coffee at Il Caffé Södermannagatanthen hit Fablab and Coctail for design, Grandpa and Dr. Denim Gallery for fashion, Lisa Larsson Second Hand for vintage; and Konst-ig for books.