What we learned and did in Stockholm
We hope our Stockholm travel advice will help you make the most of any time you get in this friendly, clean city. We only had 3 days but made good use of our time without overdoing it. Although we did walk over 7 miles a day so bring comfortable shoes!
Buy a Stockholm Pass
Our first piece of advice is to buy a Stockholm Pass for the length of time you’re going to be there. We had 3-day passes but you can also get them for 1 or 2 days. The pass gives you admittance for “free” to several museums you’ll want to see and discounts at others but the transportation is the main advantage.
You can ride the Hop on Hop Off Bus as often as you’d like but we preferred the included boat trips. The pass covers water ferries that are fun and very useful for getting around. For the water taxis (they’re bright green) you just show the pass and get on.
For other boat trips – we did one of the canals and one of the archipelago – you take your Pass to the white sort of cupola shaped building to the right of the blue boat in the picture above. There you get a ticket for the boat cruise you want to take. This wasn’t explained to us and caused us some elevated blood pressure levels trying to get on the cruises we wanted when we realized we had been standing in line with the wrong piece of paper.
Having the Stockholm Pass saved money and made life easier.
Visit the Vasa Museum
We knew from reading travel advice before we went that everyone says you have to go to the Vasa Museum. However, it didn’t really call our names. Then we realized that entry was included in our Stockholm passes and the water taxi was going to let us out there. We were not what you would call highly motivated visitors but it turned out to be interesting
The Vasa was a warship meant to display the naval prowess and brilliance of Gustavus Adolphus who was the King of Sweden at the time. He was starting a war on Poland and Lithuania in 1628 and the Vasa was going to really impress them. Except it didn’t.
The men who built the ship knew it wasn’t seaworthy but they basically thought they could sail it out of the King’s sight and then fix the problems. Apparently telling the King there was a problem wasn’t an option.
So the ship set sail with great pomposity and within minutes capsized and sunk. And there it sat, at the bottom of the channel, for 333 years before it was discovered in 1956 and salvaged in 1961. Seeing the process of how they salvaged it is one of the most interesting exhibits.
Although there are issues causing the ship to deteriorate it’s amazing to think that it’s so well-preserved after more than 300 years under the sea. We were told the water temperature, low saline content and darkness all helped to keep the Vasa intact.
Let your not very freaky flag fly and go to the Abba Museum
Both the Vasa Museum and the Abba Museum are on the island of Djurgardsvagen (easy for you to say) and they are an easy walk from each other. Your Stockholm Pass doesn’t cover the Abba Museum. The adult fee is about $24USD and you can pay only with a credit or debit card – your cash literally isn’t any good here.
This isn’t the kind of museum that will make you wish you’d paid more attention in history class. Instead it’s a fun place with interactive exhibits where you can sing (in a private booth) and dance along with the group. The exhibits are clever and it really does bring home to you what a major deal Abba was in their day and why Sweden loves them so much even now.
Visit the Fotografiska Museum
The water ferry will take you here from Djurgardsvagen or from the city. There was an excellent special exhibit when we visited and an English-speaking guide made the whole thing meaningful. Partly it was her enthusiasm but it was also the story behind the story she had of the photographs that drew us in.
Their permanent collection is also quite impressive.
Note: If you leave here after 6:00 don’t think you can catch the water ferry back to the city because it has stopped running. This is one place where our Stockholm pass didn’t help us as, due to construction, we couldn’t get a tram either so walked back to town (about half an hour).
Give yourself plenty of unhurried time to explore Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan (which Blonde kept calling Gangnam Style) was where Stockholm was founded in 1252 and is a beautifully preserved medieval city. There are sights to see but the most pleasure is to be derived from just walking around. Many of the shops have items with sleek designs and there are some bakeries that may lure you to abandon your New Year’s Resolutions (that you probably forgot about on January 3rd anyway).
Sit and have a coffee or the drink of your choice and enjoy the people watching and the overall atmosphere – especially in the morning or evening when it isn’t crowded.
We found two little places we enjoyed eating in Gamla Stan. One was a lunch place, Cafe Lazy House (with free wifi) where we had the Swedish meatballs shown above for $18 USD. Another, Paganini was a tad pricer in part because we had dinner and a little wine. They had a nice Italian fare menu and it came to $42 per person. You pay with credit or debit cards everywhere but American Express isn’t very popular.
Do a couple boat tours
We explained in the beginning about getting tickets for any boat tours that aren’t just the water taxis. We did a canal tour which had really interesting commentary as well as sights. The city has so much demand for housing that they’re building farther and farther out but are committed to having a third of the land for housing, a third for business and a third for parks. They make it work.
They are also very committed to the environment. You will go past a whole town built so that everything is recycled or composted in ingenious ways. It’s sent through tubes from the apartments so there are no garbage trucks. The architecture – stark and modern – is also interesting to observe.
The other boat tour we did and really enjoyed was out among the archipelago. This is a very popular cruise and you should get your ticket at least 45 minutes before it sails as it fills up fast.
Seeing the small allotment houses (given to people by the government) that people use for cottages and gardens is interesting. A lot of people commute by water to the islands and the commentary about that is an interesting glimpse into a different way of life.
A few more tidbits of Stockholm travel advice
You do not need to get Swedish kroners if you don’t want to; you can pay for everything with plastic. (Make sure you’re using a card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees.) We bought cups of coffee, bottles of water, everything with plastic. BTW – you can feel free to drink the water.
The city’s bike rental program really is designed for residents, not visitors, so don’t plan on using it.
This didn’t seem to apply in restaurants but stores were very insistent that you present your passport to charge anything. If you don’t want to carry your passport around they may also accept your driver’s license.
We thoroughly enjoyed Stockholm. It’s a city where we didn’t encounter any bad attitudes anywhere, the citizens mostly spoke English and were very helpful.
Now if we could find more places like that in our own country!