Imagine strolling through a pine-scented forest that opens onto a sparkling lake, where you can take a refreshing dip as the sunshine’s rays warm you. That magical setting—which you can find all over Sweden—is just part of the appeal of summertime in the country, when it takes on a special enchanted feel. Residents head to holiday homes on the country’s many lakes and coastal islands to enjoy a Scandinavian version of dolce far niente. Days are spent hiking and swimming in spectacular settings and lingering over mouthwatering meals of cured salmon and pickled herring, followed by desserts made with just-picked berries.
And one of the surprising things about Sweden is that you don’t need to travel to the middle of the wilderness for an experience like this—you can find it right in the middle of Stockholm. Sprawling parks, beaches, hiking trails, and more make the city an ideal place to get outdoors and soak up the fresh air, as you explore some of the city’s 14 islands on foot, bike, and kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Plus, you’ll also be surrounded by Stockholm’s history, architecture, culture, and culinary magic. Everything from the Royal Palace to Michelin-starred restaurants and open-air museums for the whole family await your visit.
But Sweden’s sophisticated capital city won’t be the only spot you’ll experience on this itinerary. Right at the city’s doorstep is the Stockholm Archipelago, a collection of some 30,000 (!) islands clustered off the coast that move to their own rhythm and offer even more outdoor adventures—and delicious Swedish cuisine. These islands feature everything from close-knit communities to sparse rocky outcroppings, and hopping around them will give you a real chance to connect with the people as you connect with nature.
To truly experience Sweden, you need to be there to taste the freshness of the arctic char, smell the crisp pine-scented air, and feel the golden sunshine. And this itinerary puts you in the heart of the action.
Itinerary / 7 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrive in Stockholm
Your first stop will be one of the city’s islands, Djurgården, which is home to a vast park—a stretch of Swedish countryside with wide-open meadows and forested groves in the heart of Stockholm. It’s a green oasis in the middle of the city, with vast treed areas and open spaces; you’ll also find many of the city’s most popular museums and attractions here.
One of the highlights is Skansen. Founded in 1891, it’s the world’s oldest open-air museum. There’s a lot going on, which has made it a favorite destination for visitors and Stockholmers alike. Historic homes and farmsteads from across the entire country have been moved here to create a microcosm of the nation through time. You can also get a close-up view of some unique Nordic animals at the children’s zoo and in the new Baltic Sea Science Center, where you’ll find aquariums and an exhibition about the challenges facing the efforts of preserving the Baltic Sea’s wildlife.
The island also plays host to some smaller venues that offer more personal experiences, all close to each other. Begin with some art inspiration. At the Thiel Gallery—one of Sweden’s finest art galleries—you can stroll the historic building as you peruse the impressive collection of late-19th-century and early-20th-century works by iconic artists (Eugène Jansson, August Strindberg, Anders Zorn, and Carl Larsson, among others) and be awed by the largest collection of Edvard Munch’s art outside of Norway. Move on to the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, a castle-like building once owned by Prince Eugen that now displays some of his best-known works, as well as that of other famous Swedish artists.
Then it’s time for some fun! If you’re traveling with kids of an entire multigenerational group, Gröna Lund is an exciting amusement park with 30 rides and a wealth of entertainment. Feel the wind in your face as you climb high in the air on thrilling ride with a magnificent city view, or take the kids on a family-friendly roller coaster.
When you’re ready to eat, Djurgården serves up a number of local favorites, offering alfresco dining under Stockholm’s blue skies. In walking distance, the restaurant at Spiritmuseum serves craft cocktails that pair well with a menu that focuses on the sea, the lake, and the animal kingdom, and you can check out the famed Absolut Art Collection and delight your taste buds with a tasting while you’re there. Oaxen includes two restaurants, both featuring contemporary interpretations of Nordic cuisine: Krog’s menu consists of delicious and refined seasonal dishes, while Slip is a more casual bistro. Rosendals Garden is a working farm with a café serving dishes that incorporates the vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown on site. The restaurant offers a true farm-to-table experience, with only a few feet separating them; it’s a hidden gem that’s not to be missed. And Flickorna Helin is another charming café with a wide selection of delectable baked goods, located in a royal-looking building that offers some inspiration all its own.
You can also visit some of Stockholm’s most interesting museums without leaving the island. The Vasamuseet—Scandinavia’s most-visited museum—houses an enormous, restored 17th-century warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, was salvaged after 333 years on the seabed, and today is the world’s best-preserved 17th-century ship. ABBA The Museum, which celebrates Sweden’s legendary pop group, displays the music, the clothes, the lyrics, the musicals, and the films of the most iconic Swedish band of all time. The museum is modern and designed to give its visitors an interactive, memorable, and of course musical experience. And the Nordic Museum offers a deep dive into Scandinavian culture.
From Djurgården, you can easily take the ferry to the idyllic island of Skeppsholmen, set just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still in the heart of downtown. Walk around this small island and you see most of the city center. Here you’ll find Moderna Museet, one of Europe’s foremost collections of art from the 20th century to today. Marvel at the works by Picasso and Dali and take a stroll around the sculpture park. Or spend some time exploring Arkdes, the national center for architecture and design.
Then grab a bite at Långa Raden, in the classic Hotel Skeppsholmen. You’ll dine in a park-like area at the water’s edge, in a setting that’s been preserved since the 17th century. Enjoy traditional Swedish flavors like Swedish meatballs, salted salmon, and seared arctic char, injected with modern style; sit outside on the patio if you can. Or try Torpedverkstan, a restaurant with its own smokery in a great seaside location next to the marina. Return to the city center by crossing the 19th-century Skeppsholm Bridge, check out the golden crowns in the middle, and take a moment to enjoy the great view over the Royal Palace and Old Town.
You may have a tough time deciding where to stay tonight: Stockholm boasts some amazingly unique hotels that offer a true sense of place. Perhaps you’ll pick the historic Hotel Skeppsholmen, which features a castle-like exterior and uniquely shaped guest rooms. Originally built as barracks for the Royal Marines, the hotel has a bucolic, tranquil setting that’s replete with water views—you may not even believe you’re in the heart of the city. History also comes alive at the Grand Hôtel, Stockholm’s waterfront grande dame, which first opened in 1874. Today, modern luxury touches every corner of this extravagant hotel, with Stockholm’s singular skyline on view throughout. Or, for a one-of-a-kind experience, opt for the Oaxen Prince van Orangiën—a prestigious boat that’s been luxuriously transformed into space that oozes romance, thanks to a wealth of dark woods and marble. All are hotels delivering experiences you’ll never forget.
To get here, take the ferry here from the city; the journey can take up to five hours on the public ferry, but it’s only about two hours when you take the Cinderella ferry, which departs from city center. Either way, it’s a laid-back journey that will begin to give you a flavor for life among the rocky outcroppings of this dramatic archipelago.
Then take your pick from great accommodation options here. Check in at the Sandhamn Seglarhotell, where there’s a 19th-century exterior and an interior design that brings a nautical theme to life (it was originally designed for the Royal Swedish Yacht Club). Suites come with big balconies and great sea views, and you’ll find inspiring views from the outdoor hot tubs and floating saunas as well. For something even more intimate, check out Sandhamn Värdshus, a five-room bed and breakfast with shared bath (there’s also a small cabin with its own bath) and its own spectacular sea view. Book full board and a gourmet three-course dinner will be included with your stay. Or try the luxurious Sands Hotel, a boutique apartment hotel overlooking the archipelago, with rooms decked out in Scandinavian chic and all the amenities of an apartment.
Then go exploring! Sandhamn’s history dates all the way back to the 13th century and, until the middle of the 17th century, the island was used as feeding grounds for cattle. When the island was mapped in 1640, it became clear that it held a strategic location, at the entrance to Stockholm, so a fortress was built next to the narrow Sandhamn Strait. It’s also here you’ll find one of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club’s marinas, which is popular with boaters.
Stroll the village, where some cottages date to the 18th century. If you really want to get an in-depth historical look, book a guide with Sandhamnsguiderna to show you around. Walk the trails through pine forests, taking in the fragrant aroma, and don’t miss the little white chapel. Then enjoy lunch at Sandhamn Värdshus; their fried herring with potatoes and lingonberry jam, a classic specialty of the archipelago, is a must-try. Continue to explore the island on foot or rent a bike to see more. On two wheels, it’s even faster to reach the island’s popular beach, named after the French seaside resort Trouville. Bring a book and just relax by the water.
Dinner tonight is at the historic Sandhamn Seglarhotell, which has been wowing visitors since 1897. The menu focuses on Swedish cuisine, though with some great international twists, thanks to the incorporation of influences from the Mediterranean and South America. Dine with a great view from the top floor of the restaurant. Then, as the sun begins its slow descent to the sea, go for a drink at the cozy pub Dykarbaren (“The Diver’s Bar”) a little further down the road.
DAY 3Sandhamn Continues
If you like to kayak, you’ll love the paddling here. Rent a kayak or book a guided tour and set out. The archipelago waters keep things interesting by offering a great variation in conditions. The many islands give lots of protection, of course, meaning you’ll find plenty of calm waters. But then, when you want to experience the thrill of the sea, you can paddle farther out and take on the waves. Plus, thanks to Sweden’s “right to roam,” you can pull over at any island for a break. Bring a late-afternoon fika with you in the kayak and enjoy it now.
If kayaking isn’t your thing, you still have plenty of options for exploring the glistening waters around here. Book a fishing or sailing trip for the afternoon (your hotel can help you arrange one). Go angling for sea trout, pike, perch, gorse, and cod. Your guides will bring all the equipment you need, and small boats mean you’ll have the flexibility to go where the fish are biting that day.
Tonight, you’ll return to the classic Sandhamn Seglarhotel and experience the Terassen—the hotel’s bistro with a terrace overlooking the harbor. To catch the sunset, the best spot is from the hill behind the local bakery; from here you’ll have a perfect view as the sun makes its slow descent toward the horizon and you reflect on another perfect day in this magical country.
DAY 4Return to Stockholm
Once back in Stockholm, there are 14 islands to explore, so you may not be able to see all of the city’s highlights. But a cruise will take you through narrow canals, past historic buildings, and along the edges of verdant greenery, giving you a great overview. Then head to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic old town, where the city was founded back in the 13th century, and wander among its narrow, winding cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings. You’ll be charmed and inspired all at once as you witness the highlights of the city’s medieval heart.
Here you can visit the Royal Palace; with more than 600 rooms spread out over 11 floors, it’s one of the world’s largest palaces. Tour the Royal Apartments and see the three fascinating museums; in summer you can also visit the Royal Chapel and royal burial church. Continue to be awed next door at the Nobel Prize Museum, where you can learn all about the world’s most prestigious prize; you’ll come away confident that ideas can truly change the world.
When you get hungry or thirsty, you won’t lack for options: Gamla Stan boasts tons of restaurants and cafés where you can relax surrounded by history. Check out the cozy Chokladkoppen café or grab a drink at the popular Wirströms pub. Then cross the bridge to the small island of Riddarholmen; here you’ll find a panoramic view of Lake Mälaren, City Hall, and the statuesque skyline of this gorgeous city.
You’ll also have the chance to visit no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and experience the unique atmosphere created by this collection. Anyone who’s super-curious about the Vikings will want to take a full day and visit Birka, the site of one of Sweden’s oldest towns, where many historic remains have been unearthed. Channel the spirit of the rugged souls who once inhabited this land. You can also choose to visit the grand Drottningholm Palace, which stretches out so wide you may need to adjust your camera lens. This gorgeous structure dates from the 16th century, though it includes later additions from the three centuries that followed. While a portion of it still serves as the residence of the Swedish royal family, many of the palace’s opulent rooms are open to the public. Don’t miss Drottningholm’s gardens, which are as captivating as the palace itself, especially in the summer when they’re at their most leafy and blossoming. The third UNESCO site may be a surprise: Woodland Cemetery was included on the list as a modernist masterpiece, with its remarkable landscape design and several buildings of architectural note. It’s also simply a pleasant setting for a stroll underneath the dappled shade of its towering trees.
Continue the inspiring day with an unforgettable dinner at one of the city’s leading restaurants. Sweden’s chefs have been hailed for elevating local ingredients and reimagining traditional preparations into contemporary dishes, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to sample their creations. Among the standouts where you may want to reserve a table are Agrikultur, Restaurang Hantverket, and Gastrologik. In all, you’ll find a cutting-edge approach to flavor and attentive service that will make your send-off meal one you’ll never forget.
You’ll sleep in style tonight at Ett Hem, a 12-room hotel located in a 1910 Arts & Crafts building. Marrying the classically Swedish traits of functional elegance and contemporary design, Ett Hem feels more like the private home it once was than a hotel, making for a night that feels local and personal all at once.
You may want to spend your afternoon by renting a kayak or joining a guided kayak tour with Stockholm Adventures. On the City Kayak Tour, for example, you’ll take a leisurely paddle with your group to get a unique vantage point on the city, checking out some of the city’s famous 14 islands and 57 bridges. No experience? No problem. As long as you know how to swim, you can join. Or take part in another fun activity on the water in Kungsholmen: stand-up paddleboarding. Go with Stockholm SUP and you can launch from a place close to Rålambshov Park and right next to Västerbron—one of the city’s tallest bridges.
By this point, you’ll have worked up an appetite; fortunately, there’s no reason to leave the water views behind; just plan on having dinner at one of the city’s relaxing lakeside restaurants. One great option is Mälarpaviljongen, set on floating pontoons. It’s a cheerful place and ideal for taking in the sunset as people paddle, sail, and row by in their boats. Enjoy the menu that has an emphasis on organic and fair trade produce as you enjoy a glass of your favorite beverage. Plus, you can feel good that this restaurant also works closely with Regnbågsfonden (“rainbow fund”), which was founded in 2013 to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights all over the world.
Start in Fjällgatan, set high on a cliff: On one side are historic buildings that date to the 18th century, while on the other, you’ll be mesmerized by Stockholm’s distinct skyline across the water. You’ll also find some of those same unforgettable views from the Monteliusvägen, a quarter-mile-long walking path that winds past charming houses. Then head over to Tantolunden, a large park where you can enjoy swimming in the summer and sledding in the winter.
Another great option for swimming is the island of Långholmen, set in between Södermalm and Kungsholmen, where you’ll find a sandy beach, along with trails for walks to commune with nature. There’s also a great kayaking company, Långholmen Kajak, if you haven’t yet had your fill of paddling.
Back on Södermalm, when you get hungry, you’ll find lots of great brunch places, like the ironically named Greasy Spoon, which serves up classic brunch dishes done exceptionally well. Feel like picnicking? Grab some things for your outdoor spread at Urban Deli Nytorget. Or sample the fare at the café or bistro at the boutique Rival hotel. Then explore the popular and hip area around bustling Hornsgatan, where there are plenty of cafés and lunch spots if you’re still hungry after brunch.
Plan on a rooftop dinner at Hornhuset. While this venue features lots of bars and restaurants, you’ll want to head to the rooftop patio, which is open in summer. Discover another unique experience at the new Debaser Pontonen, a restaurant set on pontoons. Afterwards, catch the late sunset at the rocky hilltop of Skinnarviksberget.
One must-do here is Fotografiska—the center for contemporary photography that’s one of the world’s largest and most important photography museums. Housed dramatically in a former customs house, it’s also one of the city’s most popular venues. Even better, it stays open until 11 p.m. or 1 a.m., depending on the day, making for an inspiring way to cap off your day.
Also keep an eye out for summer happenings in Södermalm. Look for pop-up restaurants, for example, which are common here in the summer. Check out Södra Teatern, a restaurant and bar that will host a summer outdoor cinema every Sunday for 10 weeks over the summer of 2020. Another option? Well-known restaurateurs Per & Albin, who operate several famous restaurants, have recently opened up an open-air summer restaurant on Långholmen next to Södermalm called Ön, where dishes are cooked in wood-fired ovens and on open-fire charcoal grills. Fittingly, it’s out in nature, but also in the middle of this always-surprising city.
DAY 7Return Home
Into fashion? Go explore the work of Swedish designers, which includes everything from the stylistically simple to renegade looks that push boundaries and challenge convention. Whatever your interest, you’ll find an outlet for it, whether it’s unisex garments at Hope or recycled leather jackets at Deadwood.
And check out the newly reopened food hall Östermalms Saluhall, set in an impressive brick building constructed in 1888. The four-year long renovation just finished earlier this year, and now you can peruse vendors selling everything from pastries to fish to cheeses in this impressively grand space.
Then it’s time to head home—or to explore more of Sweden. As you depart, scroll back through the photos of your adventure and the friends you’ve made. And remember, you’ve seen only a small part of this magnificent country; more natural treasures and more deep dives into local communities await in other areas. Clearly, you’ll need to return to experience it all.