Despite my love of travel, last year I had a baby. It turns out the two are not mutually exclusive, and in August, we sucked it up and took a 16 month-old to Stockholm. While it’s true that the flights were objectively worse than childbirth, the trip itself was a revelation.
In addition to the fact that Swedes are even nicer than Midwesterners, the culture integrates children into every daily activity. Because Swedish couples get to split 480 days of paid leave per child, parents spend vast amounts of time bopping around town with their kids that first year or so. Kids are warmly greeted and visible at every restaurant, bar, and shop, no matter how grubby or chic. Every detail has been considered to make family life easier, from complimentary use of strollers at the airport, to grading every single sidewalk for easy rolling.
Second, forget Ikea, the playground (“Parklek”) is Sweden’s crowning achievement. Parkleken are like a giant Pippi Longstocking fever dream. Dedicated areas for all ages, with very little safety regulation! Snacks and coffee! Dads and Moms in equal measure thanks to progressive gender-based policies! An abundance of free toys and tricycles, for any kid to use! The parklek is a great unifying force unlike, say, in LA, where kids go to be smothered by panicked attention and learn parent-speak about sharing. In Stockholm, if someone takes your ball, there are plenty more for everyone. The kids shrug and move on, feeling no sense of scarcity or competition. Having been a young immigrant multiple times, moving so many places with one little suitcase, it brings me to tears to know that any displaced child has the same access to joy as one fortunate enough to be born Scandinavian.
Even booking an apartment was easier in Sweden. Red Apple Apartments can filter for amenities like cribs, high chairs, toys, and on-site playgrounds. We ended up with a spacious and bright 2 bedroom in the quiet neighborhood of Vasastan, a short walk to chic Ostermalm and shopping heaven Norrmalm.
Stockholm is perfectly organized for family travel because you can pick an area each day and then explore a little food, some play, some shopping, and maybe a sight or two. The city is eminently walkable, with a self-explanatory tram and subway system. Each distinct neighborhood has something for every member of the family, at any age. Here are a few good ones to check out.
Östermalm is Vasastan’s posh neighbor, a stomping ground for well-heeled 30-somethings.
Ostermalms Saluhall is a foodhall that dates to the 1880s. Grab an early dinner at Lisa Elmqvist to chow down on fresh seafood (you) and fries (kids, and also you). If it’s nice enough to dine alfresco, head down to Humlegården (see below) and see what’s happening at Humlan, the restaurant and bar at the park’s southeast corner—its latest iteration is a pop-up taqueria that serves a shockingly good tacos and black beans, as well as delicious cocktails.
Humlegårdens Parklek is the Crown Jewel of the parklek system, and your kids can while away hours here. You won’t mind because the little hut in the middle is stocked with coffee and snacks (and a tin donation box and grumpy groundskeeper), and helicoptering just isn’t done. Bring a magazine and hang out a while. Your kids will have so much fun with the free toys, modular tricycles, jungle gyms, and sand pits that they will forget you exist.
A visit to Stockholm would be incomplete without a pilgrimage to Svensk Tenn, the home of pattern icon Josef Frank. If your kid doesn’t have your patience for stroking beautiful wallpaper and furnishings, their website ships anywhere in the world for reasonable rates, and no VAT.
Nytorget’s Urban Deli is a local institution. An organic supermarket with prepared foods, attached to comfort-food restaurant with a curated beer and wine list.
The adorable Nytorget Parklek is right outside Urban Deli. It’s on the smaller side for a parklek, but will still buy you a peaceful and hilarious hour while your kid plays in a wholesome-looking mud pit.
Gamla Stan is old town (1252) Stockholm, cobblestones and all. It’s mostly souvenir shops and tour buses, but worth a walk through for quaint photos and the following gems.
The Hairy Pig Deli is housed in a cozy 15th Century building and serves rustic tapas, salads, and charcuterie to accompany their extensive beer, cider, and wine lists.
Junotäppan is a charming playground peppered with found objects—the toys include an old typewriter, steel milk jugs, and actual lumps of coal. Our kid was obsessed with the broken full-size tractor mired in the sand, and I can’t say I blame him.
Shop for postcards, because you’ll see a souvenir shop every ten feet.
Norrmalm is the commercial core of Stockholm, packed with office buildings and fantastic shopping.
Boqueria is a great place for quick tapas and a glass of wine.
Break for fun at Kungsträdgården, a nice stretch of green in the middle of the city. Kids can watch the trams go by, and there’s plenty of room for them to run around like maniacs.
In the interest of efficiency, head straight to Acne Studios to stock up on as many jeans as you can carry home. They’re flawless, and can cost up to 40% less in Sweden. If your children are less unruly than mine, explore MOOD, a stylish and selective mall only the Swedes could build. The iconic department store NK Stockholm is just around the corner.
Djurgården may lack for incredible restaurants and shopping, but this is your island of DO. Most of the major museums and sights are housed here, as well as an amusement park (Gröna Lund). Even small children will like the Vasa Museum, built solely to house the spectacular preserved remains of a ship that sank after its launch in 1628. Older kids will love Junibacken, a museum tribute to the world of Astrid Lindgren. It’s an endless indoor playground with a beautiful bookshop. Finally, the entire family will enjoy Skansen, a historical village and animal sanctuary, where the animals can (and do) walk right up to guests.
Vasastan is is where real people live. There’s nothing inherently cool about it, but it makes a great home base for your travels as everything else is a short walk or quick T-ban ride away.
“Vegan Chinese” might make your eyes glaze over, but reservations at Lao Wai are scarce for a reason. Order take-out and enjoy these hearty vegetarian dishes at your apartment. If it’s too busy, stop by Babel Deli around the corner, and amass a Mediterranean spread that will fill you to the gills.
Vasaparkens Parklek rivals Humlegården, and the snacks are even better.
Stop at the Mini Rodini outpost just outside of Vasapark (Odengatan 78) for their adorable prints, at prices way lower than you find at home.