Easily Scandinavia’s most beautiful capital, Stockholm is an exemplary mash-up of creative and eco-friendly lifestyles, innovative startup companies, a flourishing indie music scene, a hipster café culture, and an undying love for the outdoors due to its vast archipelago and proximity to water. Geographically, Stockholm is spread out across 14 unique islands, from historic Gamla stan (old town)—with its cobblestoned streets, earth-toned buildings, and the Royal Palace—to lush Djurgården, with its forests, green parks, rose gardens, and biking paths. For the city’s most exciting districts, head over to Östermalm to hobnob with Stockholm’s elite in Michelin-starred restaurants and upscale clubs, or wander around Södermalm, Kungsholmen, and Hornstull for eclectic shopping, excellent fusion restaurants, and cool indie nightclubs.
When’s the best time to go to Stockholm?
The best time to visit Stockholm is between the months of May and September, when the city emerges from a dark winter and fully comes alive. Summer temperatures are moderate, and Stockholm’s archipelago is at its most beautiful during the long summer days from June to August.
How to get around Stockholm
Stockholm is served by two international airports. Stockholm Arlanda Airport is the main gateway and takes 40–60 minutes from downtown, depending on traffic conditions. Stockholm Bromma Airport is located right in town and serves short-haul flights between Stockholm and a few Baltic and Northern European countries. Taxis are expensive, so avoid them. The cheapest way of getting from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to town is to take an airport transfer bus like Swebus, which gets you downtown in 45–50 minutes. The fastest way is to take the 20-minute Arlanda Express train from the airport directly to Stockholm’s Central Station.
Run by Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL), Stockholm’s public transport system is comprised of subways (tunnelbana), bus and tram networks, ferries, and some long-distance trains. Tickets can be purchased at stations and kiosks showing the “SL” logo, and you can find departure times and schedules online. Alternatively, you can purchase the Stockholm Card, which provides unlimited rides on public transportation including access to over 80 attractions around the city.
Can’t miss things to do in Stockholm
Take a three-hour brunch cruise aboard the refurbished 1931 steamboat SS Stockholm to Vaxholm and back, and enjoy impressive views of Stockholm and its archipelago along the way from panoramic windows. You’ll dig into traditional Swedish classics like pickled herring (sill) and cured salmon (gravlax) alongside a variety of warm dishes, salads, potatoes, breads, and desserts. Pace yourself on the cold starters because once you start gorging, the tables are cleared to bring out sausages, meatballs, bacon, scrambled eggs, and other hot plates.
Food and drink to try in Stockholm
Eating out can dent your wallet, so choose wisely. Stockholm shines when it comes to seafood—think fish and small shellfish like crawfish and shrimp, but forget jumbo-sized prawns—and local game like reindeer, moose, and wild boar. While you’ll find some excellent restaurants that serve international fare such as Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, and Japanese, the really excellent ones are few and far between. Be sure to “fika like a local” and dig into Swedish pastries such as kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) while you’re in town. For fine dining and upscale Michelin-starred restaurants, head over to Stockholm’s Östermalm and Norrmalm districts. You can find more laid-back yet high quality restaurants in the Södermalm, Kungsholmen, and Hornstull districts of town. Stockholmers love their happy-hour cocktails, and the city’s nightlife is hip, indie, and fresh. Most of its pubs and clubs are clustered around the neighborhoods of Östermalm, Gamla stan, and Södermalm.
Culture in Stockholm
Stockholm’s subway system, the tunnelbana, is the world’s longest art exhibition—110 km, with a variety of paintings, sculptures, mosaics, tiles, installations, and other durable art displays put together by 150 artists in over 90 of the city’s 100 stations. Stockholm also has dozens of offbeat museums that showcase its diverse interests—from the ABBA museum, dedicated to the legendary Swedish band, to Fotografiska, the city’s best contemporary photography museum, as well as Skansen, which opened in 1891 to spotlight pre–industrial-era Swedish lifestyles and now is the world’s oldest open-air museum.
When summer rolls around, Stockholmers are out and about celebrating numerous festivals. Summer begins with the most iconic, Midsummer, when both locals and visitors dance around maypoles with wreaths of wildflowers and garlands on their heads. Other popular festivals include Smaka På Stockholm (Taste of Stockholm), which is the country’s largest food festival; Kulturfestival and Street Festival, celebrating the performing arts; Stockholm Pride, Scandinavia’s largest LGBT parade; and various music festivals such as Summerburst.
Local travel tips for Stockholm
- Most locals know to ditch their cars. Frankly, most of them don’t own cars anyway, for good reason. Frequent traffic jams congest Stockholm’s narrow streets. But public transportation is extensive and punctual, so you won’t miss not having a car.
- Because eating out can add up quickly, locals also know to look for signs that read “Dagens rätt” or “Dagens Lunch.” This means “dish of the day”—often a discounted meal.
- If you plan on shopping, know that many stores and attractions open their doors late in the morning (10-11am) and close early (5-6pm). Plan accordingly to avoid surprises.
- Most locals speak English, so you can get away with knowing only “hej” (hello) and “tack” (thanks) in Swedish.
- Many stores open around 9 or 10 a.m. and close between 5 and 6 p.m. On weekends they shut even earlier—and on Sundays they may not open at all—so plan your shopping accordingly.
- Many businesses operate on a queuing system using a number dispenser, so be on the lookout for these when entering a store.
- Sweden is an almost cashless society—everyone uses credit cards, though you should save a few coins for public toilets.
- The country is very environmentally conscious—from organic restaurants and cafes to recycling habits and ubiquitous biking culture—so be cognizant of this when using public spaces.
- If you’re pushing a stroller, you get to ride public buses for free.
- Tipping is not required in Sweden.
- Sweden uses the 230 volt Europlug—type C and F. Sweden’s currency is the krona.
Stephen Whitlock is a Yorkshireman who moved to New York and then, a decade later, relocated to Stockholm, Sweden.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a Stockholm-based award-winning writer and photographer.