Stockholm surprised me in every way. Perhaps because it’s under-talked-about. Or perhaps because I tried to keep my expectations low. It is an unusual city. Despite being spread across 14 islands, Stockholm seems pretty well-connected and easy to explore. Due to the 57 bridges that connect the islands you don’t feel that Stockholm is in fact an archipelago.
When it comes to things to do in Stockholm, volumes have been written on the subject. One thing is certain, you can’t get bored in Stockholm. You have a great deal of choices, from museums, parks, art galleries, to great restaurants and unusual city tours. If you have more time in Stockholm, I would recommend a few day trips to the area around. But if you only have a week, here are my recommendations for the top 10 things to do in Stockholm:
- 1. Explore Gamla Stan, the Historic Part of Stockholm
- 2. Visit Stockholm’s Cathedral (Storkyrkan)
- 3. Join the ‘Nobelity’ at the City Hall (Stadshuset)
- 4. Visit Skansen, World’s First Open-Air Museum
- 5. Take a Boat Sightseeing Tour
- 6. Get a Lesson in Swedish History at the Vasa Museum
- 7. Sip an Unusual Cocktail at Pharmarium
- 8. Stroll Through the Royal Palace
- 9. Sing Karaoke at the ABBA Museum
- 10. Learn More About the Vikings’ History in Birka
1. Explore Gamla Stan, the Historic Part of Stockholm
Gamla Stan (which means ‘Old Town’) has been a settlement since 1252 and it’s considered Stockholm’s birthplace. It’s made up of three islands – Helgeandsholmen, Riddarholmen and Stadsholmen – but it’s Stadsholmen, the largest, that people usually think of when they talk about Gamla Stan. This Old Town is a maze of winding cobblestone alleyways and small squares filled with beautiful sights, restaurants, cafés, bars and places to shop.
Gamla Stan is also home to some of the oldest churches in Sweden as well as the Royal Palace. For the most part this area is pedestrian zone which makes walking around the Old Town a pleasure.
2. Visit Stockholm’s Cathedral (Storkyrkan)
Stockholm’s Cathedral, also known as the ‘Great Church’, is located at the highest point of Gamla Stan near the Royal Palace. The brick structure that you see today replaced the original church from the 13th century. The interior of the church remained largely unaltered from the 1480s when it reached its present size.
One of the main attractions in the church is the wooden statue of St George slaying the dragon. The statue commemorates the battle of Brunkeberg when Sweden (St George) defeated the invading Danes (the dragon). Throughout its history this Lutheran church has seen many royal coronations, weddings and funerals, but you don’t have to be in the king’s entourage to visit it. The church is open for visitors every day between 9am and 4pm. Admission is 40 SEK, free for children under 19 as well as when attending a service or prayer.
3. Join the ‘Nobelity’ at the City Hall (Stadshuset)
Stadshuset (City Hall) is Stockholm’s most prominent landmark. There are many remarkable city halls in the world, but what makes Stadshuset unique is that it plays host to the Nobel Prize banquet which is held each year in the Blue Hall.
After the dinner, a dance is held in the Golden Hall and the event is broadcast live on radio and television. For those not invited, the cellar restaurant offers the previous year’s menu.
4. Visit Skansen, World’s First Open-Air Museum
Skansen was probably my favorite place in Stockholm. This enormous park is an open-air museum that provides an insight into how Swedes once lived. The museum was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius and consists of a large collection of traditional wooden houses representing various areas of the country. The buildings have been moved from their original locations and re-built here. Most houses are inhabited by staff in period costumes who can answer your questions about the people whose lives they are recreating.
There is also a Nordic Zoo on the premises populated by native wildlife like elk, reindeer, brown bears and wolves.
There is also a bakery in the park where you can have a Fika, coffee, or lunch. You could easily spend a day in Skansen and not see it all. The entrance fee and hours of operation vary by season, so please check their website for more accurate information.
5. Take a Boat Sightseeing Tour
Taking a boat tour in Stockholm is definitely a matter of priorities, your interests and the weather. Personally I would rather spend a sunny day exploring an island in the archipelago, or seeing the city from the water, than spending hours in museums. Besides, in a city spread over 14 islands doing some sightseeing by boat seems just logical. There are many boat tour options in Stockholm. From the hop-on-hop-off to narrated tours through the islands of the archipelago, you can book pretty much anything you want. The best tours in my opinion are the Drottningholm Palace on Lake Mälaren and the Royal Canal tour that goes around the island of Djurgården.
6. Get a Lesson in Swedish History at the Vasa Museum
One of the most interesting things to do in Stockholm is visit the iconic Vasa Museum. This is most likely one of Stockholm’s biggest attractions where visitors get a chance to see the wreckage of the Vasa. The Vasa was a warship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged in the 1960s. The museum is a fascinating place where you can learn about ship life and shipbuilding. But what is even more interesting is learning about the cutting edge technology used in preserving this vessel. For a more personal approach about visiting the Vasa Museum, you should check Rachel Heller’s Post.
7. Sip an Unusual Cocktail at Pharmarium
Stockholm is not short of fancy bars and restaurants, but if you want an out of the ordinary experience you should try the quirky Pharmarium. This bar/restaurant is located in Gamla Stan on the site of Stockholm’s first pharmacy that opened in 1575. What makes Pharmarium absolutely unique is that it specializes in pairing cocktails with food. The choice of cocktails determines the choice of food. The cocktails contain ingredients used in natural medicines, like herbs and spices that complement the liquor, creating bold flavors with a fun twist.
8. Stroll Through the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Stockholm was largely built during the 18th century in the Italian Baroque style, on the spot where the “Tre Kronor” castle burned down in 1697. Although similar to other European palaces, the Royal Palace in Stockholm is well worth a visit. The visit includes three museums, the Treasury, the lavish Royal Apartments, the Armory, and the Royal Stables.
The Changing of the Guards Ceremony takes place every day at 12:15 p.m. in the palace outer courtyard and is witnessed by hundreds of curious tourists. The ceremony lasts about 40 minutes.
9. Sing Karaoke at the ABBA Museum
How can you come to Sweden and not think about ABBA, the pop group formed in Stockholm that took the world by storm? At the ABBA Museum in Stockholm, all your dreams come true. Via the wonder of digital avatars, you can become the fifth member of the band, singing karaoke alongside Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Fridt. You can also dance in an ABBA music video or test your skills in a voice booth.
The ABBA Museum is a behind the scene look into the lives of the artists, the history and successes of this world.renowned group. Although ABBA is not Stockholm’s greatest museum, visiting it was a heartwarming experience, a flash-back into our youth years when we danced our shoes off till dawn.. For many of us, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid were and still are ABBA,. the Swedish band that between 1972 and 1983 gave us the hits “Money, Money, Money”, “Dancing Queen”, and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” among many others. The estimated time to visit the museum is between 1 – 2 hours. Admission fee is SEK 195 for adults and SEK 65 for children 7 to 15.
10. Learn More About the Vikings’ History in Birka
If you want to get a glimpse of how the Vikings used to live, a day trip to the island of Birka is your best bet. After a 2.5 hrs boat ride in the southern arcapeligo of Stockholm you will find yourself in a rough landscape where myth and legend meet. Birka was the biggest town in Scandinavia during the Viking age. The settlement was established in mid 8th century and is considered the oldest urban community in the Scandinavian peninsula.
The museum on Birka is small but it has a huge model of a Viking village which shows hot the Vikings lived. There are also a few life size building reconstructions, craft areas, a fort and some old burial sites. The most interesting part is the guided tour of the town that takes about 45 minutes. After the tour you can wander around in the fields and take pictures. Birka is perfect to visit on a sunny day. You spend roughly 3 – 3.5 hrs on the island before the boat takes you back to Stockholm.
There are so many other interesting things to do in and around Stockholm, that you will need at least a week to get an idea about this area.