A Quick Guide to Stockholm for First-time Visitors

    A Quick Guide to Stockholm for First-time Visitors

    Stockholm is a metropolis of islands. The 700 years old Swedish capital spreads across 14 different islands connected by 57 bridges, so you can enjoy great views of the water wherever you go. This beautiful, clean and historical city is nothing short of a marvel. By virtue of its location on the shores of Lake Mälaren, Stockholm is considered one of the most beautiful European capitals, although it never raised to the fame of Paris or London. 

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    Stockholm, a city on the water

     

    First Impressions

    Stockholm is really beautiful. It’s stylish and sophisticated with impressive buildings, grand boulevards, charming historic alleyways and relaxing green spaces. Architecturally wise, Stockholm is a mixture of traditional Neoclassic and modern architecture that seems to blend seamlessly in most parts of the city.

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    Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town

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    My first great surprise coming to Stockholm was that everyone here speaks English. Even the older generation is fluent enough in English to be able to sustain a mundane conversation on the train, or on the boat, or in a restaurant. This makes getting around the city really easy and it makes you feel welcome.

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    Another good surprise was that you can use your credit card almost everywhere in Stockholm, even for very small purchases. You can actually get by without exchanging any Swedish Krona, which is very convenient. We didn’t know that, so we came prepared with a few hundred Swedish Krona, but didn’t have to exchange any more money after we spent our cash.

     

    Getting Around

    Stockholm is incredibly clean and well organized. You can roam the area at will by bus, subway, ferry, or train. Transportation however is not cheap, so your best bet is the Stockholm Card that gives you free access almost everywhere in the county and entrances to most museums. The best way to get to the city center from the Arlanda International Airport is the Arlanda Express. The speed train that travels at a speed of 200 km/hour is clean, carpeted and has comfortable seats and roomy luggage areas. The trip takes merely 20 minutes to the Central Station. Armanda Express has big sales quite often, so it’s good to check the prices before you go and reserve the tickets on the Internet.

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    Stockholm Central Station

     

    The Weather

    Summers are beautiful in Stockholm, not too cold, not too hot and with enough hours of light to allow you do anything you want. Sleeping is however difficult, since the light of dawn breaks at 4 am. June to August is typically the best time to visit the Swedish capital. While most European cities melt in the summer sun, Stockholm thrives during this time of year. 

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    Stockholm on a summer night

     

    The weather in Stockholm however changes unbelievably fast. The first thing you’ll discover here is that forecasts are totally useless. It may be sunny and warm in the morning, then turn cold and windy in the afternoon. Or you may weak up to a gloomy rainy day that will become a spectacular sunny evening with clear blue skies sprinkled with fluffy white clouds.

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    If you plan to leave the hotel in the morning and return in the evening, you have to dress in layers and be prepared to put on and take off your clothes continuously.

     

    The Food

    Food in Stockholm is outstandingly good but equally expensive. Prices start at around 150–200 SEK for a main course at a restaurant, but the sky is really the limit. There are however plenty of inexpensive places to eat in Stockholm, from food halls and snack bars to decent budget restaurants.  No matter where you eat, Swedish food will not disappoint. Starting with the hearty and diverse breakfasts that most hotels in town serve, continuing with the attractive bakeries and cafés that serve great coffee and all sorts of savory pastries (their famous “fika”) and finishing with the elegant restaurants where you can taste everything from traditional Swedish dishes to international extravagant delights, there is something for every taste. Chances are that you’ll gain a few pounds during your visit to Stockholm.

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    The Lodging

    Hotels in Central Stockholm are expensive and offer a minimal level of comfort. The rooms are clean but small, with barely any floor space to walk around. Nearly the entire room is taken up by the bed. There is not even enough space to put a small suitcase on the floor. Furnishings are simple, with very modern lines, designed to save as much space as possible. The work desks are barely large enough to accommodate a laptop and a camera. The rest of your stuff will have to remain stored in your suitcase, as there are no dressers, or closets, or any other kind of flat surfaces around. Just a few pegs on the wall and a metal bar with hangers for your clothes. Rooms offer a simple dressing mirror hanging on the wall next to a flat screen TV. There are no ironing boards, no sewing kits, no shoe polish utensils. Additional pillows and blankets are only on demand. Internet connection is not complimentary.

    Bathrooms are equally tiny, with shower stalls that have no base, so the water leaks on the bathroom floor when you shower. We checked several 3 and 4 star hotels in the city center (in the $180-$250/night price category) and they all seemed to offer the same level of comfort. Breakfast however is complimentary and is excellent. 

     

    The People

    People in Stockholm are nice and polite, but not particularly friendly. They are rather shy and reserved and will surely not return your smile. This appears even more evident when you are in an eclectic group of tourists and people get involved in conversations with other travelers. But not with the Swedes. They will just act like they are not even there. Saying ‘hi’ or having eye contact with a stranger, even in an elevator in the same building, is not their style. The wall/scenery is way more interesting! 

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    Bikes in Stockholm

    People in Stockholm love bikes and they use them in all weather conditions. What surprised me is that they leave their bikes on the sidewalks overnight without any security locks. It seems that the great majority of the population in this city owns a bike, so bike theft is not a concern. 

    Stockholm has an impressive array of museums, parks, art galleries and great restaurants. Because it lies on a number of islands, you can easily venture outside the boundaries of the capital for numerous day trips to the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago. There are so many things to like about Sweden and Stockholm is definitely a good reason to visit this beautiful country.

     

     

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