For your first visit you need no less than three days to be able to appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are mostly walkable in the city center, but occasional use of public transport is necessary.
Love its waterfront areas with colorful architecture.
Don’t miss: catching the sunset from Monteliusvägen.
Worthy attractions: Royal Palace; Vasa Museum; Drottningholm Palace; Storkyrkan; Riddarholmskyrkan; Tyska Kyrkan.
Left for another visit: City Hall (did not step inside); Skansen; ABBA Museum; Junibacken; Museum of National Antiquities (Historic Museum); National Museum; Nordic Museum; Birka (further afield).
Last visit: August 2015.
Stockholm is a city full of outstanding architecture, vibrancy and impressive vistas. It helps that it is built on an archipelago with many waterfront areas. But step a few blocks away from water and you will still find things to admire, whether it is nice pedestrian narrow streets in the center or walkable routes in other districts.
Things to See
You will invariably focus a lot of your exploration on Gamla Stan ♥♥♥ (Old Town), where the most important churches and the Royal Palace are concentrated among the maze of narrow streets. The main historic square, Stortorget ♥♥♥, is very colorful and not exactly as big in size as its name would suggest (Big Square in Swedish).
To the north-east of the main island lies Östermalm ♥♥♥, with the magnificent Strandvägen ♥♥♥ waterfront boulevard as its highlight. There are several waterside cafés along its length. The promenade is always busy, but gets especially so in the evening.
Don’t forget to wander the streets behind Strandvägen – they are full of wonderful architecture.
North-west in the city proper, you may want to explore the area of Vasastan ♥, an increasingly popular residential neighborhood with a bohemian vibe and many good eateries.
To the south of Gamla Stan is Södermalm ♥ whose main attraction point is Monteliusvägen ♥♥♥, a small pedestrian path on the high bank overlooking all of the city. Most incredible views open up from there, and during sunset it is simply breathtaking. Camera is an outright necessity.
There is also Djurgården, an island that is home to several of the city museums. We only visited Vasa Museum ♥♥♥, dedicated to the ill-fated royal ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 17th century and was recovered 300 years later. The ship itself is obviously the most prominent feature of the museum and there is detailed information on everything pertaining to it, plus side expositions that discuss a number of cursory topics. A unique museum that can take a day to explore for those willing.
We walked up to Skansen open-air museum without going in. It requires several hours of exploration, which makes it unsuitable for short itineraries; the park is open until later than most other attractions in town, but individual points of interest within it close at “normal” times around 5pm, which negated our plan to see it at the end of day.
There are more museums in the vicinity that did not make the cut for our schedule in town.
The Royal Palace ♥ itself consists of several museums on a single ticket. Royal Apartments offer a number of impressive spaces, with good information about each. There is also an interesting exhibition of Swedish Royal Orders taking up some of the rooms. A separate exposition is the small but interesting Treasury, displaying full coronation sets through the years. We did not go to a couple of other exhibitions in different parts of the palace. Tickets can be bought at the entry to each of the four museums – and it is the same ticket for all four once you buy it in one place. Mobile app guide is available if you want to know more than the basic displays in every room.
We chanced into two guard change ceremonies around the palace and the main square. At 12noon, a big one started with almost a parade-like march complete with orchestra through streets the city to the Royal Palace, culminating in the actual change that we did not watch on account of crowds. Later, at 8pm, a smaller ceremony took place at the main square by the palace, with few onlookers, very easy to see.
Storkyrkan ♥♥, or Stockholm Cathedral, offers impressive golden decorations, especially the pulpit and two royal boxes. There are also nice vaulted ceilings and some stained glass windows.
Tyska Kyrkan ♥♥ (German Church) looks very updated and clean, with bright stained glass and fantastic decorations inside.
Riddarholm Church ♥ is the place where royals and nobility have been buried for ages. The coats of arms throughout the church provide an interesting highlight. There is a lot of information in English on the history of the impressive church.
Drottningholm Palace ♥♥♥ is a UNESCO-recognized royal residence some distance from the city center (easily reached by public transport in about 40 minutes). It is a fantastic complex, with gorgeous park, many luxurious rooms in the main palace, an interesting Chinese Pavilion and Court Theater (latter can only be visited with a guided tour once every half-hour, with language alternating between Norwegian and English). You can easily spend a full day here. World Heritage combination ticket (the most expensive option) entitles you to a guided tour of the palace, which is not exactly needed, but you need to buy that option if you want to visit the theater.
Skogskyrkogården ♥ is a vast and beautifully architected cemetery that is also a UNESCO site. I am not in general a fan of cemeteries, but for those who are, the trip there could be rewarding. The site is about 25 minutes away from the city center via metro.
Yet another UNESCO site, Birka is a preserved Viking settlement that requires a day-trip to visit. We left it for the future.
One other of the main points of interest in the city received only exterior attention from us. The City Hall ♥ is both solemn and attractive, including the courtyard and the waterfront gardens. Access to the tower is limited to a dozen timed entries a day, each for a couple of dozen people; the tickets sell out quickly, and we did not manage to climb up. There are also only guided tours for the main interior feature, Blue Hall, which we decided to bypass.
We went on a food tour called Nordic experience ♥♥♥ (link) that took us to a variety of food stalls, full-service restaurants, and specialty shops, first in Hötorget and then in Vasastan. Nice selections all taking roots in Nordic culture, many interesting experiences highlighted by lively commentary by the guide, Gunilla. Overall, a dozen stops, from cold cuts to small-portion dishes to sweets and ice cream.
There are plenty different cruises around the Stockholm archipelago. We opted for Under the Bridges ♥ boat tour which lasts under two hours. Very good narration, and the cruise covers significant area, twice going through the locks that connect Baltic Sea with Lake Mälaren. The route does go under nearly twenty bridges, but majority of them are tall automobile crossings, each a feat of engineering, no doubt, but not exactly what you might envision when hearing the name of the tour. The boat is glass-roofed; you need to get a seat by the open window for better views and photographic opportunities. There are two pick-up locations, it is better to join at the first one in order to get your preferred seating.
The bus, tram, and metro system in Stockholm are extensive and efficient. While you hardly need it if you stay in and around Gamla Stan, you will certainly need it to go to places like Drottningholm or to neighborhoods like Vasastan.
Unlimited-ride 24-hr card is easily a good deal if you plan to travel a lot, paying for itself after only 3 rides.
If you decide to take a taxi to or from the airport, the airport rate is flat but it varies between taxi companies and is displayed on the side of the cab. We had one at SEK 485 and one at SEK 470. For a sole traveler or a couple, a bus or a train may be a cheaper option, but it will likely require additional journey between the city central station and the final destination. For a family of more than 2 people, taxi is definitely cheaper.
Places to Eat
TripAdvisor nowadays makes finding restaurant recommendations quite easy, so these vignettes are meant to offer no more than a starting point for your research. All places visited in the summer of 2015.
Restaurant Bla Dorren ♥ in Södermalm offers very good food, nice decor, and good service. We went for elk meat balls and fried herring stuffed with salmon. There is a large variety of beers on the menu. Our attempt to reserve a table by email summarily failed, but the tables inside were available when we showed up for dinner; outside seating is limited and should certainly be booked in advance. Our damage: SEK 900 for two people with a bottle of wine and gratuity.
Under Kastjanen ♥♥ sits on a quiet triangle square in Old Town. There is minimal – and tight – outside seating, but we were lucky to get a table even though we randomly came across it without a reservation. The service is very nice, with a joke and a smile. Menu is not too extensive but sufficient, and it adds a lighthearted narration or backstory to every item. Good food, from toast Skagen to deli plate to lamb sirloin to Swedish meatballs. Great dessert a la Romanoff. Our damage: SEK 1250 for two, with a bottle of wine and gratuity.
We also had lunch at Gasgrand 4 ♥, having come across it accidentally and liking the outside seating on a narrow pedestrian alley. The place has mostly bad reviews on TripAdvisor, but we had a nice experience. It offers reasonable food for lunch, although the menu does betray a measure of this being a tourist trap. Great people-watching if you sit on the side of the alley (which justifies at least one heart for the place), not so much if your table is in nearby little square. Our damage: SEK 695 for two with a bottle of wine, two courses for each person.
The food tour, mentioned above, substituted for both lunch and dinner on one of our days in Stockholm. As part of that tour, we went by several vendors in Hötorgethallen ♥♥, a food hall that appears to be a fantastic place to have lunch.
For drinks in the afternoon, probably nothing beats jetty-housed Strandbistron ♥♥ on the Strandvägen waterfront. Watch the passing boats in the harbor, the passing people on the promenade, while sipping a rosé or a beer.
As in any large city, the options for a hotel or an apartment are nearly endless on major online platforms. Any geographically central location will put you within easy reach of most of the sites, aided by the excellent tram network.