Is Stockholm worth visiting? If you’re asking that then we can only discern that you’re looking for reasons to head over to the bustling capital of Sweden this year. Thankfully, we’re ready and waiting to oblige…
Truth is there are PLENTY of things that we think make a visit to this historic and happening town a must for any globetrotters in Europe. From the immersive old town area at the heart of it all to the leafy reaches of the salt-wash archipelago islands on the Baltic Sea, you’ve got tons to get through, and that’s not even mentioning the nightlife and the museums, the dining and the neighborhood vibes.
This guide will answer “is Stockholm worth visiting?” by focusing in on nine of the top features of the city, starting with just how easy it is to access in the first place these days…
It’s a very accessible city
While most European towns have one or two airports, Stockholm is pretty unique in that it has four of them! That’s more than the likes of Rome and Madrid, in line with the major transport interchange of London. Not all of Stockholm’s terminals are huge. Together all four cater to around about 30 million passengers per year, but there are plenty of arrivals coming in from all sorts of destinations around the globe.
The main one of the bunch is the huge Stockholm Arlanda Airport. It’s just shy of 40km north of the city center and has five individual terminals up its sleeve. There are over 20 major airlines flying there on a regular basis, including Lufthansa from Munich, Norwegian Air Shuttle from London and Manchester, Air France from Paris, and even Delta Air Lines from New York’s JFK.
On top of that, you have a trio of smaller arrival ports in Bromma, Skavsta, and Vasteras. They are mainly given over to European low-cost flyers like Ryanair and easyJet, which means it’s now possible to bag seats to the Swedish capital for under $20 per person (or even less!) if you’re lucky. Just bear in mind that you will have to travel a little further to the city after landing if you come into one of those.
Stockholm is one of the epicenters of the New Nordic movement but also a great place to come and sample the delights of more traditional Scandinavian cooking. That means you’ll find a taste-bud-tingling mix of charming Swedish taverns that churn out broths and dumplings alongside edgy chef-led kitchens that do degustation and foraged goods.
We’d say EVERYONE should begin with a sampling of the local meatballs. This is Sweden’s national dish and it’s served up in fantastic form at the acclaimed Meatballs for the People down in the hip district of SoFo – don’t worry they also do veggie alternatives made of lentils. Aptly named Restaurant Tradition and Pélican also do hearty local cooking, touting menus of goulash, pickled herring, and crispbread.
Real gourmands have to taste the more creative side of the gastronomy here, though. That’s all about the New Nordic scene, which is heavily seasonal, highly curated, and downright swish at every turn. Leading the way in that category is the trio of acclaimed bistros that is Nomad, Nook, and LYKKE.
The Gamla Stan
Yes, we know it’s touristy, but boy is it a charmer. We’re talking about the historic core of Stockholm: The Gamla Stan. This medieval town is set over a single hill on a single islet in the very midst of the city’s archipelago. It’s a rabbit warren of lanes that wiggle this way, weave that, and come fringed by overhanging homes that date back to the 14th, the 13th, and even the 12th century.
The hub of it all is Stortorget square. A people-watching mecca, it’s overlooked by brightly colored mansions painted ochre and orange, along with a museum dedicated to the prestigious Nobel Prize. From there, we wholeheartedly recommend getting lost in the streets of Västerlånggatan, Lilla Nygatan, and Stora Nygatan that filter off to the southwest. They form a maze-like mass of shops and cute coffeehouses.
The eastern side of the Gamla Stan is just as enchanting but a touch quieter. Stroll down Österlånggatan and you’ll find more upscale bistros and cafés. Go one street further and you can get views of Skeppsholmen island just across the water. To the north is the Royal Palace of Sweden (the Kungliga slottet), which is still the official first residence of the nation’s kings and queens.
The café culture
They say that the Swedes drink more coffee per capita than any other nation on Earth. And while we think that the Costa Ricans might have something to say about that, there’s no question that the sheer number of cafes that peppers the heart of Stockholm is testimony to this Scandi nation’s love for the buzz juice.
And they aren’t just cafes. They are some of the coolest, hippest, most happening coffee stops that we’ve seen in a long time. The best areas to go drinking your brews are probably the boho quarter of SoFo on Södermalm island and the chic dining quarter of Ostermalm in the downtown core. Here are just a few of the most alluring joints to check out:
- Stora bageriet – A very cool artisan baker’s with a Parisian edge to it, sat on a cobbled square near the quays of Ostermalm.
- Söder Marley Café – Kitschy Söder Marley Café has a reggae edge and a reggae playlist.
- LYKKE – Every inch the Scandi-cool drop-in, LYKKE is a retro-boho mixup with plants dangling from the walls and uber-strong flat whites.
It’s rare that you’d run out of museums in Stockholm. This city is positively brimming with them, from immersive reenactment history villages to rambunctious collections dedicated to national musicians. It’s hardly a wonder that the town is hailed as one of the cultural hotspots of the Nordic nations.
Here are just a few of the top museums that we think every heritage and history lover should have on the to-do list for Stockholm:
- The Vasa Museum – We’d say that this is the undisputed piece de resistance of the city’s museum scene. Visitors get to see a completely preserved ship that sunk in the waters of Stockholm harbor way back in 1628. Amazing stuff.
- ABBA The Museum – Sat right next door to the Vasa Museum, this spot offers something totally different: A trip through the life and works of Sweden’s most iconic pop band.
- Skansen – Transport yourself back in time by stepping into the open-air museum of Skansen, a recreation of what life was like in rural Sweden in the centuries gone by. There’s also a small on-site zoo and botanical garden.
There’s nothing like Ibiza on offer here and we’d actually recommend out-and-out nightlife buffs to pick another city-break destination in Europe if all they want to do is hit the bars and clubs from dawn till dusk – Krakow, Madrid, and Lisbon are generally better prospects. However, there is some great energy to the Swedish capital once the sun’s gone, too.
The main nightlife areas are generally accepted to be Södermalm and Östermalm. The latter is known for its upscale VIP lounges and chic clubbing scene. The former is more down to earth and gritty, offering rock bars, shisha lounges, and dive venues with live music throughout the week and weekend.
You might also want to have the Gamla Stan on the radar when it comes to partying in Stockholm. The reason? It’s got lots of places that cater to the international crowd and, especially, the stag dos out there. We’re talking Irish bars like The Liffey and lively music stages like Stampen.
Stockholm is about much more than the Gamla Stan. That might be the part of the town that your Lonely Planet guidebook waxes lyrical about for page after page, but, really, it’s just one chapter in a rich novel. Go beyond and there are all sorts of enthralling nooks and crannies, each with their own unique character.
Here are some of the other areas that we think travelers might want to consider visiting, or even staying in, during their trip:
- Södermalm – This whole island of a neighborhood has its own patchwork of interesting areas it’s that big. Top of the list has to be the hipster mainstay of SoFo, where edgy eateries combine with photography galleries. However, there are also the quiet streets around Mariaberget, which offer some of the best panoramas of the old town.
- Norrmalm – The anchor of the new town of Stockholm is very much the modern capital. Come here to hit the high-street stores and the designer outlets, party in the evening, and dine on international cuisine.
- Vasastan – Lived-in Vasastan is a huge cut-out of the northern part of the city. It’s known for its large parks and the handsome Gustav Vasa Church, but also neighborhood coffee joints and local shopping.
- Djurgården – Esacape the buzz of the downtown by hopping over to Djurgården, an island filled with parkland and woods, but also intriguing open-air museums.
The greater archipelago
Stockholm is an archipelago city. It sits on a series of islets that fragment into the salty waters of the Baltic Sea. But the coastal landscapes and the waterways don’t end at city limits. In fact, they stretch out over 30 miles to the east and more than 50 miles to the west, encompassing vast lakes, forests, and rocky islets that are a veritable dream come true for nature lovers.
A jaunt towards the Baltic can open up some lovely islands that offer a slower pace of life and a taste of Swedish rusticity. The best of them includes Grinda, a protected island with some of the best wild swimming in the city, and Ingmarsö, an island of woods and walking trails. Fjäderholmarna is another choice that’s got some top-quality seafood taverns and is only a quick 30-minute boat ride from downtown Stockholm.
Go in the other direction and you can enter the forested wetlands that dominate the heart of south-central Sweden. The mainstay draw there has to be colossal Mälaren lake, the third largest in the country. Head down to see the Viking settlement of Birka and the UNESCO palace of Drottningholm among other amazing things.
It turns into a winter wonderland
There aren’t all that many major cities this far north in Europe. Only Helsinki, Reykjavik, and Oslo can trump the first town of Sweden on the latitude scale. That means things get cold here when the winter months swing around, and they get cold fast.
It’s not unusual for Stockholm to be dusted in thick snow plumes by the start of November, while the beginnings of December usually mean oodles of the white stuff. That’s great news for festive travelers on the hunt for real wonderland stuff, particularly when you factor in the fairy-tale charm of the Christmas markets that pop up in the Gamla Stan (grab yourself a steaming hot choc from the fayre on the main square there!).
During the winter months, we’d also recommend detouring down to the island of Djurgården. It’s essentially a huge park smack dab in the heart of the metropolis. When the snow falls, it can look downright gorgeous, offering park benches under ice-caked trees and cozy cafes by the bucket load.
Is Stockholm worth visiting? Our verdict
Is Stockholm worth visiting? Let’s put it this way: There are oodles and oodles more things that we could add to this list. As it stands, we’ve managed to whittle it down to just nine bitesize reasons why we totally love the Swedish capital, from its medieval old town core to its amazing museums to its wild islands that are sprayed by the salt waters of the Baltic Sea. We think most travelers will love it, and it surely deserves a place near the top of any city slicker’s bucket list, no matter the season!