With imaginative restaurants, a vibrant start-up scene and picturesque waterways, Stockholm has certainly earned its nickname as the Capital of Scandinavia. The bustling metropolis is a hotbed for the alternative and arty scenes, as well as for those with tastes that run more chic. This is the city where global fashion retailer H&M, streaming leader Spotify and leading Nordic hotel operator Scandic Hotels are headquartered; it is also where you’ll find the biggest Ikea in the world.
Nature, too, is never far away when you’re in Stockholm. Due to its spread across 14 islands, it is dubbed the Venice of the North. Locals and visitors alike can access numerous parks with public transport, and the archipelago’s 30,000 islands are just a ferry ride away. An emphasis on wholesome living also seems to permeate the city – outdoor gyms are a common sight on the waterfronts and free fruits are given out to kids at the grocery shops.
A reputation for world-class fashion, avant-garde restaurants and trend-setting technology guarantees that Stockholm is the place to be.
230v; sockets are two-pronged, to be used with the standard Europlug with two round pins.
When to go
Stockholm is enjoyable year-round, with water activities in summer (June to August) and creamy white snow that blankets the city in winter (November to March).
Summer is also the season for free circus shows and folk dance performances in parks throughout the city. August, in particular, hosts two events worth checking out: La Mayonnaise, an impressive boules festival, and Midnattsloppet (‘midnight run’ in English), a 10km race around Södermalm that is one of the city’s biggest sporting events.
The biggest celebration of the year though – arguably more so than Christmas – is Midsummer (above), the longest day of the year. Swedes typically celebrate this June holiday by dancing around maypoles, sticking flowers in their hair, and feasting on smörgasbord and herbal schnapps until the next morning.
In winter, the pace slows as snow falls. This is the time to huddle up with a cup of mulled wine, or pay a visit to a Christmas market for seasonal cookies.
Travel peak periods
Travel peaks around July and August, when temperatures are the warmest and daylight lasts the longest. More shops and hotels are open in more areas, such as the Stockholm archipelago.
Tourist transport passes
If you’re in Stockholm for two days or more, pick up the Stockholm Travelcard, with a choice of either 24 or 72 hours of unlimited travel on the city’s public transport system – the subway, trams, buses, boats and the commuter train.
Value for money
City Backpackers (above) is an award-winning hostel right in the heart of Norrmalm. Decorated with vintage suitcases and cameras, this trendy hostel offers pub crawls, kayak rides and bike tours designed to give guests an immersive introduction to the city. On Thursdays, it hosts trivia nights that put your Swedish know-how to the test, as well as live music performances in the courtyard. Food-wise, its on-site restaurant, Nomad Swedish Food & Bar, offers a tasty selection of local specialities.
Rather like a community, boutique hotel Hobo, in Brunkebergstorg Square in Norrmalm, has minimalist rooms outfitted with clever storage solutions, a performance stage and a pop-up area, SPACEby, for collaborations between locals and its guests. It also offers up a Stockholm Explorer package that allows you to explore the city in your own time via provided bikes, and includes a map of Stockholm with the Hobo staff’s favourite spots marked out as well as Polaroid cameras that will be on loan for the duration. At the on-site restaurant, cafe and bar spread across two levels, you’ll find local and organic produce – the herbs used are from its lobby garden – special cocktails, and Hobo’s very own PangPang Nam-Nam craft brew, produced in collaboration with PangPang, a microbrewery in Hökarängen.
Moored off Riddarholmen, Mälardrottningen (above), a memorable yacht hotel converted from a sailing ship built in 1924, offers 61 cabins furnished in hardwood, with brass utensils. Also on board: a relaxing lounge and an open-air cafe on the top deck.
Story Hotel Riddargatan is a boutique hotel done up in tasteful fashion, with plum hues, open concrete façades and urban art adorning the walls. Tucked away in the expensive Östermalm district, it is the epitome of recycled space: the clean rooms were once apartments; its reception was once a barbershop; and its intimate Ling Long bar lived a previous life as a grungy garage.
The luxurious Hotel Rival is an Art Deco dream, decked out in luscious red velvet that makes it feel more like an avant-garde theatre than a hotel. Sip an innovative cocktail at the bar, part of which dates back to 1937, then head to the on-site theatre, a popular concert-and-show venue that seats up to 700 people.
Another blast from the past is Haymarket by Scandic (above), excellently located on Hötorget Square, near Sergels Torg. Its gilded surfaces, background jazz music and staff in white jackets lend the boutique hotel oodles of 1920s character.
Value for money
A great way to sample an array of incredible food and still stay within budget is to visit one of Stockholm’s food halls. Try Hötorgshallen, an indoor food market with Swedish and international food stalls that offer everything from fish soup to Västerbotten cheese.
Do as the Swedes do and fill up on meatballs, traditionally served with potatoes and lingonberry sauce. For a real treat, stop by Meatballs for the People (above), a deli restaurant in Södermalm that specialises in handmade meatballs. All meats used – beef, reindeer, bear, moose and wild boar – are organic.
The cosy Lilla Ego has quickly garnered a devoted following, thanks to its rugged and understated interior and neo-Swedish dishes such as sweetened salmon with pumpkin, algae-pickled ling and matjes herring.
Founded in 1989 by well-known local chef Rolf Nilsson, Rolfs Kök is a favourite among local chefs, thanks to its creative, hearty dishes such as pork confit with cabbage, quenelles of pike, horse tartare and cavatelli with mushrooms.
The stylish Oaxen Krog (above) on Djurgarden is a mainstay on the list of must-go fine-dining restaurants, with bright rooms and an unmatched reputation in Stockholm. Select from a six-course or 10-course menu that includes langoustine with soured cucumber, tea-marinated mackerel and raspberries infused with ragweed. If you’re a light eater, head instead to the adjoining Oaxen Slip for some topside tartare and herb-grilled Swedish char.
Founded and run by renowned chefs Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr, the one-Michelin-star Gastrologik (above) experiments with a constantly evolving menu that changes with the seasons.
From cosy pubs to wild dance clubs, the bar scene in Stockholm rips and roars.
Snotty Sound Bar, in the heart of alternative Södermalm, calls out to trendy hipsters and nostalgic rockers with its indie-rock decor and cool staff.
Located near Central Station, Icebar by Icehotel Stockholm (above) is one of the world’s first perpetual ice bars. Made of Torne River ice, the bar maintains subzero temperatures year-round and serves drinks ‘in the rocks’ – its cups are made of ice. Wrap yourself in a provided Arctic robe and chill out with an icy cocktail.
The place to be at any given weekend, Akkurat Bar & Restaurant (above) is famous for having a long list of microbrews on tap, from cask-conditioned ales to vintage lambics, and enough whisky choices to prove this is one tavern serious about its libations. Spectacular live music is the cherry on top.
Once a working-class district, Södermalm is now an arty enclave home to many eclectic boutiques, art concept stores, vintage thrift shops and boules bars. This is where you’ll find the Fotografiska photography museum (above) and Tantolunden park, which boasts, among other things, a minigolf course, a beach volleyball court and an open-air theatre.
The district’s hippest neighbourhood, South of Folkungagatan – or SoFo for short – is home to many of the designer shops Stockholm is known for, such as Grandpa (above), a lifestyle store, and Swedish Hasbeens, a brand synonymous with Swedish clogs.
Fuel up between all that shopping at one – or more – of the many bohemian cafes, teahouses and Asian fusion eateries in the district. Urban Deli is a popular brunch spot, while Pärlans Konfektyr serves up some of the tastiest caramels (above) you’ll find anywhere.
A major pedestrian walkway that runs through Norrmalm, Drottninggatan (above) is home to countless fashion chains – there are no less than three H&Ms here – boutiques, restaurants and vintage stores. Laid out in the 1630s and 1640s, the street stretches 1.5km.
Åhlens City, on the corner of Drottninggatan and Mäster Samuelsgatan, is one of the best department stores in town (and Sweden), with an excellent selection of fashion, homeware, makeup and books.
Make a trip to Djurgården and explore Skansen, the world’s oldest open-air museum, founded in 1891. Here, you’ll find artisan workshops (above), historic buildings and an old-fashioned crafts market. There is also a zoo, home to rare breeds such as the wolverine, the sand lizard and the European bison, as well as more common Nordic animals such as wolves, moose, lynxes and seals.
While on the island, pay a visit, too, to maritime museum Vasa Museum, home to the world’s most-intact 17th-century ship ever salvaged. The 64-gun warship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 due to faults in its construction, and was only salvaged 333 years later. It has been painstakingly restored over decades to its present glory.
Kids and fun-loving adults should also make a stop at Gröna Lund, a beachside amusement park on Djurgården island. Founded in 1883, it’s the oldest park of its kind in Sweden, and includes a ‘tunnel of love’, a funhouse and seven roller coasters. There are also restaurants. Weekly shows are part of its repertoire, attracting names such as Bob Marley, Birgit Nilsson, Jason Mraz, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Paul Anka, ZZ Top and ABBA.
For afternoon tea with a twist, check out Hotel At Six’s Tipsy Tea (above), held every Saturday from 1pm to 4pm. Choose from three gin cocktails suffused with Söder red tea, green Japanese lime tea and a special At Six black-tea blend. Food-wise, expect savoury treats such as smoked salmon ceviche, fried spring rolls and beef fillet sliders. Sweets on offer include decadent brownies with mocha truffle.
Test your wits at Exit Games, where you can join up to five of your friends in escaping from the catacombs or a tiny cell, infiltrating and destroying spy bases, experiencing Norse mythology by reaching Valhalla beyond a Viking tomb, or searching for and rescuing a kidnapped Grandma.
Neighbourhood markets in Stockholm are plentiful and are must-visits. Check out the hipster vendors, selling everything from vintage dresses to bohemian jewellery, at flea market Hornstulls Marknad (above). Don’t pass up on buying from the food trucks selling fish and chips. At Christmas time, visit the old-school winter stalls at Stortorget and Skansen for uniquely Swedish crafts and treats.
– BY WAILANA KALAMA