The 20 essential things to do in Stockholm

In a city surrounded by islands and enriched with history and culture, you'll find plenty of great things to do in Sweden's capital

The best things to do in Stockholm are often outside; a breathtaking coastal capital spread across 14 islands, Stockholm instantly impresses with its charming medieval streets, immaculate blooming parks and vibrant waterfront promenades packed with attractions (all top contenders for the city's most Instagrammable places). But dig a bit deeper and you’ll also uncover its edgy, creative (and indoor) side, with trendsetting new eco-architecture and a diverse nightlife scene ranging from decadent floating bars to throbbing concrete clubs.

Stockholm is a compact city, so the best way to explore its best neighborhoods is simply to follow the lead of its healthy-living locals and spend as much time as possible outdoors. Many of our travel tips involve exploring on foot, so pack your comfiest trainers and prepare for some long walks—or look out for rentable bikes during summer and take to the spotless cycle paths. It’s hard get lost: Stockholm is one of the world’s most connected cities, with widespread wi-fi and 4G coverage. Visiting in the grip of winter? As the Swedes argue: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”

Best things to do in Stockholm

1

Watch the sun go down from Monteliusvägen cliff path

With views sweeping over the glistening waters of Lake Mälaren, the spires of Stockholm’s medieval Old Town and one of the city’s prettiest, tree-lined boulevards, Norr Mälarstrand, this scenic trail offers perhaps the best panorama in the Swedish capital, especially when the Northern Lights are visible.

Time Out tip: Evenings in Stockholm are chilly, even during summer, so bring up a hot drink from one of the indie coffee houses in nearby Slussen.

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2

Sip a hot chocolate in Stockholm’s oldest square

The labyrinth of narrow streets lined with autumn-hued townhouses, candle-lit cellar bars and rustic craft shops that make up Sweden’s medieval Old Town, Gamla Stan, is an obvious mecca for tourists. But it’s with good reason that crowds flock to the area’s main focal point, Stortorget, the most historic square in the city. Perhaps the cosiest place to soak up the atmosphere is Chokladkoppen, a compact, custard-coloured café serving up creamy hot chocolate and oversized traditional Swedish cinnamon rolls, alongside hearty soups and pies. During the summer, wicker chairs spill out onto a cobblestone terrace. 

Time Out tip: If Chokladkoppen is too crowded for your taste, cross the square to Grillska Huset, which is run by city social care charity Stockholms Stadsmission. It serves no-frills snacks and has a secluded first-floor garden terrace.

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3

Catch a ferry to the city’s greenest island, Djurgården

Stockholmers are obsessed with nature, and with Djurgården’s calm waterside and woodland trails. If you’re into museums, the island also boasts several of the capital’s most popular attractions. At the open-air Skansen, visitors can stroll through five centuries of Swedish houses and farmsteads and observe wild Nordic animals. The Vasa Museum is home to a giant 17th century salvaged ship, while Abba The Museum combines nostalgic memorabilia with quirky interactive exhibits.

Time Out tip: Food options on Djurgården are pricey and there’s no proper supermarket. Pack a picnic and tuck in on the waterfront behind the Vasa Museum, or find a spot off one of the grassy trails.

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4

Rummage the vintage stores in creative Södermalm

The Södermalm district has a thriving second-hand scene, where it’s possible to snap up everything from retro ’90s denim to leather biker boots harking back to this newly-gentrified area’s working-class roots. The biggest cluster of clothing stores is found along Hornsgatan in the Mariatorget district, and ranges from holes-in-the-wall to pricier curated collections, alongside impressively-organized charity shops. Vintage vinyl and furniture are better represented a 15-minute walk away in the SoFo neighbourhood. 

Time Out tip: Pop-up flea markets (called loppis in Swedish) are also a common sight around Södermalm in springtime—they’re usually advertised a few weeks in advance on social media.

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5

Taste Sweden’s national dish at a meatballs restaurant

Sampling Swedish meatballs, served with buttery mash, lingonberry jam and a rich beef broth sauce is a must for any foodie visiting Stockholm who wants to eat like a local. Avoid the tourist traps in the Old Town and head straight to the mighty Meatballs for the People in the hipster Södermalm district. 

Time Out tip: You usually need to book a week in advance to guarantee an evening table for dinner, but it’s much easier to drop-in for lunch. Well-favoured alternative venues for classic Swedish fare include Pelikan, Tradition and Kvarnen.

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6

Get naked at Hellasgården’s lakeside sauna

Embrace the Nordic ritual of sweating out your stresses in a sauna at Hellasgården, a recreation area inside Nacka nature reserve. Here you’ll find separate male and female saunas, and yes, it is compulsory to strip off completely in both. Outside, there’s a jetty from which you can jump (or for the less brave, gingerly ease yourself) into the waters of Lake Källtorp to cool off. Locals make the leap year-round, with a hole drilled into the ice once it freezes over. 

Time Out tip: It’s worth combining a trip to Hellasgården’s sauna with one of the easy hiking trails around the lake. Check the giant map at the main entrance for inspiration.

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7

Dance until dawn at Stockholm’s open-air club

No trip to Stockholm between May and September is complete without a visit to the mother of outdoor party spaces, Trädgården. Sprawling beneath a giant concrete bridge, it’s home to a massive courtyard dance area, a burger shack, table tennis and boules areas and a jigsaw of smaller terraces and bars that burst into life during peak season. During colder periods of the year the venue scales down to a two-floor techno and electro club called Under Bron (Under the Bridge), with a more underground feel.

Time Out tip: Entry is often free before 8pm; check Trädgården’s social media for the latest information. The vibe here is very casual, but beware temperatures can drop quickly if you’ve turned up in your favourite summer shorts.

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8

Watch the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace

Pomp and ceremony is rare in subtle Sweden, but a notable exception is the impressive 40-minute performance held by the Royal Guards daily during summer and three times a week throughout the rest of the year. Immaculately turned out guards donning blue and white uniforms parade towards the palace from the nearby Army Museum or Cavalry Barracks accompanied by a military band, before beginning the royal guard ceremony in the main courtyard. 

Time Out tip: Most tourists cluster around the Royal Palace, but you can get some decent snaps of the start of the parade from outside the Army Museum (it typically starts here at 11:45am, but check in advance), and you can even follow the band to the palace, if you’ve got a strong walking pace.

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9

Eat a cardamom bun in a panoramic art gallery

Stockholm’s largest and most prestigious contemporary photography gallery, Fotografiska, owns an impressive space on the waterfront near Slussen, inside a converted industrial red-brick building previously occupied by customs officials. But don’t end your visit in the exhibition areas. The upstairs café is among the best spots in the city to have what the Swedes call a fika, a relaxing coffee break usually accompanied by a sweet snack. 

Time Out tip: Avoid Saturday and Sunday afternoons, if possible, when Fotografiska is packed with local families.

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10

Watch a gig at 19th century music venue Berns

A staple in Stockholm’s nightlife scene for more than 150 years, Berns is a sprawling complex of bars, clubs, restaurants and a hotel. For live music lovers, the magic happens in the decadent grand hall, Stora Salongen, where the calendar switches between intimate performances from global folk and indie bands to pulsating strobe-light raves. On Friday and Saturday nights, the atmosphere is less unique; Stora Salongen transforms into a lively commercial club with a dressed-up younger crowd. 

Time Out tip: Berns is pricey, as are its neighbouring bars. For a pre-gig tipple when the sun’s shining, pick up some beers from an off-license shop (Systembolaget) on nearby street Nybrogatan and head to Humlegården park. Note that Systembolaget stores close at 7pm on weekdays and shut up shop for the weekend after 3pm on Saturdays.

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11

Explore the secret gardens of Tantolunden park

More than a hundred allotments and brightly painted tiny wooden cottages tucked away on Tantolunden’s hillside make this one of the city’s most colourful parks year-round, and one of the city's most Instagram-friendly places. Think perfectly-manicured flower beds and terracotta-red miniature homes that you can even cook or nap in. Elsewhere in the park there’s mini golf, two outdoor gyms and plenty of benches from which to watch passing boats during summer. In winter, it’s a well-trodden spot for a Sunday stroll, or even a toboggan ride when the snow falls.

Time Out tip: Hike up the mound in the centre of the park to get some great panoramic photos over the water towards the shiny new Liljeholmen development.

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12

Indulge in a sky-high cocktail in revamped Brunkebergstorg

A minimalist Nordic-Japanese interior, eclectic Eurasien cocktails designed by award-winning mixologist Charlotte Halsius and the largest terrace in the city sprouting with greenery and bold soft furnishings—these are just some of the carefully curated details that made buzzing rooftop bar Tak an instant hit when it opened in summer 2017 and a shoe-in for one of the city's best bars.  

Time Out tip: If you’re visiting on a hot day, look out for the wooden sun loungers dotted around some of the terrace’s quieter corners.

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13

Walk or run the full 9.5 kilometres around Kungsholmen island

Often overlooked by tourists, the largely residential district of Kungsholmen boasts one of the most stunning footpaths in the city, and you can walk around the whole island in just a couple of hours. Known to locals as Kungsholmen runt, the circular path is also popular with experienced runners.

Time Out tip: If you’re planning to tackle this route in winter, note you’ll need a decent head torch and gripped shoes to navigate the cliff section after dark.

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14

Sail through Stockholm’s 30,000 island archipelago

While Stockholm’s city skyline is jaw-droppingly beautiful, the wider region’s jewel-in-the-crown is its dazzling archipelago, spilling out into the Baltic Sea. Here you’ll find thousands of islands, ranging from chic tourist spots boasting boutique hotels and sandy beaches, to deserted rocky outposts sprouting with pine trees. 

Time Out tip: Head straight to the top deck as soon as you get on any ferry, to ensure you snag an outdoor seat. Booking on to the second crossing of the day can make for a less sardine-like journey in high season.

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15

Drink craft beer in eco-friendly Hammarby Sjöstad

Off the beaten path for many travellers, this former industrial wasteland turned award-winning urban eco district is worth a visit to check out its impressive energy-saving modern architecture (designed to reduce heat consumption) or to bike along its pristine waterfront cycle lanes. To quench your thirst, make a stop at craft beer bar Nya Carnegiebryggeriet. Run by a team trained by the iconic Brooklyn Brewery in New York, it specialises in seasonal releases and limited-edition experiments. 

Time Out tip: If you’re not in the mood for a beer, soak up the atmosphere for free with a stop on the curved wooden seating deck on the waterfront next to Lugnets Allé.

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16

Go for a swim off Långholmen island

For most people, Stockholm doesn’t immediately conjure up images of tanning on an idyllic beach followed by an afternoon dip. But you can, in fact, do both, right in the city centre. Just a 15-minute stroll from urban Hornstull’s bustling coffee shops and bars is Långholmen island, one of the Swedish capital’s most frequented swimming spots. With a modest sandy front, it’s surrounded by flat rocks and a grassy bank where locals love to picnic. 

Time Out tip: There are good-quality outdoor cold showers at Långholmen’s bathing spot if you want to freshen up before heading back into the city.

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17

Have breakfast while watching a movie at Bio Rio

One of the best ways to tackle a weekend hangover in Stockholm is to nestle into the soft red velvet seats at the iconic 1940s movie theatre Bio Rio in Hornstull. On Sundays at 10:30am it hosts breakfast screenings, where you can catch a retro or newly-released indie movie while snacking on a simple smorgåsbord of yoghurt and muesli, fruit and an open Swedish sandwich, and knocking back as much coffee as you feel like. 

Time Out tip: Many of the films shown are in English or have English-language subtitles, but check in advance to make sure you don’t end up trying to make sense of an obscure Japanese arthouse offering via a Swedish translation.

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18

Snack from a food truck at Hornstulls Marknad

Stockholm food hounds delight in hitting Hornstull’s waterfront on weekends between April and October, when it’s chock-a-block with independent vendors dishing up worldly gastronomic goodies from colourful trucks emblazoned with modish logos. The roster changes from week-to-week, but recent seasons have served up vibrant vegetarian curries, gourmet American-style sliders and punchy burritos. Tuck into your food on the large wooden seating platforms overlooking the water.

Time Out tip: To avoid the throng around the food trucks, take your pickings for a picnic in neighbouring Tantolunden park.

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19

Play ping pong at underground games mecca Ugglan

In the heart of Stockholm’s Brooklyn-inspired SoFo district, the legendary basement venue Ugglan is where locals literally seek out fun and games during gloomy winter evenings. Packed with twentysomething vintage-clad creatives, Ugglan is the place to indulge in table football, darts, boule, shuffleboard and air hockey, play the arcade machines or join in with a game of round-the-table ping pong. There’s locally-brewed beer on tap and street food to soak it all up with; making this one of the city's best bars, especially for groups.

Time Out tip: If you’re in a big group and keen to stay for the whole evening, the food and activity package deals (starting at 349 SEK) are worth the money, giving you fixed time slots for up to three games and access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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20

Sip rosé from a floating bar on Stockholm’s glitziest street

Long the most expensive street in the city, Strandvägen stretches along the waterfront from the posh Östermalm district towards the green trails of Djurgården island. Ångbåtsbryggan is a classic choice for dining and drinks, with a well-respected seafood menu, but keep an eye out for summer pop-ups too. Drinks are priced up to reflect the location and the crowd, but you won’t forget sampling a sundowner in this majestic spot.

Time Out tip: If you’re in town during winter when most floating bars are closed, Hotel Diplomat and Strandvägen 1 offer a chance to soak up the street’s glamour from dry land.

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Worked up an appetite?

The best restaurants in Stockholm

Get a taste for traditional Swedish meatballs or splurge on edgy New Nordic cuisine foraged from a nearby forest at the city's top restaurants.

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By: Maddy Savage

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