Sprawled out across a cluster of islands where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic sea, the Swedish capital is effortlessly photogenic from pretty much every angle. So it’s no surprise many of the best things to do in Stockholm are outdoors, whether traversing forest paths, dipping in the lake after a sauna or sunbathing on an inner-city island.
The city centre is compact, meaning you can island-hop by footbridge, train or boat from the cobbled medieval streets and rune stones of Gamla Stan to the opulence of Östermalm, greenery of Djurgården or village-y streets of Södermalm. If the sun’s out, you might also want to explore Stockholm’s neighbourhoods by rental bike or scooter, which you can find at various pick-up points across the city. This isn’t so easy in the winter months, when temperatures are typically well below freezing – but keep indoors and you can enjoy Stockholm’s vibrant restaurant scene, coffee culture and games bars. And as the local saying has it: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.’
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Best things to do in Stockholm
Stockholm’s city centre consists of 14 islands, but that’s nothing compared with the tens of thousands that make up its sprawling archipelago. The three-hour ferry ride to the last island before Finland, Sandhamn, makes the Swedish capital feel endless. Forest-covered and dotted with brightly coloured cottages, the islands on your way range from the remote and unexplored to pristine tourist spots boasting boutique hotels, galleries and long stretches of sandy beaches.
Time Out tip: In the winter season (from September, usually, up until the end of April) some of the longer ferry rides are free. Check the Waxholmsbolaget and SL company websites for details and timetables.
A bonding ritual and coping mechanism in the long winters, the sauna is an integral part of Nordic culture – so a must-do activity while you’re here. Sweat out your stress at Hellasgården, a recreation area inside Nacka nature reserve, a short bus ride from Stockholm’s Slussen station. Expect to strip off completely in their gender-separated saunas and find locals braving a dip in the icy lake, even when the temperatures are well into the minuses.
Time Out tip: It’s worth combining a trip to Hellasgården’s sauna with one of the hiking trails around the lake. Check the giant map at the main entrance for inspiration. There are also plenty of barbecue spots for public use.
No trip to Stockholm between May and September is complete without a visit to the city’s outdoor party spaces. Rooftop bars Slakthuset, in a former slaughterhouse, and Tak, on a revamped square in brutalist Norrmalm, are the most talked-about locations right now. But the epicentre of summer nightlife on Södermalm is Trädgården, a massive courtyard dance area with burger shacks, table tennis and a jigsaw of bars bedecked with fairy lights. During colder periods, the venue scales down to a two-floor techno and electro club called Under Bron (Under the Bridge), which has 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 be aware that temperatures can drop quickly (should you turn up in your favourite summer shorts).
This small stretch of sand on the edge of one of Södermalm’s most popular neighbourhoods becomes the ultimate gathering place when summer hits. There’s a jetty to swim from, mini-golf, several ice cream and hot dog stands, plus panoramic views across the water towards the shiny new Liljeholmen development. At night, crowds come out to drink, catch some evening sun and compete for blasting the loudest stereo. Floating oasis bar Loopen carries on serving drinks until the midnight sun takes its short break.
Time Out tip: This is a prime swimming spot, but taking a dip here is only for the (extremely!) brave – until June at least. Some warmer water can be found at Brunnsviken, the lake by Stockholm University.
In an old waterfront red-brick building that once belonged to the customs department, you’ll find a photography gallery with wall upon wall of striking images. Fotografiska has late-opening hours all week and broad rotating exhibitions on everything from feminism to global politics. You’ll also find one of the sleekest bars and best cafés in the city here, with panoramic waterside views across Stockholm’s central islands.
Time Out tip: If you’re in Stockholm visiting a friend, ask if they have a Fotografiska membership in order to bag yourself a reduced entry fee.
Stockholmers are obsessed with nature – and especially Djurgården’s calm waterside and woodland trails. If you’re into your art and history, this island also boasts several of the capital’s most popular museums. 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.
In the heart of Stockholm’s Brooklyn-inspired SoFo district, Ugglan is where locals seek out fun and games on gloomy winter evenings. An after-work social hotspot, Ugglan is the place to indulge in table football, darts, boules, shuffleboard and air hockey, play with arcade machines, or join in a game of round-the-table ping pong. There’s locally brewed beer on tap and decent street food to soak it all up.
Time Out tip: If you’re in a big group and keen to stay the whole evening, the food and activity package deals are well worth it, giving you fixed time slots for up to three games and access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Over the past few years, several of Stockholm’s state-owned museums have reintroduced free entry. Among the very best is the Swedish History Museum, and what a gift... From a frank exhibit exploring Sweden’s heinous treatment of its indigenous minorities to another exploring the links between the Vikings and Nazism, this place challenges the very notion of a history museum – and history itself.
Time Out tip: Take Tram 7 from Central Station to the museum along opulent Strandvägen. Your ride is included on the metro card, and on national holidays they run vintage carriages with a tearoom on board.
In Sweden, ‘fika’ (afternoon tea) is a daily ritual. Stockholmers normally seek out coffee, but a few of the capital’s best establishments also have a decent tea menu (see Il Caffè, Pom & Flora and Café Pascal). For the flat white-inclined, SoFo, the area ‘south of Folkungatan’ on Södermalm island, has become a hotbed of trendy coffee shops. The baked goods of choice here include cinnamon and cardamom buns (plus saffron in winter) and if you fancy something savoury, there’ll often be rye open sandwiches or small rolls filled with cheese, egg or avocado.
Time Out tip: For locals, fika time is strictly post-3pm, when the café-bakeries start to fill up. As a tourist with a freer schedule, you can bag a quieter coffee break much earlier.
Just a 15-minute stroll from urban Hornstull’s bustling coffee shops and bars is Långholmen island, home to a former prison that is now a hotel, restaurant and museum. The island’s surrounded by coastal paths and greenery that make this an oasis within the city centre. With its modest sandy front, Långholmen beach is surrounded by flat rocks and a grassy bank where locals flock for picnics. As soon as summer hits, this is one of the Swedish capital’s most frequented swimming spots.
Time Out tip: Långholmen’s bathing spots offer good-quality cold outdoor showers if you need to freshen up before heading back into the city.
Fasching, Stockholm’s most famous jazz and world music venue, lies just near the central station. It attracts artists both renowned and up-and-coming from all over the world and has a year-round programme – ensuring there’s always somewhere you can warm up in the city centre during the winter months. A few blocks away, you’ll find the equally good (and much more intimate) Glen Miller Café, which offers a small bar menu alongside some excellent bookings.
Time Out tip: Browse local events app Abundo for reduced entry to big shows.
Off the beaten tourist trail, this industrial wasteland-turned-urban eco-district is worth a trip just 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, drop by craft beer bar Nya Carnegiebryggeriet. Run by a team trained at the legendary Brooklyn Brewery in New York, it specialises in seasonal releases and limited-edition experiments.
Time Out tip: Turn up on a Wednesday, just as they put their latest brew on tap, and try it in 1/3 pint samples.
The tower of the building that houses Konstfack, Sweden’s biggest design school, doubles up as a permanent interactive art installation. You simply need to step out at Telefonplan metro station after sunset and stand opposite the brutalist structure. On your way there, download the Colour by Numbers app, which lets you control the colour of the lights in the windows.
Time Out tip: If you’re the other side of the city, you can still watch the kaleidoscopic display on a live stream through the app.
Head up the steps at the corner of Nytorget, and you’ll find a hilltop cluster of old wooden cottages along unpronounceable cobbled alleyway Bergsprängargränd. The now iconic red houses of Sweden were once ordinary working-class homes rather than summer retreats – as these were; you can read about the history of their former residents at the entrance. There you’ll also find a gorgeous church with sweeping views over Södermalm.
Time Out tip: Nytorget square has a cluster of bars and cafés with a central green that comes to life whenever the temperatures are up. Urban Deli on the corner is a great place for everything from gelato to artisan pastries.
Every weekend from Easter until the end of summer, Hornstull’s waterfront is home to a flea market of vintage clothing, knick-knacks and local handicrafts. You’ll also find a selection of food trucks serving things like crêpes, Vietnamese sandwiches, vibrant veggie curries and punchy burritos. Tuck into your food on the wooden seating platforms overlooking the water. Mid-afternoon, if the sun’s out, you might find local bands setting up for a gig.
Time Out tip: To avoid the throngs by the food trucks, take your pickings for a picnic in neighbouring Tantolunden park.
Stockholm’s metro network is often dubbed the world’s longest art gallery for a reason: most stations have art in some form or other. Carved out of rocks, many retain the feel of a newly discovered cave, vividly brought to life through rainbow colours, words (the university stop has the Swedish human rights declaration tiled like a crossword) and futuristic patterns. The blue line hosts some of the most daring designs, including its starting point, Kungsträdgården, which feels like some post-apocalyptic archaeological discovery.
Time Out tip: The SL metro card covers a huge public transport network in the Stockholm region, stretching as far as the airport (if you take a bus from Märsta). For the best value for money, buy a 72-hour or 7-day ticket.
One of the best ways to tackle a weekend hangover in Stockholm is to nestle into the soft red velvet seats at iconic 1940s cinema Bio Rio in Hornstull. On Sundays at 10.30am it hosts breakfast screenings, where you can catch a retro or newly-released indie film while snacking on a simple smörgåsbord of yoghurt, muesli, fruit and an open Swedish sandwich, and knocking back as much coffee as you 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.
Be sure to round off one of your days of sightseeing by watching the sun go down over the shimmering surface of Lake Mälaren. The best spot to do this from would be Norr Mälarstrand, a leafy trail that provides views of the Old Town and its characterful spires. If you’re lucky, you could get a glimpse of the Northern Lights, too.
Time Out tip: Don’t forget to pack an evening picnic of sorts to help you stay warm while sunset-watching. Nearby Slussen boasts many independent coffee shops.
Stockholm galleries can be pricey, but the Moderna Museet offers free entry to its major exhibitions which cover modern and contemporary art and rotate seasonally. It’s also home to a bookshop and café with a terrace overlooking the water across to Östermalm’s lavish façades. You can reach the museum by footbridge from Kungsträdgården, or by commuter ferry with your metro card.
Time Out tip: As one of the smallest of the central islands, Skeppsholmen makes for a beautiful brisk evening walk (with panoramic city-centre views).
More than 100 allotments and brightly painted 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 miniature homes that you can 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 Liljeholmen.