Welcome to Stockholm, a city spread across countless islands and Scandinavia’s undisputed capital of cool. The coffee culture, award-winning design, beautiful buildings, outstanding restaurants and effortless natural beauty make this city an obvious travel choice, but a trip to Stockholm comes with its challenges. Sweden is not known for its warmth, for starters; nor is it exactly a budget destination. The public transportation system runs smoothly, but it can still get busy. Oh—and for half of the year, the daylight ends by mid-afternoon. Stockholmers are savvy: We’ve learned how to make the most of our delightful city, and with some insider knowledge, so will you.
Travel tips every first-time Stockholm visitor needs to know
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Tiia Monto
1. Look beyond the metro lines
Booking accommodation in Stockholm can be dizzying. Which island is best? How much should you spend? And most commonly asked: Can they all be accessed easily? In the inner-city, the answer is yes. But it’s worth looking further, too: the prices of accommodation go down if you look along the commuter rail lines, rather than just the metro lines. Don’t be intimidated by these local lines; they’ll often get you to the city centre just as quickly!
2. Down-time in the summer
Swedes take holidays very seriously—normally, by disappearing off to their countryside cottages or island retreats on the archipelago. This means that at certain times of the year, Stockholm is a bit of a ghost town, especially after Midsummer in June and July. On the plus side, visitors get the city to themselves!
3. Pack your toughest boots
If you’re planning a winter trip, bring along some very sturdy shoes. From November through till March you can expect the ground to be covered in ‘slask,’ a grotty mix of melted snow and grit. It keeps you from falling over, but it will leave its mark on your footwear!
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/eGuide Travel
4. Access the airport the sneaky way
Many travellers don’t realise that apart from the expensive express train and coaches, you can get from Arlanda airport to the city centre by public transport. Follow signs to the local buses at any terminal, and look for the one that goes to Märsta station, which is on a commuter rail line. The whole journey to central Stockholm can be covered on a single ticket (about €3), which you can buy on the SL app.
5. Don’t bring a ton of cash
Stockholm aims to become a cash-free city in the coming years, and in fact, many cafes, restaurants and hotels already enforce this policy. So on your trip, it’s best to bring your bank card and only use cash if you have to.
6. On weekdays, breakfast is simple and healthy
In cafes, you’ll find mostly muesli and yoghurt or bread rolls with ham and cheese served in the morning hours. On weekends, however, it’s a whole different story. Popular brunch spots like Kitchen & Table and Greasy Spoon fill up quickly, so be sure to book ahead!
7. Have a whole Swedish conversation with just two words
Swedes are well-known for their English skills; you’ll hear and see English all around you in Stockholm. Still, if you want to try out some Swedish, you can do so with minimal effort. You can say hello or goodbye with just ‘hej’ or ‘hej hej’ (where the ‘j’ is pronounced like an English ‘y’) and ‘tack’ means both thank you and please, so it’s extra easy to be polite.
Photograph: Daniel Lagerborn
8. Save your clean-eating week for Stockholm
The vegan offerings in this city are unrivalled. You can order your coffee with oat, almond or soya milk in most cafes, get delicious vegan ice cream in stores or at Stikki Nikki, or try vegan pulled pork (called oomph) in Max Burger, Vigårda and many other burger establishments.
9. Buying alcohol here is a bit… systematic
The Swedish government has a monopoly on alcohol—if it’s over 3.5% ABV, anyway. For the strong stuff, you’ll need to head to government-owned Systembolaget, which close early afternoons on Saturday and don’t open at all on Sundays. If you fancy a 2% beer (affectionately known to locals as folköl, or ‘the people’s beer’), you can get these in any regular store.
10. Lunch starts early in Sweden
Lunch is Sweden’s biggest meal of the day. Restaurants typically offer buffet lunches for a fixed price and start serving at noon sharp. Oh, and there won’t normally be any desserts on the table, but you can save your sweet tooth for later (see fika)!
Your SL card (SL being the Stockholm transport system) can get you onto pretty much any transport, including some of the ferries that run between the inner-city islands. In the winter season, you can even use an SL ticket on ferries to the archipelago.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kars Alfrink
12. The flavours of fika
‘Fika’ is the Swedish coffee and cake ritual that means that the best cafes in the city will be full to the brim in the afternoons, especially on weekends. The traditional fika is with a cinnamon bun, but some cafes do their own variations: the rhubarb crumble buns at Fabrique, or the pistachio and blackcurrant version at Il Caffe are some favourites. It’s a crowded time, but well worth pushing in.
An early sunset normally tempts Stockholmers to leave the office around 4pm and so for most of the year, this is our rush hour. Avoid the central station, ‘T-Centralen,’ at 4pm and at around 8 in the morning, if you can help it—this is when the ‘stress tunnel’ between the different metro lines is at its most congested.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski
14. Get a pint at 4pm
Rush hour is also the start of ‘After-Work’, a Swedish version of happy hour beginning around 4:30pm. Many pubs will serve a cheaper pint during these hours, and there’s even a club, Out of Office, that kicks off in late afternoon instead of late evening to cater to thirsty office workers. Download the club’s app for your free entrance ticket and dance your suit off.
15. Saunas are for revealing all
Another Nordic ritual is stripping down in the sauna. In Swedish culture, it’s generally encouraged to keep things private—except for when it comes to the sauna. Don’t expect to bring anything but yourself and a towel, which is mostly for drying yourself off after you plunge into an icy-cold lake.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Marvin The Paranoid
16. Culture without the entrance fee
If beer and sauna culture don’t cut it, you can spend your Tuesday afternoon at a museum instead, without spending anything. The Nordic Museum has free entry on Tuesdays from 1-5pm, and the Nobel Prize Museum from 5-8pm also on Tuesdays. The Modern Art museum on Skeppsholmen, meanwhile, has free admission the whole week round.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Fajardo
17. The two words you need for a cheap pint
Stockholmers are big beer lovers, and there are many great micro-breweries and craft beer establishments across the city to prove it. That’s not to say that your pint has to be anything fancy or expensive, however; at any bar, you can order their cheapest pint of beer simply by asking for a ‘Stor Stark.’
18. Drink in the evening sunlight in summer
In the summer, drinking goes outdoors. Bars reveal themselves in all kinds of innovative outside spaces, including under a bridge: Trädgården (the garden) opens under Skanstull bridge at the end of May. As a bonus, if you get there before 7pm you’ll avoid any entrance free and be offered cheaper drinks deals.
Photograph: Bernat Majó/Flickr
19. Spend midnight at a gallery
If you’re a night owl looking for something more intellectually stimulating than a night on the tiles, thank goodness for Fotografiska, the photography exhibition on Södermalm’s northern waterfront. After the rest of the galleries have closed, this former factory stays open until am from Thursday to Saturday, and 11pm otherwise.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Mic
20. Plan ahead to avoid taxis
Taxis are very, very expensive in Stockholm. Especially boat taxis (yes, really!), which will come and get you if you’re stuck on an island in the archipelago. Plan ahead by checking the SL app for your best travel options. On weekends, the metro runs all night, but on weekdays your best bet after 1am might be a night bus.