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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Magnus Johansson

The 20 travel tips every first-time Stockholm visitor needs to know

Make your way through the Scandinavian stunner with these expert tips for first-time visitors to Stockholm

Written by
Madeleine Hyde
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For even the most hardened of explorers, getting your bearings when arriving in a new city for the first time isn’t the easiest of tasks. That is as true in the Scandinavian capital of cool as it is anywhere else on the planet, so this selection of essential travel tips for first-time visitors to Stockholm will put you at ease. After all, where else will you learn how to get boozy in a city where buying a drink isn’t as simple as you might assume? Stockholm is a stunning city full of magnificent museums and excellent restaurants, and our guide will help you make the most of your time there. After all, Stockholmers are savvy, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the same. 

Travel tips every first-time Stockholm visitor needs to know

Look beyond the metro lines
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!

Access the airport the sneaky way
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/eGuide Travel

2. 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, which you can buy on the SL app.

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Don’t bring a ton of cash

3. 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. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this process, so be prepared with plastic. 

On weekdays, breakfast is simple and healthy

4. 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!

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Pack your toughest boots

5. 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!

Have a whole Swedish conversation with just two words

6. 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.

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Avoid the ‘stress tunnel’ at Centralen
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Tim Adams

7. Avoid the ‘stress tunnel’ at Centralen

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.

The flavours of fika
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kars Alfrink

8. 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.

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Saunas are for revealing all

9. 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.

Save your clean-eating week for Stockholm
Photograph: Daniel Lagerborn

10. 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.

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Spend late night at a gallery
Photograph: Bernat Majó/Flickr

11. Spend late night 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 11pm.

Lunch starts early in Sweden

12. 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)!

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Down-time in the summer

13. 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!

Island-hop in style for no extra cost
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Per-Olof Forsberg

14. Island-hop in style for no extra cost

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.

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Buying alcohol here is a bit… systematic

15. 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.

Get a pint at 4pm
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski

16. 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 the late afternoon instead of the late evening to cater to thirsty office workers. Download the club’s app for your free entrance ticket and dance your suit off.

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Culture without the entrance fee
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Marvin The Paranoid

17. 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 Wednesdays from 5-8pm, and the Nobel Prize Museum from 5-8pm on Tuesdays. The Modern Art museum on Skeppsholmen, meanwhile, has free admission the whole week round.

The two words you need for a cheap pint
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Fajardo

18. 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.’

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Drink in the evening sunlight in summer

19. 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.

Plan ahead to avoid taxis
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.

Now for a bite to eat...

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