With about a million residents, Sweden’s capital feels much bigger than its population suggests. Although Scandinavia can be undeniably pricy, there are plenty of cost-effective ways to enjoy the capital of Sweden. Stockholm’s rich cultural history and evolving food scene are enough to warrant a trip; throw in sustainable design and a plethora of green city parks, and you have yourself a well-balanced vacation.
Stockholm has a lot more to offer than Swedish fish and Ikea furniture—here are a few places to start.
1. The Royal Palace
Photo by Staffan Eliasson
Gamla Stan (Old Town) is the tourist hub of the city but don’t spend all your time there. Stroll through some of the side streets and make a stop at the Royal Palace. This 18th century Baroque-style palace is not only a symbol of the Swedish crown, it’s the official home of the royal family. If Swedish history and ornate interiors don’t intrigue you, skip the royal apartments (and their ticket cost) and head straight for the Royal Armory; fairy tale coronation carriages and impressive knightly gear populate this free museum. It’s also worth braving the crowds in summer to witness the Changing of the Guards, if only for the music; from May to August, the mounted military band puts on a show alongside the Royal Guard, replete with musicians reining their horses with one hand and playing their instruments with the other. For a less elaborate spectacle with fewer crowds, snag a table at an outdoor cafe in the nearby Kungsträdgården and watch the procession make its way to the palace.
Photo by Ola Ericson
If every big city has its own Williamsburg equivalent, Södermalm would be Stockholm’s. “Trendy” and “eclectic” are used with abandon when describing this district just south of the city center, and for good reason. In recent years Södermalm has become the place to discover funky boutiques, peruse art galleries, grab dinner, or catch some live music over craft cocktails. For literature lovers, it’s also the neighborhood where the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, lives and where much of the film was shot. Restaurants and pubs in the area cater to a variety of tastes, but if you’re interested in trying some tasty Swedish meatballs before indulging in some pints, you can’t go wrong at the aptly named Meatballs. Himlen provides one of the best views of the city at its 26th-floor bar. Want to skip the pub crawl and enjoy a more low-key outing? Biograf Victoria opened in 1936 as a theatre, and is now a small multiplex cinema with a cafe serving fair trade coffee, its neon pink, retro marquee lighting up the night
Photo by Jeppe Wikström
Elk and reindeer no longer roam free at this 16th century royal game park, but it’s still worth visiting, especially in summertime. Yes, Djurgården also has a small amusement park, the Nordic Museum, and the world’s first open-air museum (that’s the spot for your reindeer fix), but if you choose to visit any museum on the island, make it the Vasa, where a 388-year-old Viking ship that sunk on its maiden voyage is on display. Don’t get stuck on the western side of the island, though. For a less touristy time, head further inland along the canals and walking paths, find a bench overlooking the southern marina for some alternative views, or have a farm-to-table fika (afternoon tea or coffee with sweets) at the Rosendals Trädgård garden (pictured above).
4. Moderna Museet
Like most capital cities, museums abound in Stockholm. Are you an ABBA devotee? Stockholm has a museum for you. Want to know more about spirits? They’re on it. Are bison, Swedish history, and crafts your bag? Also an option. But for art lovers, a must-see is the Moderna Museet. With a strong permanent collection by modern greats like Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as well as a dedication to showcasing art of Swedish and Nordic artists, the Moderna Museet consciously explores the boundaries of contemporary art with rotating exhibitions like The New Human (on display until March 2017). Free entry is one of its biggest perks, too. In fact, now all state-run museums boast free entry, with some traveling exhibitions requiring separate admission. Another pro is its location—nestled on the small island of Skeppsholmen in central Stockholm, it’s an ideal spot to enjoy a picnic lunch to fuel the rest of your sightseeing.
5. Walk Along the Water
Photo by Nicho Södling
In 2010, Stockholm won the EU’s inaugural European Green Capital Award, and its consistent devotion to environmental sustainability means that basically the entire city is walkable. Some of the best views happen to be along the miles of sidewalks and paths hugging the water—walk the perimeter of Gamla Stan, watch the ferries disembark from a harbor-side cafe, grab a bite on the water at Ångbåtsbryggan in Östermalm, and cross a bridge at twilight to see the city light up (brownie points if you make it to Västerbron, Stockholm’s love lock bridge). Don’t feel like getting your steps in but still want to explore? Utilize those cycling lanes with a rented bike, and don’t forget your helmet!
6. Get on the Water
Photo by Alexander Dokukin
Better than walking along the water is to get on it. The Stockholm archipelago has nearly 30,000 islands, and the best way to see them is by boat. Glide by rocky skerries and get the backstory to historical buildings atop islets on a ferry or sailboat tour of the archipelago or canals. Upgrade to a dinner cruise if you’re feeling fancy, or for the more adventurous, hop onto one of the speedboat sightseeing tours. A less costly alternative is to ride one of the public ferries run by Waxholmsbolaget; the routes are more limited, but savings are huge.
7. Skogskyrkogården (Woodland Cemetery)
For a mini-escape from the city center, hop on the metro’s green line and visit Skogskyrkogården, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Stockholm’s southern outskirts. Though the idea of Swedish design more likely conjures images of sofas or side tables than cemeteries, don’t let that stop you from making the trip. The pair of young Swedish architects who created it from 1917-1920 used the land’s gentle hills and looming pines to design a final resting place most striking for its tranquility and organic functionality. Wander among the graves, including that of Stockholm-born Greta Garbo, or sit for a while on the meditation hill. If you’re feeling a bit peckish and you’re willing to go an extra 15 minutes, you’ll find the darling Gamla Enskede Bageri, a cozy cafe and bakery ideal for a post-cemetery snack. Try the chai latte and thank us later.
Sara Button is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.