Take a break in a city on water and there’s always something to keep you entertained. Join a boat excursion; take a stroll by the waterfront, or just sit and watch the comings and goings of nautical folk. So when a city has as much water frontage as Stockholm, you know you are on to a winner. The Swedish capital is built on islands, each with its own character, but is remarkably easy to explore.
You’ll find plenty here to fill a long weekend from outdoor activities to museums and galleries, but if – like me – you have limited time, you can still comfortably enjoy the main sights in a couple of days. I booked two nights at the stylish Radisson Blu Waterfront before setting off on a Baltic cruise, so here are my recommendations for six Must-Do experiences for first-timer visitors to Stockholm.
Explore the Gamla Stan or Old Town
This is where the city really began so expect narrow medieval streets, cobbles, and – on the main thoroughfares – a constant bustle of walkers. But it’s easy to escape down a quiet side street too and take time out to look up at the coloured facades and stop off at a cosy cafe. Biggest visitor attraction here, in every sense of the word, is the 18th century Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet), one of the largest in Europe with more than 600 rooms and a vast courtyard. The Palace houses five museums, but the real must-see is the sumptuous suite of Royal Apartments.
Take a hop-on hop-off tour
When you have limited knowledge of a destination, a city sightseeing bus is a great way to get your bearings. Stockholm goes one better. As well as a ubiquitous red bus tour, there’s a harbour tour too which links the Old Town with several of the city’s top visitor attractions. Even better, a Stockhom Pass includes free travel on both the bus and the boat trip, as well as entrance to many top attractions, and because the city centre is so compact, you won’t find yourself rushing madly to try and get your money’s worth from the Pass. Prices in Summer 2019 start at 669 SEK (£56.71) for a 1 day pass; 929 SEK (£78.75) for 2 days.
Visit the Vasa Ship
Awesome doesn’t even come close when talking about this 17th century warship which sank just 20 minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628. Too high and too narrow, with insufficient ballast to keep her upright, the lower decks were swamped with water as the Vasa keeled over, sending her to the bottom. In 1961, the warship was recovered from the seabed and is now housed in an impressive ship hall. Amazingly, she is 98% original and as I viewed her from different levels and angles, looked at artefacts recovered from the sea bed, and got close to the heavily sculpted stern, I felt a real sense of looking back into another age at a ship we were never meant to see.
Living History at Skansen
Just a short walk from the Vasa ship and accessible from the same hop-on hop-off boat pier, Skansen is a large historical site that brings together Swedish traditions and craftsmanship, open all year. The world’s oldest open-air museum, it was founded in 1891 to show how people lived in Sweden from the 17th century onwards and now includes some 150 buildings reassembled from all over the country. We also enjoyed the livestock area that includes Swedish wild animals, a children’s zoo with pets and small reptiles (plus some lovely inquisitive lemurs!), and the aquariums of the Baltic Sea Science Centre.
The nearby ABBA Museum may be your idea of heaven or hell, especially given the 250 Krone entrance ticket (£21), but there’s a well-stocked shop if you simply want a T-shirt, fridge magnet or mug for a devout fan.
Take in the City Hall
Although close to our hotel, with a cruise ship to catch we didn’t have time for a guided tour of the red-brick City Hall we could see from our bedroom window. But we did have time for a quick look at the iconic view across the water to the Old Town from the riverside garden terrace. Judging from the tour groups in the courtyard, the Stadshuset, built in 1923, is a popular attraction for its Golden Hall decorated in mosaics and magnificent Council Chamber. You can also go up the tower for a panoramic view.
A taste of Sweden
No trip to Stockholm would be complete without sampling Sweden’s signature dishes. At Magnus Ladulas tavern in the Old Town, we sampled the popular starter of diced shrimp flavoured with dill, followed by traditional meatballs in cream sauce accompanied by mash potato and lingonberry jam. If you’re a fish fan, don’t miss a plate of Gravadlax – a perfect light lunch for me at the pretty waterside Villa Godthem, close to the funicular leading to Skansen. And whilst a speciality whisky bar doesn’t sound like the place to enjoy Swedish gourmet fare, I enjoyed a mouth-wateringly-tender fillet of reindeer at Ardbeg Embassy in the Old Town. For a snack with coffee, pick up a cinnamon bun at one of the city’s many bakeries. Scumptious!
If you are lucky enough to be leaving Stockholm on a cruise ship, stay on deck to enjoy navigation through the Stockholm Archipelago of some 30,000 islands. City- breakers can also use their Stockholm Pass to board an excursion boat from the town centre harbour for a more compact cruise. A delightful city with so much water and so many ways to enjoy it.
For city breaks Silver Travel Advisor recommends Classic Collection Holidays.