Lay of the Land
“Stockholm is surely an urban planner's dream. Everything works. Everything looks good.”~Janine di Giovanni
One of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Stockholm is positively brimming with culture. And, with nearly two million residents spread among its 14 islands, Stockholm is also Sweden’s largest city. More than 30 percent of the city is made up of waterways, with 57 bridges connecting the various islets. It’s a very walkable city, especially in the summer when the days are long, and every alleyway uncovers a charming new discovery. A great way to explore the islands—and feel miles away from city life—is to take a ferry around. They depart from Nybrokajen often and sail to each of the islands, where passengers can disembark to get a better look.
The Old Town, Gamla Stan, should be a must for every first-time visitor. It is known for 16th-century architecture, cobbled streets and the views afforded by its location right on Stockholm’s gorgeous waterfront. While touristy, it is definitely worth a visit; the highlight is most certainly the Royal Palace, a grand monument that looms over the island’s archaic alleyways. Just south of Gamla Stan, Sodermalm, comparable to Paris’ Marais district, is the heart of Stockholm’s bohemian, alternative culture. The streets are lined with avant-garde clothing stores, art galleries and buzzy nightclubs. Particularly worth seeking out is Sodermalm’s SoFo area, which is located just south of Folkungagatan street. The creative enclave is home to some of Stockholm’s best boutiques and concept stores, as well as hipster coffeeshops and convivial restaurants. Across the Klarastransleden bridge is the tony Ostermalm, one of the city’s wealthiest enclaves and home to the Stureplan, a public square lined with splurge-worthy boutiques and upscale restaurants. Farther off-the-beaten-path is Djurgarden, a national park where the Skansen and Vasa museums are located.
When to Go
May through September. Summer, when local families escape to their island houses in the archipelago and everyone is in a carefree mood, is a particularly enchanting time to visit Stockholm. The ferries slip between islands, dropping off and picking up bicyclists, hikers and day-trippers. Three days is the minimum amount of time to relish the best of the city: strolling through old neighborhoods, enjoying a Baroque opera and being seduced by Rococo interiors.
Stockholm, set on a series of islands and a lake, is perfect for visiting on foot. It’s mostly flat, and at every turn, it seems, you come upon a water view, a beautiful park, a place to sit. There’s little traffic downtown, and the spotless harborside area is remarkably tranquil. Most palaces are within walking distance of the city center.
If you happen to prefer a taxi there are plenty available, but they are expensive. Make sure to only use Taxi Stockholm and Taxi Kurir; other companies can sometimes charge different prices for tourists. When traveling to and from the airport, you can use the Arlanda Express train, which is a speedy 20-minute ride and lands you in the center of the city. However, if you are not traveling alone, it is more economical to take a taxi.
- Most people speak excellent English.
- The tap water in Sweden has been tested as one of the best in the world, better than most bottled water. Feel free to drink from the tap anywhere.
- When it comes to tipping, its good to know beforehand that tips are already included in the price at restaurants, bars and taxis. If you are happy with your service, add a nominal amount, never more than 10 percent.
- Many places in Stockholm will not accept cash, so make sure you always have a card on you.
- Ask the concierge to check opening times and ferry schedules. Online listings are often not up-to-date, and many informative Web sites are only in Swedish.
- Book summer opera tickets online before departure. The Drottningholm summer festival is much admired in the music world, and the auditorium is small. Warning: there’s no air-conditioning, but windows are flung open on hot afternoons.
- The Stockholm Pass (USD $70 for one day, USD $155 for five days) provides free access to museums and sightseeing tours on boat or bus.