There’s no doubt that Stockholm is among the priciest capitals in the world to visit, but with a few smart choices, you can make each dollar last a little longer. 3 days in Stockholm did set a small hole in my pocket, but not big enough to keep me off my next trip! And most important of all, it was a enthralling and entertaining 3 days in this colorful capital of Sweden.
I might not have stopped by Stockholm if not for wanting to do that hike north of the Arctic Circle, in Swedish Lapland. But after a whirlwind 3 days, I was really glad to have made it here in September 2016. Here’s an itinerary of 15 things to do over 3 days while in Stockholm without spending a bomb, complete with prices!
From the Ikea-like airport, the Flybussarna bus goes straight to the city (198SEK return). It was a little cheaper to book it online (vs 215 SEK), and every cent counts in a trip like this. Within an hour I was right in the middle of the city, at the Cityterminalen, just beside Stockholm Central Station.
1. Take a walk along Lake Malaren
And a new adventure begins. Many attractions in Stockholm are situated around or near Lake Malaren, which flows through the city out into the Baltic Sea. What better way to begin an exploration of Stockholm than with a walk along the lake side. From the train station, I first headed south towards the water, then east along it, passing a couple of interesting sights along the way.
Having been to a few other European cities, I was amazed at how clean Stockholm was, and how safe it felt. Walking through the streets, modern amenities alongside centuries old buildings, felt surreal.
Not long after, I found myself standing in front of a grand looking hotel. Unfortunately, not looking like one that will fit my budget, and I continued a little further to the accommodation I had booked for the next 3 nights, which was rather interesting too.
Tah-dah! Not the cheapest one, but not too much more the cheapest ones with a decent location as this. I booked a bunk in a 6 man room on board the af Chapman (~300 SEK a night), a 120 year old ship restored and moored as a hostel. There are a couple of quirky accommodation options available in Stockholm. Other than a hostel in an old ship, there’s a hostel in an old prison (Langholmen), and another on an old plane (Jumbohostel). For a little more than the cheapest options, you’ll get a really unique experience in any of these!
2. Get lost in Gamla Stan
On the other side of waterway from the af Chapman is Gamla Stan, an island on its own in the middle of Stockholm. This historic district is where the Royal Palace is, as well as where long winding alleys lined by centuries old buildings can be found.
Across the street from the Royal Palace, you’ll find a maze of long narrow streets, perfect for getting lost in, or to be transported a few centuries back in time. The sun was setting, and my tummy rumbling. Cutting across Gamla Stan from north to south, I found myself at Sodermalm, a more modern district in Stockholm, and where I was hoping to chance upon more wallet friendly alternatives to the fancy restaurants in Gamla Stan.
3. Find dinner in Sodermalm
Lots of modern shops and restaurants in this area, or at least it felt centuries more modern from the other side of the bridge at Gamla Stan.
Many of the restaurants in Sodemalm looked pretty fancy too, but I finally decided on a Vapiano outlet at Gotgatan. The prices for Italian food there are similar to that in Singapore, which I supposed is considered budget in Stockholm. It is a self service restaurant where you can see each individual order being prepared in front of you, and all fresh ingredients in full view. If you hadn’t already been hungry before queuing, the feeling of being in a live cooking show where all kinds of Italian food are being prepared simultaneously is sure to whet your appetite by the time it is your turn.
I got some set that was on offer, a salad and a generous portion of pasta. Great value for money, if you’re set on eating out.
In half an hour, all traces of the sun was gone, as was the food on my plate. I continued with a night walk around Sodermalm, cutting across blocks and discovering new facets of life in Stockholm behind every corner. And of course, Hotel Rival, the famous hotel owned by former ABBA member Benny Andersson, worth taking a look while in the area. The hotel seems to be getting raving reviews, so if you’re on a more forgiving budget you might want to consider a stay here.
4. Gamla Stan at night – A different experience altogether
The shortest way to get from Sodermalm back to the hostel was through Gamla Stan. I was pleasantly surprised and how different it felt the second time I went in, through a different set of alleys this time. I definitely wouldn’t dare linger along such alleys in most cities in Europe, but here in Stockholm, I could afford to indulge a little and soak in the mysterious atmosphere that grew with the night.
As I wandered around Gamla Stan, I suddenly found myself standing in the Parade Square of the Royal Palace, where everything stood still.
It was a little unnerving being the only one there, other than the guards who stood ever so perfectly still. Not sure if I was even supposed to be there, but there were no signs or barriers. I quickly took some shots and left back to the slightly more lively square at Slottsbacken.
Weaving around Gamla Stan, I chanced upon the beautiful square at Slottsbacken. To the left, the Finnish Church, almost 400 years old. On the extreme right, the Royal Palace’s southern facade, and to it’s left, the Storkyrkan (Church of St Nicholas). It is the oldest church in Gamla Stan at over 700 years old. Finally, in front of the church, the 22m high, 200 year old Obelisk. Standing in the middle of the square and admiring the historic landmarks at Slottsbacken is a calming, subtle way to round off the first day in Stockholm.
Night on the af Chapman
It was getting late, and a little chilly, being in middle of September and me still dressed in summer wear. I quicken my pace as I made my way back across the bridges to the ship for the night. Though not being far from all the bustle of city life and the attractions, the island where the ship was anchored at, Skeppsholmen, was refreshingly quiet, not too still but great for getting a good rest. And if you ever needed to be reminded of the hustle and bustle, Gamla Stan was just across the water:
With the ship gently rocking with the slight waves, I drifted into a sound sleep, tired from the day of walking.
Surprisingly, I was able to sleep well and wake up early the next day, despite my roommates crashing in all together in the middle of the night after a heavy partying session. Skies looked brilliant. But first, to breakfast, which was also the first challenge of the day – finding the shuttle bus to Ikea.
I was first directed to the Gallerian, near Sergels torg, by the hostel staff, but an enquiry at the information counter there led me further down the road all the way to the front of the Stockholm Central Station.
5. Have breakfast at Ikea
After a nice morning walk across the city and a few escalators to get to the lower street level, I found the sign for the free Ikea shuttle bus on the opposite side of the road from the railway station, under a bridge.
The buses arrive at intervals of an hour and take half an hour to travel between the city and Ikea. All this effort for the cheapest Swedish buffet breakfast in town, at 69SEK. Couple of catches though. First, travelling there, as mentioned earlier, as well as keeping to the schedules to ensure that you don’t end up spending half a day at Ikea just to get breakfast. I finished mine in about an hour and made a dash for the bus, a few minutes later would mean another hour there. Second, the buffet is only available from 9.30am to 11am, so planning is key.
Having that taken into account, the spread at Ikea, for that price, was simply amazing. Free flow meatballs would already be well worth it back home in Singapore. Add everything else you see below. Definitely not the most amazing breakfast spread, but a 69SEK buffet with all that below is great value in any big city.
I went another more but didn’t take any more pictures. I was filled to the brim. Just in time for the bus, and a short dash brought me back to the bus bay, where the bus was ready to leave for Stockholm. A slightly rushed breakfast, but very satisfying.
Dropped off where I had boarded about 2 hours ago, opposite Stockholm Central Station.
6. Marvel at the Stockholm Stadshus – The city hall
Back in the city, off for another walk to work off the morning junk. Not far from the railway station is the Stockholm City Hall, or Stadshus, another prominent landmark in Stockholm, almost a hundred years old.
Stop by the promenade, and enjoy panoramic views of Gamla Stan from across Lake Malaren.
High walls of the Stadshus conceal a charming courtyard inside, perfect for photo opportunities. The lawn in fronting the City Hall, along the lake’s edge, is also a lovely place to sit and relax. Views of Gamla Stan complimentary (so is entry to the courtyard).
On the other side of the city hall, a sharp contrast, also featuring prominently on the skyline, the Stockholm Waterfront. After admiring all that architecture, old and new, it was time to explore something else, finding the heart of all the action, in central Stockholm.
7. Explore Norrmalm!
But before that, a break at the busy train station, where there is shelter from the elements, lots of seats, and free Wi-Fi.
Another great area to wander around and get lost in is Norrmalm and the city center. It is roughly the area between the railway station and Sergels torg. Here you can everything from food to fashion to groceries. Shopaholics might get stuck, but for everyone else, still a nice district to explore. I was still awfully full from the breakfast buffet, so I took a look in Vete-Katten but found it hard to get another bite, no matter how tempting the pastries looked.
Walking through Norrmalm will also take you to the busy pedestrian street of Drottninggatan. Trendy shops and people line this street all the way to the lake side.
More wandering took me back to Sergels torg, where I had rushed past in the morning to get to the bus. The roundabout with its impressive modern obelisk appeared to be the heart of it all, cars zooming around it like the heartbeat of the city. The sunken plaza and different pedestrian levels around the square added layers to the city, literally.
Bianchi Cafe and Cycles
It was quite a bit of walking by then, and time for a coffee break for lazy me (and lazy anyone else). Bianchi Cafe and Cycles, as the name suggests, sells coffee and bicycles. And other food too. Even if you’re not interested in Bianchi bikes, the cafe is a nice place to sit and people watch at one of the windows along the street. Loved it.
Having explored a little bit of various aspects of Stockholm from history to architecture to shopping, it was time to explore more food! Got off the comfy couch and went in search of the famed Saluhall.
8. Go on a gastronomical adventure at Ostermalm Saluhall
Ostermalm Saluhall, established in 1888, showcases a wide variety of fresh and cooked food, and is one of the top things to do while in Stockholm. During my visit though, the old building was undergoing renovations, and a temporary market was set up next to it until the renovations are done in 2018.
Entry to this permanent food fair is free, but as someone suggested on TripAdvisor, it is not a good idea to visit when hungry. Food can be pricey, and most of it looks absolutely delicious. Fortunately for my wallet, I was still a little full from the heavy breakfast and took the opportunity to enjoy the sights and smell, without the tasting this time. I’d love to come back some day to try some of it though.
Though the above photos were of raw produce, there were many stalls selling cooked food too, with small sitting areas where you can enjoy your food hot. Too many choices, too little time (and space in my stomach).
That feast for the eyes is hard to comprehend in this physical world, so I headed down into another dimension to try to make sense of it.
9. Enter another universe in the Stockholms tunnelbana (Stockholm metro)
Station designs in the Stockholm metro range from the absolutely stunning to the bizarre, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that they’re out of this world. Of course, they’re also one of the more affordable things to do while here, that you definitely can’t do anywhere else. (Though the Moscow and St Petersburg metros are just as beautiful and out of this world too). Took a quick metro tour deep below the surface. Something to be mindful of, that in this underground labyrinth devoid of sunlight you can quickly lose track of time. Much like in a casino.
One could be forgiven for mistaking these as portals to a parallel dimension.
Cue flying unicorns.
Life is a video game …
Pretty sure Bruce Wayne is working in a lab hidden somewhere along these corridors.
Tensta metro station
Probably the cutest station, with animal drawings adorning the walls of this ‘cave’. Every wall and passage had something different, and despite the scale, no detail was overlooked.
Do metro stations get any more adorable than this?
Vastra Skogen metro station
Colorful tiles and motifs decorate Vastra Skogen metro station, one of the interchange stations.
Solna Centrum metro station
The paintings in this station depict destruction of the natural environment, and the walls are painted in deep red, like everything’s on fire. Much like commuters who pass through the station everyday, perhaps we have been so accustomed to being bombarded by stimuli telling us to stop the destruction that the stimuli no longer has any effect on us.
The stunning escalator ride to the surface.
Radhuset metro station
Same same but different. Another impressive station decor at Radhuset metro station.
Look at the huge column!
T-centralen metro station
A busy interchange station in the middle of Stockholm. On the platform of the blue line you’ll find beautiful vine motifs climbing across the tunnels and up the walls. Reminds me of the UN. More on the station here.
A very calming shade of blue, a deep contrast from the people rushing about to their next destinations.
Kungstradgarden metro station
I thought the sculptures were a random collection/display of stuff, but upon reading up on Wikipedia after the trip, found out that these were relics saved during the redevelopment of Stockholm. Really gives extra meaning to this place, and if I had known earlier, would have had a deeper appreciation of the sculptures. More on the station here.
It was the end of my subway tour, and time to head back to the surface. Before I knew it, many hours had passed, and the sun was about to set.
10. Enjoy sunset in the city
No better time and weather to enjoy a slow stroll around the lake side, with such glorious weather and perfect timing.
All tired from another full day of walking. I had a simple dinner of instant food I had with me from the hike in Lapland, and returned to the bunk. I admired Gamla Stan once again, from the small window at the end of my bed, and drifted slowly to sleep.
I woke up to strong rays of sunlight streaming in through the small cabin window. It is my last full day in Stockholm, and there were still some things that I needed to check out to complete the trip.
I decided to take the hostel breakfast (80SEK) out of convenience. A little more expensive, and a little less expansive, compared to the relatively sumptuous breakfast at Ikea the day before. Nonetheless, was good enough for me to get my fill though, and kept me fueled well into the afternoon.
11. Learn about Swedish History – For free!
Incredible as it may sound, there are free things to do in Stockholm! One such example is a visit to the Swedish History Museum, worth a good 2 hours of time. There, you’ll be able to gain a quick lesson on the hundreds of years of Swedish history, carefully curated to maximize learning and entertainment.
Tthe house of Vasa was the royal household between the 16th and 17th century, and of course related to the unmissable Vasa Musuem, with a visit due later in the afternoon. A section of the museum elaborated more on the family.
The Gold Room, which is located at the basement, is really impressive. You might need sunglasses though. Killer glitter.
2 hours later, feeling a little more enlightened, and now seeing Stockholm through slightly different eyes, I stepped back onto the busy streets in search of a friend I first met in Kiruna, to visit the attractions at Djurgarden.
12. Visit the attractions at Djurgarden – Or simply take a walk
Djurgarden, which lies slightly to the east of most attractions in Stockholm, is an island filled with both modern and historical attractions. Even if you do not intend to visit any of the attractions, the island is a nice place for an afternoon walk, with trees providing comfortable shade. If you have time for one attraction, I’ll recommend the Vasa Museum, visited below. If you’re able to visit more, Djurgarden definitely has much more to offer.
13. Check out the world’s first open air museum – Skansen
We soon reached our first attraction of the day, Skansen (145 SEK), which also happens to be the world’s first open air museum (1891). This museum showcases traditional ways of life in Sweden, with replicas of 19th century buildings from all over Sweden. Also here is a small zoo with animals from all over Scandinavia, such as reindeer, elk, wolverine, and many more. I had the opportunity to see semi-wild reindeer while hiking in northern Sweden, and came here to see all the other animals I had missed.
These huge animals stand at over 2 meters tall! We almost didn’t get to see them at their full height as they were sitting down most of the time. Fortunately this big guy decided to take a walk to the bushes just as we were about to leave, and there was an audible ‘woah’ from bystanders when it stood up.
These reindeer easily have the best seats in the house, with their enclosure overlooking central Stockholm.
Old buildings from different ages and areas were brought to the Skansen.
Next, arguably the most famous attraction in Stockholm, the Vasa Musuem, also on the island of Djurgarden.
14. Be in awe of a restored 17th century ship, salvaged from the depths of Stockholm harbor, no less
There’s this story of a majestic warship, that, much like the Titanic, set sail in much fanfare and sank on its maiden voyage. Unlike the Titanic, however, it only managed to sail slightly over a kilometer. The ship lay in the shallow waters of the harbor for another 300 years before it was hoisted out of the water and to a specially built museum, where it remained till today. Why was it built? Why did it sink? How did it remain in such a good condition till today? Find out all, and be in awe of the sheer scale of the ship, complete with carvings and cannons, at the Vasa Museum (130 SEK).
I’d advise preparing for the queue, coming slightly earlier, and leave about 2 hours for the museum.
Late afternoon snack
Not quite dinner time, but we we’re getting a little hungry. One last thing we could do together before my friend had to leave as he had an appointment later that day.
There’s a hot dog in a wrap, and all else is lots and lots of mashed potatoes. They went surprisingly well together.
With that I had to part with my not so new friend, wondering if we’ll see each other ever again. I enjoy travelling alone, but having good company is awesome too. Spent some time chilling on the hostel/ship after that, slightly drained from the full day of walking and learning.
15. Grab burgers at Macs .. I mean MAX!
When I finally got hungry for dinner, it was already cold and dark. Despite being in a quiet corner of Stockholm, the lively area of Kungstradgarden was a short walk away. Huddling up in my jackets, I braved the winds to get to Max, ‘Sweden’s favorite burger chain’, and sworn by all the hostel guests I had spoken to that have tried it.
Instant comfort in fast food. This was no spoof, and the burger, fries and milkshake were well worth the hype. Feeling all happy and hyper after the fulfilling meal despite being all alone in the dark and cold. And, as always, had a good sleep on the boat.
A couple of hours left before my flight back to Singapore, after 2 emotion filled weeks spent exploring northern Sweden and Stockholm alone. Few more things to do before diving head first back into work.
With that, concluding an approximately 3 day exploration of Stockholm, with approximately 15 awesome things to try out! Well rested and ready to get back to work, but I’m sure I’ll hit the road again in a few months. Till then, take care!