Discover how to spend three days in Sweden’s stunning capital, Stockholm, with this handy guide to the best sites, tastes, and experiences of the city.
Stockholm is as pretty as a picture no matter what time of year you visit. Winter brings a Christmas market sparkling in the snow, while summer makes it a joy to wander from island to island and relax by the waterside. It’s a city that dates back to the 13th century, and today it’s a vault of variety and activities. From picturesque palaces to monumental museums, galleries to parks, and funfairs to shopping, Stockholm’s past and present are on show in some wonderful, easy-to-visit places.
Our three-day travel guide to Stockholm will take you through the absolute essentials, but we’ve also allowed for time to sample some sumptuous Swedish food and fabulous ‘fika’ – the country’s famous coffee and cake break.
Day One – Stockholm’s Royal Garden
A day spent in Djurgarden is a day well spent. This pretty green island is packed with things to do and see, and the sheer volume of attractions squeezed into such a compact space is a joy in itself.
If you’re a thrill seeker or have children in tow, there’s an excellent amusement park called Grona Lund, while fans of ABBA will be in heaven at the ABBA Museum with memorabilia from the history of Sweden’s most famous pop export.
For a fascinating glimpse of how Sweden once looked, the outdoor Skansen Museum is a must. It’s laid out to bring a sense of a traditional Swedish village to the modern day with quaint dwellings and farmsteads transporting you through time. There’s a zoo here, too, with a focus on wild Scandinavian animals giving it an interesting twist.
For lunch, there are dozens of cozy cafes on Djurgarden, and even Michelin-starred restaurants, but perhaps it’s time for some traditional Swedish fare. At Ulla Winbladh, named after an 18th-century ballad, you’ll find classics like salmon tartare on rye bread, a herring plate, meatballs with cream sauce, and lingonberries and fish casserole. Every dish is served with refinement and a majestic, modern twist.
Back out into Djurgarden, the Vasa Museum is the most-visited in all of Scandinavia – unusual for one dedicated to such a fabled failure. When it was launched in the 17th century, the vast Vasa warship was seen as a signal of Sweden’s international might. However, 30 minutes into its maiden voyage launch, it promptly sank due to some fatal design flaws. Centuries later, it was dragged up from the depths, perfectly pieced back together, and now forms the centerpiece of a brilliant museum that brings the era of its construction to life.
Got time for more? Djurgarden contains a multitude of things to do. The Nordic Museum is focused on Swedish history and has exhibitions showing life in the Middle Ages. Alternatively, visit the children’s museum, Junibacken, which is as interesting as it is interactive – perfect for allowing the little ones to learn about Sweden. Finally, take a walk around the glorious Royal Park that reflects Djurgarden’s history as a regal island and playground. The park is at its very best on a sunny day when you can pitch a picnic and watch the world go by.
Day Two – Go Underground
A far cry from most metro and subway systems the world over, the Stockholm Underground is not only both modern and efficient, but has been transformed into one of the world’s largest and most unexpected art exhibitions. Of the 100 stations in the city, more than 90 have been redecorated with a mixture of paintings, installations, sculptures and more.
Local artists have been extensively involved, and a few hours spent roaming the metro will give you a feel for the breadth of the work. Solna Centrum depicts an epic red-skied forest, Hallonbergen gives a haunting view into a child’s eye full of mythical beasts, Citybanan presents a fluorescent light in jagged lines, and Thorildsplan transports you to the 8-bit computer era, packed as it is with pixelated graphics.
You may hear a lot about ‘fika’ from Stockholmers. It’s not just about sitting with a coffee and a cake or pastry – it’s more a concept of making time in your day for yourself and your friends. There’s no shortage of places to join in with the locals as they practice fika, with Stockholm boasting a huge cafe culture.
Even with a packed three-day itinerary, it’s important to unwind. Grab a superb coffee and an even better cake at Kaffeverket on Sangt Eriksgatan. Alternateively, take a seat in Mellqvist Kaffebar, which is notable for its aromatic cardamom buns, and also for being the coffee place frequented by the fictional Mikael Blomqvist, star of Stief Larsson’s best-selling Millennium books. Join the pilgrimage and grab a latte and a ‘kardamumbulle.’
Day Three – Get Medieval
Day three is all about the very core of Stockholm and where the city was born in the 13th century: Gamla Stan. Prepare to be lured in by its labyrinthine and charming medieval streets.
Start in Stortorget, a compact but busy square and the spiritual heart of the city. From here you can wander as you please, whether it’s to find a museum, palace or restaurant, or just to enjoy the ancient feel of the place. The district’s narrow alleyways, cobbled streets, and fine buildings glow with myriad hues of gold and yellow.
On Trangsund, you’ll find a cathedral that dates from 1269 and sports a stunning 15th-century statue of St George and the dragon. A famous painting called Vadersoltavlan, depicting some atmospheric effects over Stockholm in the 16th century, has a controversial history. It only recently emerged that the original was lost and the piece in situ is a 17th-century copy.
With the area being so popular with visitors, it’s handy to know the good restaurants from the tourist traps. Happily, there are plenty of places both traditional and modern that will ensure you leave with a full stomach and good memories.
At the top end, there’s Frantzen, which recently became the first Swedish restaurant to achieve three Michelin stars. With a penthouse terrace affording magnificent views, you can dine on flavor-filled inventions such as guinea-fowl scrambled eggs with maple syrup and truffle, or Japanese egg custard with chanterelles and Swedish silver eel. Service is incredible, with many dishes given the finishing touch at your table in this intimate temple of gastronomy. A fitting end to three perfect days in Stockholm.
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