Arriving into Stockholm in biblical style downpours was amongst the worst of welcomes we’ve had at the beginning of any trip. We’d also just flown into Stockholm Skavsta, where the use of ‘Stockholm’ in it’s name shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily; the coach transfer on the ‘Flygbussarna’ took nearly as long as our flight from London, but when you’re anything like me and it physically pains you to spend any more than fifty quid for a return flight, then airports out in the sticks are something that are occasionally part and parcel of budget airlines.
Armageddon-like thunderstorms and long, stuffy coach journeys aside, this was my first ever trip to Sweden and I’d heard nothing but praise for its capital, Stockholm. My only concern was that my credit card was going to take one of the worst batterings of it’s life; this is the Nordics in peak season, and I’d heard the horror stories. So I had two questions; would summer in Stockholm live up to the hype and is Stockholm possible on my conservative budget?
Exploring The Colourful Streets of
Gamla Stan: A Walking Tour
In the spirit of keeping costs down and learning more about the Old Town of Stockholm we joined a Free Walking Tour that focused solely on the history and quirks of the historical district of Gamla Stan. Luckily the storm clouds had cleared and we could enjoy the tour properly; Alex our tour guide told us that they were forced to abandon their walk on the previous day on account of the relenting rain – Scandinavian summers for you!
The tour was almost two hours long and we were lead through the narrow, orange hued streets of the medieval city centre and fed stories of lesbian Queen’s, fake windows, why some walls have tiny mirrors screwed to them, sinking islands made of rubbish, German churches, why you need gift sweets to a statue, ABBA (of course), the most hated person (with no ears) in Stockholm, and finally why Stockholm’s gory history might have been the brainchild of some the bloodiest scenes in Game of Thrones (strong stomach required!).
Watch the Changing of the Guards
at the Royal Palace
Behold, some of the best photos I’ve taken of the back of tourists heads! It’s fair to say that this uber-touristy attraction, the changing of the guards, is pretty popular. The march and ceremony takes place daily at the palace and you’ll need to prepare to battle elbows and selfie sticks for a view of the guards. Tolerate the crowds though, as it’s so very worth the wait; the whole ceremony, complete with guards on horseback, a fantastic military band and full on march through the city, lasts for a whole 40 minutes and in an ‘expensive’ city, this attraction is free to stay and watch.
Stray Into Sodermalm And Explore
Stockholm’s Best Craft Beers Locations
Whenever I visit anywhere outside of central Europe, I convince myself to practice the tee-total lifestyle to avoid forking out for pints that cost more than I care to think about. I don’t think I touched a drop in Iceland, stuck to coffee’s only in Copenhagen, and in Norway I allowed myself a half of the local lager (slow down there girl… wild night!).
I was fully preparing myself to not worry myself with alcohol; my budget wouldn’t stretch anyway, right? Actually I was surprised that the prices weren’t insane, and more importantly, Stockholm’s craft beer selections were incredible.
On our first night we wandered down into the hipster-esque Sodermalm district. Akkurat is one of Stockholm’s best craft beer pubs; a lively tavern with an extensive and rotating beer menu. Spolit for choice we picked the barman’s brains on his recommendations; he selected a different beer for each of us based on our tastes and I ended up with a sour candy-flavoured Belgian style beer. Moving further into Sodermalm was the Oliver Twist pub where the guy behind the bar insisted I try ‘Tropic Thunder’, a soured fruit ale by Swedish microbrewery Dugges Bryggeri; and yeah, saying ‘yes’ was certainly the best decision I’d made that week.
Finally, it’s bit of a wild card, but I’m noting it down only because I had the best night at Wirströms Pub in Gamla Stan. Wirstroms is a tiny Irish bar in old town, complete with a proper Irish welcome. We popped in for a nightcap, ended up staying for five, and through the beer goggles, made friends and staged a four hour long sing-a-long with three ladies from Chicago, a guy from Kent, a solo traveller from Cornwall, two Irish expats in Stockholm and their friend from Bangladesh. Thanks for the fuzzy beer-sponsored memories Stockholm!
Indulge In A Little ‘Fika’
Say ‘Hej’ to my newest Swedish obsession; Fika. Every language has a few terms that don’t translate well into other languages and ‘Fika’ is one of them. So to try to explain, on the face of it, Fika appears to describe ‘having coffee and cake’, but really it’s much more than that. It can sort of be half-compared to the Danish art of ‘hygge’, which is their way of explaining that feeling you get when you’re content, fuzzy; creating a cosy atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life. Fika is slightly different but it’s a concept all about taking time out of your day to boost your wellbeing, though it’s mostly a social occasion and all about finding time for friends and family.
Essentially it’s the recognition that it’s important to take a break, slow things down and boost your happiness. It’s just another one of those things that Scandinavians do so well, and it got me thinking that we all need a little more Fika…
Go Underground To Discover
Stockholm’s Metro Art
Metro stations in Europe – if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. Mostly, they all fit the same mould but when I found out about Stockholm’s Metro Art, taking a self-guided tour of a few of the Metro stations didn’t seem too strange.
The underground network has been decorated with paintings and installations since the 1950s to make up what is sometimes called the ‘world’s longest art gallery’. We managed to get around three of some of the best one’s; T-Centralen Station with the blue painted leaves on the ceiling, Stadion Station with the rainbow spanning the width of the tunnel and Kungstradgarden with it’s colourful illustrations and a miniature Roman archaeological site near the entrance.
Eat The Worlds Best Meatballs
At ‘Meatballs for the People’
Meatballs is to Sweden as Pasta is to Italy, so it would be criminal not to try Köttbullar whilst in Stockholm. To be honest it would make a change to eat meatballs in an actual restaurant as opposed to after arguing over what colour MALM flat-pack or BILLY bookcase we were going to buy this month.
Enter, Meatballs for the People in the Södermalm district, which features on many of Stockholm’s ‘best cheap eats’ guides you’ll see online. We made a reservation the day before for a super ‘early bird’ lunch; classic meatballs for just 95 Swedish Kroner, which was an utter bargain if you consider you’d be hard pushed to find a main meal anywhere else for under 150-200. The plate comes with creamy mash and serve-yourself sides and of course, the best meatballs you’ll ever eat. Guaranteed.
See What All The Fuss Is About At
Scandinavia’s Most Visited Museum
The Vasa Museum is a must-see when visiting Stockholm. Even if you, like me, aren’t are huge marine fan, it’s hard not to be blown away by the impressive size and preserved detail on this exhumed shipwreck. Of huge historical importance to the Swedes, the museum tells the tale of the Vasa; built in the 1600’s she was heavily decorated and armed for battle, but seriously flawed in design which then caused the ship to sink only a few minutes into its maiden voyage. Vasa lay at the bottom of Stockholm harbour for 333 years until it was finally salvaged by a expert team of archaeologists and is now displayed in a purpose built museum in the city, now the world’s only preserved 17th century ship.
Live Out Your Scandi-Pop
Fantasies at the ABBA Museum
Admission time, I’m not your die-hard ABBA fan, but this experience was an absolute hoot. For around £25 for the entrance fee, you expect a bit more than your average museum, and that’s what you get. It’s less ‘museum’, more a wondrously gawdy cheese-fest that submerges you in ABBA-mania until you reach the point where your need to spontaneously screech-out renditions of ‘Dancing Queen’ consumes you.
Your ticket is your pass to access all the interactive parts of the exhibit; star in your own ABBA music video, become the fourth member on stage an murder an ABBA classic or sing your audition song in a mock-up recording booth. Here, you’ll uncover your love for ABBA discovering that you have no ability to hit the high notes… ‘Walk in. Dance out’ is their tag line, and it couldn’t be more true!
See Stockholm by Boat
I knew the Stockholm archipelago was extensive, but it was on the coach back to the airport where I googled the figure; “The Stockholm archipelago is a cluster of some 30,000 islands, skerries and rocks”… thirty thousand! The city makes for fantastic viewing from the plane window on the way in; tiny green and yellow dots scattered in and around the blue, and it’s equally as good when you get onto the water and explore the waterways by boat.
Our short trip didn’t allow time for a full-on tour but we used our 24-hour transport cards to take a trip on the local ferry which took us from Norrmalm to the popular Museum Island to the chilled out Skeppsholmen island where we disembarked to take in the views from rocks on Kastellholmen.
Witness the Best Sunset In Stockholm
Our Free Walking Tour guide, Alex told us that Stockholm is known for it’s spectacular sunsets, which made me instantly regret only booking two nights in this city. I think it’s a combination of the clear air, clean lines, sharp silhouettes and bright lights reflecting in the waterways that contributed to Stockholm looking its best at dusk.
Both evenings we found ourselves out on Stockholm’s streets, taking advantage of the cooler breeze and taking photos of the changing colours in the sky.
Best place to watch the sunset in Stockholm? Alex, our Tour Guide assured us that we’d get the best show on the far side of Riddarholmen that gives you lush views out to the west of the city. Daymn Stockholm… looking good.
Stay in a Scandi-Design Boutique Hotel
at Hobo Stockholm
Nestled in amongst the otherwise conventional aesthetic of the financial district, just North of Gamla Stan. Hobo Stockholm stands out like the loud and proud hipster she is; enter the lobby-come-greenhouse-come-high-end-boutique-store, check in with the friendly hotel staff and head up to your room which reflects the essence of minimalist, neutral scandi-design. The whole place is the perfect mix of homely-comfort and fun design; It was the water pistol in the bathroom that did it for me – the ultimate ‘we’re-not-your-usual-hotel’ touch. Hobo is anything but basic, and if you’re staying in Stockholm you should stay somewhere as unique as this place!
The Nitty-Gritty: Cost and Logistics
We brought £300 worth of Euros but ended up spending almost £400, which went on museum entries, food, lots of craft beer and a metro ticket for us both, we also spent £160 for two nights which included a fantastic buffet breakfast in Hobo Stockholm. This was on a ‘summer deal’ which included a 15% discount on the normal price. Considering the perfect location of our hotel, the unique design and great service, I think we managed to bag ourselves fantastic value for money on that one!
Flying into the furthest airport from the city centre, we made sure to purchase a £24 round trip on the Flybussarna which drove us the 90 mins from Skavsta Aiport to Stockholm and finally our flights were £49 return from London.
For two people to travel to Stockholm for three days, we spent £707, which works out to £353.50 per person. That’s just over £100 per day, including accommodation and flights, so for an ‘expensive’ location… did I do good? 😉