Stockholm: A quick look
Language: Swedish, English spoken fluently by most people
Currency: Swedish Krona
Drinking Age: 18 to purchase alcohol in a bar or restaurant and to purchase low strength beer at a grocery store. 20 to purchase wine and liquor at the government run “systembolaget.” Many bars and clubs will set a higher limit, usually 20 or 23.
Public Transportation: Stockholm has an excellent system of buses, metro stations, and even ferries that are used to travel around the city. If you plan to use public transportation often, purchase an unlimited access pass at T-centralen (central station). Here’s the website for Stockholm’s public transportation system (in English).
Passport: Yes, but US citizens can stay in Sweden up to 90 days without requiring a visa.
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Before you leave:
Being the capital of Sweden, Stockholm is the political and economic center of the country. Roughly two million people live in the metropolitan area, spread across the 14 island archipelago on the edge of the Baltic sea. The area known as Stockholm has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and it was founded as a city in the 1200’s. As such, there is plenty of history and culture in Stockholm.
Stockholm, and all of Sweden, can seem quite expensive when compared to much of Europe. To cut cost, try and stay in an AirBnb and buy your food at ICA (a grocery store similar to Aldi). I had a studio apartment for $37 a night, and purchased sandwich ingredients at the ICA down the street from me. Not exactly fancy, but it’ll do the job.
Go in the summertime. Seriously, don’t be me and go in mid January. If you don’t like cold wind, snow, and rare daylight, just plan to go in the middle of summer. Swedes love to be outside, so there’s a lot more going on in the summertime.
At The Globetrotting Scientist, we always recommend learning at least a few words in the local language, even if you can get by entirely in English (like you can in Sweden). If nothing else, it shows an observance of the fact you’re a guest in someone else’s country, and you’re attempting to learn more about the culture and language. When Swedes hear that you’re not a fluent speaker, they’re likely to switch to English, but it’s definitely worth trying! Swedish is a pitch-accent language, so you really need to hear it to imitate it properly.
Once You Get There:
I can’t stress this enough, but if you’re trying to limit your spending, the easiest thing to do is to avoid restaurants and bars. I would recommend buying alcohol duty free before you enter the country (I bought a liter of vodka for around 10 euros in Munich) and shopping for food. Stockholm has a varied nightlife though, so I’ll give some recommendations below on where to go to meet people and make friends.
In contrast to above, bars are an easy way to meet Swedes. Swedes tend to open up a little easier when there’s alcohol involved. In fact, there’s a bit of a joke in Sweden that if a stranger smiles at you, they’re either American, insane, or drunk. Here’s your chance to make Swedish friends!
- Kungliga Slottet and Drottningholm Palace
The Royal Palace is just plain cool. As the name implies, this is the royal palace of the Swedish monarchy. Inside the palace, there are several museums including the “museum of antiquities” and the Tre Kroner Museum. Like any proper palace, another common attraction is seeing the Royal Guards. Although pictures and such are fine, they are an actual military force, so follow any posted signs or instructions.
Like many European palaces and castles, there are rumors that Drottningholm Palace (the one where the royal family actually lives) is haunted. Several rumors and legends tell the story of various spirits, including a “gray man” and a “white woman.” Don’t worry though, Queen Silvia says the ghosts are friendly.
2. Vasa Museum
Being a city near the water, it makes sense that Stockholm would have an entire museum dedicated to a 17th century warship. In 1628, the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage, but that didn’t stop them from beautifully restoring this ship. It’s 130 SEK (about $15USD) to get in, and children under 18 get in for free. Tours are offered in both English and Swedish. It’s a fun place if you want to nerd out about Scandinavian nautical history.
This attraction definitely falls into the category of things that are better done in the summer. It’s a beautiful park that’s great for an afternoon stroll after walking around downtown Stockholm. In the wintertime there’s an ice skating rink, which I didn’t partake in (despite how hilarious that would’ve been for everyone involved). In the summertime, there are many concerts and events. Summertime is also when the trees come into bloom, and the warm weather and vibrant colors are a welcome end to the cold and gray winter.
And where would a European capital be without a decent nightlife? Stockholm has a wide variety of clubs and bars, but I’ll list off a few unique places that are worth checking out just for their cool factor. Nightlife in Stockholm is broken up into two main areas: Stureplan, and Södermalm. Stureplan is right near the financial center, and subsequently is incredibly expensive. If you’re looking to splurge, hit up Stureplan. On the other hand, Södermalm is the trendier hipster neighborhood where things aren’t quite as bougie.
The Ice Bar is a cool place to visit. Conveniently located near T-centralen, Drinks are served in shot glasses made of ice, and there’s often an interior design theme that gives the place a unique feel and look. The interior is kept below freezing, because most of it is made of ice, so bring a jacket when you go! Kids are also welcome, as the bar serves non-alcoholic mocktails as well. Ice Bar definitely falls into the more expensive category, due to its unique atmosphere and tourist presence.
Aifur is ridiculous. Located in Gamla Stan, It’s a viking themed bar and restaurant that steers into every viking cliche and stereotype imaginable. There are horned helmets and wooden tables and viking decor. The menu includes mead and reindeer hearts. Airfur will be a bit expensive compared to other non tourist-y places, so keep that in mind if you’re on a budget. It feels goofy, but it’s fun in a tourist-y way. It’s definitely worth stopping in for some mead.
On the cheaper end of the spectrum, two bars come to mind. Restaurang Mosaik, located in Södermalm, has an “afterwork” special from 1-6PM where beers are 29 SEK (around $3USD). They also have seats that overlook the water, making this a nice evening place to grab drinks.
Bar 08 is also a solid contender, being far enough away from the touristy places to have a good mix of locals. Beers can be had at Bar 08 for as little as 25 SEK.
This is just a tiny list of all the options in Stockholm. As you can see, nightlife in Stockholm can go from unbelievably expensive to on par with what you’d pay in the US. Shop around, do your research, and you shouldn’t have a problem grabbing drinks on occasion. Many people will pregame before hitting the bars to save money, so this is where buying alcohol in a store cheaply will help.
5. Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan, meaning Old City, is a fun place if you want to see old architecture. It has the cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, and old buildings that are always fun for a casual walk. Gamla stan also has the Nobel Museum, which has a lot of artifacts and information about the Nobel Prize, and Alfred Nobel. A fun activity in Gamla Stan is to try and find Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, the narrowest alley in Stockholm which is only 90 centimeters wide at its narrowest point.
6. Stockholm Pass
Pro tip if you like museums: Stockholm offers a Stockholm pass that gets you into many different attractions, museums, and tours. It can be a bit pricey, but if you’re into doing a lot of museums and tours when you travel, it can save you quite a bit of money. There’s even some suggested itineraries on their website.
There are so many things to do in Stockholm, I could just keep listing things indefinitely. Hopefully this post will help you get an idea of some of the more popular things to do in the city, and help you plan out a fun trip while minimizing cost. The Stockholm tourism website has a ton of info for planning a trip. If you want any more info on Stockholm or travelling in Sweden, ask us in the comments! If you liked this post, check out some of our other Destination guides for our favorite out-of-the-way backpacker destinations like Oslo, Norway, Pristina, Kosovo, Rishikesh, India, and San Ignacio, Belize.
About the author:
David Anthony is a recent graduate of NC Central University’s School of Business. He is an avid traveler and an enthusiast of all things Scandinavia. He speaks Swedish and Norwegian and was co-organizer of a local Scandinavian meetup. He also enjoys hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing.
A special thanks to pixabay.com and David Anthony for providing the excellent photography in this post!