Stockholm, a beautiful city built on 14 islands linked by 57 bridges with a delightful Old Town (Gamla Stan), is compact and walkable with an excellent tram, bus and subway system. Most people speak English, making communication quite easy. Cruise ships dock at several harbors, either in Old Town (a five-to-10-minute walk away), or, at most other ports, just a 10-minute taxi or 20-minute bus ride away from Old Town. Follow our lead to make the most of your time in Stockholm.
Gamla Stan, or Old Town, is a quaint part of town with 16th-century vividly colored houses in yellow, rust and ocher, winding cobblestone streets, narrow lanes and palaces, this is also where Stockholm was founded in the 13th century. You can find endless restaurants, cafes and artisan shops here and you’re just a short walk south of the city center. If you want a guided walking tour, buy tickets at the Medieval Museum.
Skansen is Sweden’s answer to Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a mini Sweden open-air folk museum, where 150 buildings were transported from all over the country. They include an 18th-century wooden church, a Sami (the native people of northern Scandinavia previously known as Lapps) camp, and a mill owner’s farmstead adorned with wall paintings. Expect to see craftsmen blowing glass, weaving and spinning; guides in period costume; and fiddlers and folk dancers on stages.
Its zoo has 75 animal breeds native to Scandinavia, such as reindeer, elk and brown bears. An aquarium, monkey forest, children’s zoo with goats and chickens, five restaurants with panoramic city views and shops selling traditional handicrafts and modern Swedish design make it a great spot for a family outing. Skansen, which celebrates holidays like Midsummer in a big way, is on Djurgården, a park-like island. You can easily walk there from the city center or take a scenic ferry ride from Gamla Stan’s Skeppsbron.
The world’s only preserved 17th-century ship, the 200-foot Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. Scandinavia’s most-visited museum, Vasa Museum (located on the Djurgården waterfront), has five floors of exhibits and an English-language film that describes what it was like to sail on the ship, re-creates the lives of its passengers, its salvage and the jigsaw-like re-assembly in 1961.
Fans of the best-selling suspense novels by Stieg Larsson (and the Swedish and Hollywood movie versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) will enjoy a walking tour of the film and book locations. To see cafes and bars frequented by fictional character Lisbeth Salander in Sodermalm, a hip bohemian former working-class district of wooden cottages, galleries, artisan shops and bars buy a ticket or a self-guided map at the Medieval Museum. Usually, tickets are sold at the City Museum (closed until 2018, which also offers tours of four restored apartments, from the ornate home of a master stucco craftsman in affluent Ostermalm to the modest wooden cottage of a ship worker in Sodermalm.)
The 18th-century Royal Palace of Stockholm has more than 600 rooms and crowns the hilltop in Gamla Stan. It is the official residence of the King and Queen of Sweden and the location of most official events and departments in the Royal Court. Highlights include the silver throne of Queen Kristina in the Hall of State, the Karl XI Gallery (reminiscent of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors), plus crown jewels and armor.
The stories of Nobel Prize winners from Ernest Hemingway and Marie Curie to Wilhelm Röntgen are told in fascinating exhibits at the Nobel Museum. A film ponders the nature of creativity and innovation, while a children’s club lets kids ages 7 to 10 brainstorm ideas and act creatively. It’s in Gamla Stan on the main square (Stortorget), and the Nobel Prize winners’ banquet is held at City Hall every December.
The fabulous Östermalms Saluhall, a temple of immaculately kept seafood, gourmet foods, game, cheese, chocolate, produce and restaurants both fancy and casual in an 1888 cathedral-like brick building is, sadly, closed until summer 2018 for renovation. It can still be seen from the outside, and a temporary hall with most of the eateries is right in front on Östermalmstorg. For multiethnic flair, check out Hötorgshallen and its Turkish burgers, Lebanese grilled wraps and mezze in the city center.
A bar, tables and cocktail glasses made of ice: it’s a fun way to “chill” sipping Absolut vodka on a warm summer’s day. A loan of a fur-trimmed jacket, mittens and one drink come with your admission to Icebar, located adjacent to the Nordic C Hotel.
Historiska Museet’s permanent Viking exhibit has thousands of objects on display, from swords to a historic boat and everyday Viking household items. The Gold Room, where amazingly lavish fifth-century gold collars, medieval shrines adorned with precious gems and Viking silver pendants are exhibited, are highlights. Medieval daily life, textiles, and art plus prehistoric objects are part of 10,000 years of Swedish history and are also on display at this free museum in city center.
Commune with spirits — wine, gin, vodka and others — and learn about the history of making alcoholic beverages generally and in Sweden in particular at the Museum of Spirits on Djurgården island. Smell and see the 55 herbs and spices (such as juniper, caraway and fennel) that can flavor alcohol. Do a wine or “Flavors of Sweden” tasting. Listen to Swedish drinking songs (the museum even hosts the annual Swedish drinking song championship). Go on the one-hour guided tour, and afterward, grab a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant. In summer (when you’ll most likely be cruising to Stockholm) they open up the beer garden and have at least 15 Swedish craft beers on tap. Cheers!