An Introduction to Stockholm: A First-Time Visitor’s Guide

Gamla Stan in Stockholm
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As the largest city in Scandinavia, Stockholm, Sweden, has always been on my radar. And yet, despite multiple trips to the region (mostly to Norway), it took me a few years to actually make it there.

Shame on me, I know!

Because while it's true that Stockholm is one of the more expensive cities to visit in Europe, it's also beautiful, historical, and just downright cool.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden

My first visit to Stockholm ended up lasting just 3 days, but that was enough time to get a feel for the city and see some of its top sights.

If you, too, are heading to Stockholm for the first time, here are my tips for what to see and do:

What to do on your first trip to Stockholm

Explore Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Sweden

Chances are, if you've seen photos of Stockholm, you've seen photos of Gamla Stan, or Stockholm's “Old Town.” This is actually one of the best-preserved historic districts in Europe (it dates back to when Stockholm was founded in 1252!), and it's great to explore since most of its cobbled streets are reserved just for pedestrians.

Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden

Some of my favorite spots in Gamla Stan included Stortorget (the oldest square in Stockholm and a great place to have a coffee and people-watch) and the Royal Palace, which houses a couple museums and also is where you can watch the changing of the guard ceremony every day in the summer months.

Stortorget in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Stortorget

Gamla Stan doors

And look out for awesome doors like this in Gamla Stan, too!

To get to Gamla Stan from central Stockholm, you'll likely cross over a bridge or two since Stockholm is actually built on 14 different islands!

Climb the tower at City Hall

Stockholm City Hall

Stockholm's City Hall is one of the most recognizable in the city, with its tall square tower and brick facade. You can go on tours of the building itself, and I can personally recommend a trip to the top of the tower.

Climbing to the top of City Hall tower in Stockholm

Climbing to the top of City Hall tower

You have to climb a couple hundred stairs to get to the top, but I'd say the views are worth it!

Gamla Stan from City Hall Tower

Looking out over Gamla Stan

You do need to get a timed ticket to go up the tower (SEK 50, or roughly $6.30 USD), and they only hand out 30 for each time period – I went in the morning to get a ticket for the same afternoon, just to be safe.

Spend some time underground

Stadion metro station in Stockholm

Stadion metro station

After going up, how about going down? It might sound weird for me to tell you to spend some of your time in Stockholm underground, but Stockholm's metro system is actually like a super long art exhibit. Out of 100 stations, roughly 90 of them have some sort of artwork.

A few stations are even covered entirely in colorful murals. (My favorites include Stadion, T-Centralen on the blue line, and Solna Centrum.)

Solna Centrum metro station in Stockholm

Solna Centrum metro station

RELATED: The Stunning Subway Stations of Stockholm

Go to a cool museum

Stockholm is home to some seriously cool museums, a few of which are located on an island called Djurgården.

Djurgården in Stockholm

Djurgården

Some popular ones include:

  • Skansen Open-Air Museum
  • Fotografiska (a museum for contemporary photography)
  • ABBA – The Museum

My favorite museum in Stockholm, though, was the Vasa Museum. This unique museum houses the (almost fully-intact) remains of a 17th-century war ship called Vasa.

Vasa Museum in Stockholm

Look how cool this ship is!

The massive ship sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor in 1628 due to a combination of poor construction (with her double gun decks, she was too heavy) and just plain bad luck (including one big gust of wind and fully open gun ports). Vasa sat on the bottom of the harbor for more than 300 years, until she was re-discovered again in 1956 and then brought back up to the surface (quite well-preserved) in 1961.

Today, the Vasa Museum is built around the old ship, which is 98% original. You can see exhibits on multiple levels, including one on the ground floor that includes skeletons of some of the 30 people who perished when the ship quickly sank in 1628.

Vasa Museum in Stockholm

This is 98% original!!

For a history nerd like me, this place was SO COOL.

Enjoy a fika

Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden

The Swedes have a lovely afternoon tradition of taking a coffee break (often accompanied by a yummy pastry). This tradition is called fika, and you should definitely indulge, too!

How to get around in Stockholm

The good news is that many of Stockholm's main sights are within walking distance from one another. (In fact, you probably could get by in Stockholm just using your feet for transport.)

But if you plan to explore some metro stations and want to hit up some museums, I recommend getting a travelcard. You can get these for either 24 or 72 hours, or even 7 days if you also add an SL Access smart card. These cards are valid on the metro, buses, and also some ferries (including the ferry that goes to Djurgården, where many of the museums are).

(This is also a great way to save some money in Stockholm – a 72-hour card runs about $30 USD.)

Where to stay in Stockholm

I stayed at the Central Hotel in Stockholm, which is only a block away from the city's Central Station. Not only is this handy for using the metro or getting to/from the airport, but it also puts you within walking distance of restaurants and Gamla Stan (which is a 10-15 minute walk away).

Central Hotel in Stockholm

I booked a single room at this hotel (which saved me some money!), which was small but perfectly fine for just me. The room had a super comfy bed, a nice bathroom, and even some free weights in the room so I could get in a little workout.

Central Hotel in Stockholm

Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here

Have you been to Stockholm? What else would you recommend for a first-time visitor?

 

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Things to do your first time in Stockholm
Things to do your first time in Stockholm

 

Things to do your first time in Stockholm | First-timer's guide to #Stockholm

44 Comments

  • Wendy says:

    I would also recommend a tour of city hall. I know that sounds kind of boring, but it’s not for this particular city. Stockholm City Hall is home to the Nobel Peace Prize Dinner every year and the guides will tell you all about that event as well as show you the beautiful rooms of city hall. Like you, I also loved the Vasa, might be my favorite museum anywhere. But we also enjoyed the Swedish Museum of History. This museum is free and has several great permanent exhibit in addition to rotating ones.

  • Lizzie says:

    Great post. It actually looks like a city that just oozes cool! I have heard its super expensive but I think I need to bite the bullet and just go.

    • Amanda says:

      It is definitely NOT a cheap city (the price of food especially hurts), but I do think it’s worth visiting! I don’t know that I could have afforded weeks there, but a few days was fine!

  • Miruna Gaman says:

    I have been to Stockholm in May for three days and for some more affordable and authentic meals I would recommend the Södermalm district, just south of the city centre.

    I had some Skomakarlåda (around $22) at the Honey Honey restaurant and some deluxe meatballs served with red wine sauce, potato purée, shiitake mushrooms, bacon, spinach and lingonberries at the Meatballs for the people restaurant (around $24,5). While of course, they were not the cheapest dishes, they were below Gamla’s Stan prices and were truly tasty and authentic. Also, there is this cute little van that sells fish-based dishes – Nystekt Stromming, right next to Slussen subway station, with prices under SEK100.

    The Nordiska Museum is also worth visiting. The building itself has gorgeous architecture and there are so many interesting exhibitions on the art, culture and history of Sweden – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1345784542142901&set=a.1345783795476309.1073741835.100001341056674&type=3&theater. Some other highlights of my trip included Storkyrkan, the city’s oldest church (right from the 13th century!) and the Riddarholskyrkan, another old cathedral, with an eerie atmosphere because here you can see the marble coffins of kings and queens of Sweden!

    For bookworms, there is the Stadsbiblioteket Stockholm – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1453874198000601&set=a.1345783795476309.1073741835.100001341056674&type=3&theater.

    Finally, I would also recommend just getting lost on the streets outside Gamla Stan, in the Norrmalm or Vasastan districts. The city itself is so well taken care of and has some really pretty architecture.

    Love reading your blog posts <3

  • Kate says:

    Great post! I just moved to Stockholm and have so enjoyed exploring the city, wandering Gamla Stan and fika-ing! I haven’t visited the Vasa Museum, but it’s on my radar. Thanks for the recos!
    Kate recently posted..One Year in Leeds

  • Zerrin says:

    It is really interesting to read about the same feelings as a first-time visitor of Stockholm :). In addition to your suggession, I could mention about two attractions. The Medieval Museum was very attractive, you can see the everyday life in the medieval Stockholm. It is free. And if you have some time, it is worth to visit the Riksdag (parliament house). It was a really different experience.

  • yes, I have.loved it! especially the Gamla Stan area:)
    Tanja (the Red phone box travels) recently posted..Monthly blog overview: August 2017

  • Chris says:

    Superb post. We were in Copenhagen last month and we want to visit all Nordic countries.
    Chris recently posted..Things to do in Tokyo Japan in One Day

    • Amanda says:

      On this trip I was in Norway, the Faroe Islands, and then Stockholm and Copenhagen – definitely need to see more of Sweden and Denmark, and finally visit Finland!

  • Cadu says:

    What to say about the underground!? They are genuine art in the public space! I love it!
    I’ve never been in a nordic country, but you are encouraging me to go for it soon!
    Thank you!
    Cadu recently posted..7 fatos ingleses

    • Amanda says:

      It’s an expensive part of the world, but once you visit you understand why these countries are consistently ranked as some of the happiest in the world!

  • Okie says:

    I’d recommend eating at Aifur Pub & bar in Gamba Stan. It’s a medieval restaurant serving viking food. Everything is viking inspired even the food. And Meatballs for the people which serve a variety of meatballs as the Swedes love their meatballs.

  • Käyhmänkarstaaja says:

    I have visited this nice city quite many times and few comments:

    1. Weather. Stockholm is located somewhat south and has semi-oceanic climate, so real winters are very rare. Yes, there can be snow, but if you are interested about cross-country skiing, you need to go much more north. In february for example, the weather can be really, really nasty: +1C and eternal dark grey mist. Compare this to real continental winter with permanent snow, -10C and sunshine

    2. During summer, there can be a lot of tourists. Main streets can really crowded

  • Dominique says:

    I visited Stockholm once in January. Highly recommend, because it’s gorgeous on an icy and sunny day. I liked Skansen & Vasa museum. Nowadays, I think Ice Bars are famous everywhere but I quite liked the one in Stockholm. In winter, there’s an ice rink in the city centre which is lovely to check out at night!
    Dominique recently posted..Kuala Lumpur – A One Day Itinerary

  • Cindy says:

    I was there last month and loved it, especially fika time. Don’t miss the cardamom buns. I agree that City Hall is well worth it and the boat tours are enjoyable. It is expensive, but I found it wasn’t as $$ as Copenhagen.

  • Spot on! One of my favorite cities, and the Vasa Museum alone was worth the trip.
    Stephen Garone recently posted..San Chez Bistro: Stellar Spanish Tapas in Grand Rapids, Michigan

  • Becky says:

    Stockholm looks amazing, I’m loving all these pictures! 🙂

  • pilla says:

    Glad you liked my hometown! always fun to read reviews of what to do at home. Will have some friends coming over next week. Great idea to climb up at Stadshuset.
    pilla recently posted..Race rapport: Lidingöloppet 15K

  • Sammy says:

    I went in the winter and it looked beautiful in the snow. We took the Royal Canal boat tour which was a great way to see the city and get a feel for it, without getting too cold!

    Would love to go again in spring/summer, from looking at your photos, it looks completely different!

    Sammy | http://www.cityofsimplicity.co.uk

  • Ioanna says:

    My goodness, this hotel room is the cutest thing ever! I love the murals!
    I’ve never had a chance to visit Stockholm but I hope to go one day. I’m on a lookout for some cheap flights and a nice weekend stay (I’m from Poland so it’s perfectly doable!). I love the architecture, your photos make a good show of it. Thank you for the recommendations, I hope to make a use of them soon 🙂

    Happy travels,
    Ioanna
    A Woman Afoot

  • Yep!
    I’ve been to Stockholm and like yourself, I went for the very first time! I went in May, and it was fantastic!

    I loved the Vasa Museum, and there’s a new Viking Museum that has just opened, but sadly, we didn’t have time to go there. There’s also an open air museum called Skansen too. And you MUST go to the ABBA Museum. It’s a scream. Oh, and the Ice Bar and if you were at the Central Hotel, it couldn’t have been far away. It’s freezing cold, but so much fun, and such a novelty.

    You’ve got to take a cruise, or just take a boat anyway. We ended up using the boats as our “local” form of transport, which explains why I totally forgot to go to the metro station!

    p.s. Even though food prices are outrageous, they weren’t for meat balls, mashed potatoes and berries!
    Victoria @TheBritishBerliner recently posted..Best of Poland: Dumplings, & everything in between!

  • Ijana Loss says:

    I just went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago! I did almost all that stuff, except visiting any of those museums (bad tourist xD) and going to the top of the City Hall tower. That is such a great view, I really wish I had done that! Oh well, next time I guess 🙂 Also, for a little different experience it’s easy to take a super cheap FlixBus to nearby town Uppsala. It’s a small university town perfect for those who like getting out of the big cities. The ride is only a little over an hour, so it’s a great day trip.

  • Arianwen says:

    I went to Stockholm a few years ago when a friend of mine won a BA flight for 50 of us, along with 25 hotel rooms and free passes to all the attractions. Best way to see it, as it’s not the cheapest place!
    Arianwen recently posted..10 Reasons to Visit Western Norway

  • Stockholm is gorgeous! I see so many posts on Denmark and Norway but rarely ever any on Sweden. So thanks! I need a pic in front of that rainbow wall at the metro! But my favorite is def that Vasa ship!! By far! That is so freaking cool!!! <3
    Jillian Michelle recently posted..Kuranda Village in a Rainforest – Top 10 Things to do in Kuranda Australia

    • Amanda says:

      Yeah I guess you’re right! I had no idea this Stockholm post would be so popular, but I’m glad to see such a positive response to it! Stockholm is such a cool city.

  • Stanpoli says:

    An excellent article filled with high quality photos. I loved it! My friend is living in Stockholm, inviting me there. I am saving for some money so I will get there soon. It was good to come across to your blog post. Inspiring!

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