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

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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
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

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

Tours to check out in Stockholm

There's a lot to do in Stockholm, and if you don't have a lot of time it might be overwhelming to decide what to do. Here are some Stockholm tours that might be worth checking out:

Or, you can pick up a Stockholm Pass, which will get you entry to many of Stockholm's top museums, as well as a ticket for the hop-on hop-off bus and a boat tour. This is perfect for the independent traveler!

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


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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44 Comments on “An Introduction to Stockholm: A First-Time Visitor’s Guide

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  1. 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.

      Such good views from up there! And the Vasa Museum was so cool and different, too.

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

      Thanks! I’m really glad I finally decided to go!

    Spot on! One of my favorite cities, and the Vasa Museum alone was worth the trip.

      Agreed! I was actually bummed that I didn’t have more time to spend at the Vasa Museum – I could have been there for hours, it was so cool!

    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.

      Fika is a tradition I can 100% support!

    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!

      I can imagine it would be a lovely city to visit around the holidays!

    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

      Yes this is true! Though I actually found Copenhagen to be way more crowded than Stockholm!

    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.

      Oh yes I heard about that place when I was there! Sadly didn’t have time to check it out – but maybe next time!!

    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!

      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!

    Superb post. We were in Copenhagen last month and we want to visit all Nordic countries.

      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!

    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.

      Awesome, thanks for the additional tips!

    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!

      Ooo definitely make time to check out the Vasa Museum soon! It’s such a unique and cool museum – they’ve done a fantastic job with it!

    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 – 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 –

    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

      All really fantastic tips! I’m sure this won’t be my only trip to Stockholm, so I’ll keep these in mind for next time!

    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.

      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!

    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.

      I ran out of time to do the tour of City Hall, but I’ve heard that it’s well worth it, too!

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