Stockholm for First-Timers: Things to Do, Itinerary and Travel Tips

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Stockholm was one of the most beautiful cities I’d seen with my own eyes, with its charming architecture, rich history and minimalistic Scandinavian design. Home to so many big brands that we see and use today, the Swedes have done so much for the world of invention, and yet remain so humble about it. Let me take you through 3 days in this beautiful city where you’ll discover the best things to do in Stockholm!

Planning Tips

When to go to Stockholm

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When most people think of Sweden, they think of Scandinavia, and so they think ‘brrrr.. it’s always freezing there’. Well, Stockholm actually sees the highest temperatures of the Nordic countries, with temperatures reaching about 23°C (73°F) in summer.

Deciding on when to go depends a lot on what type of weather and activities you prefer. Their winters can get really cold, dropping as low as -15°C and daylight hours are shorter too, but when I visited in late November, the weather was actually pretty perfect! Also in winter, you can expect fewer crowds which is an added bonus so you get most sights (almost) to yourself.

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How to get to Stockholm

Most international flights arrive into Arlanda International Airport, which is located roughly 45km (28 miles) from the city center. There are a few ways you can get to the city center depending on your budget.

The quickest and most convenient way to get from the airport to the city center (T-Centralen station) is with the Arlanda Express train. The journey only takes 20 minutes and costs 220 SEK (~$26 USD) one way.

If you’re traveling in a group of 3 or more, booking a private transfer may work out to be more economical, especially if you’re lugging around heavy suitcases as we did. When we booked our accommodation via Booking.com, we were given an option to book our airport transfer which worked out to be waaay cheaper than booking a ride separately. For a one way transfer from the airport direct to our hotel (no lugging our suitcases from the train station to the hotel, yay!), we paid $73, which works out to be $24.33 per person, saving us a whopping $2 per person and the hassle of handling our suitcases ourselves! #winning

via GIPHY

Sweden isn’t actually known for being cheap, so you gotta save some pennies wherever you can, and if you’re on a budget, you can check out the bus service offered by Flygbussarna, which will take you to the Cityterminalen bus station. Buses leave every 10-15 minutes, and a one-way fare is 99 SEK. You can purchase tickets online or at a kiosk at the bus stop.

You can also take an SL Commuter train, by purchasing a single journey SL ticket which includes a passage supplement fee. The cost of a single ticket is SEK 152 per person. Trains depart twice an hour and the journey will get you into the city in about 45 minutes.

Getting around Stockholm

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Stockholm is a pretty walkable city, and most of the allure is actually just walking around and getting yourself lost. I highly recommend getting around using Stockholm’s public transport system, as it is really efficient and easy to access.

There are a few options for tickets, depending on how long you will be visiting Stockholm. You can get tickets that are valid for either 75 minutes, 24 or 72 hours, or 7* days (45 SEK, 130 SEKm, 260 SEK, 335 SEK respectively). For added convenience, you can purchase an SL Access Card, called a rekassa in Swedish, which is a rechargeable electronic smart card, similar to the Oyster card in London.

*Only available with an SL Access card.

Prices are accurate as of January 31 2019. For updated prices, check out Stockholm’s transport website.

Plus, purchasing a transport pass allows you to take advantage of visiting the longest art gallery in the world, in Stockholm’s underground system!

Or, perhaps go emission-free, and hop on a scooter and pay as you use! Just download the VOI app on your phone and find your nearest scooter! Download from the Apple Store or Google Play Store.

Or if you’d like something all-encompassing, the Stockholm Pass might be your best bet which includes a hop on, hop off bus plus entry to over 60 of Stockholm’s most popular attractions.

Currency

Sweden’s official currency is credit card. Ha-ha, I kid. No, but seriously. Most establishments in Stockholm only accept plastic, and are strictly cash-free. Our free walking tour guide told us that the only reason certain businesses still accept cash are because of the tourists! So, most touristy places may still accept cash, but it’s still best to always have a credit card you can use. Having an international prepaid debit card really saved my life because I could make transactions without any bank fees, or FX fees. I used my BigPay card throughout the trip, which saved me sooo much on exchange rates, however, this card is only available if you have a Malaysian address. For US customers, there are similar options like Revolut and Monzo.

If you’d like to get a BigPay card, use my special code ‘PCTHEATLAS’ for RM10 credit on your card!

In all seriousness, the official currency of Sweden is the Swedish Krona, or SEK.

Should I get the Stockholm Pass?

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I personally did not get the Stockholm Pass, but it is a great penny saver if you plan to visit a few museums and attractions in Stockholm. This is an example itinerary with entry fees for attractions without the Stockholm Pass.

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The passes are available in 1, 2, 3 and 5 days (669 SEK, 929 SEK, 1129 SEK and 1479 SEK respectively). So you should decide which activities interest you and then calculate if this would work out to be worth it for you. I’m not much of a museum person which is why I skipped on the pass. But if you love your museums, then I would 100% recommend the Stockholm Pass! You’ll save so much with the pass.

You can also add on a travel card which allows access to Stockholm’s transport system for the same prices if you were to purchase them from SL, so you just need a single card for everything in Stockholm. Click here to get your Stockholm Pass!

Things to do in Stockholm

Go on a Free Walking Tour

One of my favorite things to do when I first arrive in a city is to jump on a free walking tour, and the city tour was so eye-opening. We learned so much about the history of the city in the most entertaining way, and learned about the many brands and companies that were born in Stockholm, where “Stockholm Syndrome” was born, some juicy royal scandals, and the truth about the Nobel Prize! Because Stockholm is made up of a few small islands, the tours can only cover one island at a time. I personally took the City Tour, and absolutely loved it. If you have more time, I’d definitely recommend the Old Town Tour and Södermalm Tour as well.

Get lost in Gamla Stan

Gamlan Stan is Stockholm’s old town and is great for just getting lost in its winding cobbled streets.

Gamla Stan Stockholm

Here are some things to look out for in Gamla Stan:

Stortorget Square

 

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These iconic colorful buildings are probably what you’d see on postcards of Stockholm, and I was most excited to see them with my own eyes, but unfortunately, they were under refurbishment while I was visiting so they were all hoarded up! BOO.

Walk through Stockholm’s narrowest street

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With a width of just a mere 90 centimeters (35 in), this makes Mårten Trotzigs gränd the narrowest alley in Stockholm. Try walking up and down this alley, and it gets more fun when there’s two-way traffic! Get ready to literally rub shoulders with some strangers.

Look for the smallest statue in Stockholm

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In the spirit of looking for the narrowest alley, keep up your hunt for the smallest statue in Stockholm. Dubbed as the “little boy who looks at the moon”, this statue comes in at only – gasp! – 15cm (5.9in)! This little cutie is tucked away in a little courtyard near the Royal Palace which can be quite hard to find, but just look for “Järnpojke” in Goole Maps. It’s a “secret” tourist attraction since so few tourist guides mention it, so if you like weird, off-beat stuff like me, you’ll probably like this!

Live like a King at the Royal Palace (or at least pretend)

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With over 600 rooms, Stockholm’s Royal Palace is one of Europe’s largest palaces! It comes highly recommended if you’re curious about how the royalties live. Must be so exhausting choosing from 600 rooms to sleep in every night, something us common folk never have to struggle with. Poor royals. I did not enter the palace itself, but walking around it was amazing! There is also the changing of guards that you can watch for free at certain times in the day. Also, the palace sits right next to the water which makes it such a great evening activity. Entry to the Royal Palace is included in the Stockholm Pass. 

Sit by the waterfront and admire the sunset

Right by the Royal Palace, take some time to soak in that beautiful sunset. It’s one you won’t forget!

Walk through Sweden’s Parliament both day and night

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If you’re walking between Stockholm’s city center and Gamla Stan, you’ll likely be passing through Sweden’s Parliament. And you won’t miss it because its grandeur will surely catch your eye. Take a stroll in the day, and do it again at night because you get two totally different feels.

Blend in with the hipsters at Södermalm

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Södermalm was probably my favorite neighborhood of all. There’s a really hip and trendy vibe here, so it’s no wonder it was voted as “Europe’s coolest neighborhood” by Vogue. There are tons of amazing cafes and restaurants here, so if you’re a foodie, this is your haven.

Embrace Fika

Coffee culture is paramount in Sweden that they even have their own name for it, Fika, which can be translated to “a coffee and cake break”. But it’s so engrained in their culture and means much more than just that. It’s a culture of making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee and cake. So, you’ll often see locals sitting in coffee shops in a group of friends at all times of the day. Rarely will you see locals popping in for a takeaway because to the Swedes, coffee is all about sharing the experience. These are some of my favorite places that I’ve tried:

Drop Coffee

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This will probably be the most popular cafe when you search for the best coffee in Stockholm. Order a cuppa and enjoy it. Slowly.

Cafe & Bageri Pascal

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The pastries here looked absolutely yum, but we were a little too stuffed from lunch to try any! 🙁

More coffee places to try: Fikabaren; Johan & Nyström

Urban Deli Nytorget

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Who doesn’t love a good deli? I loved that you can shop for fresh food here, and there’s a café at the back where you can get some seriously delicious food.

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Meatballs for the People

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If like me, my only experience of Swedish meatballs was at IKEA, then prepare to try the real deal. Meatballs for the People are serious about their meatballs, and they have meatballs in different types of meats depending on your preference.

Fotografiska

If you’re into photography, you should definitely visit this photography museum, and it’s one of the top museums in Stockholm. I didn’t get to visit, but entry is included in the Stockholm Pass.

Hop on a boat for a different perspective

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The Stockholm archipelago consists of 30,000 islands (!!!), and Stockholm’s city itself sits on one of 14 islands! So you’ll definitely want to at least get out on the water and see the city in a unique way. There are so many boat tours to the many islands included in the Stockholm Pass so you’ll be spoilt for choice. I personally did the Ocean Bus which is an amphibious bus that goes from land to sea! It was a great way to see the city in just 1.5 hours, not to mention how fun it was sitting in the bus while it plunged into the water!

Visit the World’s Longest Art Gallery, underground!

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Did you know that the World’s Longest Art Gallery at 110km lies in Stockholm’s Subway System? This was one of the funnest things I did in Stockholm, and is so easy to do! I absolutely loved being surprised by all the colorful murals in the stations.

I wrote a guide on how to do this tour all by yourself in under 75 minutes! Read more: The Ultimate Self-Guided Tour of Stockholm Subway Art

Go museum-hopping on Djurgården

If you’re a museum geek, you’ll love Djurgården. Here you will find the open-air musem, Skansen; a viking musem with an actual viking ship from the 17th Century in the Vasa Museum; and a musem dedicated to one of Sweden’s top exports, ABBA in the ABBA Museum! Entry to these museums are included in the Stockholm Pass except for the ABBA Museum, but you get a discount with the pass!

Itinerary

Now that we know the highlights in Stockholm, you can pick and choose which sights interest you and which don’t. Here’s a rough itinerary if you have about 3 days in Stockholm.

Day 1

  • Do the free walking tour at 10am
  • Walk around Gamla Stan
  • Visit the Royal Palace

Day 2

  • Djurgården, Island Museum – pick museums that interest you
  • Boat tour

Day 3

  • Södermalm
  • Subway Art Tour

Where to stay in Stockholm

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Since Stockholm consists of a group of islands, it might be confusing deciding which island is best for you. I’ve labeled the islands based on my general impression of them. I personally stayed in Norrmalm, and absolutely loved the neighborhood. You have so much more options for food (that aren’t touristy), and it’s close to the shopping streets.

If you really want to be close to the main attractions, you can consider staying in Gamla Stan, but of course most food options are geared towards tourists, so prices may be a little higher.

Södermalm is a great option if you want somewhere quieter and more local. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by super trendy coffee shops and restaurants.

During our stay in Stockholm, we stayed at Sveavagen Apartments in Norrmalm. We absolutely loved the location as it was close to restaurants, supermarkets and was just a 2-minute walk to the train station. They have different apartment sizes based on your group size. The apartment was really clean and nicely decorated. We usually like staying in apartments as we get more space and extra facilities like a living room and kitchen. Alternatively, you can check out Airbnb (get $30 off your first stay following this link) for more amazing apartments.

Stockholm is an expensive city, so be sure to book your accommodations early before prices rise! Book now. 



Booking.com


So have I managed to convince you on how insanely beautiful Stockholm is? What are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments below! Or if you know of more hidden gems in Stockholm, hit me up in the comments too!


Covers: Stockholm, Uppsala, Central Sweden, Goteborg, Southwest Sweden, Malmo, South Sweden, Southeast Sweden, Gotland, Ostersund, the Bothnian Coast, Lappland, the Far North and more

Further reading: Lonely Planet Sweden Travel Guide is an up-to-date guide on what to see and skip, and the hidden secrets Sweden holds. It features color maps and images, highlights and itineraries, insider tips, essential info, honest reviews and cultural insights.


Visiting Stockholm Checklist

⇢ Compare flight prices to Stockholm
⇢ Buy your Stockholm Passes for free entry to over 60 attractions
⇢ Compare accommodation options and prices on Booking.com or Airbnb
⇢ Book tours in advance on GetYourGuide | Viator
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
⇢ Don’t leave home without a power bank!


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4 Comments

  1. I’m currently on plane bound for Stockholm. Your blog really helps, it fits many of my interest in exploring the city. Thank you, Stephanie.

  2. Visiting Stockholm is on my bucketlist. I hope to visit Stockholm this year! I read this article and I am so exciting that I see my self walking in the streets of Stockholm.
    When I have questions for you. How can I do this?
    Thx for sharing. Great to read this all!
    Greetings from The Netherlands –

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