Sweden’s capital is a fantastic destination for a weekend break, as its 14 islands are a mass of interesting buildings, history, gardens, culture and food. This means there’s something to suit every taste and this, combined with the fact that Stockholm is easily navigable, will see you rushing to book flights. A weekend is just long enough to feel like you’ve had a good break from home, but you can’t expect to see everything in 48 hours, so you need to prioritise.
Read on to find out what you can realistically do in this timeframe and still come home feeling relaxed.
Day one – soak up the atmosphere in Gamla Stan
If there’s one area of Stockholm you’ll want to explore fully then that’s Gamla Stan. This is the old town area of the city and is packed full of attractions, as well as being bursting with atmospheric charm. Its winding cobblestone streets entice you in, as you navigate it on foot, offering up tempting cafes, bars and restaurants just when you feel it would be good to stop for a breather.
Make your way to Helgeandsholmen island via the Riksbron Bridge, which connects it to Norrmalm to the north. This 44-metre long gently arched bridge will bring you to Parliament House, which is a great introduction to the architecture of Stockholm. It was constructed between 1897 and 1905 from plans drawn up by Aron Johansson and reflects the grandeur and sophistication of the age.
It’s free to have a look around inside and there are regular tours throughout the day with English-speaking guides. You can even attend a session of parliament, but if you don’t speak Swedish it is unlikely you’ll understand what’s going on. It’s not difficult to appreciate the beauty of the building and the stunning grounds it is situated in, taking up a large proportion of the Helgeandsholmen island.
Cross over another bridge to the island of Stadsholmen and you’ll find yourself in Mynttorget, a public square with a number of historic buildings. You are now officially in Gamla Stan and Mynttorget has always been an important location due to its proximity to parliament, the mint and Royal Palace, as well as marking the northern gate to the city.
From here, the Vasterlanggatan snakes its way through the town and stretches for nearly the entire length of the island. It’s a really useful thoroughfare when it comes to finding your way around the narrow streets of Gamla Stan, as if you get back to Vasterlanggatan you will always be able to work out where you are. This gives you the freedom to get lost without worrying, which is one of the true pleasures of exploring this part of Stockholm.
One of the places that you may find yourself in is Brantingtorget and is worth seeking out, as it’s among the most picturesque squares in the whole of Stockholm. It was designed with perfect proportions by Artur von Schmalensee in the wake of World War II. The dramatic contrast between winding your way through the narrow streets and stepping out into the huge expanse of Brantingtorget is one of those breath-taking moments you won’t forget. The elegant building surrounding it is the Kanslihusannexet, or Annex of the Chancellery, and was designed by the same architect as the square.
Another excursion off the Vasterlanggatan is the Nobel Museum, which is easily identified from its imposing façade and the fountain dating back to the 18th century. Quench your thirst and refill your water bottle here, as it’s perfectly safe to drink. Step inside to find out all about the famous Nobel Prize, the laureates who have won it over the years since 1901 and of course its founder, Alfred Nobel. The exhibits are fascinating and there are guided tours in English throughout the day. The biggest thrill, however, comes from looking underneath the chairs in the bistro for the signatures of visiting laureates.
After checking out the high-brow graffiti, it’s worth staying at Bistro Nobel for lunch, as it offers pretty good value for money. There’s a set menu each day, which is a great way to refuel for the rest of your sightseeing if you are particularly hungry. Otherwise pick and choose what you fancy. Be sure to finish it off with Nobel Ice Cream – a dish created specifically to be served at the Nobel Prize Banquets and eaten by those who received the awards between 1976 and 1998. There’s nowhere else in the world that serves it, so grab the opportunity with both hands.
Once you have satisfied your appetite, spend the afternoon finding more of Gamla Stan’s enchanting sights. These include Marten Trotzigs Grand, which at a width of just 89 centimetres is the narrowest alley in the neighbourhood; statues of musician Evert Taube and St George and the dragon; and the obelisk at the centre of all of the street numbers for the entirety of Stockholm. Meander your way back towards the north of Stadsholmen island to the Royal Palace.
Still the official residence of the King of Sweden, it has no fewer than 600 rooms, making it one of the biggest palaces in Europe. Many of these are open to the public and highlights include the Hall of State, featuring Queen Kristina’s silver throne, and the Halls of the Orders of Chivalry. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time at the palace, as there are also five museums to investigate. Everything from Gustav III’s antiquities to coronation carriages are on display.
From the palace, there are a number of great eateries less than five minutes’ walk away. Pubologi is a fantastic option for foodies, as its fusion of European and American elements are well blended with just the right amount of fine dining and it’s open until 11pm Monday to Saturday, so perfect if you like to eat late. For something a little more exclusive, opt for Omakase Kottslojd. It has a capacity of just 15 and is only open four days a week, but definitely worth it if you can get a reservation. The emphasis is on meat and there’s a Japanese influence to the menu at the Djuret restaurant family’s latest venture.
Day two – get cultured in the green surroundings of Djurgarden
On your second day in Stockholm it’s time to get acquainted with a different part of the city and we fully recommend Djurgarden. This is for a number of reasons, but especially because there is a wide selection of attractions on the island. They are set in green wonderful surroundings, making walking among them particularly pleasant and very different to your average capital city. There are many ways to get to Djurgarden, depending on where you are based in Stockholm, with ferries departing from Gamla Stan and trams or buses taking passengers from the likes of Norrmalmstorg. If you are on foot, then you will be making the crossing via the Djurgardsbron Bridge from Strandvagen.
Your first choice once you are on the island is whether to go to the Vasa Museum or Skansen first. The former option is the maritime museum and its main attraction is a 17th century ship. What makes it remarkable is that it is the only vessel from the period ever to have been salvaged practically intact, after it sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628. The Vasa is a 64-gun warship and is a pretty impressive sight. Vying for your attention is Skansen, an open-air museum that allows you to walk through 500 years of Swedish history. Both of these attractions have the ability to hold your attention and could end up taking up a large proportion of your day.
Upon leaving Skansen, walk towards the coast and you’ll see a very unusual building after about ten minutes. It is in fact the Systrarna Helin Voltaire café, which sells wonderful homemade cakes and is the perfect place to refresh with a seat in the garden after taking in the exhibits at either museum. Alternatively, you could carry on with your walk until you reach Blockhusudden, which has views of the water and world-class Italian ice cream to beat at the Blockhusporten café. This should hold you until lunchtime, which is well worth the wait if you head to Lisapaudden in the Biskoppsudden Marina to the south of the island via a picturesque walk. Expect delicious fresh fish served on the veranda in stunning surroundings.
Time to carry on with your exploration of Djurgarden as you hug the coast until you get to Waldemarsudde. This incredible art museum was once the home of Prince Eugen, who was at one point fourth in line to the throne. His interests were much more focused on the arts than any idea of ruling, however, and as well as painting, he collected a lot of works by other artists. Upon his death in 1947, his residence was given to the state and the collection he amassed put on display. There are many early 20th century Nordic pieces to see, as well as temporary exhibitions and a flower and sculpture garden.
Walking a little bit further will take you to Grona Lund, which is an attraction with an entirely different vibe. The theme park has more than 30 rides to enjoy, with Insane, Twister and Kvasten offering plenty of thrills. Finish off your day and your Stockholm trip with a wonderful plate of Swedish meatballs at Ulla Winbladh. This cosy inn has been inspired by an 18th century ballad and really offers a sense of place. It’s located not far from Skansen, completing your circuit of the island.
Read here about our other exciting new routes for 2017!