The Stockholm Guide
First settled in the Stone Age, Stockholm wears its ancient history well, deftly blending it with all the innovations of a modern city, from New Nordic cuisine to one of the most exquisite hotels, ever. Sprawling over fourteen islands in the Scandinavian archipelago—it sits where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea, making it a strategic harbor back in the day—it’s actually shockingly easy to navigate, whether by train, boat, car, or bike. There are ample opportunities to make use of all modes, though in warm months, we prefer getting around by bike, as there’s a city rental program with plenty of drop racks (you can buy cards at all 7-11’s). If you hail cabs, keep in mind that there is no standard fare, so check the car’s window before hopping in.
While Stockholm is the perfect destination for aimless wandering, it is dotted with must-sees to punctuate the days, including Moderna Museet, the Vasa Museum, Rosendals Garden, and a world famous amusement park and ABBA museum if so inclined.
FotografiskaStadsgårdshamnen 22, Södermalm | +46.850.900.500
Fotografiska is one of those rare museums that offers a permanent collection, while also doing an amazing job of nurturing local creatives with a full calendar of exhibits, lectures, photography courses, and workshops. Housed in a 1906 Art Nouveau building that was once the city's customs house, the original brick exterior of the structure was kept intact while the interior has undergone major renovations. The museum hosts four major photography-focused exhibits a year (previous ones have included talents like Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle, and an Irving Penn retrospective), and around 20 smaller ones celebrating new talent. The rooftop café and bar fills up in the summer months, which isn't surprising given the sweeping views of the lake and the city.
Moderna MuseetExercisplan 4, Skeppsholmen | +46.852.023.500
Sprawled out on tranquil Skeppsholmen Island, this lantern-lit gallery (and the scene of a major '90s art heist that saw the armed robbery of Rembrandt and Renoir masterpieces with the criminals escaping by boat), is Sweden’s preeminent modern art museum. The permanent collection houses notable works from Sweden’s own surrealist movement, alongside masterpieces by Dali, Matisse, and Picasso. The Rafael Moneo-designed building is flooded with natural light, and the museum's fourth-floor restaurant serves up a full Scandinavian lunch buffet (pickled fish, cured ham, and seasonal vegetables), with stellar views of the water. Pop into Restaurant Hjerta for a seafood lunch on the docks after a few hours spent exploring the museum. Note that the architecture museum lives within this museum.
Vasa MuseumGalärvarvsvägen 14, Djurgården | +46.851.954.870
The Vasa Museum is without exception the most unique in Stockholm, and maybe the world, making it the perfect cultural activity (kids love it too). The entire museum is dedicated to a warship that sank in the harbor on her maiden voyage in 1628. The wreck lay on the ocean floor for over three hundred years before an intrepid scientist—who had heard the tale of its sinking—finally located its position in 1961. Because the water is brackish, the boat was miraculously preserved, making it the only ship of its kind in the world today. The museum—which was constructed around the boat, which is 95% original—takes you through the entire narrative of the doomed vessel, from the initial design and construction to the sinking and subsequent excavation (make sure to catch the short and fascinating film).
SkogskyrkogårdenSockenvägen 492, Enskededalen | +46.085.083.173.0
A Unesco World Heritage site, this non-denominational cemetery, designed by Swedish architects Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, is (irrespective of your beliefs) incredibly emotive. Spend an afternoon walking through the grounds and notice how the cemetery's architects have used the natural landscape to create different perspectival effects depending on what section you're in. Especially moving is The Children's Garden, surrounded by stunted trees intended to represent the young lives lost. Skogskyrkogården translates to The Woodland Cemetery, and aside from the few chapels and sculptures that dot the grounds, the landscape is dominated by huge towering pine trees (that weirdly seem to all be the same height). Photo credit to Susanne Hallmann.
The Royal PalaceSlottsbacken 1, Gamla Stan | +46.840.260.00
While the Swedish royal family no longer reside in this six-hundred-room palace on the lake (they now live in Drottningholm Palace just outside the city), the Royal Palace still brings plenty of drama and splendor. It is the polar opposite of the typically restrained Scandinavian aesthetic; here, the architecture and lavishly decorated 18th-century reception rooms and banquet halls are Italian Baroque through and through, which means plenty of gold and ornate stucco details. Watch the changing of the guard in the morning and explore the palace’s five museums detailing all aspects of Swedish royal life—past and present—from costumes, armor, and coronation carriages to jewelry and antique thrones.
DjurgårdenDjurgården, Stockholm | +46.086.677.701
Djurgården is one of the fourteen islands that comprise the city of Stockholm and is the former Royal Game Park (the grounds were teeming with wild deer, elk, and reindeer until the 18th century). Packed with museums and monuments (like the must-see Vasa Museum), this is the perfect place to walk off jet lag, or spend a few hours on bike or foot exploring the trails along the water's edge. There are spots for ice cream and coffee throughout (including a café housed in miniature castle by the park's entrance), though do not miss lunch at Rosendals Trädgard, which sits in a greenhouse smack in the middle of the park's organic garden. (You can pick your own produce, too.) While there are tables and chairs scattered throughout, locals typically take their food picnic-style out on the lawns.
GoBoatKajplats 19, Strandvagen, Östermalm | +46.406.117.488
The Swedes are particularly skilled at giving just about everything, from their buildings to their food, a sustainability edge. GoBoat is the city's environmentally focused picnic boat company, developed to enable tourists and locals to take full advantage of the water that surrounds and divides Stockholm (really, fourteen separate islands connected by bridges). The family-sized navy motor boats themselves are made of recycled plastic, run on solar-powered batteries, and have sturdy wooden tables and benches built right in. Pack up a picnic (shop for the best sandwiches and fixings at Ostermalms Saluhall), choose your route, and enjoy lunch with a side of some of the best views this part of the world has to offer—the perfect activity whether you're traveling with the kiddos or not.
Stockholm Subway Art
Stockholm's subway system is home to sixty-eight miles of painted and embellished tunnels—essentially, it's the world's longest art exhibit. This project, which began in the '50s, is a true embodiment of the very Scandinavian belief that even the most mundane, functional activities (like commuting) can be made more enjoyable with beautiful design—living art that can be experienced by everyone in the city, every day. Many of the murals have social and political themes—some of the best stations to visit are Solna Centrum (the mural is dedicated to deforestation and rural depopulation) and Kungsträdgården (nicknamed The Christmas Station due to the festive red-and-green color scheme). Simply purchase a subway ticket and either map out a route or ride aimlessly through the tunnels to take it all in.
ArtipelagArtipelagstigen 1, Archipelago | +46.857.013.000
BabyBjörn founder Björn Jakobson and his wife Lillemor—both lifelong art lovers—felt a deep connection to the wooded islands that dot Stockholm's archipelago and decided to merge their two loves with Artipelag: an international art venue in the woods on Värmdö Island. A mere twenty minutes from Stockholm city center, it's hard to tell where the ultra-modern wood-and-glass building ends and the pine-tree laden landscape begins. The exhibitions often have a nature-based theme (currently duo Bigert and Bergström's Eye of the Storm exhibit which examines our impact on climate change), there are activity hubs for kids (like nature-themed treasure hunts all over the island), and two restaurants that overlook the water (the fine dining restaurant serves vegetables grown on the museum's rooftop and the more casual Båden cafe is perfect for a coffee and pastry). Skip the car rental and take the ferry, it's too beautiful not to.
StadshusetHantverkargatan 1, Kungsholmen | +46.850.829.058
Stockholm's grand city hall is considered the Swedish capital's most iconic building. This sentiment is understandable given that eight million red bricks were used in its construction, which took a whopping twelve years (1911-1923). The tower feature is close to 350 feet high and offers incredible panoramic views of the city; for the vertigo-prone, the lower levels of the building, decorated with beautiful artworks by Swedish artists, do not disappoint. One of several ceremonial halls and political assembly rooms, The Golden Hall (also home of the annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet), is this building's most beautiful space, with walls covered in mosaic murals by artist Einar Forseth depicting the city's best-loved landmarks.
Stromma Boat CruiseSvensksundsvägen 17, Skeppsholmen | +46.812.004000
Stromma has an unrivaled selection of classic, turn-of-the-century boats, perfect for a day spent gliding through Stockholm's archipelago. With close to thirty-four thousands islands—some small scraps of rock, some large, uninhabited, densely forested landmasses, and some like mini cities with hotels and summer homes—there's plenty of visual variety to keep you entertained whether you choose to sail for a few hours, or go on a full-day excursion. Stromma's cruisers (which are also available for private hire should you wish to do a totally custom tour), can fit numbers as low as ninety or as high as three hundred. The boats themselves date from the early 20th century, with each one offering the option for a formal sit-down luncheon or dinner on board.