The city of Stockholm, Sweden is spread across fourteen islands in the Baltic Sea. These islands are connected by a whopping 57 bridges, inspiring Stockholm’s nickname, the “Venice of the North.” Boats, ferries, and trams make island hopping a breeze, so it’s easy to explore everything there is to do in Stockholm. Here are some of the sights you won’t want to miss.
Skansen, a vast open-air ethnographic museum and zoo, is my favorite Stockholm attraction. Founded in 1891, Skansen uses actual historical buildings and costumed performers to recreate centuries of rural Swedish life. I love these types of museums because they provide a real taste of a place’s culture and its development over time. Plus, this one has animals! The Skansen zoo showcases Scandinavian species such as moose, elk, bears, and wolverines, alongside more exotic breeds. Fun fact: European bison were brought back from near-extinction thanks in part to a herd living in Skansen.
Swedes may be known for their prowess on the water, but this wasn’t always the case. In 1625, the Swedish king and a Dutch master shipbuilder set out to forge Vasa, the most powerful warship in the Baltic. Three years later, and a mere 1,300 meters from shore, Vasa toppled over and sank to the bottom of the sea. There it remained until the 1950s when the colossal wreck was discovered and eventually raised. 98% of the original vessel, including masts and sails, remains frozen in time. Sweden’s greatest boondoggle has given the world its only preserved 17th century ship. It is on display at the Vasa Museum along with the the bones and personal effects of some of the men and women who perished in the disaster. The whole thing is tragically fascinating.
The Vasa Museum and Skansen are both located on Djurgarden island. Another big draw on Djurgarden is the ABBA Museum, which is dedicated to the famous Swedish pop group. For some reason I decided to skip this fun-sounding museum and have regretted it ever since.
The Royal Palace of Stockholm is the official residence of the King of Sweden and a sumptuous setting for state functions. It is also a major tourist attraction, drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tickets include entrance to the Royal Apartments and the Treasury, where the crown jewels are on well-guarded display. I watched the Changing of the Guards ceremony before heading inside the palace; to be honest, it was a little anticlimactic. I wish I’d spent those precious extra minutes in the gorgeously appointed rooms.
The Royal Palace dominates one corner of Stockholm’s picturesque Gamla Stan, or Old Town. The colorful buildings have been wonderfully well preserved, with many dating to the 13th century. Some of the cobbled lanes are so narrow that you can touch the houses on either side. Souvenir shops and restaurants line the main streets and squares, though quiet nooks can be found at every turn. You’ll definitely want to linger here!
If you have time, I highly recommend taking the ferry to Drottningholm Palace, a UNESCO-listed residence of the Swedish royal family. Although built in the 1660s, the palace’s most notable feature is the stunning 18th century French-inspired interior. I spent half a day wandering through the ornately furnished rooms and marveling at the fine details. Drottningholm is located on Lovon island and the journey takes one hour each way. Combination tickets that include the boat ride and entrance to the palace are available.
The Drottningholm Palace ferry departs from the pier next to Stockholm City Hall, which is worth visiting in its own right. The red brick building was erected in 1923 and has hosted the Nobel Prize Banquet since 1930. After dining in the Blue Hall, banquet guests ascend the stairs to dance the night away in the showstopping Golden Hall. Our tour guide demonstrated how the staircase was especially designed to accommodate women’s ball gowns and high heels. Talk about making a grand entrance!
If you want to cover a lot of ground – er, sea – an “Under the Bridges of Stockholm” boat tour is a good option. We cruised under 15 of Stockholm’s bridges and through one of the locks that regulates the surrounding water level. The two hour-and-15-minute journey was accompanied with highly informative factoids delivered via personal headsets, and I thought it was worth the ticket price. Sit on the right side of the boat for the best view, and be sure to bundle up as the air blowing through the windows can be quite chilly – even in July!
Tell me: What do YOU think are the best things to do in Stockholm?
For my Stockholm restaurant recommendations, please click here.