Stockholm is a hotbed of innovation, has some of the world’s happiest citizens, and it’s a picturesque city of canals and islands. So what’s not to like? In winter, plenty: think 18 hours of darkness and many of those canals frozen. You could go for weeks without feeling sun on your face.
The best time to visit Stockholm is in the summer, when the city is glorious and gorgeous. That’s when I was there two years ago and snapped the city shots you see here. If I lived in Europe instead of the USA I’d be making plans to return in June or July because it’s an easy hop from most of the continent. It can be a little pricey, but not Norway nosebleed expensive, and there are a lot of ways to keep costs down here.
Summer Sunshine in Scandinavia
A Stockholm city break is almost sure to be festive and bright. In late June, the sun doesn’t set until 10:30 p.m., so it’s not unusual to see people picnicking and enjoying outdoor cafes into the evening. If you’re out enjoying the local nightlife you may catch sunrise on the way home: the sky lights back up again at 3:30 a.m. This is a place where you don’t have to cram your sightseeing into the middle of the day. If you get a local Stockholm Pass you really have time to get your money’s worth without running yourself ragged.
This is a perfect city for a summer weekend break because you can really hit the ground running. Airport trains come into a city center built for walking, as do ferries from other countries. The city government offers two free city walking tours that give an overview over the course of an hour and a half. A grand bridge leads to the oldest section, Gamla Stan, established in 1252. You can walk from there to Strandvägen past boat marinas and grand buildings or take a canal tour to see it all from the water. It’s easy to join the locals and get around on two wheels as well. This progressive city is full of well-designed bike lanes and there are rental kiosks dotted around the city.
Ferries and Festivals
Since this is a city of 14 islands, the best way to get a feel for the region is by ferry. Multiple island-hopping adventures leave from the main downtown port area. Or venture out further to the main island of Vaxholm, fortified since the 1500s to watch for (and fire upon) invaders.
In a place where winter days are short and summer ones long, festivals are happening every week in the summer and many of them are free. There’s a good chance of catching one on almost any Stockholm city break, so check the local tourism board listings and city sites ahead of time to prepare. From June through August, there are festivals dedicated to music, food, beer, gay pride, theater, street performers, and the summer solstice, to name just a few.
Museums and Malaren
If you want to head inside for a while, you’ve got 16 free museums to choose from in the city, including Skokloster Castle–the biggest palace in the country–and the Swedish History Museum. Beyond the free options, you can visit unique local attractions like ABBA The Museum or The Vasa Museum housing an ill-fated huge wooden ship. (Just remember that most museums are closed on Mondays.)
For a more local experience on a warm and sunny day, head to Lake Mälaren. This is Sweden’s largest lake and it empties into the Baltic Sea at Stockholm. It’s a popular place for swimming, picnicking, and just spending the day enjoying a long summer day outside the urban core. There are nature trails and Viking settlements to explore as well. Thanks to Sweden’s right of public access, you won’t find fences or “No Trespassing” signs in any natural area.
The capital city of the country that gave us Skype and Spotify is one of the world’s most connected. Fast Wi-Fi is a given almost everywhere and mobile 4G coverage is excellent. With this comes temptation, however. You may decide to extend your trip and work from a waterfront cafe here instead.
The official Stockholm Tourism site is a wealth of information and they don’t shy away from telling you how to find a bargain during your weekend holiday. They’ve got listings of freebies around town and tips on getting around by foot or by metro. There are plenty of reasonably priced take-out food places around and plenty of grocery stores for doing your own catering for less. Many of the hotels include breakfast: Sweden is the origin of the word smorgasbord after all.
If you’re really broke this may not be the best destination, but you could look for a Couchsurfing buddy to bunk down with and that would help. Stockholm vacation rental units aren’t as expensive as you would probably expect unless it’s a really luxe building.
Otherwise, there are hostels around and the hotel prices aren’t as rough as I expected before I went there. When speaking at a travel bloggers conference I stayed in a Clarion Hotel, which normally isn’t all that nice in the USA, but it was like a hip boutique hotel there. Best Western actually has 17 hotels in the area for €100 or less double on June weekends. Radisson has a big presence also. To get an overview of other options, check here: