Stockholm may just be the most beautiful city in the world to reach by water. The journey begins nearly 50 miles east, at the tip of a beautiful archipelago comprised of 30,000 islands, islets and rocks. Many of the islands are uninhabited, rocky outcrops that are homes only to birds. Other islands are dotted with quaint red-and-white summer cottages.
If you are in Stockholm for a few days, you surely will want to venture out to the archipelago on ships that depart from the city center. It’s about a two-hour journey to Sandhamn, a small village where you can take lunch at Sandhamns Vardshus before setting out on kayaks for smaller, uninhabited islands just a few miles away. Return to relax in the sauna before boarding the ship back to Stockholm. The experience is quintessentially Swedish and one that should not be missed.
Most ships transit the archipelago to reach Stockholm’s city center. Some, however, dock at Nynashamn, about an hour’s drive from Stockholm’s city center. If your ship docks at the city center (or if you’re staying pre- or post-cruise), make your way to the Grand Hotel, a 30-minute easy walk from the terminal. Along the way, stop at the medieval old town, Gamla Stan, with its charming cobblestone streets, museums, shops and restaurants, Here at Gamla Stan, you’re standing on one of 14 islands that make up this city that appears to be floating on water. Locks at Gamla Stan separate Lake Malaren (60 miles long) from the Baltic Sea.
Spend a few hours in and around the old town. In the vicinity is the Nobel Museum (Stockholm is home to the Nobel Prize), the Cathedral of Stockholm, which features Scandinavia’s largest medieval monument, St. George and the Dragon, a wooden sculpture made of elk antlers and oak carved in 1489; and the Royal Palace (changing of the guard is at noon).
Stop for lunch al fresco at Martin Trotzig at Vasterlanggatan 79 in Gamla Stan or any of the many fine restaurants (try a glass of Swedish beer, Pripps), then head to the quay in front of the Grand Hotel to hop a canal cruise. A selection of cruises are offered ranging from one hour to nearly three hours.
Upon your return, continue to walk a few streets behind the Grand Hotel for about 15 minutes along Strandvagen, to the Vasa Museum, which houses a warship (the actual ship, not a model) that in 1628 sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage and was brought up from the depths in 1961. Nothing can prepare you for the scale of what you will see in the city’s most popular museum, built in 1990. Plan to spend at least two hours exploring all six floors of the exhibit.
The Vasa Museum is situated in Djurgarden, once a Royal deer park that is now home to Ekoparken, the world’s first city national park. Rent three-speed bikes at Skepp & Hoj (near the bridge that you crossed to get to the Vasa Museum) and pedal through the park.
Spend at least a couple of hours to walk through five centuries of Swedish history at Skansen, then cross the street to the amusement park known as Grona Lunds Tivoli. From just outside the amusement park, take the ferry to Slussen to appreciate Stockholm from the water and to arrive back at Gamla Stan.
Head over to City Hall, the beautiful brick building where Nobel festivities are presented each December. Of particular interest is the Golden Room and its mosaic, made of 18.5 million gold leaves. Be sure to climb the tower for spectacular city views from more than 300 feet above the ground. You can see Gamla Stan down below. It appears in the shape of a heart.
At Stadshusbron by the City Hall, board the steam-powered SS Drottningholm, built in 1909, for a voyage through Lake Malaren to Drottningholm Palace, an hour’s chug away. The palace, where building began in 1662, has been home to the Swedish Royal Family since 1981.
When you return, head to the Ice Bar, located in the Nordic Sea Hotel, near Central Station. The price of admission includes use of capes, mitts and slippers to keep you warm inside the below-freezing bar and an Absolut cocktail (or lingonberry juice) served in glasses made from ice. The Ice Bar and nearly all in it is made from 20 tons of ice from Northern Sweden’s Torne River. If you want to take home a souvenir, purchase ice glasses, packed in a special box to keep them from melting. You’ll have to rush home, though. The gifts are guaranteed for only 24 hours.
Be sure to pick up a Stockholm Card, which gives you free admission to museums (Stockholm boasts the world’s highest concentration of museums) and attractions, free sightseeing by boat, and free transportation on the subway, local buses and trains.
It’s a good thing that Stockholm enjoys 20 hours of sunlight during summers. With so much to do and see, you’re going to need it.