Cruise to Stockholm Guide: What to See in Less Than a Day

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Cruises are a popular and accessible way of getting out of the city, breaking the routine, and not only experience new adventures on the sea but also discover new places. Moreover, what place could be better to discover by boat then the ‘Venice of the North?’

In this guide, I collected a number of my favourite places that you can visit during your short stay to get to know the Swedish capital and its secrets. If you arrive in Stockholm by a Viking Line or a Birka Cruise on the northern side of the Södermalm Island, this is the resource to guide your wanderings.

Only metres from the port where you get off the boat, you are presented with a wonderful opportunity to admire the landscape of Stockholm from the heights of Stadsgården on the edge of the Södermalm island. You can climb the tallest staircase in town which you will find near the Museum of Photography (Fotografiska) and continue west following the long street on top of the hill.

From there, it does not take more than a few minutes to reach the 17th-century Katarina Church. The story of this place is rather impressive not only because the church was revolutionary at the time thanks to its central-plan architecture, but it has also survived two catastrophic fires. To be fair, it was almost completely destroyed in both these fires, so it might be more accurate to say that it has been rebuilt twice after sizeable disasters. Hopefully, you will quickly understand why it is so beloved among the locals when you see it standing in its beautiful environment.

Södermalm is unprecedentedly rich in diverse places of interest, and the next one I would like to bring to your attention is Mosebacke Torg. Around this square, you can see some exceptional architecture including a unique red-brick water tower from the late 19th century. What makes Mosebacke Torg even more special is that each angle from which you look at it offers a distinct experience.

Still, the most notable structure at Mosebacke Torg is the renowned Southern Theatre (Södra Teatern) built in the 1800s. Apart from being a venue where numerous cultural events take place, the theatre is one of the city’s most popular nightlife places. It offers everything from a terrace under the stars through a restaurant and a multi-floor club to a rooftop bar.

Still, the most notable structure at Mosebacke Torg is the renowned Southern Theatre (Södra Teatern) built in the 1800s. Apart from being a venue where numerous cultural events take place, the theatre is one of the city’s most popular nightlife places. It offers everything from a terrace under the stars through a restaurant and a multi-floor club to a rooftop bar.

Going back in time, we now arrive at Maria Magdalena Church (Maria Magdalena kyrka) whose oldest parts date from the 15th century. The modern-day appearance of the church, as well as details such as the massive portals, were created by the foremost architects of their era and it truly shows. Especially in summer months, the bright-yellow facades of Maria Magdalena create a beautiful contrast with the greenery of the surrounding churchyard.

The continuous development of the area throughout history is also shown by the following place which has changed from a typical market plaza to a present-day park with perhaps the prettiest fountain in Stockholm. Mariatorget was created after a disastrous fire to prevent such events from happening in the future, later served as a venue for a medieval knight tournament, and that is only a part of its story.

If you enjoyed the views from Stadsgården, I have an even better treat for you. Monteliusvägen is a popular street on the border of a neighbourhood known as Mariaberget. Mariaberget is itself an extraordinary place with streets and houses primarily from the 18th century preserved in their near-original condition. Monteliusvägen, however, offers likely the best panoramic views of Stockholm you can find.

Now it is time to cross one of the many bridges connecting the islands of Stockholm and explore the Old Town (Gamla stan). We start at yet another square, also formerly known as a place where valuable goods were traded. Järntorget (‘The Iron Square’) used to be the home of the world’s first central bank back in the 17th century, and the original bank houses are still in place waiting to be admired.

From Järntorget, I recommend you follow Västerlånggatan – one of the streets that formed the borders of the city back in the Middle Ages. You will notice traditional stone houses on both sides of the fairly narrow street with numerous boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. What is admirable about these is how well they fit into the historic environment which is something Stockholm deserves a tonne of credit for, in my opinion.

Also dating from the Middle Ages is the German Church (Tyska kyrkan) whose tall tower is visible from many parts of the city, some of which we have visited earlier. The church is only one of the reminders of the formerly strong German population you can find in the Old Town of Stockholm. German merchants were to a large extent responsible for putting Sweden on the global map when it came to trade during the era after Birger Jarl’s establishing the city of Stockholm in the 13th century.

That historical period is certainly remembered by the oldest, and perhaps still most popular, square in the Swedish capital, Stortorget (‘The Great Square’). Stortorget is primarily renowned for its colourful houses on the western side but the Stock Exchange Building, now the home of the Nobel Museum (Nobelmuseet), is just as worthy of your attention. So is the rich history of this place where countless historic events including the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath have taken place.

Next to the oldest square, you do not want to miss the oldest church. Storkyrkan, commonly known as Stockholm Cathedral, has evolved from a simple wooden structure to a church with likely the most adorned interior in Sweden. Royal weddings, coronations, and other festivities characteristic of the monarchy seem almost mundane when one learns the story of Stockholm Cathedral. I must say that they were certainly not and that the stories, as well as the church itself, are truly fascinating.

On Slottsbacken, which is the street faced by the southern side of the Royal Palace, you can even find the residence of a renowned architect from the most glorious era of Stockholm, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger. Tessin Palace (Tessinska palatset) shows off the architect’s creativity and is as impressive as you would expect from the person who was involved in designing such buildings as the House of Nobility, Oxenstierna Palace, and even the Royal Palace itself.

I have mentioned the most massive of all Stockholm palaces in the previous paragraph a couple of times, and now it is time to explore it in further detail. The Royal Palace of Stockholm (Kungliga slottet) was built on the ruins of the renowned Tre Kronor Palace in the location which has been the home of Stockholm’s largest palace ever since Birger Jarl founded the city. The present-day Royal Palace was completed in 1754, though, and behind its monumental facades, it hides a number of distinct museums and the Royal Chapel.

It is not further than a few steps from the northern façade of the Royal Palace to the House of the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagshuset) occupying most of the Helgeandsholmen island. Originally, only a part of the building complex was used by the Parliament whereas the western part was the home of the Swedish Central Bank (Sveriges Riksbank). However, things changed later in the 20th century, and the early-1900s building is now synonymous with the institution.

Coming back to the Old Town after a short visit to Helgeandsholmen, we meet the former residence of one of Sweden’s most influential men ever, Gustaf Bonde. As a statesman and a member of an influential dynasty, Bonde decided to build a prominent palace that would underline his status. Although he never got to see the finished house, the 17th-century structure still carries his name today when it houses the Supreme Court of Sweden (Högsta domstolen).

Bonde Palace might belong to the most impressive historic sites in Stockholm, but its neighbour, the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) is, in my opinion, perhaps Sweden’s most beautiful palace. It is a joint work of several leading architects of their era, including the earlier-mentioned Nicodemus Tessin or Jean de la Vallée. It had been opened in 1668, though additions have been made later. These include the pair of wings on the northern side of the courtyard or the statues of Gustav Vasa and Axel Oxenstierna now accompanying the former seat of the Swedish nobility.

Although we have seen a number of impressive historic sites already, we have one island that is a part of Stockholm’s Old Town yet to discover. The Riddarholmen Island became popular among the Swedish nobles during the 17th century when some of the richest noblemen started building their lavish residences on the island.

But first, let’s look at the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) whose history goes back some 700 years. Nowadays, the red-brick church is most well-known as the former burial church of the Swedish Royals with kings and queens having used Riddarholm Church as their last resting place continuously for some three centuries. Thanks to that, it is not only the church’s exterior that is great to look at, its interior hides many impressive historic artefacts as well.

In my eyes, the most eye-catching palace on Riddarholmen is the Stenbock Palace (Stenbockska palatset) facing Birger Jarl’s Square (Birger Jarls Torg) separating the palace from the church we visited earlier. Although the Stenbock Palace was built in the earlier half of the 17th century, its modern-day looks come from a later reconstruction led by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder. While it had been used for residential purposes by several notable individuals, it has been owned by the state ever since the 18th century.

Another prominent resident who settled on Riddarholmen was an accomplished general Carl Gustaf Wrangel who received a plot of land on the island from the queen. It was not an empty land, though, instead it contained an existing palace from the 1630s which in turn had incorporated one of the defence towers built by King Gustav Vasa in the 1530s. Wrangel’s new palace was designed by Jean de la Vallée, and at the height of its fame, it used to be much more adorned than today which made it perhaps the most beautiful private residence of its era in Stockholm.

Stockholm offers a tonne of amazing places to see which makes it really hard to select just a few that you should visit during a short stay in the city. Stockholm City Hall, for instance, is a bit further from the historical heart of the town but you can get great panoramic views of it from Evert Taube’s Terrace on the western side of Riddarholmen. Moreover, this place also shows the landscape of the island nicely and gives you an opportunity to take some rest, should you need it.

The last place I decided to include in this guide also sits on the same island, and it is the first official seat of the Swedish Parliament. Even before the Parliament existed in its modern form, the Old Parliament House (Gamla Riksdagshuset) served the so-called Riksdag of the Four Estates. Later, it turned out that massive facades were not enough to create a good environment for the institution which was when the Parliament moved to Helgeandsholmen and the old building was thoroughly reconstructed.

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