Orientation among the names and the division of the individual areas in Stockholm might be a challenge if you are not familiar with the city. It is only logical, though, that as a visitor or even a newcomer to the city you would like to know the best areas to stay, the most pleasant areas to visit, and what interesting places there are in each of the city parts.
In this guide, I aim to help you navigate the beautiful capital of Sweden and make the right decisions both if you are planning a visit or just your next Sunday walk.
Note that this guide does not contain an exhaustive list of Stockholm city parts but it presents the most interesting ones in and around the heart of the city.
In the following few paragraphs, I introduce you to some of the peculiarities of the division of Stockholm which might cause confusion. However, if you do not want to worry about that, you can simply skip to the next part.
To begin with, let me tell you how this guide is organised. The largest territorial units mentioned in the guide are boroughs, namely Bromma, Hägersten-Liljeholmen, Kungsholmen, Norrmalm, Östermalm, and Södermalm. The 6 boroughs represented in this guide are shown in yellow.
Furthermore, there are smaller units known as districts. What you might find confusing is that boroughs are often named after their largest district. Hence, there is both the Östermalm district and the Östermalm borough. However, to avoid further confusion, these are represented as a single unit here. Districts are denoted by colour green.
Lastly, you can also explore a number of neighbourhoods and unofficial areas represented in pink. These are usually located within one of the above-mentioned districts.
Now that I have introduced you to the basic idea of this guide, it is time start exploring the individual parts of Stockholm one-by-one.
First off is the Bromma borough which is an ideal destination if you are looking for a peaceful place not too far from the city centre. In this part of Western Stockholm, you will find a number of nature preserves, beautiful promenades, as well as allotment areas and a few historical castles. Bromma is accessible by the metro directly from the city centre and you can be there in about 20 minutes from the Central Station. Moreover, it is always close to the Royal residence at the Drottningholm Palace from here.
The home of the world-famous Stockholm City Hall, a place lined with some of the city’s most beautiful promenades and a plenty of beautiful architecture. That is Kungsholmen, which is located right west of the Old Town (Gamla stan) and only a few minutes from the Central Station. As we shall shortly see, different districts of this borough have a very different feel and although the eastern part of the island is definitely the most popular among visitors, you should seriously consider taking a peek at the other side, too.
It is worth knowing that Lindhagen is only an unofficial name for an area located in the western part of Kungsholmen. Official or not, this neighbourhood offers some of the most beautiful modern architecture in the city and if I were you, I would not want to miss a nice walk around the Hornsberg Beach (Hornsbergs strand) or the combination of historical and modern architecture at the ‘Big Brewery’ (Storra Bryggeriet).
If you fancy modern neighbourhoods, Liljeholmen is a place you will want to explore, too. Apart from some of the tallest buildings in the city, Liljeholmen offers numerous apartment and commercial buildings which are a pleasure to look at. Also enjoyable is simply relaxing on one of the piers near the promenade on the shores of the Årstaviken Bay.
While it is somewhat hard to tell where the exact modern centre of Stockholm is, it is most certainly within the Norrmalm borough. Norrmalm stretches from Kungsträdgården (‘The King’s Garden’) all the way to the Vanadislunden Park. In the southern parts of the borough near the Old Town (Gamla stan), you will find well-known historic sites while moving a bit further from the historical city centre you can encounter modern business areas and iconic residential neighbourhoods.
What used to be an island a few centuries ago is now known as the Blasieholmen peninsula. Interestingly, this area has almost no permanent residents but according to some sources, as many as 5,000 people work in this part of the city. As a visitor, though, you might find the wonderful views of the Royal Palace, Fersen Palace, or the National Museum more appealing. Blasieholmen is also the only place from where you can get to the Skeppsholmen Island by foot.
Before you even set foot on Skeppsholmen, enjoy the Skeppsholmsbron Bridge which is essentially the only way to get there that does not involve a boat. Apart from the nice décor on the bridge itself, you might want to enjoy the views of the Old Town (Gamla stan) on one side and Östermalm on the other. The island as such gives you an opportunity to admire stunning historical architecture in a very nice environment and some of Stockholm’s notable museums also reside on Skeppsholmen.
The order in which these few areas are presented is not a coincidence. You will need to pass through Blasieholmen to get to Skeppsholmen and then, in turn, you would not be able to get to Kastellholmen without crossing Skeppsholmen first. It is true that Kastellholmen is a small island but once you find yourself on Skeppsholmen you have it very close and the two most renowned landmarks there, Kastellet and the Ice-Skating Pavilion (Skridskopaviljongen), are well-worth a visit.
On the opposite side of the Norrmalm borough, on its northern end, you would find the Vasastan (also known as Vasastaden) district. This district is well-known for its lovely colourful architecture which is complemented by a number of interesting landmarks including Stockholm Public Library (Stadsbiblioteket), the Old Observatory (Gamla Observatoriet), and more. Vasastan is a great choice if you would like to stay in a true residential area among the locals and still within a walking distance from the city centre. If walking is not your preferred mode of transportation, there are also several metro stations and other means of public transport available, of course.
An area whose façade is known worldwide where the time seems to pass at a different pace. Östermalm with its exclusive apartment houses, long boulevards and upscale neighbourhoods is a truly magical place. Moreover, when we talk about the entire borough of Östermalm, it includes even the most exclusive area in the city centre of them all, the Djurgården Island. Large parts of Östermalm also belong to the Royal National City Park so greenery is always nearby when you feel like you need a break.
A particularly noteworthy neighbourhood located by the water right at the eastern edge of Östermalm is the ‘Diplomatic City’ (Diplomatstaden). This neighbourhood is the home to several foreign government offices and it is also where you will find the English Church (Engelska kyrkan) which is not only unique for its architecture, its story is impressive, to say the least.
Another of the several exclusive neighbourhoods in Östermalm is known as the ‘Villa City’ (Villastaden). It is an area located north of Karlavägen, one of the long boulevards, where some of the most splendid houses in Stockholm stand. Several foreign embassies reside in the neighbourhood as well, which is just a further proof of its exclusiveness.
When you pass one of the arguably prettiest bridges in Stockholm leading from Östermalm’s façade, Strandvägen, to the island of Djurgården, you will find yourself in a somewhat different world. In this new world where construction of new buildings is unthinkable and those existing ones pretty much all have wonderful stories to tell, it might only be the beauty of the gardens and seashores that will take your attention away from them. When you do not fancy a picnic and you have already explored the Rosendal Palace (Rosendals Slott) with its gardens, it is time to visit some of the best museums Stockholm has to offer.
Among the locals known simply as Gärdet but shown on the map as Ladugårdsgärdet is another district in the Östermalm borough. It is the home of large green areas, international ports, as well as a park full of museums known as Museiparken. The tallest (or one of the tallest) building in Stockholm can also be found here and since it offers a viewing deck, this is the place from which you can get the best views of the city, too.
The last district of Östermalm is another one of those places where perhaps not so many live but are nevertheless very lively on workdays. Main campuses of both the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Stockholm University (Stockholms Universitet) reside in this area and they have the peaceful Bergius Botanic Garden (Bergianska Trädgården) for a neighbour.
Coming to the last of the six boroughs of Stockholm presented in this guide, Södermalm encompasses more areas of the city than you might expect, so it is only wise to break them down. First of all, you should be familiar with the island of Södermalm which is in itself pretty diverse. However, the Södermalm borough also includes the Old Town of Stockholm (Gamla Stan), the Långholmen island, and parts of the city south of the island such as Hammarby Sjöstad.
Södermalm Island is often represented as a hip place with a tonne of unique boutiques and opportunities for entertainment. While there is some truth to that, I believe it is important to recognise the diversity of the island. Generally, it is the island’s central part which you should seek if you are looking for the above. Further below, I present you other alternatives, though.
The 18th century is alive and well in the neighbourhood known as Mariaberget (‘Maria Hill’) located just west of Slussen. This unique environment has been preserved through a series of sensible reconstruction during which not only the buildings themselves but also the streets have been preserved in their near-original form. The northern border of this area is formed by Monteliusvägen, a footpath with observation decks from which you can take beautiful pictures of the Old Town.
Continuing further west, Hornstull is a vibrant area dominated by Högalid Church standing at the top of a nice hill park. Pretty beaches and an allotment area with a plenty of colourful huts are not far from the park and if you get bored or just curious, you can always cross the bridge to Liljleholmen or one of those that will take you to Långholmen.
Speaking of Långholmen, this island is unique in its very own way. For about 250 years, Långholmen was a prison island. You need not worry, though, as the former prison is used as a hotel today so if you are seeking an unusual accommodation, this is a great tip. The island is moreover, another one of Stockholm’s green oasis and the majestic Västerbron Bridge only adds to its atmosphere. You might also want to enjoy the views from this 26-metre-tall bridge.
Quite a different face of Södermalm is on display in its eastern part in a neighbourhood known as Vita Bergen (‘The White Mountains’). Large parts of the area are protected as a cultural preserve which was formed in the latter half of the twentieth century to preserve the historical heritage of this former slum. About a century ago, this place was still one of the poorest parts of Stockholm where entire families lived in a single room in the wooden houses you can still see there today.
Across the lake from Vita Bergen lies a modern eco-friendly neighbourhood acting as a role-model for the entire world. Hammarby Sjöstad has been built over the last two decades or so and while on the surface you can admire the beautiful modern architecture and pleasant environment, there is much more going on in the background that makes this area so special.
At long last, we are arriving in the medieval Old Town of Stockholm (Gamla stan). The historical city centre of Stockholm is internationally recognised as one of the most well-preserved medieval areas and you would be having a hard time trying to find a similar place anywhere else. The noble residences, historical houses, squares and streets that remember hundreds of years of action. All of that and more is awaiting you in the very heart of the Swedish capital. Of course, this is also where you would find the Royal Palace, which is one of the largest in the world.
An individual island but still a part of the Old Town is Riddarholmen. Not only is Riddarholmen the home of one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan), it too hides a number of palaces from the most prosperous era of Sweden. Do not forget to stop by at the Evert Taube’s Terrace (Evert Taubes terrass) for stunning views of the City Hall across the lake.