Dear traveller, this article answers a question that is, hopefully, on your mind right now. Should you visit Sweden’s capital, Stockholm? My short answer would be: Yes, absolutely!
That’s not all I tell you in this article, though. In the following paragraphs, I try to get across the vibe of the city, mention what kinds of attractions you can expect to find there, and even outline some specific experiences that are waiting for you in the ‘Venice of the North.’
First things first
Before I jump into the details, let’s get a few things out of the way. Every place carries its stereotypes. Some of these are known to the locals only while others have spread across the globe. Stockholm and Stockholmers have their fair share but I need to warn you, not everything you think you know about the ‘cold’ country up north is true.
Many people I’ve met over the years imagine Sweden as this unwelcoming frozen place where people’s hearts are as cold as the weather in mid-July.
Let me begin by debunking the myths about the unbearably cold Swedish weather. Sure, there are other destinations you should visit if you’re looking for a vacation that you can spend sunbathing on a beach with a constant supply of cocktails within your reach. However, temperatures in Stockholm occasionally reach 30°C (86°F) during summer months and they pretty reliably stay in the 20s throughout this time of year. Even during peak winter, it’s not commonplace that temperatures drop far below zero (32°F).
One thing shouldn’t be left unsaid, however, and that is that I still recommend you visit Stockholm in the between May and October when the days are longer, the sun shows us its face more often, and the trees are nice and green (or beautifully colourful in October).
Now let’s briefly talk about the ‘cold’ hearts of the Swedes. In all fairness, the first impression may sometimes confirm your expectations. However, as soon as you get a chance to interact with the locals, you’ll quickly get a chance to uncover their sympathetic selves hidden under this reserved façades. So, don’t be shy to ask the locals for help or engage them in a conversation. You might be pleasantly surprised by what will come next.
The atmosphere of Stockholm
I believe one of the most important things about any destination you visit is how the place makes you feel. Do you feel welcome? Are you in awe? Perhaps overwhelmed? Surprised? Excited? Shocked?
Clearly, there are many emotions you can experience when you go somewhere new, and that’s exactly the point. While I can’t tell you how Stockholm will make you feel, I can describe my impressions of the city and how I perceive its various aspects.
Stockholm, to me, is a place with a strong personality. Many diverse personalities, actually. Generally, the Swedish capital feels very welcoming. It is definitely a metropolis with everything you’d expect, but it’s not as rushed as other major cities that I’ve visited such as London, Madrid, or even Rome. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Stockholm to a much larger city like London but, in a way, that’s exactly the point I’m trying to get across. Stockholm is big without being overwhelming.
Not only the very modern (and accordingly expensive) public transport feels more comfortable than in other cities, the colourful streets of residential neighbourhoods lined with small coffee shops and boutiques turn the city on the water into a cosy oasis. To further cement Stockholm’s status as a “people’s city” I need to mention how walkable most of its neighbourhoods are. It’s usually very easy to find your way to wherever you want to get on foot and the local drivers are also very considerate, so you can always feel safe crossing the road.
Different neighbourhood, different feel
When I say Stockholm has many personalities, I mainly think of its diverse neighbourhoods. I find each and every one of them unique, with its own style and atmosphere, yet they all fit together so well that their differences somehow result in an almost perfect symphony of characters.
If you would like to get to know the individual districts of Stockholm better, I recommend you take a look at our detailed Guide to Stockholm’s districts and neighbourhoods.
One of those that you should be aware of, though, is the upscale Östermalm, which is the ideal place for those who want to explore the sophisticated side of Stockholm. To experience the cosiest face of the city, take a walk around Vasastan. No history aficionado can miss the historic core of the city known as Gamla Stan. If, on the other hand, you’d like to admire modern Stockholm at its best, go to the eco-district Hammarby Sjöstad, or Lindhagen where you’ll not only find some extraordinary modern architecture but also a one-of-a-kind waterfront promenade.
What is there to see?
When it comes to things you can see and do in Stockholm, I believe everyone can find something that will match their taste and preferences. Some travellers just might need to look harder than others.
If you’re the kind who enjoys history, you’ll likely see Stockholm as a paradise. If you decide to visit, you’ll get to explore the glory of the 17th-century Era of the Swedish Empire when the nobles thrived and gave us numerous palaces to admire. You’ll also have a chance to visit some of the vast selection of history museums that can tell you most of what you want to know about the Medieval Stockholm, history of the Nordics, the Vikings, and much, much more.
Things look great for art lovers, too. In the Swedish capital, there are art museums both big and small, presenting world-renowned artists, as well as less-known local ones. Under the open skies, you can also find many statues and sculptures to appreciate.
In case you’re a traveller who’s not satisfied with a quick visit to one of the fast-food chains, you’ll be happy to hear that Stockholm offers culinary experiences in many shapes and forms. Traditional local dishes like the world-famous meatballs, buns, and seafood are as easily available as cuisines from all over the world. Modern Swedish cuisine also has a lot to offer to those with diet restrictions or specific preferences, so no matter what type of food you’re after, you don’t need to worry about staying hungry in Stockholm.
Is there anything unique?
We all love unique experiences and no real traveller would be satisfied without experiencing the authentic side of a destination. Here I won’t mention individual attractions that you can’t find anywhere else. Rather, I’ll focus on things that are integral to Stockholm and that not many other destinations offer.
One such thing is the water which defines the geography of Stockholm. The city is built on islands and water is, therefore, inscribed into Stockholm’s DNA. Some parts of the city are surrounded by lakes, others by the sea but the important thing remains the same. In almost every part of the city, you can take a magical walk along a waterfront promenade with views of the city landscape, boats, and impressive sunsets.
You can also use boats to move around at no extra cost if you buy a public transport ticket. Picnics by the sea are among the best ways of spending summer days and the locals are also fond of water sports, so you might as well join them.
Stockholm’s geography is also to thank for very long summer days which I inexplicably find almost too enjoyable. The possibility to admire late sunsets and very early sunrises is simply fascinating.
There’s something else that makes the capital of Sweden very different from other major cities I’ve visited. The closeness of nature from any part of the city surprises many visitors. Stockholmers, on the other hand, love their nature and for a good reason. A nature preserve is never more than a short subway- or bus ride away and I recommend you take advantage of that whenever you can. A short hike or even just a walk around a lake at the end of the day can feel very refreshing.
This is the most important information I believe you need to know to decide whether you should plan a visit to Stockholm. Has this article convinced you? Do you have additional questions? Let’s talk in the comments below.