Sweden's capital city is an intriguing mix of warm and cold. Long sunny summer days are offset by a long dark yet enchanting winter. Stockholm's key players are both crowned royals and technologically forward thinkers drawing up plans for the future. The architectural elements run the gamut from medieval stone to brick spires to shiny metal and glass. All of Stockholm's history is scattered on islands and islets strewn with clean water and an astounding amount of green space. History and culture certainly reign here but the city isn't afraid to step out of the bounds of its past and run headlong into the future. Visitors will be delighted by the complexity of Sweden's watery jewel of a capital.


Like all the major players of the Baltic, Stockholm is what it is because of water. Its strategic location at the convergence of Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea has been key to the city's success for a thousand years. The story of Stockholm's founding lies somewhere between history and mythology, but the physical presence of a population center located at what is known as Gamla Stan (Old Town) is an archaeological fact. The high ground that makes up the 14 major islands of Stockholm has been appealing to settlers since the days of the Vikings.

Stockholm has been the political center of the land we now call Sweden since the 13th century, meaning it has been a royal residence and population magnet for the past 800 years. The Danes and Swedes and various other groups wrestled over the great port for hundreds of years and this period of conflict culminated in what is known as the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520, during which more than 80 proponents of Swedish independence were executed by the Danish crown. Despite this traumatic event, King Gustav I eventually overthrew Christian II of Denmark and became the founder and first monarch of the newly founded Sweden.

Under Gustav, Stockholm lost its Baltic frontier town status and became tied to the state, which forced it to act more as a capital than an independent port, and while the organization and structure of the city's government evolved during his reign, the physical properties of the city remained unchanged. It wasn't until the 1600s that Stockholm really began to transform, instigated in part by a fire that destroyed a large section of the old town in 1625. As the city's buildings stretched toward the hills surrounding the core islands, so did the population, increasing to over 50,000 by the end of the century. The control of important exports such as iron, copper and butter enabled Stockholm to flourish and in return import luxury goods.

The 18th century was a difficult one for Stockholm, characterized by war, disease and economic depression. Several fires throughout the century wiped out a large portion of the city but resulted in building codes and helped ensure that reconstruction efforts would prove to be more lasting. During the decades that followed architecture and culture flourished and Stockholm began to take shape as the city we know today. Industry shaped the 19th century and for all of the shipping and manufacturing that developed in the city, public works projects made sure that Stockholm remained clean and livable for its growing population.

Education and technological innovation were key to giving Stockholm a reputation for civil advancement in the 20th century. Modernism and Art Nouveau changed the look of the city and a move away from industrial manufacturing toward service industries, design and eventually high-tech businesses made Stockholm a clean and model European capital. As the home to an ethnically diverse population and several multinational corporations, Stockholm today has cast off its medieval chains and emerged on the global scene as a highly coveted place to live, work and play.

Location and size

On the eastern coast of Sweden, Stockholm is situated on 14 primary islands where the waters of Lake Mälaren open into the Baltic Sea. It is nice to think of the city divided into thirds—one-third of the area is water, one-third is green space and the buildings of the city itself lie on the last one-third.


The city supports over 750,000 citizens and the metropolitan area is home to nearly 2 million Swedes, nearly a quarter of the country's population.


The Swedish language (Svenska in Swedish) is the primary language spoken in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden. It is a Germanic language that is somewhat intelligible to Norwegians and Danes. English literacy is widespread and, especially with help from younger Swedes, visitors should have no trouble navigating the city without knowledge of Swedish.

General characteristics of the locals

Demographically speaking the people of Stockholm are primarily 30-something and unmarried and there are more women than men, and while this may sound like a statistical fantasy for some, numbers aren't always the best way to get to know a city. Like most Swedes, Stockholmers are peaceful and calm, fair and quiet, but since this is the big city, the people of the capital are better characterized as well-dressed office-dwellers drawing up plans for the next big shiny building or the world's smallest cell phone. Stockholm is sometimes referred to as the "Ice Queen" by Swedes outside the city, but this is only a name and while it may seem that everyone in Stockholm is sitting alone at his laptop in a coffee shop with headphones on, the people here are not unapproachable and are in fact quite willing to stop in their fast-paced tracks to chat with a stranger or help out a visitor.

City tours

There's no way you can see all of Stockholm's sights in a day, but as an introduction to the city, a guided tour by bus or boat is a good idea. The city also offers many highly qualified private guides who are experts in the city's history or particular genres of art and can accompany you to the museums and city sights of your choice for an enhanced experience. If you plan on taking in a lot of museums, galleries and attractions, consider purchasing the Stockholm Card (Stockholmskortet), which includes entrance to museums and fares for public transportation (including select ferries). Cards can be bought for 24-, 48- or 72-hour visits.


Stockholm's collection of museums is arguably its strongest tourist attraction. There are enough museums and galleries (hundreds of them) to exhaust even the most determined culture-buffs. The big ones are listed here, but there is a cultural collection on nearly every block in the city and sometimes the best ones are the ones that you stumble upon when you venture down an unfamiliar alleyway.

Vasa Museum: The Vasa was a warship that was launched in 1628 and sank almost immediately thereafter. In the 1950s it was decided that the still intact ship should be resurrected and dry-docked to serve as a museum. The ship is in excellent preserved condition and the museum is one of the most popular in Stockholm. Galärvarvsvägen 14 / +46 8 519 548 00.

Skansen: Skansen is the oldest and largest open air museum in the world. Exhibits include 160 cultural and historical buildings with interpretive guides dressed in period costume. There is also a zoo featuring Nordic animals. This is a great place to be during national holidays and special events. Djurgårdsslätten 49-51 / +46 8 442 80 00.

Museum of Modern Art: All the biggest names in 20th century art are here: Picasso, Dali, Duchamp and many more. The collection includes Scandinavian and international pieces and features paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and film. On the island of Skeppsholmen / +46 8 5195 5289.

Nordic Museum: The Nordic Museum is dedicated to Sweden's cultural history. The museum was opened in 1907 and exhibits cover all aspects of Sweden's history and the story of its fashion, design, architecture, art and crafts. Djurgårdsvägen 6-16 / +46 8 519 546 00.

The Swedish Museum of Natural History: This world-class museum has permanent exhibits on the history of the Earth, Sweden's nature and the human body. Many interesting special exhibits on display throughout the year. Frescativägen 40 / +46 8 519 540 00.

City Museum of Stockholm: Follow Stockholm's journey from sleepy medieval village to modern European capital at the City Museum located in a 17th-century palace. Ryssgården, Slussen / +46 8 508 31 600.


Stockholm is full of interesting architecture. The city itself is a sight and a boat tour around the city or simply walking around Gamla Stan can be a full-day activity. If you've had your fill of museums, try visiting these historic buildings.

Drottningholm Palace: The palace was built in the 17th century and is one of the best preserved examples of royal European construction from this period. Most of the palace grounds are included in the tour, including the fabulous Chinese pavilion. Slottsbacken / +46 8 402 61 300.

City Hall (Stadshuset): There are daily guided tours of this magnificent brick structure in the heart of Stockholm. Of particular interest are the banquet halls where the Nobel Prize ceremony is held. Hantverkargatan 1 / +46 8 508 29 058.

Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan): A remodel in the 18th century resulted in a very Baroque looking church, but don't be fooled, the cathedral has been here since the 13th century and has been the center of the Swedish Church for many centuries. Art and artifacts including a model ship from the 15th century are highlights. Trångsund 1, Gamla stan / +46 8 723 30 16.


Summer is the most popular season for visiting Stockholm and with extra long sunny days, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Swimming, fishing and boating are all popular ways to take advantage of the city's proximity to water. There are parks of all sizes throughout the city and sunbathing is popular wherever there is a warm flat place. Winter is not to be discounted and when all the water freezes, ice skating and hockey take over.

Day trip

Draw a ring around Stockholm 70 km out and you'll be encompassing hundreds of small villages, archaeological sites and natural havens. In the summertime, the most popular excursions from Stockholm take in as many of the 24,000 outlying islands of the archipelago as possible.

Archipelago: The unique topography of the Stockholm Archipelago is world-renowned and there are many ways to get from the city to an island resort or private islet. Bigger islands offer services like hotels and restaurants, while smaller ones are simply there in their natural state. Ferries and chartered sailboats provide varying degrees of access to the archipelago at various prices.

Birka: A short day trip inland will take you to the Viking town of Birka, part of a UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site. Birka was an important link in the trade chain of medieval Europe and was occupied over 1200 years ago.

Uppsala: This university town is only a short trip away from Stockholm by train, bus or boat. It's Sweden's 4th largest city and home to the country's largest cathedral, which is open to the public. The energy the students provide the town is refreshing and worth the journey. In the spring and summer be sure to visit both the Linneaus Garden and the Botanical Garden.

For Families

Junibacken: This is a sort of theme park dedicated to the characters of beloved Swedish children's book author Astrid Lindgren. The books come to life here to the delight of children of all ages and the grounds also contain on of the best children's theaters in Sweden. Galärparken, Djurgården Island / +46 8 587 230 00.

Gröna Lund: Gröna Lund is a full-on amusement park with roller-coasters and other rides and numerous food stalls and restaurants. Lilla Allmänna Gränd 9 / +46 8 587 501 00.

Skansen Aquarium: The aquarium at Skansen has more than just aquatic creatures; reptiles and small mammals are also at home here. The cost is not included in the price of admission to Skansen. Djurgårdsslätten 49 / +46 8 442 80 39.


While typical Swedish cuisine—fish, meat, potatoes, cheese, and bread—is as easy to find in Stockholm as anywhere else in the country, the big city also offers an eclectic mix of ethnic foods—Asian and Middle Eastern are especially easy to come by. Sweden's high prices are even higher here, so if you're on a budget, keep an eye out for lunch specials (Dagens rätt) during the week and save your big dining dollars on a huge Swedish smorgasbord or one night out at a gourmet restaurant—particularly one with a good view of the city.


Stockholm has a very active nightlife that can start a little early by most European standards. Many bars and clubs close at 1:00 with a few staying open until 3:00 and only a handful that party until the wee hours. Different neighborhoods attract different crowds, so there should be a place for you whether you're looking for a hard cider in a relaxed English pub or shots of vodka and dancing all night long.


There's plenty of shopping to do in Stockholm and if you're looking for something trendy and totally Swedish to bring home, you shouldn't have a problem finding something. Design and fashion are big here, so think about furniture galleries or independent clothing boutiques for something unique and different. Antiques, curios and old books can be found in abundance in certain districts in the city if you like to do a little treasure hunting. Many of the museum shops are quite good too, so if you can't afford an original work of art, there are always the affordable postcards and books. Be aware that shopping happens during the day in Sweden and stores close around 6:00 on weekdays and as early as 2:00 on weekends.


Stockholm's Arlanda Airport is serviced by most major international carriers and several European discount airlines. It's 40 km away from the city center, and if you've arrived on a bargain ticket, you may have to spend more than your airfare getting to the city by bus or train.

Local Traffic

Traffic can be chaotic in the city and with great public transportation and a dense city center, there's no real need to rent a car in Stockholm. If you do find yourself driving in the city, keep in mind that there is a "congestion tax" charged to all drivers during rush hour and parking fees in the city can be quite high.


Stockholm is the major hub for travel on the national SJ long-distance train network. It's possible to travel by train to anywhere in Sweden from here. Commuter trains are connected to the local public transportation ticketing system and service the entire county.


Stockholm has an excellent subway system, which is connected to the bus system and is centered at the central train station. Look for the logo—a blue T in a white circle—to find the nearest station. If you plan to use the metro and buses a lot, consider purchasing a 24- or 72-hour pass.


The newest additions to the bus system are the blue buses that service the downtown core and come every 7 or so minutes. The red buses will get you a bit further from the city center and come a little less frequently (every 13 – 15 minutes). Note that you cannot purchase bus tickets on board; you must obtain a pass from a vending machine beforehand or use your transportation pass or Stockholm Card.


Taxis are abundant and easy to hail from the curb with the raising of a hand. They are, however, abundant because they were recently deregulated, so there is no standard for pricing. Taxis are an expensive transportation option and if you are headed on a longer trip, it is worth negotiating a price before you set off. Many taxi drivers don't speak English, so write the Swedish name of your destination on a piece of paper if you don't trust your pronunciation.


Stockholm weather isn't as bad as people think. The climate is mild and temperate with precipitation in every month. Summers are glorious—warm with lots of sunshine (but rain always possible) and average July temperatures around 20°C during the day. Winter days are short and dark, but when the snow comes it doesn't usually stay for long. January daytime temperatures hover around freezing and plunging temperatures below –15°C are possible but not common. No matter what the season, there will be clouds and there will be sun and you should be prepared for just about anything (anything mild that is—extreme weather in Stockholm is very rare).

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