Vibrant. Industrious. Eye-catching. At once cosmopolitan and down-to-earth. At least that is how I’d describe Stockholm after spending 14 days there last June, during Midsummer, while visiting a friend. The Venice of the North, Stockholm comprises 14 islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, and Midsummer, the two weeks leading up to and after Midsummer’s Eve (the summer solstice) is an optimum time to visit. As a guest of a native-born Stockholmer living in the city’s trendy “SoFo” district on Sodermalm island, my visit was a fully immersive experience that is atypical for a regular tourist. Yet, there is much that is easy to discover “on your own” too. Admittedly, but for my friend, Stockholm was not on my List of Places to Visit. Surprisingly, it’s now on my List of Places to See Again — and a destination I’d strongly recommend to those who love to travel.
Read on for a list of 10 things to see and do (numbered for list sake not by order of importance), from firsthand experience, that a typical tourist might not discover on their own.
(Or jump to the Trip Gallery now).
1. Raise a Glass at the Nobis Hotel Lounge on Norrmalmstorg Square. “Stockholm’s living room”, but with 28-foot-high ceilings; West Elm meets Scan Design. So much like the city itself, sophisticated yet approachable, this is a meeting place frequented by the hip and well-heeled for an evening cocktail or coffee. Casual or elegant attire, or something in between works just fine. Location: Norrmalmstorg 2-4, near the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Strandvagen.
2. Watch Passerbys at Albert & Jacks on Skeppsbron/Gamla Stan. Grab a fresh baked or cooked-on-the-spot breakfast or lunch item, and a cup of espresso, and then grab a chair at one of the outdoor tables lining the sidewalk — if you can beat a local to one. This chain coffee shop buzzes with city life! Situated on the busy thoroughfare running alongside Gamla Stan (Old Town) and the Royal Palace, and facing the Gamla Stan ferry port, A&J’s is on the way to and from work for many Stockholmers and for visitors catching the ferry boats, making it a the perfect perch from which to watch the city’s ebb and flow of activity. Location: Skeppsbron 24, Gamla Stan (Old Town).
3. Dine at Panevino on Sodermalm Island. This Italian cafe/restaurant is a favorite dining choice among SoFo residents for the wood-fired pizza (including my full-blooded Italian friend who is a purist when it comes to pizza) and cozy atmosphere. The wine selection is good too. It’s popular on weekends and requires a reservation if you’re not into waiting. The evening we went was the end to a day featuring the worse weather of the trip, hands down — gray, drizzly and cold — so we couldn’t enjoy the outdoor urban-gardenhouse seating area. This was not a problem, however, because the indoor environment was perfect: invitingly cozy and airy, mixed with farm-rustic warmth, Swedish style. Reviews online are mixed, except for the pizza and atmosphere. Location: Brännkyrkagatan 93, Sodermalm.
4. Walk These City Parks. Do not miss these parks if you have the time. Stockholm is a very “green” city with more than two dozen parks that come alive with people and gardens during the spring and summer. Most are walkable from anywhere in the city, or an easy ferry or tram ride.
5. Rent a City Bike. Do as the Stockholmers do: ride a bike while you’re in town! Bicycles are a hot mode of transportation for those living in the city. And why not? It’s bicyclist friendly in all ways, from the streets to the traffic and the manageable geography. I rented one from City Bikes, a public/private co-op that offers rental bikes at more than 140 hub stations well placed throughout the city. I bought a 3-Day Pass card at one of the tourist centers, but they’re also available at 7-11s and the metro shops. Use the card to “unlock” and “lock” your bike from and to a hub station. You can peddle around Stockholm for up to 3 hours at a time before you have to return it to a hub station. The beauty is that you can return the bike to any hub station, not just the one from which you rented it, making it an easy and fun way to tour the city.
6. Ride the Arlanda Express. As an American, public transportation is not part of my genetic disposition. But God love this train that takes you between Stockholm and the Arlanda Airport in 20 minutes. During the summer there are nearly-two-for-one specials on tickets. If I hadn’t been picked up at the airport by my friend when I arrived, I would have cashed in on that deal and saved my friend some time. Even so, in a pinch SEK 280 one way (about $34 USD at the time of this writing) is worth the ease and efficiency of this ride.
7. Visit During Midsummer. If you can, visit during the few weeks around Midsummer Eve. It’s a lively time of year for Stockholmers and you can feel the vibe. Their pent up energy bursts forth in everything they do during their short break from the cold and dark…so much so it’s contagious. And the daylight. It goes on and on.
8. Dance Around a Real Maypole on Midsummer Eve. Better yet, if you do plan to visit during Midsummer, plan to be there for the Midsummer Eve, which is considered by many Swedes the (unofficial) National Day of Sweden. Festivities abound, with revelers celebrating the summer solstice and Swedish traditions that culminate with the raising of the May Pole and dancing around it, joyously singing songs of a time past. A magical time when night never comes and the sun shines bright into the next day.
9. Tour the Stockholm Archipelago. These islands are a favorite summer retreat for Swedes. And if you truly want to celebrate a traditional Midsummer Eve in Stockholm, a trip to one of the Stockholm Archipelago islands often goes hand in hand. Vaxholm Island, about an hour’s ferry ride from the city, is one such island. No matter, be sure to schedule some time to hop on a ferry to tour some of the Archipelago, even if it’s just for a day.
10. Look Around. Don’t forget to look around. There’s so much to be seen nearly everywhere you turn. To get a sense, check out the Trip Gallery below.
The intent of this collage of photos and the associated descriptions is to give you some sense of the place and time, piquing your interest to visit a destination that might otherwise not have made it onto your List of Places to See. To view, click on any photo, but if you start with the first one, you’ll get a sort-of-chronological timeline of my trip to Stockholm last Midsummer from beginning to end. Enjoy!