Is Stockholm Worth Visiting?

Stockholm stumped me.

Stockholm is Europe’s prettiest city.  With historic Scandinavian architecture on one side and water and islands on the other, it doesn’t matter where you look.  There are parks and other green spaces, plus fountains, squares, cobblestone streets, and gold-numbered clocks.  I love clocks, a tribute to the days before cell phones.  A city full of them should surely put me in a happy mood.

Stockholm is probably the perfect place to land after a transatlantic flight, since you can adjust to jet lag without any logistical difficulties.  Everyone speaks English and you can walk everywhere (almost).  Plus you can follow my travel rule: never plan anything on the first day, just in case you’re delayed or exhausted.  You’ll still get great photos walking around because it’s so pretty.

stockholm sweden skyline
Stockholm Skyline

In short, it’s utopia.

So why am I stumped by Stockholm?

Despite these selling points, I didn’t find any flavor or pizazz to the city.  I kept waiting to feel like I was somewhere spectacular.  It’s pleasant, it’s pretty, it’s clean.  But I never found any personality.  Maybe Stockholm is just shy and needs time to warm up to me.

I didn’t have a bad time in Stockholm.  I just feel like after 48 hours of exploring, I’m not sure what the city is all about.

stockholm sweden sunset
Stockholm, late at night because of the midnight sun!

If you go…

Where to Stay in Stockholm

The Comfort Hotel pleasantly surprised me. Staff went out of their way to be helpful, the breakfast smorgasbord has something for everyone, and the location is walking distance to Gamla Stan (old town) and Kungsholmen (my favorite neighborhood).  It’s also right at Central Station, for access to the Arlanda Express, metro, trains, and both local and long-distance buses.  Considering my room rate was less than $100, that’s a real win.

Where to Eat in Stockholm

I didn’t like Swedish food too much.  It’s heavy, salty, and focused on meat, fish, and carbs without a lot of freshness from vegetables or herbs.  That said, I found a few great places (out of the 15 or so I tried):

Urban Deli (Norrmalm, Sodermalm, and Nakca)

Part grocery store, part restaurant, and part rooftop bar!  Prices here are a good value and you can choose from grab and go prepared foods or sit down for something freshly made.  Try the warm vegetable salad.

Malarpaviljongen (Kungsholmen)

This waterfront bar is mostly a local joint, since it’s a little removed from tourist districts (but still easy to reach).  I sat on their floating dock for a great view of the city.  In nice weather, everyone seems to order a glass of rosé wine.  It’s pricey, so just plan on a drink instead of a meal.

stockholm-evening

Vapiano (chain, 8 locations in Stockholm)

This casual Italian place has affordable prices and good food, plus is open relatively late.  There’s one location within a 3-minute walk from Comfort Hotel and Central Station.

Bakery & Spice (Vasastan)

Home to the best kardemummabullar, or cardamom rolls.  I should know, I tried my share.  The homemade granola bars are also out of this world.  If they had the city’s favorite treat when I was there (cinnamon rolls), I bet they’d be great too. Take-away only.

My fika from a local coffeeshop!
My fika from a local coffeeshop!

Aifur (Gamla Stan)

This Viking-themed bar is super kitschy but because it’s so over the top, it’s fun.  Order a beer and don’t be afraid to walk through the whole place to check out all the details.  I didn’t eat there, specifically because I heard it was mediocre and overpriced.

What to do in Stockholm

Get out on the water

On the water outside of Stockholm. A gorgeous day trip.
On the water outside of Stockholm. A gorgeous day trip.

The archipelago is amazing.  I usually don’t like passive sightseeing, but even if you don’t listen to anything else I say, visit the archipelago.

Related post: Which Stockholm archipelago cruise is best? (opens in new window) Get an overview of the most popular day-trip islands.  After spending some time on the water, I think it matters more to go at all rather than to stress over the specific one.

—Opt outside

With so much green space, the city is built for outdoor pursuits.  The Nacka Nature Reserve is accessible year-round and the Bjorkhagen metro stop is right at the entrance.  You’ll find trails there, including the 1000-km long Sörmlandsleden (or just hike the 8km section to Skogshyddan and then bus back to the city.  It’ll take you ~4 hours including transportation time).

Nature Reserve in Stockholm
Nature Reserve in Stockholm

Last tips for Stockholm

—Only tourists use cash in Stockholm.  Pull out a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred which I used EVERYWHERE in Europe.

—July is a popular time for local families to visit summer homes in the archipelago.  That makes it a great time to island-hop and a little more complicated to visit the city.  Lots of restaurants close for summer vacation!  If there’s somewhere specific you want to eat, double check if it’s open in advance.

—The midnight sun can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.  The Comfort Hotel actually offers rooms without a window, which is a smart idea.  Otherwise, pack a sleep mask (I use a super ugly but super effective Bucky mask).

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Has a city ever left you feeling dissatisfied?  Share your story in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “Is Stockholm Worth Visiting?”

  1. Becky,

    Always appreciate your posts.

    Ric Garrido, the Loyalty Traveler blogger, posted similar on his blog back in July. Interesting to read these things as we plan to cruise the Baltics in 2018. I’ll have to really research how much time to spend there and how to spend it as we get closer to the detailed trip planning.

    BTW, you and Ric seem to enjoy traveling to a lot of the same places recently.

    1. @Marilyn, I always respect Ric’s post since his travel style really jives with mine. We were both in Stockholm for the same conference (I went early to see a little of the city) but our recent visits to Poland and Austria were just coincidental overlaps…maybe because we both like the same types of places!

      My mom just went on a Baltic cruise and had nothing but great things to say (Saint Petersburg was a highlight. The only downside, in my opinion) is that most of them don’t go too far north. Lapland was a highlight for me, so much so that I’m yearning to return in winter for snow sports and northern lights.

  2. I find a lot of big cities underwhelm. London and Sydney are two that never excited me. Sure they have a couple of highlights but overall I found them grey and without soul.
    Give me a small town with lots of character any day.

    1. @Dean, I’m a small town fan as well. I do enjoy some big cities (even London!), but it’s interesting to hear which places connect with travelers and which don’t. There’s somewhere for everyone.

  3. Interesting review of Stockholm. Looks like you made the best of your trip but won’t be rushing back. Happens sometimes but at least you’ve had the experience of going.

    1. @Sue, I’m so glad I had the chance to see a little and if I find myself in Stockholm in the future, I’m sure I can make the most of it again. But with so many places to go, you’re right…I won’t be rushing back on purpose. Do you have cities like that?

    1. @Mags, Such a shame because the rest of Sweden is so lovely (from my limited visit there). What did you think of Nynäshamn? Sterile or interesting?

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