A Cold-Weather/Winter Guide to Stockholm
It was back in October when, one morning, I found a $200 flight from Los Angeles to Stockholm for January 31st 2017. I was already planning on moving to Europe around that time and that was the exact day I was officially going to move out of my apartment; so, without too much contemplation, I booked the flight. The real deliberation came in attempting to decided whether I should stay in Stockholm for a few days — a place I had not been to before — or if the weather would be too brutal and I should just instantly catch a flight to England.
I did a lot of research into whether or not people suggested that a cold weather trip to Sweden’s capital was a good idea, and while mostly everyone said a big resounding “NO”, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have a good time. Determined not to waste this opportunity, I set about finding a way to plan an itinerary that was doable (and enjoyable) in Stockholm’s frigid weather conditions. So, while I could hit you with everything that is possible to do in Stockholm, I am going to keep this post specific to to my most current trip, listing out all the places and things I did. Since travel is so often based on season and weather, this post would look a lot different had it been spring or summer. I am definitely going to be going back to the city in warmer weather to do everything else; but, for now, here are my recommendations for what to know before you go, which neighbourhoods to check out, what to see and do, and (most importantly) where to eat and drink.
Things To Know Before You Go
• Stockholm was built on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, earning the Swedish capital the nickname “Beauty on the Water”.
• On Stockholm’s shortest day the capital sees only 6 hours of sunlight, while on the longest day it’s light for nearly 21 hours.
• The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot after hostages from a six-day siege at Norrmalmstorg Square’s Kreditbanken bank in 1973 developed a liking for their captors. As one of the victims, Kristin Ehnmark, explained in 2009: “It’s some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have, change in some way.”
• The first recorded use of the name “Stockholm” dates back to 1252 when it appeared in a letter written by Swedish statesman Birger Jarl.
Cold-Weather Travel Tips
• The currency used in Stockholm is the Swedish Krona (not the Euro!)
• Buy tickets for the Arlanda Express (train from Stockholm Airport into the city) online before you go. There are often deals if you purchase ahead online!
• Walk as much as possible and take public transportation elsewhere! Taxis are really expensive!
• Plan in regular café stops to de-frost your toes. Swedes are devoted to their daily coffee ritual, fika, which basically means “to have coffee”. Although, in reality, fika is a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time. Accompanying sweets are crucial — often cinnamon buns or cardamom rolls — so it should come as no surprise that Swedes are among the top consumers of coffee and sweets in the world.
• Alternatively, look out for glögg (mulled wine) if you are visiting during the winter. One of my favorite ways to warm up on a cold day!
• Visit a sauna – as most of Scandinavia, Swedes also love their saunas. Centralbadet, a historic Art Nouveau public spa with four therapeutic pools and mixed saunas, is a good option. The perfect way to get warm after a long day of walking around Stockholm.
• Most places don’t open on Sundays, or close early, so if you are visiting on a weekend and plan to do some shopping, make sure to do that on Saturday.
• Make sure to pack thermals, thick sweaters and socks, suitable shoes for snowy/icy conditions, and appropriate gloves/hats/scarves. Seriously, it gets bloody freezing.
Gamla Stan – Gamla Stan is normally the first place travelers head to when arriving in Stockholm. Considered one of the best medieval heritage sites in Europe — partially due to the fact that it is pedestrian only— Gamla Stan (which means “old town”) was founded back in 1252 and was where the city of Stockholm first began. With its perfectly preserved cobbled-stone narrow streets, colourful buildings, and beautiful churches, the whole area is incredibly quaint and overflowing with cafés and restaurants.
Södermalm – Known as “Söder” by the locals, Södermalm is the hip area of Stockholm. In fact, it is constantly ranked one of the “coolest” neighbourhoods in Europe. Filled with art galleries, vintage boutiques, minimalistic coffee shops, and funky restaurants, this is where the bohemian crowd of the city hang out. The development of the region wasn’t initiated until the 1700s, so the architecture is very different to the rest of Stockholm and filled with history from witch-trials and working class folk-lore.
Djurgården – This is quite simply the “museum island”. It is where Stockholm’s most famous museums are — the Abba Museum, the Vasa Museum, and the open-air museum Skansen. The island is easily accessible by trams and buses, as well as a ferry which gives you a great view of the main island. It is also home to the amusement park Gröna Lund which, in the summer, hosts a variety of concerts.
Östermalm – Stockholm’s City Center is also the most expensive part of the city. This is where you will find the swanky restaurants and guest-list only clubs. If you fancy a bit of shopping, a romantic restaurant, or just a taste of how the other-half lives, this is where you should head!
What To Do
Free Walking Tour – I try to do a free walking tour as soon as I arrive in any new city that offers them. I think they are a fantastic way to get an overview of an area and then you tip as much as you think the tour was worth. I would say about 90% of the time I am absolutely blown-away with the quality of these tours and the Free Tour Stockholm ones were no different. I did their City Tour and their Söder Tour, and wanted to do their Old Town Tour; but, decided against it, due to jet-lag I could no longer ignore.
Stockholm’s Metro Stations – Dubbed the World’s Longest Art Gallery, more than 90 of the 100 stations along the 68 miles of track have been decorated with mosaics, paintings, sculptures, and carvings by artists since the 1950s.
The Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet) – Built in the 13th century, Stockholm’s Royal Palace is one of the largest in Europe and is still the official residence of the Swedish monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, and home to the Royal Court. You can’t tour the entire palace, but I really recommend the tour that is available. You can visit the treasury, the royal apartments and the armoury.
Changing of the Guards – At the Royal Palace you can also catch the Royal Guards, who have guarded both the Royal Family and the palace since 1523, in action. The Royal Guards Ceremony lasts about 40 minutes and starts at 12:15pm on weekdays, and at 1:15pm on Sundays. If you can’t manage the whole ceremony in the cold, at least stay for the first fifteen minutes to see them march in. Then run to the nearest coffee shop!
Katarina Church – Katarina kyrka is one of Stockholm’s most important churches and is visible from many parts of the city. The original church was built at the end of the 17th century, by French architect Jean de la Vallée. Katarina has twice been completely destroyed by fire, once in the 1720s and again less than 20 years ago. The current yellow church with the distinctive dome was completed in the mid-1990s.
There are more than 70 museums in Stockholm, covering an eclectic mix of topics and attractions, and showcasing the city’s heritage in all its glory. On a cold-weather trip to Stockholm, I highly recommend spending time in as many of these museums as possible!
Moderna Museet – Filled with prominent 20th-century & contemporary art collections, plus photographic exhibits, this art museum is an absolute gem. I ended up here unexpectedly, but was so happy that I did! Entrance is free and the Architecture Museum is located in the same building.
ABBA Museum – Stockholm has an entire museum dedicated to ABBA. While visitors can get a glimpse at some of the 1970s band’s gold records, wardrobe pieces, and gadgets, the true goal of the museum is to let you “experience the feeling of being the fifth member of ABBA,” by trying on clothes, singing in the Polar studios, and even channeling your inner dancing queen by getting on stage with holograms of the band. And yes, it goes on the Internet. It is on the more expensive end of museums, but I thought it was so much fun!
Fotografiska – Stockholm’s Museum of Contemporary Photography is housed in a converted toll building on the edge of Södermalm, and is a fabulous photography venue. The museum has changing exhibits and a fantastic top-floor restaurant that boasts terrific views over Stockholm’s waterfront. (Tip: If you come here for weekend brunch, museum admission is free!)
The Nobel Museum – Stockholm is the home of the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature. These prizes have been awarded every year since 1901 on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, as the Swedish-born inventor requested this in his will. The Nobelmuseet — Nobel Museum — proudly displays a portrait and Prize citation for each laureate, whilst the Stadshuset City Hall holds the Nobel Banquet.
Vasamuseet – In 1628, the great Vasa warship, which took three years to build, sunk in the Stockholm harbor after sailing for only 15 minutes. 333 years later, it was salvaged from the seabed and became one of the best-preserved artifacts from that period. Today the iconic ship stands in its own specially built structure and is Stockholm’s most popular attraction. Even knowing this, I was seriously surprised at how much I loved this museum.
Where To Eat & Drink
Fika – Join the caffeine society at Lisas Café & Hembageri (for seriously strong cuppa and a history lesson), Hermans Trädgårdé (for coffee with a view and vegetarian snacks), Mälarpaviljongen (for an open-air café in a picturesque spot) and Grillska Husets Konditori (for making a charitable donation while you drink).
Urban Deli Nytorget – Urban Deli is a restaurant, bar, bakery, grocery store, and a deli…all in one! A massively popular place, their menu is Swedish/International and I would suggest you try the Fish Stew (fish casserole, shrimp, mussels, aioli, dillgremaoulata, parmesan, and ask for no croutons for GF!)
Café String – Located just off the square on Nytorgetsgatan, this café is known for its eclectic interior, which is made up of found or donated items. The food is delicious and really cheap for Stockholm standards, which makes it a great budget option.
Meatballs For The People – A very tiny and very popular restaurant (a reservation is highly advised a couple of days in advance), this is the place to try Sweden’s famed meatballs. All ingredients are organically sourced and you can choose from things such as wild boar, veal, fennel — or just the classic. This is a must when in Stockholm!
Pubologi – Cute and upscale in Gamla Stan. Make reservations!
Dan Gyldene Freden – The name literally means ‘the golden peace’, and as its name suggests this restaurant refers itself to the Peace of Nystad, signed by Sweden and Russia, that ended the Great Northern War in 1721. This restaurant is one the best restaurants to get a glimpse of classic Swedish flavors. They serve both regular and seasonal menus, and this is a lovely higher-end dining option.
Lisa Elmqvist – Probably the best meal I had the whole month of February, Lisa Elmqvist is one of the best fish restaurants in Stockholm. Located inside Ostermalms Saluhall, this is a lovely place to sit, enjoy Stockholm’s fresh catch, while surrounded by the bustle of market shoppers.
Rolfs Kök – A Stockholm design classic that is well worth visiting for both the food and the decor. The staff are lovely, the atmosphere buzzing, and the food is mouth-wateringly fabulous.
Bla Porten – My recommendation for lunch while checking out Museum Island. It has a beautiful interior, wonderful Swedish cuisine, and in the summer-time a stunning garden to dine in.
Food Halls – It is not unusual for main courses in ordinary restaurants to approach $30, so a great budget option for dining in Stockholm comes in the form of food halls. Ostermalms Saluhall is very traditional, K25 (near Stockholm Central Station) is a lot newer and has more global offerings, Kajsas Fisk at Hotorgetshallen Market has an amazing fisksoppa (fish stew swimming with salmon, shrimp, and other seafood) which goes for under $12. (Tip: Note that food halls tend to close by 6 or 7 p.m., so are best for lunch or an early dinner.)
Herring Wagon (Nystekt Stromming) – For seafood and street food lovers, Herring Wagon is a must. Recognizable by its bright-yellow fish-shaped sign, this cart is conveniently located at Slussen, a major transit hub and the area where the Gamla Stan old town and the island of Sodermalm converge. Try the lightly fried herring on toast for less than $5 or splurge on the whole plate, featuring mashed potatoes, lingonberry, and crispbread, (like I did) for around $8.
Herman’s Vegetarian Restaurant – has a $15 vegetarian buffet with a funky vibe and water views.
Dagens – This is a phrase that you need to recognize on chalkboards and restaurant menus around town, since it refers to the changing daily lunch specials served Monday to Friday. They usually include a choice of several main courses (say poached salmon or meatballs), plus bread, salad, and coffee or tea— and are at a really great price (for Stockholm!)
Hope this guide helps you (or convinces you) to plan a trip to Stockholm in the colder months!
Let me know if you have any more recommendations for the city, so I can make sure to check them out next time I am there!