Even on a dreary and perpetually grey day with this insistent light sprinkle, I thought that Stockholm is still a fun and colorful city to explore. It helps that this cold Nordic capital has painted many of its public buildings in vivid Mediterranean hues from the grand palace in a soft buttery yellow to the old world neighborhoods of Gamla Stan, Sodermalm and Kepps Holmen. Covering an archipelago of many islands, Stockholm is spread out between the 14 islands but are all accessible via metro, ferry or bus/trolleys and make a visit to Stockholm easy and accessible. There are so many places to visit so make sure you find the best hotels in Stockholm that are centrally located to easily see the main attractions.
What to do in Stockholm
The main area and heart of the city is in Norrmalm which is the commercial center and main shopping venues and my first starting point to exploring the city. It’s easy enough to walk around Stockholm’s many distinct neighborhoods, trendy areas and other quirky parts of the city. The city is relatively compact around the historic central district, so you can easily see many of the important attractions within one or two days or longer if you want to visit Stockholm and some of the outer islands around the archipelago.
It’s great to see that locals in Stockholm are very environmentally focused and take personal responsibility for their own transportation and maintaining a healthier and better quality of life within the city. I’ve noticed that traveling around on bicycle is one of the favorite modes of transportation in the city. You can see a lot of bicycle only lanes all over the city, including the most scenic areas of the capital. I admire how eco conscious Stockholm locals are and you can find bicycles everywhere especially along the river or bridges. It’s also a good way of using them in a photo composition like the image above to show something unique about the city and its people.
Stockholm’s main railway station
My starting point getting into the city was at the main railway station called the City Terminalen, this is a busy hub containing stores, galleries, restaurants and connections to the many other parts of downtown. Housed in a grand classical style building, the railway station has over 200,000 visitors coming daily and making it the busiest station in Sweden. From my metro stop, I ended up going to the railway station many times including my transfer on the rapid airport train to Arlanda airport.
There is something about Stockholm that impresses quickly and this starts with the gorgeous architecture that you see everywhere – the city is filled with grand boulevards, pedestrian walkways, monuments and impressive buildings. There are many plazas along the main promenades like this one fronting the Stockholm concert hall. Early morning markets make it easy to pick up some local produce, tasty snacks or take away foods to enjoy later in the day.
There are many shopping pedestrian only streets and one of the most popular is Drottninggatan in Norrmalm. You can find just about anything here including many popular local brands and international style boutiques and the street is busy all day and late into the night. Two of the most well-known chains in Sweden are headquartered in Stockholm and they are the Ikea and H&M stores. You will find the main H&M flagship store on this street and Ikea’s flagship store is located at Kungens Kurva, in the suburb of Skärholmen. Fashion conscious locals hit up the stores in this area along with the hipster neighborhoods on Sodermalm island and the trendy district of Ostermalm.
Façade and views of Stockholm’s royal palace
Gamla Stan or Stockholm’s old town is located on the central island of Stadsholmen. One of the largest and well-preserved medieval districts in Europe, Gamla Stan is practically at the center of the entire archipelago and is connected with many ornate and impressive bridges. The main promenade of Gamla Stan is called Vasterlanggatan with beautiful cobbled stone pavements and showcasing a variety of tacky tourist shops, along with wonderful cafes and other local galleries selling regional products. Gamla Stan also has Stockholm’s royal palace and museums which are fun to explore and open to the pubic with three different museums in one. You can visit the ruins, main chamber and galleries and last the museum housing the royal jewels of the Swedish monarchy. One of the most popular attractions at the royal palace is the elaborate changing of the guards show that happens mid day and hosts a precision horse battalion including and hourse marching band which is quite stunning to witness.
Architecture in bold Mediterranean colors
Beautiful storefronts and restaurants in hues of tangerine, pinks and butter yellow draw you in to window shop and hopefully drop into some of these very attractive galleries and fun stores to explore. Even though the small area of Gamla Stan is compact, it is easy to get lost with all the narrow streets and hidden passageways, but that is part of the fun exploring the area and looking for some of the tucked away restaurants and antique stores that are very popular in this district. Look for the colorful main square (image above) in the middle of Gamla Stan called Stortorget. It is the oldest square in Stockholm with many restaurants that feature local specialties throughout the region.
Specialty shops and locally made food items at Gamla Stan
Quiet streets and squares away from the tourist zone
Fine views of Stockholm from Sodermalm
Taking a public ferry
Afterward walking around Gamla Stan, I took a public ferry, which is a quick and inexpensive way to cruise around the many islands in Stockholm The ferry ride from Gamla Stan goes first to the Tivoli inspired amusement park on Skansen and then makes a stop at Skeppsholmen. This island is where many of the city’s museums are located including the modern art museum, architecture museum, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities and the city’s brick citadel called the Kastellet. Even on a dreary grey and rainy afternoon, it was still fun to take a ferry ride around the bay and check out the surrounding islands from a water vantage point.
The Kastellet on Skeppsholmen island
Scenic water views to Gamla Stan from Sodermalm
When you cross Gamla Stan to the neighboring island of Sodermalm, you can find some wonderful views of the entire archipelago and main islands including Norrmalm Skeppsholmen and Skansen. The area of Sodermalm also known as Sofo is the hipsters area filled with cool trendy boutiques, 2nd hand stores, hip coffee shops and cafes and a slew of night clubs and bars. It’s fun to just wander and get lost in the neighborhood and find something interesting to shop or eat while you are exploring the area. When you are tired, there are many squares and places to rest with nice views of the entire city below.
Sodermalm is a large island with many quiet areas and parks tucked away from the busy and crowded hipster zones on the island. I walked past the Katerina Church above with the park and cemetery located in the front of the church. It was very peaceful in this area and I checked out some of the famous personalities that were buried around the grounds. Surprisingly, even with many nightclubs and popular hangout spots and squares, there are many quiet parks and other residential areas around Sodermalm that makes this an ideal place to live for younger hipster crowds all the way to senior citizens living in the outer quiet zones on the island.
Well it’s been a full day and I’m exhausted from walking around the city and discovering some of the old and cool areas of the city. There’s so much to explore and enjoy along the different islands and neighborhoods of Stockholm. I love to walk around and explore the city slowly from the busy central hub, through the historic areas, scenic vista points and then to the fun hipster and trendy sections of the city. Stay tuned for some upcoming posts that will show some other things worth doing and exploring around Stockholm.
Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Visiting Stockholm – a first impression, hopefully some of these places will inspire you to visit when you come to the city. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.