a little more than a month after we returned from our trip to morocco and barcelona, i found crazy cheap flights from jfk to stockholm. because responsibility is overrated and a very busy holiday season had just passed, we decided to plan an early anniversary trip to sweden by way of new york city. three of our friends invited themselves along for the ride (we love them for it), and we added paris to the itinerary because, well, why not? with only six weeks to plan before hopping on a plane, i sought the help of friends and the internet to help us make the most of our three nights in the city. while i believe we only tapped the surface of what stockholm (and the rest of sweden) has to offer, we had a wonderful and quick visit to the city. i’ve compiled some recommendations of places we loved and things we learned in stockholm.
if you like cold weather, by all means, visit sweden in the winter. had we not added paris into the mix, we would have left stockholm and spent a couple days in the north toward the arctic circle. we also probably would’ve frozen to death. stockholm’s weather is mild compared to the rest of sweden (and scandinavia as a whole), but it was still in the high teens and twenties (fahrenheit) and snowing during our mid-february trip. being from the southeast united states left us ill-prepared for these temperatures, so we layered ourselves in pretty much everything we’d packed in order to stay warm. the days are also much shorter in the winter, and the sun set before 5:00pm during our stay. the snow added charm to the city, though, and the longer nights felt cozy.
i would imagine that stockholm and the rest of sweden are beautiful during christmastime, glowing with the warmth of lights strung around historic squares and christmas markets. the days, however, are extremely short in late december and january, so i would opt against visiting during those months.
those who prefer warmer temperatures and long days of sightseeing would be better off visiting sweden in the summer months, when the weather is refreshing, the sun is out for twenty hours or more, and outdoor activities are booming. sweden’s archipelago is home to more than 9,000 islands, so boating and water sports are more or less a national pastime when the weather allows. though i haven’t visited scandinavia during the summer months, i spent one summer living in estonia, another baltic country; i rarely sweat that summer, and the sun was still out at 2:00am each night. it was delightful, and i’d imagine sweden is very much the same at that time.
one other thing to note is that boat tours around stockholm’s islands are offered during the warmer months. they are on a limited schedule during the winter, and we weren’t able to take one during our stay as there weren’t any available during the week.
sweden is expensive. food and drinks, transportation, shopping, museums all cost significantly more than they would in southwestern european countries like germany, france, spain, and italy. we visited a craft beer bar that has another location in barcelona that we’d been to during our last trip–we had the same number of beers at both locations, and our tab was double in stockholm. lunch and coffee shops were more budget-friendly, but dinners were lackluster and overpriced. our hotel was quite reasonable (thanks, expedia), but our taxi from the airport to it was over $60. there is a train that runs from stockholm arlanda airport to stockholm city center, but a single one-way ticket on that is about $32; unless you’re traveling alone, it isn’t any cheaper. we also took an uber on a short trip, and it cost over $30. museums were around $20-$30 per ticket, and window shopping for inspiration is a better bet than shelling out beaucoup dollars on swedish-designed products (as cute as they were). was it all worth it? mostly. just prepare yourself and your bank account beforehand.
eat at these places:
for breakfast or lunch:
- gast: this place was recommended by lee from america, and it was our first and favorite meal in stockholm. it offers a dream aesthetic (even my husband was a fan of the creamy white and blush walls) and healthy, comforting food and drinks. the sandwiches and coffee are delicious, and you can’t skip the rulltårta, the swedish version of a swiss roll that tastes nothing like little debbie’s version. we could’ve demolished the whole tray.
- snickarbacken 7: this place was recommended to us by a friend, and we had a wonderful brunch and coffee here on our second morning. like gast (and, i imagine, most other cafes in stockholm), it boasts a menu of healthy and delicious bowls, sandwiches, soups, and salads. it’s part-coffee shop, part-restaurant, part-art gallery, and it seemed to be the place for casual meetings and working outside the office.
- meatballs for the people: you can’t visit sweden without trying traditional swedish meatballs. with a rotating menu and countless meat options, this is the place to go for a fresh take on more traditional swedish fare. the plates available when we went were “the classic”–veal meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy, and pickled veggies–and a pasta with wild boar meatballs. we had both, and they were fantastic. order a bottle of lingonberry juice for the table for a light and refreshing drink to share. there are also references to balls all over the restaurant, which we all know i love.
- tyge & sessil: this intimate wine bar and restaurant was pricier than some of the other places we visited, and the menu was more limited. that didn’t stop us from staying a few hours, trying different wine pairings and demolishing small plates like burrata with raisins, toasted hazelnuts, basil, and olive oil. the sommelier even surprised me with an incredible pairing for my spinach soup, an australian riesling. never would i ever have expected to enjoy a riesling. that alone made this dinner a winner in my book.
- mikkeller stockholm: the aforementioned craft beer bar that has locations around europe (and a couple in the united states). my brother turned us on to the place, and we have become big fans. i rarely drink beer, but i’ll make an exception here.
- melt: we visited melt on our last night in stockholm, and it was one of our favorite parts of the whole trip. a pseudo-speakeasy and burlesque cabaret, the bar takes you back in time without being too kitschy. the windows are covered with black curtains, only allowing a glimpse of what’s inside from the exterior. a single “m” marks the door for visitors, so make sure you have the address mapped out on your phone. we went on a wednesday night and had drinks while playing burlesque bingo, a game that is virtually the same as regular bingo only a vertical bingo doesn’t count (“it is a premature bingo, and we will laugh at you,” said the lovely bingo hostess). the hostess wore a cage-bra contraption that housed the bingo balls, and players were given the opportunity to draw the balls as the game ensued. along with bingo, the bartender and other staff performed songs and dances in between games, keeping everyone thoroughly entertained because they are actually incredible singers (we were told that a few of them have competed on swedish talent shows or in films and are minor celebrities). we sat at the bar and made friends with the bartender, terry, an ex-pat from brooklyn, and were thrilled when he took his turn to lip-synch, shimmy, and twerk his way around the small space. the downstairs houses a small stage with a red velvet curtain and limited seating for the friday and saturday night cabaret performances, so make a reservation if you’d like to attend one of the shows. with how much fun we had at bingo, i can only imagine what the full burlesque show is like. this is the number one bar/restaurant i’d recommend visiting in stockholm as long as you aren’t bothered by ladies walking around in vintage bras or the occasional innuendo. it was the best.
for fika (a mid-afternoon coffee and snack break that is traditional in sweden):
- bageri petrus: the coffee wasn’t good here, but the kardemummabullar, a traditional swedish cardamom roll, was delicious. thankfully, good coffee is right around the corner at the next place, drop coffee.
- drop coffee roasters: great coffee, free wifi, and good snack and light lunch options. the perfect spot for fika.
- the cafe at fotografiska (must pay admission to the museum to access the café): after wandering the museum’s two exhibits, we went upstairs to the cafe for a snack break (we took a lot of snack breaks on this trip). the kanelbular, a real swedish cinnamon roll that is nothing like ikea’s version, was delicious, and the views from the cafe were perfect. broad windows stretch across the walls, offering a view of the bay and neighboring island. we watched snow fall as the sun slowly set, and it was a perfectly cozy way to wind down and relax after a cold afternoon of exploring.
visit these places:
- gamla stan: the charming old town of stockholm and home to the royal palace and nobel museum among other sights. the multi-colored squares and cobblestone streets are cute, and this seemed to us the most tourist-heavy area in the city.
- sodermalm: this island is the artsy, laidback area of stockholm, giving off a brooklyn-esque vibe through its restaurants, shops, and attractions. the fotografiska museum is here, and it is worth checking out if you have an interest in photography; the featured exhibits rotate regularly, keeping things fresh for visitors.
- ostermalm and norrmalm: we stayed on the edge of these neighborhoods at the beautiful hotel drottning kristina, and the walkable neighborhood boasted countless dining and shopping options, both affordable and upscale. if you’re in the mood to shop (and maybe take a break for fika in between stores), ostermalm and norrmalm can’t be missed.
- skeppsholmen: the modern art museum (the only museum we visited with free admission) was on this island, and it was a fun way to spend an hour warming up. i don’t always love modern art, particularly pieces like the sheet of pink silk hanging on a wall while a floor fan blew on it, but there were some very cool installations here, too. and there was dalí, whose work i will never understand or enjoy.
- djurgården: this island is the least residential of the ones we visited, housing only a few hotels, restaurants, museums, and a huge park that i imagine is incredible during the warmer months. we skipped the nordic museum due to time constraints and the abba museum due to me being the only one that wanted to go (mamma mia! is my guilty pleasure), but both are supposed to be worth visiting if you have the margin in your schedule. we went to the vasa museum, home to a massive ship from the 1600s that sank less than thirty minutes after leaving stockholm’s port. it was recovered and restored in the mid-1900s, and it was a sight to behold. i’m not a history buff, but i found the story of the vasa fascinating. even if you aren’t into tourist attractions, i would recommend visiting this museum.
all in all, we loved stockholm and would love to see more of sweden and the rest of scandinavia. we found the architecture and design inspiring, the people kind (and easy to communicate with since everyone speaks english better than most americans), the cuisine (mostly) good, and the landscape beautiful. though we would love to go further north in either norway or sweden and see the northern lights (usually visible from october-march), we will likely plan our next visit for the summertime. either that or we will get real winter coats and thermal underwear.
for my highlights from our time in stockholm, check out my highlighted stockholm story on my instagram.