Sweden’s capital attracts millions of tourists every year, and little wonder. Surrounded by natural beauty and offering a delightful mix of the old and the new, Stockholm’s vibrant energy and old-world charm are infectious. Regardless of whether you want to soak up the history at a museum or dance the night away at an outdoor rave, the city has enough to please everyone. Here, in ascending order, are the ‘20 Best Things to do in Stockholm For First Timers’.
20. Indulge your inner glutton at Östermalm Saluhall
If you want to stock up on fresh produce, pickled vegetables, cured meats, and artisan bread, Östermalm Saluhall is the place to go. This huge food hall is a favorite with locals – and with its vibrant atmosphere and incredible selection of Swedish delicacies, an equally big hit with visitors.
19. See how the other half live at Drottningholm Palace
As Visit Stockholm proudly proclaims, Drottningholm Palace is Sweden's best-preserved royal palace, and one well worth a visit. Built in the seventeenth century (and now classed on one of Stockholm's three World Heritage Sites), the palace serves as the permanent residence of the Swedish royal family. Featuring 17th-century saloons, one of the best-preserved eighteenth-century theaters in the world, acres of perfectly landscaped grounds, and an intriguing Chinese Pavilion, it’s a magnificent residence that’s more than worthy of a few hours of your time.
18. Wonder at the architecture of City Hall
With its iconic spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, City Hall is one of Stockholm’s most iconic landmarks…. and, as the venue of the annual Nobel Prize awards, one of its most culturally significant. A tour of the interior is a must – don’t miss the fabulously decadent Golden Hall with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles. Before you leave, make a quick pitstop at the City Hall shop – it’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs of your visit.
17. Admire the masterpieces at the Moderna Museet
Featuring works from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ljubov Popova, Salvador Dalí, Meret Oppenheim, Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, and Irving Penn, not to mention a superb collection of works by contemporary artists, Moderna Museet is heaven for art lovers. Located on the picturesque little island of Skeppsholmen island, the museum offers a great range of revolving events in addition to its collections, so be sure to check the website before you go for details.
16. Visit Europe’s coolest neighborhood
If a neighborhood’s been voted Europe’s coolest by Vogue, you know it’s going to be – well, cool. Sodermalm is exactly that, but fortunately, it’s not so hip as to be ostracizing. Yes, there’s hipsters and men with buns a-plenty, but there’s also a plethora of amazing cafes and restaurants willing to deliver outstanding service and first-rate food regardless of your outfit or hairstyle. Grab a pew at one of the outdoor seating areas, order a Fika pastry and a coffee, and then spend the next couple of hours people watching – what could be better?
15. View the collections at Nationalmuseum
As home to more than 5,000 art pieces, the Nationalmuseum is a must for art lovers. The variety and quality of the collection are just as impressive as its size, providing visitors the opportunity to enjoy centuries-old masterpieces alongside contemporary classics.
14. Sing with the band at ABBA The Museum
Stockholm is the home of the quirky museum, and nowhere is this more evident than at ABBA The Museum, a building entirely dedicated to – you guessed it – ABBA. Not content with simply showcasing the band’s costumes, gold records, and memorabilia, the museum goes one step further by giving visitors the chance to be a part of the fab four through its incredible, interactive virtual reality experiences. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it felt like to sing at the Polar Studio, this is where you’ll get the chance. Aside from being one of the best-selling Swedish music artist groups, their legacy and popularity continue to live on.
13. Dance the night away at Trädgården
Every summer, Stockholm turns into party central, with scores of outdoor spaces transforming as if by magic into a party haven. King of the outdoor clubs is unquestionably Trädgården, a vast courtyard decked out with glittering fairy lights, a dance floor, snack bars, drink bars, and even a section for table tennis. Best of all, entry is free (providing you manage to get there by 8 pm, that is).
12. Wander the halls of the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet)
Not all of the Royal Palace is open to visitors (as the official workplace for King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, some staterooms are strictly off-limits) but even so, it’s still more than worth the trip. As you wander the Royal Apartments, the Treasury and the Tre Kronor Museum, you’ll be left breathless at the majestic splendor of the interior, while the royal relics, which include an impressive selection of crowns and swords, are enough to bring out the inner magpie in even the best of us.
11. Stock up on candies at Gamla Stans Polkagriskokeri
Gamla Stans Polkagriskokeri is the kind of place that kid’s dream of. Set in a delightfully charming 19th-century building, the candy store stocks an incredible range of traditional Swedish candy, and is the only place in the city where you can witness the making of Sweden’s most popular sweet treat, "Polkagr”. Even if you don’t usually have a sweet tooth, the fabulously colorful displays are likely to convince you otherwise… at least if some of the reviewers on Trip Advisor are to be believed. “I’m always looking for small souvenirs to take home and this candy store is perfect. Easily located in Old Town you can sample and buy handmade candies. A variety of flavors including traditional peppermint and ones like root beer and citrus are available. Items are bagged or boxed again making this candy store a great place to pick up some souvenirs,” says one, while another offers the enthusiastic comment “This quaint little candy shop has quite a history and stakes claim to the creation of the candy cane. We went as part of a food tour and got to taste a few different things. I highly recommend it! It's like stepping back in time!” Try it for yourself to find out if the hype’s for real.
10. Indulge your inner art critic at Fotografiska
In a city of outstanding museums, the unique Fotografiska stands out for all the best reasons. Dedicated entirely to contemporary photography, the museum is home to a huge collection of photos, spanning everything from portraits to landscapes, and everything in between. Temporary exhibits change regularly, but considering some of the permanent exhibits include works by artists like Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle, and Nick Brandt, quality is guaranteed.
9. Admire the flowers at Rosendals Garden (Rosendals Tradgard)
Located on the scenic island of Djurgården, Rosendals Garden (Rosendals Tradgard) is the ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some world-class nature. The vast public gardens encompass everything from vineyards and orchards to greenhouses and meadows. Completing the bucolic lineup of attractions is an artisanal bakery, a biodynamic farm shop, and a delightful little café selling light bites, fresh produce, and warm welcomes.
8. Visit the world’s first open-air museum
As US News notes, not only does Skansen hold the distinction of being the world’s first-ever open-air museum, it also ranks as the oldest. Built in 1891, Skansen depicts the evolution of Swedish architecture, culture, and society over the past 5 centuries. Centered around 150 historical buildings, the museum offers the novel opportunity to wander through period churches, farmsteads, and homes while enjoying the sight of historically garbed guides hard at work over spinning wheels, pottery wheels, and looms. Once you’ve had your fill of history, don’t miss a quick visit to the zoo – with its incredible range of native Scandinavian creatures, it's one of the few chances you’ll ever get to look a wolverine in the eye.
7. Get cultural at Vasa Museum
What’s a city break without a museum visit or two? King of all the museums in Stockholm is the Vasa Museum, which manages to attract over a million visitors every year. Built around the mammoth, immaculately restored Vasa (a ship that was designed to be the most powerful warship in the Baltics but managed to capsize within minutes of launching its maiden voyage) the Vasa Museum is unique, fascinating, and fully deserving of a place amongst Stockholm’s top attractions.
6. Enjoy the view at Monteliusvagen
For the best city views in Stockholm, head to Monteliusvagen. The half-mile stretch of cobbled street set atop the clifftop of Södermalm offers breathtaking vistas over the City Hall, Lake Mälaren, and the small island of Riddarholmen. Best experienced at sunset or sunrise, it’s not the kind of place to forget your camera.
5. Have a picnic on Djurgården
A quiet oasis situated directly next to Stockholm city center, the island of Djurgården is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy nature, Balkans style. Take a bike ride around one of the many coastal pathways, hike the canal walk, or simply sit back and relax with a picnic by the lake at Isbladskärret – and once you’re done taking in the nature, head to one of the many museums scattered around (or if you’d rather, skip the culture and take a ride at the amusement park instead).
4. Stroll the Gamla Stan (Old Town)
Experience what Stockholm is all about by strolling the streets of its Old Town. Gamla Stan (old town, to you and me) has been around since 1252. Replete with winding cobbled streets, mysterious, narrow alleyways (and we mean narrow – if you’ve had a big lunch, be prepared to breathe in), and arresting medieval architecture, it’s one of the most beautiful and fascinating neighborhoods in the Baltics. It’s also home to some of the city’s top attractions, putting you in prime position to enjoy the likes of the Royal Palace, the Stockholm Cathedral, Parliament, and the Nobel Museum.
3. Soothe away your stress at the Hellasgården Sauna
Saunas are a huge part of Swedish culture, offering a welcome respite from the long, cold days of winter, not to mention a superb bonding experience. If you take just one sauna during your trip, make sure you take it at Hellasgården sauna. With its beautiful lakeside position, you’ll find few better places to sweat out your stresses or relieve your aching muscles. Once you’re done at the sauna, take advantage of its location by hiking one of the scenic trails scattered around the lake.
2. Jump on a free walking tour
If you want to get a real taste of Stockholm without spending a dollar in the process, join one of the free walking tours. As theatlasedit.com reports, a city tour is an eye-opening experience, giving you an insight into the capital’s culture, history, architecture, and day to day life of its inhabitants. There are a number of tours available, including the City Tour, the Old Town Tour, and the Sodermalm Tour – if you’ve got time, take all three. It’ll take a little planning to squeeze them all in, but it’s well worth the effort.
1. Sail the Stockholm Archipelago
If Time Out ranks sailing through the 30,000 island archipelago as the number one thing to do in Stockholm, who are we to disagree? Every island has something unique to offer, from pristine, sandy beaches and lush forests to chic little resorts. How you travel around them is up to you (if you’ve got money to burn, take advantage of one of the package tours; if you want to save your cents, jump on one of the commuter boat lines that connect the islands to the capital), but however you do it, just make sure you do… unless you want to leave Stockholm without having experienced one of its greatest wonders, that is.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn