I spent 3 nights in Stockholm on a recent backpacking trip through Scandinavia. I’d always wanted to visit Stockholm, so it was a must stop on my itinerary. Perhaps I felt this way because Stockholm is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Of course, it might also have been the hordes of blue eyed, blonde haired woman that struck my curiosity. Well, both rumors turned out to be true. In particular, Stockholm’s old quarter, Gamla Stan, was the highlight of my trip. Gamla Stan feels like a fairy tale and I’m a bit of a sucker for that. Wandering around a place that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years is something that never gets old to me (no pun intended).
I spent 3 nights at City Backpackers, which is pretty much where every seasoned backpacker stays in Stockholm. The hostel was spotless, though there were a few oddities. The security was a little ridiculous. You enter through two separate locked doors that require a code and then you need a separate code to enter your dorm room. I guess a little extra security isn’t the worst thing, but it just felt a little extensive, especially considering how safe Stockholm is. Also, you must take your shoes off at the front door. This is Swedish custom and taken very seriously, so don’t forget if you’re invited over to someone’s home. Overall, the hostel had a pretty good vibe. It wasn’t the most social, but I still managed to meet some great people.
Below you’ll find a few of my favorite sites around the city, but I’m sure there’s so much more to be discovered. I only wished I could have spent a few more days in Stockholm. I’m already planning on going back soon.
Gamla Stan – The Highlight of Stockholm
The highlight of Stockholm is without a doubt Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s old quarter). Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest and best preserved medieval old towns in Europe. If you like fairy tales, this is the right place to come. There’s a few streets that are lined with shops and restaurants, but it wasn’t hard to wander off into a quiet section where no one else was around. This was one of the benefits of coming at the end of April. The weather was still shitty, but I avoided the throngs of tourists that come during the warmer summer months. I especially liked Gamla Stan at night. Most of the streets are lined with lanterns and many restaurants light small cauldrons outside their entrance.
There isn’t that many sites within Gamla Stan other than the old streets themselves, but I thought the following were worthwhile:
- Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet) – the King’s official residence and also the setting for most of the monarchy’s official receptions. The interior is separated into a couple different museums. You can see the Royal Apartments, Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, the Tre Kronor Museum, the Treasury, and the Armory. Make sure not to miss the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of the guard.
- Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan) – Gamla Stan’s oldest church, which dates back to 1279. This church has frequently been the site of major events in Swedish history, such as coronations, royal weddings, and royal funerals. You’ll also find a few famous sculptures including Berndt Notke’s St George and the Dragon.
- Mårten Trotzigs Alley – the narrowest alley in Gamla Stan, only 90 centimeters wide at its narrowest point.
The Vasa Museum – My Favorite Museum
Most museums bore me. I find myself napping on the nearest bench more than actually checking out the exhibits. The Vasa Museum was actually pretty cool. Just coming to see the sheer size of the ship was worth the trip. The picture above doesn’t do justice for how big the Vasa actually is (if you look on the left side, you can see a person that helps give it some scale).
The story behind the ship and its sinking is interesting too. The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628, and was salvaged 333 years later in 1961. For nearly half a century the ship has been slowly restored to its original glory. The Vasa is the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world and more than 95 percent of the ship is original.
The Royal Armory – Best Free Attraction
Unfortunately, the two biggest attractions at the Royal Palace were closed (the Royal Apartments and the Treasury). Apparently, the Kings birthday was coming up, so these areas were closed for a few weeks. This led me to visit the Royal Armory, which turned out to be kind of a hidden gem. Inside I found royal costumes and armor, as well as coronation carriages and coaches from the Royal Stable. The real highlight is that the museum is in the old cellars of the Royal Palace. Even if you don’t really care for checking out what’s in the museum, It’s cool to just walk around. Best of all, its free.
Katarinahissen Lift – Best View of Gamla Stan
Near the Slussen metro stop (1 stop south of Gamla Stan) is a great viewpoint. The Katarinahissen Lift is closed, but I walked up the stairs to the top. If you have trouble finding it, you can search for Eriks Gondolen restaurant using your cell phone (this restaurant shares the exact same location). This view is great during both day and night. It’s also very close to the bars and restaurants of both Gamla Stan and Södermalm.