Nicknamed ‘The Beauty on the Water’, Stockholm is the ideal place for a weekend trip for first-time visitors to Scandinavia. Here are a few things worth knowing before you visit the Swedish capital!
1. It’s expensive!
Like many Scandinavian cities, I had heard that Stockholm was pricey, but I didn’t realise just how expensive food and drink would be! This is especially true for alcohol which is subject to a 25% tax (think £9.50 a pint!) Despite the high prices, there are lots of al fresco bars and restaurants that are worth splashing the cash at in the summer months. Malarpaviljongen (don’t ask me to pronounce that!) is a picturesque bar on the river in Norr Malarstrand. Set on a floating pontoon, it’s a perfect spot to have a couple of sunset drinks by the water. Over in trendy Södermalm, the popular Mosebacketerrassen is a lively outdoor theatre bar with an unbeatable view over the city. This spot is the best place to watch the sunset with a Spritz, but get here early if you want to find a spot at one of the long, communal trestle tables. Over in Östermalm, hidden in a leafy park, is Omnipollos Flora, a laid-back beer garden that serves an eclectic mix of beer, seafood and ice cream! Any of these outdoor spots are perfect for making the most of the long, light evenings in the brief Swedish summertime!
2. Fika is life
The Swedish tradition of ‘fika’ – essentially to stop for a coffee and cake, is firmly entrenched in daily life in Stockholm. Make sure you pop into a cosy coffee shop and get your fika on with a traditional ‘kanelbulle’ (the classic Swedish cinnamon roll!) My favourite ‘hygge’ cafes to visit were trendy Johan & Nyström in Södermalm, and cosy little Fabrique bakery in Gamla Stan.
3. Embrace ‘B&B’
‘B&B’ stands for Beer and Balls! Because you can’t visit Sweden and not have meatballs. Meatballs for the People is the most popular spot for tourists to tuck into a plate of this traditional Swedish staple, which is served with creamy mash, pickled cucumber and lingonberries. The craft beer scene is also huge in Stockholm, with lots of breweries serving delicious, locally produced beer. There are two Brewdog bars in the city, and many other independent breweries, such as Mikeller and and Omnipollos Flora, where you can try a locally-produced tipple.
4. Don’t skip the subway
Stockholm is a big city, and the main areas of Norrmalm, Södermalm, Östermalm and the island of Gamla Stan are quite far from each other. The easiest and quickest way to get around the city is to make use of public transport. You can buy a 24 hour ticket from most supermarkets for around £12, which grants access to trams, ferries and the subway. Alternatively, a single ticket only costs around £4 and gives you 75 minutes to do some underground exploring. Stockholm’s subway stations are a destination in themselves, an arty underground network that is a stark contrast to the clean, untouched buildings above. A good starting point is T-Centralen, from where you can take the tube to the most impressive stations. Don’t miss Kungsträdgården, which was designed to resemble an archaeological dig, and Stadion were you can find the end of the rainbow. (No leprechauns or pots of gold though…disappointing.)
5. Swedes are stylish
It’s a well-known fact that Swedes are an attractive bunch, but apparently they’re also seriously stylish. Stockholm is filled with young, attractive people mixing pretty summer dresses and sharp tailoring with full-sleeve tattoos. (I developed a fair few girl-crushes on the subway!) There are lots of stylish spots to grab a drink too, like Gretas which is possibly the most instagrammable restaurant in the city, housed in the 1920’s-esque Haymarket Hotel. Be sure to pop in here for brunch, or a quick fika break!
6. Scooters are everywhere!
Everywhere you look, you’ll see teenagers zipping around on little electric micro-scooters. You’ll also see a heap of them lying, seemingly abandoned, in the middle of the street. (The scooters that is, not the teenagers.) These scooters work a little like rental bikes in London, except when you’re done with your scooter, you don’t need to return it to a docking station – you just leave it in the street for the next person to find. Using the Voi app, if you find a discarded scooter you can ‘unlock it’ and then scoot off into the sunset. Or to the bar.
7. Cash won’t get you far
One thing we wish we’d known before withdrawing a wad of krona for the weekend was that Stockholm is practically cash-free. Sweden was recently named as ‘the most cashless society on the planet’ and the vast majority of places are card-only. Luckily most bars will let you set up a tab, which avoids forking out a transaction fee every time you buy a drink!
8. Everyone goes on holiday in July!
Many shops and businesses close their doors completely during the entire month of July, to allow workers to make the most of the summer (which is notoriously short in Sweden!) At times, the city can seem almost eerily quiet and some places we had hoped to visit, such as Pom & Flora, were closed until August. Despite this, the majority of places we had planned to visit were still open, and as many Stockholmers leave the city in the summer, this meant that the popular spots weren’t too crowded!
9. The food is great!
If you’ve had your fill of meatballs, there are plenty of delicious food options in the city. Don’t miss The Hairy Pig, tucked away in the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, this family-run restaurant produces their own sausages and serves tasty dishes such as reindeer tacos and wild boar pie. They also import their own wine from small winemakers in Italy and Germany and it is among the best wine I’ve ever tasted! (And believe me, I like my wine!)
If you’re craving a fast-food fix, you can’t beat Flippin’ Burgers, a hugely popular diner which serves incredible burgers and unbeatable shakes, (regular or with a splash of your favourite tipple!) It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.
10. Everyone speaks English
I tried to brush up on some basic Swedish before visiting, as I figure it’s always nice to know a bit of the lingo before heading to a new country. But luckily I didn’t need to attempt pronouncing any ridiculously long words, as everyone seemed to speak perfect English! In fact, in the more touristy bars and restaurants, many staff didn’t actually speak any Swedish! In one bar, I asked a waiter how to say ‘Thank you’ in Swedish and he responded with a shrug that he had no idea, he was Italian! If you only learn one word, let it be ‘Skål!’ (Cheers!)
So there you have it, 10 things to know before you visit this wonderful city! Thanks for reading. (Or should I say, tack!)