Spending over 2 weeks in Stockholm this year was unexpected in many ways.
First, that I got to go for work was an incredible opportunity to be there longer than I normally would have.
True, it meant a lot of time spent working and not as much time exploring and sightseeing - but I liked the chance to feel as if I were actually living there as opposed to vacationing.
It also gave me the opportunity to experience this modern, beautiful city in both summer (August) and the start of the colder, darker winter months (November).
I fell totally in love with Stockholm - and what was surprising was that I loved it just as much in November as I did in August.
On my first day there in November I called my parents, smiling from ear to ear and told them that I just had this incredible feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be the entire day I had been walking around.
It's a feeling I sometimes get when I'm home in NYC - I'll be walking down a particularly cute side street in the West Village with the sun hitting the brick buildings just right and I think to myself, "I LOVE IT HERE." But I had never experienced that same feeling of "rightness" anywhere else - until Stockholm.
I've struggled to write about Stockholm because my "list of things to do and see and eat" really isn't very long. My favorite part about my time in Stockholm were the days where I just wandered around the streets for hours. Everywhere you look there's another beautiful building, aesthetically pleasing home goods shop, cozy looking cafe or new waterfront view. Not to mention the people watching is on point - I swear everyone who lives in Stockholm is straight-up-model-status.
I could keep going about how the city made me ~feel~ but I really think you should book a flight to the capital of Sweden and experience it for yourself by walking around and getting lost. Stockholm is seen as expensive and cold and for those reasons it's probably not at the top of your travel list. I thought all of those things before I got there too. But I promise you, it's magical! Here are a few of my favorite things.
1. Wandering Stockholm's Unique Neighborhoods
I know this is annoying and you're looking for a list of places to go, things to do, restaurants to eat at. But seriously - walking around the different neighborhoods is an absolute MUST when you're in Stockholm. They're all totally different!
"Gamla Stan" or "Old Town" is the most charming, iconic place in Stockholm. It is filled with stores, restaurants, cafes and bars - set in a scene straight out of history books. Cobblestone streets, winding alleyways and beautiful buildings that are filled with history.
This is one of the oldest medieval city centers left in Europe and it's where Stockholm was founded in 1252. I'm just going to let you think about that number for a minute.
It's definitely a popular area, but I never felt like I was in Times Square while walking around. The main streets of Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan tend to be the most crowded and most filled with souvenir shops - so make sure to explore some places further off the beaten path.
Don't leave Gamla Stan without stopping for a picture in the iconic Stortoget - the oldest square in Stockholm (there's a Christmas market in the winter that I missed by just a week! I can imagine that it's crowded, but incredibly worth it.)
I absolutely loved my walk through Sodermalm or "Soder" (South). It's filled with trendy stores, fun restaurants and green spaces. During my walk, I found myself passing through a cemetery and suddenly the most gorgeous, golden church appeared. With the fall leaves scattered all around, it was picture perfect. Turns out, this was Katarina Kyrka.
While in Sodermalm, you should also walk down Hornsgatan, a super bustling, popular street that's also really pretty! It was while walking down this main thoroughfare that I decided to make a detour and found myself climbing up to the scenic overlook of Skinnarviksberget. Say that 10 times fast (or just try to say it once...)
After scrambling my way up some rocks, I was rewarded with an absolutely stunning view. Who knew that I had happened to find the highest natural point in Stockholm?
If you're headed back towards Gamla Stan or Norrmalm, walk on along Söder Mälarstrand - scenic and along the water, you'll see some adorable boats that double as restaurants and bed & breakfasts.
This walk gives you view across to Kungsholmen - where the iconic Stockholm City Hall building resides.
Once you're on the Kungsholmenside of the water, you can look across to Sodermalm for one of my favorite views I found the entire trip:
This is considered the "City Center" and it's where I stayed during my time in Stockholm. The main train station is here, along with tons of shopping.
Drottninggatan is a pedestrian street jam packed with tourists and stores.
This is where the rich people live - and walking along Strandvagen, you can tell! The buildings, facing the water, are absolutely beautiful.
In August, there were tons of floating docks that were bars - and sitting out at one, sipping a glass of rose, was a definite highlight of the trip.
Because of the long winters, dark days, and cold weather - the people of Stockholm really know how to embrace their summers!
This island is a popular spot because many attractions like the Vasa Museum, Gröna Lund amusement park (my one regret is not getting to go here!), the Abba museum and Skansen - but it's also just a very beautiful place to walk around!
2. Embracing Your Sweet Tooth
If you had asked me before my trip to Sweden what my favorite candy was - my answer surely would have been something chocolate.
But while in Sweden, my appreciation for sweet, fruity and sour candies SKYROCKETED. They really love their candy in Sweden - in fact, they import and consume more candy than anywhere else in the world!
In August, we stopped at a stall on the side of Strandvagen for a piece of "licorice" and I was instantly hooked. It wasn't the black licorice flavored stuff you think of - it's soft, sweet, and comes in hundreds of flavors!
I really cannot describe the texture of Swedish licorice - but I can promise you that it's nothing you can come close to getting in the US!
Licorice was my gateway drug to the Swedish candy craze - but when I landed on October 31 I found myself shoveling a bagful of Halloween sweets from the corner store in what would become an increasingly consistent habit!
I'm sure there are a TON of amazing candy shops in Stockholm, but my two go-twos were Jam Jam and Karamellaffären.
Another fun candy story from Stockholm? My coworkers' and I got a kick out of the chocolate bar named, "Plopp."
Be on the lookout for Marabou chocolate bars! I was SHOCKED at how many different flavors/fillings they have! Everything from Oreo to coconut to toffee. Bring some of these bad boys home as a quick, cheap, delicious gift for the fam.
It's words like this that had me convinced I could easily pick up and move to Sweden and somehow get by. Chokladbollar - chocolate ball! (Kind of like when I looked at a map that said Du ar harr and exclaimed, "YOU ARE HERE! I SPEAK SWEDISH!")
These desserts are EVERYWHERE in Stockholm and good lord are they incredible. Rich, chocolatey, melt-in-your-mouth decadence. They are unbaked - which makes them super moist (I know, I know - it's a gross word).
It took me awhile to realize that these are made with OATS so they're basically an energy ball/practically HEALTH FOOD.
As such, eat them often on your trip.
Other odd delicacies you can pick up at these shops are Dill chips and Wasa Sandwiches (crispbreads sandwiched together with things like hummus, sour cream & chive, and peanut butter in between!)
I was pleasantly surprised by both!
3. Swedish Spa Days
Sweden caught on to the spa and health resort craze over 300 years ago - such trendsetters!
Sweden is synonymous with sauna - and while I'm not one to sit around luxuriating all day - I'm way too antsy for that - if there's ever a place to treat yo self to some steam rooms and cold showers it's in Sweden!
I was spoiled rotten by the fact that I got to spend a day at the Grand Hotel's spa - it was truly a "somebody pinch me" afternoon.
This five star hotel opened in 1874 and is absolutely stunning. I got to stay here in August, and then in November we were treated to our day at the spa. Unreal.
They even gave us the Nordic Bathe de Luxe package which came with some fancy products and a free glass of champagne or a smoothie from their cafe.
The Nordic bathing ritual (which we enjoyed post-gym - ahhhh) involved dry brushing, a nourishing hair mask, a shower, sitting in the sauna, and plunging into a cold pool. I was proud of myself for repeatedly managing to switch between the toasty warm sauna and the painfully cold pool.
We met the nicest woman ever in the sauna - she was originally from Texas, grew up in Michigan, but had lived and taught in Sweden for over 20 years! Talk about a hard to decipher accent...
There are many more affordable saunas and spas around Sweden, and it's a very Scandinavian experience that I highly recommend indulging in!
4. Not Your Average Museums
If I haven't mentioned it enough in my travel recaps - I'm not a big museum person. Or maybe I'm just not a fan of museums when I'm walking around with other people. Then I feel like I can't spend as much time on some things as I'd like, and that I have to spend more time on other things than I want to.
The two museums I visited in Stockholm, however, I adored.
Fun fact - my goal is to write a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. A la Boys in the Boat and Seabiscuit.
The entire time I was walking about the Vasa Museum, I was thinking that it might be the perfect topic for my future book.
The Vasa museum tells the story of a warship that capsized and sank in Stockholm in 1628. It remained underwater until 333 - when it was brought to the surface and has been meticulously preserved.
It's incredible that 98% of this ship is ORIGINAL! Original, from 1628! The water preserved much of what was on board when the vessel went down. Including bones, women's purses, and more. Archaeologists worked tirelessly to get Vasa in the condition it's in today - and they continue to work on its preservation.
I was fascinated with the Vasa story and no trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to this piece of history.
The photography museum in Stockholm was wonderful - and I think I enjoyed it so much because I was on my own and able to amble through at my own speed. Skipping what didn' interest me, and lingering to read every last word about the pieces that moved me.
During my visit there was a large display by a photojournalist, an exhibit that chronicled "Last Night in Sweden" after Trump's now infamous remark, and a gallery of photograph contest winners.
I loved every single exhibit that was at the museum when I visited. The photojournalists images and accompanying accounts were raw and moving and difficult to get through. "Last Night in Sweden" offered a multifaceted look at the nation I was visiting. And the final exhibit was full of different pieces.
With constantly changing exhibits and incredible hours (Sunday - Wednesday 9 AM - 11 PM and Thursday - Saturday 9 AM - 1 AM!) - Fotografiska is a museum you can come back to time and time again. I'm so glad someone suggested it! (A friend of the couple who rescued us in Copenhagen!)
5. Eating. Obviously.
Duh, I visited many restaurants in Stockholm. However, I found one of Bill Bryson's quotes from "Neither Here Nor There" to be all too true -
The food wasn't atrocious - but it was, overall, a disappointment. Or just not my cup of tea. No matter how many times I gave pickled herring a chance - or tried to be OK with the amount of mayonnaise used in Swedish cuisine - I couldn't get behind it.
No matter what I ordered, it didn't come out the way I had anticipated - maybe it was lost in translation, maybe that was me just not being open minded enough (though I think I am very open minded when it comes to food!)
That being said - the Swedes really kill the mashed potato game. I think the ratio must have been something like 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of cream for each potato.
I did have a few standout meals though - so here are my restaurant recommendations!
Pom & Flora
Looking for a brunch spot with healthy options, bright colors, and a made-for-Instagram aesthetic? (I mean, that's what I typically look for...) Pom & Flora is for sure your spot. We waited a bit for a table, but I knew that I needed to eat here.
Everything was fresh and delicious - I ordered the banana split and avocado toast while my coworker had a delicious bowl of oatmeal.
Sally Voltaire & Sisters (Sally Voltaire & Systrar)
I came here to pick up lunch one day and was pleasantly surprised by the bright colors, fresh ingredients, and healthy options.
There are little shrimps everywhere in Stockholm!
This is a trendy, seafood heavy restaurant that was one of my favorites, no doubt. It's one of those places where you instantly feel cooler just by dining there. It's in the Stureplan area - aka clubbing central. And the menu was top notch!
Another super cute interior, an open kitchen, and "Modern Nordic Cuisine." I absolutely cannot tell you what I ordered here - but it looks like it was tasty!
Take a look at this picture and you'll surely fall just as in love with Falafelbaren as I did.
Had this been closer to work or my hotel, I definitely would have eaten here every day of the week. And I'm not the only one who loves it - it's definitely one of the more popular spots in Stockholm!
Another hip spot, this was one of the most frequently recommended restaurants. I'm sensing a trend where if the interior of the restaurant had a good vibe and was aesthetically pleasing - I could forego the fact that I didn't love Swedish cuisine!
Riche was gorgey (hello, giant chandeliers) and had a great mix of classic and modern dishes.
My coworker ordered the Biff Rydberg - which was a dish I learned about too late in the game to ever order out, unfortunately.
Diced and fried tenderloin with potatoes, onions, grated fresh horseradish and egg yolk - it's basically steak and eggs for dinner.
I recommend coming here mainly for the ambiance! Nestled in Gamla Stan, the downstairs of this restaurant is like a beautiful cave - if that makes any sense? It's been serving food since 1722 and is filled with different rooms and an antique vibe that really brings you back.
This was one of our nicer dinners out - the staff were wonderful, the bar upstairs had a lovely bartender while we waited for our table, and the food was delicious (if still not particularly my style).
The Opera Bar / Operabaren
Operakalleren is one of the most famous, fine dining experiences in Stockholm. But they also have The Opera Bar, next to Cafe Opera (a nightclub) that serves more traditional Swedish meals.
We were lucky enough to snag a table at The Opera Bar one night in August. The stained glass ceiling made for a beautiful backdrop to a standout meal!
I loved the concept behind this restaurant - where you walk up to the counter and pick out your piece of fish or meat, then head back to the table to order your small plates and accouterments!
This was a really fun place for a group - and again, super hip inside, friendly service (everyone in Sweden is friendly) and fresh food! Definitely recommend.
You guessed it - hip, trendy (though possibly the one waiter of note on the entire trip who seemed entirely uninterested in serving us) and good food.
The standout dish was one that my coworker ordered - Ox Cheeks! I was so proud, and also very impressed with the dish!
And to answer your question - yes, I ate Swedish meatballs and yes, they were delicious - but I can't say that the restaurant I ordered them at was anything to write home about. And my Gran still makes the best Swedish meatballs - it's a nostalgia thing.
6. The Subway is Gorgeous
The subways in Stockholm have been called the largest art museum in the world. That's because each station really is like a giant art installation/work of art.
You could spend a whole rainy afternoon riding the subway, getting off at different stops, and taking pictures of each unique station.
One morning, when we got to the subway - the floor had SOAP BUBBLES on it. As in, THEY CLEANED THE SUBWAY FLOOR.
7. Hotel Breakfast Buffets
It sounds strange, but if you want to live like a local, do it up BIG at a hotel breakfast buffet. According to the friend we made at the sauna, Swedes usually go once a year and pay for a hotel buffet.
I was spoiled rotten at both the Sheraton Stockholm and the Grand Hotel - eating at a breakfast buffet every morning is what we call, "Living My Best Life." Heaven absolutely has a breakfast buffet.
And that breakfast buffet most definitely has cream of wheat with all the accouterments + croissants and jam and giant blocks of brie.
Fika is the Swedish cultural tradition of a "coffee break" but it's more-so the concept of taking a moment out of your day to sit and relax at a comfy, cozy cafe.
While I was working with American coworkers and we didn't necessarily make fika part of our daily routines while in Stockholm - it's definitely something you should do on your visit. Like a siesta when you're in Spain!
There are endless cute coffee shops in Stockholm - with incredible pastries I might add! Stop for a snack and some caffeine and don't take it to go! (Like I did, from Joe & The Juice, repeatedly. This place employs only the hottest male models, I swear).
9. Homeland of IKEA & All The Aesthetically Pleasing Shopping
There is something about Scandinavian design that is so modern, so clean, so clever, so useful, so beautiful, so hip - you're going to have a really hard time not buying everything you see.
Like me, coming home with a roll of doughnut wrapping paper.
My favorite shopping story is that I bought myself a little vase in August and when I got home, realized that the copper stem, which made it cute in the first place, was missing.
I happened to pass the store again in November, stopped in, told the woman working my story - and she took the piece off of the display vase and gave it to me!
This epitomizes the Swedish people that I met.
This is also shows how easy it is to communicate in Sweden - most people speak better English than Americans.
10. A Fun Nightlife
Enjoy the nightlife in this city - I've heard the clubbing is great. Sadly, I was there for work, people!
We stuck to casual bars and I highly suggest The Liffey if you're looking for a casual Irish Pub that has live music and trivia nights!
Another night we got classy cocktails at Vau De Ville - which was bumping!
I didn't like the food at Yuc, or the cocktail I ordered necessarily, but if you're looking for cocktails and guacamole, check it out! Hands down the coolest ice cube I've ever received.
So there you have it - my Stockholm guide. I didn't think I would have nearly this much to write, but turns out this post made me fall in love with the city all over again.
I leave you with some more pictures - in case you weren't already convinced that it's absolutely beautiful.
No one you know wants to go to Sweden? It's probably the easiest place to travel on your own. Everyone speaks English. I even took a Barry's Bootcamp class in English! And the public transportation is a BREEZE.
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