by Murray Garrard, The Telegraph, April 5, 2019
Straddling 14 islands in one of the world’s great archipelagos, Stockholm is a city defined by its relationship with water. Once part of a Viking kingdom feared throughout Europe, today Stockholm is the epicentre of Scandinavian design, the home of the Nobel Prize and regularly tops lists of the planet’s healthiest, wealthiest and happiest inhabitants: an essential stop for cruisers seeking out the northern soul.
Cruise port location
With its numerous piers, Stockholm is a city made for cruise ships. Smaller ships tie up at Skeppsbron, a pier in the heart of Gamla Stan: the old town. Statsgården is the most popular cruise port, perched on the edge of the Katarina-Sofia district, a half hour walk from the centre. Frihamnen is a large modern port further out of town that accommodates large cruise vessels and from which transport is required.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
Docking at Skeppsbron puts you in the centre of the action: Gamla Stan is on your doorstep and is the oldest part of the city. Cobbled streets and narrow alleys bisect some of the most beautiful medieval and Renaissance architecture in Northern Europe. A short walk west from Statsgården is the photographic institution Fotografiska. Though it houses no permanent collection, the exhibitions here are world-renowned.
Most cruises offer a shuttle bus service from the port to the centre of town. Failing that, Stockholm has great public transport; all the ports are connected to the main cultural sights by bus. It’s not possible to pay on the bus, and fines for riding without a ticket can be high: be sure to purchase a ticket before you board. The quickest way to get around town is using the metro or the tram. There are plenty of taxis, but be prepared to pay top dollar. If you buy a Stockholm Pass (advised: see below) add on a travelcard, which covers all public transport in the city.
What to see and do
Eight hundred years of history studding some of the most beautiful urban islands in northern Europe make Stockholm a seductive stop off. With world-class museums, the best shopping in Scandinavia, and a 24,000-island archipelago waiting to be discovered, whether you are in town for a few hours of a few weeks, you will never be bored.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Start your Stockholm tour where the city began: Gamla Stan, the central island from which the rest of the city radiates. Dating back to the 13th century, architecturally diverse and dominated by the Royal Palace – one of the largest in the world – this superb collection of medieval and Renaissance buildings are crammed onto an island half the size of Regent’s Park. The section of the Royal Palace open to the public is vast and somewhat sparse, but visiting the Royal Armoury is a feast of Nordic military pomp and history that is not to be missed. Gamla Stan is also home to the Nobel Prize Museum, perhaps the best in the city, which hosts superb exhibitions celebrating the genius and ingenuity of the winners of the Nobel Prizes (and, with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, all are awarded by the Swedish Academy).
One island over and you hit Moderna Museet, the epicentre of Stockholm’s art world. The permanent collection here is, refreshingly, free, but it’s the museum’s rolling exhibitions that tend to attract most of the buzz. A quick ferry trip across the water brings you to the Vasa Museum, famed for housing the only intact 17th century ship ever salvaged. The Vasa sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628 and in the frigid Baltic was surprisingly well preserved: a remarkable testament to Sweden’s seafaring past. ABBA fans won’t want to miss the museum dedicated to everything about Sweden’s most famous musical export.
Save money on transport and entrance to many of Stockholm’s most popular museums by investing in a Stockholm Pass.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
A day and you can explore some of Stockholm’s further flung attractions. If you are heading to Sweden in the summer, you’ll have the chance to see some of the stunning Swedish countryside, so often overlooked by visitors captivated by the bright lights of the big city. Start at Sweden’s most famous cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, a couple of kilometres south of the centre. It’s no Montmartre – Greta Garbo is one of the few household names to reside here – but the lines of Nordic pine, the meditative chapels and landscaped gardens can be breathtaking on a clear day. Continue south and you come to Tyresta National Park, one of the most beautiful in Eastern Sweden, where it is possible to glimpse the majesty of Scandinavia’s rugged watery world. The park offers great hikes along a number of well signposted routes.
Find yourself in Stockholm on a cold wintry day? Then head to Drottningholm Palace, where the Swedish royals actually live. Built in the 17th century and evocative of the Austro-Hungarian palaces perched outside Vienna, the Swedish summer palace is a sumptuous sanctuary that is as warm as the city-centre Royal Palace is cold.
What can I do with a bit longer?
If you are heading to Stockholm in winter, factor in some time to head to the famous Ice Hotel, situated in the village of Jukkasjärvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, operating between December and April. Built afresh each year, this ephemeral phenomenon is a bucket-list must-do and is one of the best places on the planet to spot the northern lights. If the ice has melted, get the train to Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg. Often overshadowed by the capital, Gothenburg is fast becoming a Scandinavian cultural heavyweight and a haven for art and design.
Eat and drink
Swedish cuisine is a Smörgåsbord of cold cuts, smoked fish and pickled herring, the latter being ubiquitous and a must try if you eat fish. In summer, the Swedes go crayfish crazy. In winter, look out for meatballs and cinnamon buns. Traditionalists will want to head to Gamla Stan’s Den Gyldene Freden, which has been serving upscale Swedish cuisine since 1772. Drink: vodka! Absolute.
Don’t leave Stockholm without…
Shopping on Drottninggatan, Stockholm’s answer to Oxford Street, where you can find all the massive Swedish chain stores, only bigger. Trendsetters will want to spend some time in Södermalm, home to the city’s hippest fashion boutiques.
Need to know
Numerous airlines fly direct from London (and several other UK airports) direct to Stockholm, the flight time being just over two hours.
Stockholm is a super safe city, though pickpockets do operate in the tourist areas in the summer. The winters in Sweden are harsh, during which the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan can turn into an ice rink.
Best time to go
Stockholm is a fantastic place to visit at any time of year: darker months turn the city into a winter wonderland; the blue skies of summer make the place feel like paradise. Spring and autumn, when the weather is still fine but the onslaught of tourists has not yet started, can be a great time to travel.
Some museums close on Monday.