I did some work for a Swedish brand last year and learned all about the Swedish concept of lagom. Lagom is a state of contentment, based around having not too much, not too little. The ideal embodiment of lagom—a wonderland of beauty, art, food, activity, and nature—the Swedish capital is the perfect city for a weekend getaway. If you dare, you can brave the Swedish winter, but I much prefer Stockholm in the summertime. Here are five things you should definitely include in your Stockholm trip.
5 things to do in Stockholm
1. Discover Skansen
Odds are your Stockholm trip won’t take you too far outside the city. If that’s the case, make sure you visit Skansen, a sprawling open-air museum in the middle of the city. Skansen gives visitors a fascinating overview of the country without having to leave Stockholm—learn about Swedish history, ogle Swedish wildlife (I particularly loved the sleepy bears), and wander through the peaceful gardens. From Skansen, the view over Stockholm is incredible! Skansen features little farms preserved in time, representing the different regions of Sweden. You can opt for a guided tour or explore on your own, but leave yourself at least 4 hours to soak in the whole experience.
2. Visit the Vasa Museum
Next on the must-do Stockholm list: The Vasa Museet. The Vasa was a warship that, on its maiden voyage in 1628, capsized and sank right after leaving the harbor. Everyone onboard was killed, and for centuries, the ship remained in its watery grave. But in the 1950s, an engineer with an interest in naval history decided to find the sunken ship. His success resulted in a state-of-the-art “rescue” mission: they raised the fully-intact Vasa from the depths, and you can see it now (perfectly preserved!) inside this climate-controlled chamber on the Stockholm harbor.
3. Observe the Changing of the Guard
If you’re a royals fan, you won’t want to miss the Royal Guards Ceremony, which takes place in the courtyard of the Royal Palace of Stockholm. It’s an elaborate changing of the guard with much pomp and ceremony—including marching bands, choreographed marching, and much parading. The ceremony takes about 40 minutes, and the courtyard gets packed, so go early to find a good spot. While you wait, you can appreciate all of the intricate architectural details and try to spot a Swedish prince or princess through the windows.
4. Watch the Sun (Not) Set
There’s nothing crazier than sitting outside at 2am in the relative brightness of the midnight sun. The best part of summer in Sweden is for sure the elongated daylight hours. While Stockholm isn’t so far north that you’ll see the sun up high throughout the night—on average, the sun rises around 3:30am and sets around 10:30pm—it never really gets dark.
While Stockholm has its share of nightlife (from the uber-touristy Icebar to the hip bars in Södermalm), alcohol is taxed at an insanely high rate in Sweden, which makes bar-hopping a pain on the purse. We found the best (and most cost-effective) way to enjoy the eternal twilight was to get drinks from 7-11 and sit out on the harbor, watching the lights play in the water.
5. Explore Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s Old City, one of the largest and best preserved medieval “old towns” in Europe. Full of colorful buildings, bustling restaurants, souvenir shops, and history, this winding, labyrinthian neighborhood is a great place to get lost. When you do, you’ll find funny little statues, hip tattoo shops, castle courtyards, and bars galore, a smorgasbord of things to appreciate and enjoy.
Gamla Stan is located on an island in the middle of Stockholm and connected to the rest of the city by bridges. And with several high-profile restaurants, Gamla Stan is becoming a real foodie destination, so make sure you leave time to grab a lovely dinner along the winding cobblestone alleys.