Despite being scattered across 14 islands, Stockholm is a compact, accessible destination, and it’s easy to check off several of its distinctive neighborhoods within a short trip.

That said, it’s a capital city that flaunts its aesthetic appeal from all corners, so use our guide to its best neighborhoods to work out where you’d most like to linger.

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Scenic summer view of the Old Town pier architecture in Sodermalm district of Stockholm
Scenic summer view of the Old Town pier architecture in Södermalm district of Stockholm © Scanrail1 / Shutterstock

SoFo, Södermalm

Best neighborhood for a Swedish fika coffee break

Stockholm’s recently-gentrified creative district SoFo is, like its name suggests, Sweden’s answer to New York’s SoHo. A magnet for bearded media types and vintage-clad craft ale drinkers, routines here revolve around browsing independent boutiques and sourcing international goodies from organic delicatessens.

This micro-neighborhood is best suited for coffee drinking and people watching, from one of the many restaurants and top-notch cafes around Nytorget square. It’s buzzing from 5pm on weeknights when locals stop work for the day and pack out the curbside drinking terraces.

Strandvagen waterfront in Ostermalm district in Stockholm
Strandvagen waterfront in the Ostermalm neighborhood of Stockholm © tupungato / Getty Images / iStockphoto


Best neighborhood for luxury

Swedes tend to be more understated than many Europeans, but if you’re after opulence, then Östermalm is your destination. Its hub, around Stureplan square, is brimming with high-end designer fashion outlets, award-winning bistros, and champagne-popping clubs.

Close by, expensive yachts and waterfront bars line up along Strandvägen, a boulevard flanked by elaborate 19th-century buildings. Most are apartment blocks containing some of the priciest pieces of real estate per meter in the city, others are used as hotels, restaurants, interior design stores, and foreign embassies.

The skyline of Kungsholmen island seen from Sodermalm island, across Riddarfjarden channe
Skyline of Kungsholmen island seen from Sodermalm island, across Riddarfjarden channel © Tupungato / Shutterstock


Best neighborhood for getting active

Kungsholmen island isn’t as vibrant as many parts of Stockholm when it comes to nightlife or tourist attractions, but this largely residential central neighborhood is a playground for sport and nature addicts. Rålambshovs Park is a beloved picnic spot and workout zone, featuring activities from beach volleyball to bouldering walls.

The 10-kilometer loop around the island is popular with runners and hikers thanks to its views over some of the prettiest sections of Stockholm’s cityscape. You can also rent kayaks or bikes to get around, work up a sweat at one of the free outdoor gyms or jump off the jetties at Hornsbergs strand and go for a swim.

Pedestrians on Vattenledningsvagen, a classic street in Midsommarkransen
Pedestrians on Vattenledningsvagen, a classic street in Midsommarkransen © Alexander Farnsworth / Getty Images


Best neighborhood for local secrets

To the southwest of Stockholm, this sprawling city borough is home to fashion-forward students studying at the Konstfack art school, and on-trend young couples and families priced out of Södermalm. As a result, it’s scattered with in-the-know gems. Cozy pubs, homeware stores, and a single-screen cinema are the highlights in the Midsommarkransen district, while Telefonplan is home to several intimate gig venues.

There’s also Färgfabriken, close to Trekanten tram stop, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions, vintage clothing sales, and food events. The surrounding area (set to become known as Lövholmen) is poised for major development, with new apartment buildings and restaurants being built on the former industrial shoreline.

A picturesque cobbled alley in Gamla Stan, Stockholm
A picturesque cobbled alley in Gamla Stan, Stockholm © annhfhung / Getty Images

Gamla Stan

Best neighborhood for history

While Stockholm is a fast-growing contemporary capital, the city’s Old Town, Gamla Stan, offers an unmissable opportunity to soak up its impressive past. Dating back more than 750 years, its meandering cobbled streets are steeped in history. They’ve witnessed everything from medieval markets and bloodbath battles to twentieth-century labor demonstrations.

Exploring Gamla Stan’s spice-colored ornate facades, scattered statues, royal buildings, and well-organized museums is likely to be on most visitors’ bucket lists. But although this iconic neighborhood is hands-down one of the most charming parts of the city, it’s rarely frequented by locals, and you’ll get a much better sense of Stockholmers and their lifestyles by venturing further afield.

Typically beautiful and colorful apartment buildings in Vasastan, Stockholm
Typically beautiful apartment buildings in Vasastan, Stockholm © olaser / Getty Images / iStockphoto


Best neighborhood for independent restaurants

Vasastan is a primarily residential area, home to well-to-do-Stockholmers shunning the more in-your-face glitz of Östermalm. Many of the apartment blocks here date back to the turn of the twentieth century, with Art Nouveau influences and landscaped inner courtyards. For visitors, the main draw is the independent bars and restaurants, including the strip along Rörstrandsgatan.

There’s an international flavor, with options including Indian, Iranian and Japanese, alongside Swedish bakeries and cafes where you can pick up top-notch cinnamon buns. Elsewhere, high-quality threads and homeware can be found in the second-hand stores around Odenplan, and there’s a stunning circular reading room in Stadsbiblioteket, the city’s bright orange major public library.

The glass exterior of ABBA The Museum in Stockholm
The exterior of ABBA The Museum in Stockholm © Rolf_52 / Shutterstock


Best neighborhood for family outings

Once a royal hunting ground, Djurgården island is a green retreat as beloved by Swedes as it is by tourists. Largely pedestrianized, there are ample places to picnic, walk or cycle. Many of Stockholm’s most popular family attractions are also based here, from Gröna Lund amusement park and its high-speed rollercoasters to the open-air museum Skansen, which is home to brown bears, wolves, and moose.

ABBA the Museum, dedicated to Sweden’s most successful music export is another magnet, alongside the greenhouses and flowerbeds of Rosendals Trädgård, a popular biodynamic farm, and restaurant. This is a particularly gorgeous spot during autumn when it bursts into a color palette of rich turning-leaf tones.

Pedestrians walk along Sergels Torg with the glass obelisk Kristallvertikalaccent in the background
Pedestrians walk along Sergels Torg with the glass obelisk Kristallvertikalaccent in the background © Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock


Best neighborhood for hotels

Downtown Stockholm isn’t the most inspiring part of the city, with functionalist concrete office buildings and chain stores dominating the streets around Stockholm Central Station. That said, it’s a handy place to consider staying, as it’s also awash with hotels. There is a strong logic to staying around here since most of Stockholm’s main attractions and popular neighborhoods including Gamla Stan and Östermalm can be reached on foot.

While holiday apartment letting prices have remained high during the pandemic, many major hotel chains are crying out for visitors after suffering from a drop in business travel as well as tourism. As such, there are decent offers to be found, with even the most budget-friendly options tending to be clean and well-maintained. The classy hotel and rooftop bars around the recently revitalized Brunkebergstorg square are popular after-work hangouts for well-heeled Stockholmers.

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