Stockholmers call their city 'beauty on water'. But despite the well-preserved historic core, Stockholm is no museum piece: it's modern, dynamic and ever-evolving.
When it comes to cultural assets, Stockholm is scandalously rich. Take Gamla Stan. The city's oldest district is the stuff of storybooks. Complete with prerequisite royal palace, gabled buildings and razor-thin cobblestone streets, it's hands down one of Europe’s most enchanting, impeccably preserved historic centres. Across the city, world-class museums and galleries inform and provoke, harbouring everything from glittering Viking treasures and an ill-fated warship, to Abba props and subversive contemporary art. It's a stimulating, inspiring mix, where the past, present and future constantly merge, converse and engage.
Stockholm's sense of style is legendary. Here, good design is not a luxury, it's a right – even the humblest coffee shop is usually design literate, from its lighting right down to its cups, bowls and cutlery. And while industrial design is a theme at several city museums, a fix of retail therapy can be equally enlightening. From cult-status local threads, bags and textiles, to delicate handmade ceramics, local objects reveal much about the Swedish love of understatement, functionality and harmony. If it's time to redesign your life, this is the city to do it in.
Food, Glorious Food
Given the bounty of prime ingredients drawn from Stockholm's surrounding waters, fields and forests, it's not surprising that food is a serious passion. This is a city with a curious, open-minded palate. Whatever the global culinary trend, Stockholm is on it, from raw food and açai breakfast bowls to sustainable, locavore dining. Old-school, homegrown classics are equally revered. Whether it's fried herring, succulent meatballs or buttery toast skagen, traditions are both faithfully adhered to and cleverly tweaked, the latter by Stockholm's legion of young, ambitious, forward-thinking chefs.
Stockholm is easy in all the right ways. Despite being spread across 14 islands, it's a relatively compact creature, and walking is often the best way to get around. Bridges connect most of the islands, while ferries and the tunnelbana (metro) link the rest. Public transport is safe, smooth and efficient, covering every corner of the city and its bucolic surrounds. It's also well adapted to wheelchair travel. Nearly all signs are written in Swedish and English, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a local who doesn't speak near-perfect English.
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A massive structure with more than 600 rooms on 11 levels, Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace) dominates the north end of Gamla Stan. The official residence of the Swedish monarch, the palace is both a working government building and an important historical site with fine baroque and rococo interiors and furnishings that reflect the shifting tastes of nearly 400 years of royal occupants. History of Kungliga Slottet Around the mid-1200s, Birger Jarl, the powerful earl credited with founding Stockholm, erected a stone fortress on the site of the present royal palace. Under the Vasa rulers of the 16th and 17th centuries it developed into a magnificent Renaissance palace that became known as Tre Kronor for the three gilded crowns placed atop the main tower in 1588. Following the Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648, Sweden entered an era of great power. Extensive rebuilding of the palace began in 1692 under the royal architect Nicodemus Tessin the younger, who gave the northern wing its current baroque appearance. On 7 May 1697, a devastating fire broke out, destroying everything except the newly renovated north wing. Six weeks later Tessin presented designs for a new palace that he estimated would take six years to build. In fact, it would take nearly six decades before the royal family was finally able to take up residence. Tre Kronor symbol at the gate of the Kungliga Slottet (royal palace) © Jonathan Smith / Lonely Planet Museum Tre Kronor Remnants of the original Tre Kronor palace can still be seen in the north wing, where Tessin simply covered over the medieval walls and towers as he erected his new baroque facade. Start your visit here to follow the palace’s history in chronological order. Entering Museum Tre Kronor from Slottskajen, you pass through walls 5m (more than 16ft) thick that have stood since the 14th century. Inside, exhibits trace the development of Tre Kronor from defensive fortress to Renaissance palace, using models and objects rescued from the fire. The Royal Apartments The Royal Apartments consist of a series of grand rooms used for royal receptions, gala dinners, cabinet meetings and other official state business, as well as more intimate living chambers. Every royal resident has left a mark on the interior design, beginning with King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Lovisa Ulrika, who moved into the newly completed palace in December 1754. They resided in the 14 rooms now called the Bernadotte wing after the present dynasty, which has occupied the throne since 1818. The last to live in these apartments were King Oscar II and Queen Sofia, whose portraits hang in the main gallery along with those of other Bernadotte family members. The nine rooms comprising the State Apartments include the bedchamber where Gustav III died in 1792, two weeks after being shot at a masquerade ball; Karl XI’s Gallery, a gilded chamber modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles; and the Don Quixote Room, with walls covered in 18th-century tapestries depicting scenes from the classic novel by Miguel Cervantes. Another highlight is the Hall of State with Queen Kristina’s silver throne, a gift for her coronation in 1650. Kungliga Slottet is open year round, except for major holidays. Parts of the palace may be closed at other times due to state functions; check the website for the latest details. The Royal Treasury The monarchy’s greatest treasures are kept in underground vaults accessed through an entrance off Slottsbacken. They include crowns, swords and other symbols of state made for various royals in the 16th and 17th centuries. The oldest items are the royal regalia, which include two swords of state belonging to Gustav Vasa, who came to power in 1523, and a jewel-studded gold crown, orb, scepter and key of state made for his son Erik XIV in 1561. The last coronation held in Sweden was King Oscar II’s in 1873. His son Gustaf V inherited the throne in 1907 but declined to be formally crowned. Nowadays the regalia are used symbolically whenever a new monarch ascends to the throne, and at ceremonies such as royal baptisms, weddings and funerals. Also on display is a silver baptismal font from 1696 that’s still used today, most recently in 2016 for the baptism of Prince Oscar, the son of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities Located in the northeastern wing of the palace, this museum displays ancient sculptures collected by Gustav III during an extended trip to Italy in the 1780s. The main gallery’s star attraction is a sculpture of Endymion, a beautiful mortal who was the lover of the moon goddess, Selene. Statues of the nine muses and various Roman gods and goddesses line both sides of the gallery. A second, smaller gallery houses a collection of Roman portrait busts. The museum is open from mid-May to mid-September. The ornate gilded interior of the royal chapel in Stockholm, Sweden © trabantos / Shutterstock The Royal Chapel Although there has been a church at the palace since the 13th century, the present chapel was designed by Nicodemus Tessin and completed by architect Carl Hårleman as part of the rebuilding of the palace. The previous chapel had been inaugurated just five months before being destroyed in the fire. The chapel is open to visitors during the summer. The Swedish Royal Guard at the Royal Palace Square in Stockholm © Ramonespelt / Getty Images The Changing of the Guard If you can time your visit accordingly, don’t miss the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place in the outer palace courtyard daily at 12.15pm (1.15pm on Sundays and holidays) and lasts approximately 40 minutes. Every day from late April through August, the royal guards march or ride in formal procession through the streets of central Stockholm to the palace, an impressive sight in their blue uniforms and glittering pointed helmets. In September and October the parade takes place on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Details of the route and timing are listed on the Swedish Armed Forces website. Tickets and other practicalities A single ticket costs 140 SEK ($16) for adults and 70 SEK ($8) for children ages 7-17. and includes access to all the attractions in the Royal Palace complex, including Museum Tre Kronor, the Royal Apartments, the Royal Treasury, the Royal Chapel and Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities. Tickets are available at the entrance and online in advance. Combination tickets are available for the palace and nearby Riddarholmskyrkan, the medieval church where almost all Swedish royals until 1950 are buried. Guided tours of the Royal Apartments cost 30 SEK ($3.50) plus regular admission and are available in English at 10.30am and 1.30pm, with an additional English-language tour at 3.30pm from June through August. There’s no extra charge for the tour for children under 18 (regular admission tickets are required). Tours of the Royal Treasury in English take place at 2.30pm daily. Free audio guides to the Bernadotte Apartments and Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities can be downloaded onto a smartphone or borrowed on site. During the COVID-19 pandemic only the Royal Apartments are open to visitors, and tickets are timed. There are no guided tours, and only the download option is available for audio guides. The changing of the guard ceremony and parade are also not taking place during the pandemic. The Royal Palace also houses Livrustkammaren (the Royal Armoury), a free museum that traces the history of the Swedish monarchy since 1523 through armor, clothing and other items that once belonged to various royals. It’s accessible through a separate entrance off Slottsbacken.
Since opening its doors in 2010, Fotografiska has become one of the world’s leading photography museums and one of Stockholm’s most popular attractions. Located along the quay on the north side of Södermalm, about 800m (0.5mi) from the Slussen metro station, the museum occupies an Art Nouveau building that was originally a customs house, built in 1906. The red-brick exterior remains original, while the interior has been converted into a series of galleries on two floors and an upper-level housing a restaurant and bistro/wine bar. Fotografiska typically presents at least 20 different photography exhibitions per year, featuring a mix of well-known photographers and rising stars representing a variety of styles and techniques. Mattias Klum, Sebastião Salgado, Nick Brandt, and Annie Liebovitz are just a few of the big names who have had shows here. The museum’s stated goal is to “inspire a more conscious world.” To this end, Fotografiska showcases photography that promotes engagement and shines a light on important issues while challenging viewers and raising questions about society and its norms. Fotografiska also strives to be an international meeting space for practitioners and lovers of photography in all its varied forms. Through photography courses, artist lectures, a membership program, publications, and special events, the museum works to create community and stimulate discussion about the art of photography and its role in illuminating global issues and promoting change. In the main lobby, accessible without a ticket, the museum store sells a diverse range of photography-related books, as well as posters, postcards and gift items. People drinking and eating food inside restaurant of the cultural center Fotografiska in Stockholm © Radiokafka / Shutterstock Food and drink Fotografiska’s restaurant, called simply Restaurangen, boasts one of the best views in Stockholm, across the water toward Kastellholmen, Skeppsholmen and Djurgården. Menu items change regularly and include dishes such as potatoes with browned butter, smoked sour cream, and seasonal roe or apple pizza with fennel and zero-waste apple sorbet. The focus is on plant-based seasonal menus with an emphasis on using all parts of raw ingredients, a philosophy that has earned the restaurant Guide Michelin’s Green Star award for sustainable gastronomy. The restaurant is open for dinner but typically closes for a few months in the summer. Also on the top floor, Bistro Bread & Wine serves pizza, light entrees, nibbles, and drinks daily during daytime hours. As with the restaurant, the focus is on local sustainable producers. Both the restaurant and the bistro are currently accessible only in conjunction with a museum visit. From late May through August, Fotografiska opens its outdoor restaurant, Verandan, located on the waterfront just outside the museum entrance. The menu includes wood-fired grill items and stone-oven pizzas made from seasonal local ingredients, as well as a wide selection of drinks. It’s open from 11 a.m. until late, making it a great place to savor Stockholm’s long summer hours of daylight. Tickets and other practicalities Fotografiska is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. The museum uses dynamic pricing, with lower admission costs at less popular times. Tickets are available at the door but are cheaper if booked online in advance. Prices range from SEK 165 to 255 ($19-$29) for adults depending on time and day of the week. Seniors and students pay reduced rates, and children under 12 enter free of charge. Fridays and Saturdays are typically the most expensive; mornings and late evenings are generally the cheapest. A ticket is valid for 90 minutes in the exhibit halls, which is plenty. Guided tours are offered regularly and can be booked in advance or upon arrival, subject to availability. To get to Fotografiska, walk east from Slussen along Stadsgårdshamnen toward the cruise ferry terminal. Alternatively, take one of the hop-on-hop-off boats that travel between Gamla Stan, Nybroviken, Djurgården, Skeppsholmen, and Södermalm, stopping at Fotografiska. In July 2021 the museum launched its own electric boat service directly from Nybroviken, an initiative that is expected to continue in future summers.
Often called 'Sweden in miniature', Skansen is an unmissable Stockholm highlight. Expect to spend a full day wandering this hilltop open-air museum, with stops at traditional workshops such as the glassblowers' hut and the rustic bakery, photo ops on top of a gigantic painted wooden Dala horse and a visit to the Nordic zoo, where you can see bears, wolves and moose in their natural surroundings. It's a fun way to learn about the traditional ways of life throughout Swedish history. There are plenty of places to stop for refreshments, both in the park itself and just outside its boundaries on the museum-heavy island of Djurgården. Woman in period costume at Skansen © Jonathan Smith / Lonely Planet History of Skansen The world’s first open-air museum, Skansen was founded in 1891 by Swedish teacher and folklorist Artur Hazelius, who became interested in regional folklore while traveling the country researching a dictionary. He wanted to help preserve vanishing traditions and provide an insight into how Swedes once lived. Around 150 traditional houses and other exhibits dot the hilltop, including whole villages, garden plots, and examples from the worlds of commerce and industry. Many of these buildings were rescued from far-flung places around the country. Part of the pharmacy was moved here from Drottningholm castle and two little garden huts came from Tantolunden in Södermalm. Sweden in miniature Skansen is known as a mini-Sweden, but even so, there’s plenty of ground to cover – you could easily spend a day here and not see it all. Grab a map and make a beeline for the areas that interest you the most. The glass-blowers’ cottage is a popular stop; watching the intricate forms emerge from glowing blobs of liquid glass is transfixing. It has limited hours, so check when you get there so you don’t miss the day’s demonstrations. The Nordic Zoo, with elk, reindeer, brown bears, wolves and other native wildlife, is a major highlight, especially in spring when baby critters scamper around. Many of the buildings in the open-air museum, representing various trades and areas of the country, house cheerful staff in period costume. You can stroll up and ask questions as they make crafts, play music or churn butter using the methods of the folk whose lives they’re recreating. There’s a bakery (still operational, serving coffee and excellent pastries), a bank/post office, a machine shop, botanical gardens and Hazelius’ mansion. There are also 46 traditional buildings that were brought in from rural areas around Sweden, including a Sami camp, farmsteads from several regions, a manor house and a school. The Skansen Aquarium (separate admission) is worth a wander and has over 200 residents including crocodiles, scorpions, lemurs and pygmy marmosets (the smallest, and arguably cutest, monkeys in the world). The mountain railway car takes a tour up to the hill-top of the Skansen open-air museum, dedicated to showing what Swedish life was like in bygone eras © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Tickets and other practicalities The closing times for each workshop can vary, so check times online to avoid disappointment. Note that prices and opening hours and days vary seasonally; check the website before you go. There are cafes, restaurants and hot-dog stands throughout the park. Carrying water isn’t a bad idea in summer, and it’s not cheating to take the funicular to the top of the hill and meander down from there. Daily activities take place on Skansen’s stages, including folk dancing in summer and an enormous public festival at Midsummer’s Eve. If you’re in Stockholm for any of the country’s other major celebrations, such as Walpurgis Night, St Lucia Day and Christmas, it’s a great (if crowded) place to watch Swedes celebrate. Nearby restaurants Djurgården has some especially nice outdoor cafes in summer, as well as loads of places to picnic. For something a little more formal, look to Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh, in a villa from the 1897 World’s Fair.
The imposing Stadshuset (City Hall) defines the Stockholm skyline, with its blocky silhouette and waterside perch. It looks stern and weighty from afar, but inside it's secretly aglitter, with the famous Golden Hall, delightful frescoes by Prins Eugen and the inspiring Nobel Prize banquet room. Not to mention the concrete platform out front is a favorite diving spot on a hot summer day. History of City Hall Built using about eight million bricks, Stadshuset was designed by architect Ragnar Östberg, a proponent of the Swedish National Romantic style, and opened in 1923. Aside from serving as a striking landmark, it holds the offices of more than 200 government workers, as well as its better-known banquet halls and courtyards. It is the main attraction in the friendly, low-key neighborhood of Kungsholmen, which historically has been ignored by tourists but these days has a lot of appeal due to its mellow dining scene and beautiful waterfront paths. The Tower Atop the building’s 106m-high tower is a golden spire featuring the heraldic symbol of Swedish power: the three royal crowns. Entry is by guided tour only and tours in English take place every 30 to 40 minutes between 9.30am and 4pm in summer, less frequently the rest of the year. There are stellar views and it’s a great thigh workout. If you’re not sure you’re up for walking 106m worth of stairs, there’s an elevator that will take you halfway to the top. The Gold Hall inside Stockholm's Stadshuset © rusm / Getty Images The Golden Hall Nestled in the center of Stadshuset is the glittering, mosaic-lined Gyllene Salen (Golden Hall). The beguiling mosaics, made from 19 million bits of gold leaf, are by Einar Forseth (1892–1988). The post-Nobel banquet dancing and festivities happen here. Prins Eugen’s fresco Prins Eugen, who became a successful artist and was a generous patron of the arts, donated his own fresco painting of the lake view from the gallery, The City on the Water, which can be seen along one wall in the Prince’s Gallery. Along the other wall are windows opening onto an impressive real-life version of the city on the water. View of Monument Engelbrekt and the beautiful gardens of Stadshusparken © Aliaksandr Antanovich / Getty Images Stadshusparken Don’t neglect the lovely park abreast of Stadshuset, pretty in all seasons, with its views of Riddarholmen across the water. Two statues by Carl Eldh guard the steps, and Christian Eriksson’s Engelbrekt the Freedom Fighter graces a pillar in the corner of the park. If the weather’s warm, do as Stockholmers do and take a swim or sunbathe on the concrete platform. Tickets and other practicalities The Stadshuset is open 9am-3.30pm in summer and less frequently the rest of the year. Always check the website for details before visiting. Admission is by guided tour only – tours in English take place every 30 minutes from 9am until 3.30pm in summer. Tickets are 100kr for adults and 50kr for children. Access to the tower is 50kr for adults and free for children. It's easily accessible by public transport – bus lines 3 and 53 and alight at the City Hall stop or take the tunnelbana and alight at City Hall station. Take the exit to Hantverkargatan and turn left. Nearby restaurants You can dine like a Nobel Prize winner in Stadshuset's basement restaurant, Stadshuskällaren. Regular mains are mostly hearty traditional meat-and-veg courses; groups can order the Nobel Menu from any year they like, served on Nobel porcelain. Reservations are a must.
A good-humoured glorification of some dodgy calculations, Vasamuseet is the custom-built home of the massive warship Vasa; 69m long and 48.8m tall, it was the pride of the Swedish crown when it set off on its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. Within minutes, the top-heavy vessel tipped and sank to the bottom of Saltsjön, along with many of the people on board. Tour guides explain the extraordinary and controversial 300-year story of its death and resurrection, which saw the ship painstakingly raised in 1961 and reassembled like a giant 14,000-piece jigsaw. Almost all of what you see today is original. On the entrance level is a model of the ship at scale 1:10 and a cinema screening a 17-minute film which sheds light on the salvage operation and the vessel's conservation. There are four other levels of exhibits covering artefacts salvaged from the Vasa, life on board, naval warfare, and 17th-century sailing and navigation, plus sculptures and temporary exhibitions. The bottom-floor exhibition is particularly fascinating, using modern forensic science to recreate the faces and life stories of several of the ill-fated passengers. Guided tours are in English every 30 minutes in summer, less frequently the rest of the year.
Moderna Museet is Stockholm’s modern-art maverick, its permanent collection ranging from paintings and sculptures to photography, video art and installations. Highlights include works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Robert Rauschenberg, plus several key figures in the Scandinavian and Russian art worlds and beyond. There are important pieces by Francis Bacon, Marcel Duchamp and Matisse, as well as their contemporaries, both household names and otherwise. The museum also stages well-conceived temporary exhibits and career retrospectives (admission 100kr). Don't overlook the small viewing rooms in various corners and downstairs, usually dedicated to video installations. Bibliophiles and design fans will adore the well-stocked gift shop. There are also regular children's workshops and other hands-on events. There's a fabulous and very popular restaurant (weekend brunch adult/child 225/75kr, 11am to 5pm) with a great view over the water, an espresso bar in the foyer, and the small, casual Cafe Blom in a secluded courtyard, with salads and sandwiches (59kr to 149kr).
The surprisingly entertaining Museum of Spirits is dedicated to Sweden's complicated relationship with alcohol, as mediated over the years by the state-run monopoly System Bolaget. The slick space, in two 18th-century naval buildings, covers the history, manufacture and consumption of all kinds of booze, plus holiday traditions, drinking songs, food pairings and so on. Best of all, you can combine your visit with a tasting kit (250kr), including various flavours of liquor to be sampled at specified points. There's a 'hangover room' with a head-throbbing soundtrack and painful light, as well as a small theatre in which the seating angle and first-person-perspective film make you feel slightly drunk. Multimedia displays dispense titbits about the alcohol industry (the 'thundering fiasco' that was the first Swedish whiskey, for example). There are also well-staged temporary exhibits. Stop in at the attractive 'Beer Pier' out front for a vast selection of Swedish beers on tap (weather-depending).
The epic Nordiska Museet is Sweden’s largest cultural-history museum and one of its largest indoor spaces. The building itself (from 1907) is an eclectic, Renaissance-style castle designed by Isak Gustav Clason, who also drew up Östermalms Saluhall; you'll notice a resemblance. Inside is a sprawling collection of all things Swedish, from sacred Sami objects to clothing and table settings. The museum boasts the world’s largest collection of paintings by August Strindberg, as well as a number of his personal possessions. In all, there are over 1.5 million items in the museum's collection, dating from 1520 to the present day. Topping it off are the often dynamic temporary exhibitions. The insightful audio guide (free with admission) offers several hours of English commentary.
Evert Taubes Terrass is a tranquil and relaxed spot and one of the best viewpoints in Stockholm, at eye level with lake Mälaren on the quiet island of Riddarholmen, with open sightlines across the water to Stockholm City Hall, Münchenbryggeriet and Södermalm’s coastline. Sunset is the time to come. Taube, the park's namesake, was a beloved composer and troubadour who grew up on the Gothenburg archipelago; he's immortalised in the joyful statue at the corner of the park.