Feature: How to Visit the Archipelago
There are essentially two ways to visit the archipelago, depending on your preferred travel style. If time is short, take a boat tour, which can run from a few hours to a full day, passing several islands and making brief stops at one or two. If your schedule is flexible, it's more rewarding to arrange a longer, slower self-guided trip with an overnight stay or two. The area's many comfortable hostels, campsites and cushy hotels – plus some excellent restaurants – make the latter option dreamy if you have a few days to spare.
Keep in mind that most of the island villages are very remote, with limited options for dining and groceries; bring some provisions along. There are also bar-restaurants on the boats.
If you're not on an organised tour, it can be tricky to figure out how to reach a particular island. Confusion is augmented by the fact that summer boat schedules aren't published until a week before they take effect, which makes it challenging to plan travel between islands in advance. Planning is essential, though, as you'll want to book accommodations early. Luckily, though timetables may change, the routes are consistent year to year.
Waxholmsbolaget, the main provider for island traffic, divides the archipelago into three sections: middle, north and south. Within each section, several numbered routes go out and back, once or twice a day, calling at various ports along the way. (Think of them as rural bus routes, but on water.) The Waxholmsbolaget office in Stockholm has maps and timetables for all routes and helpful staff to answer questions. And there's a useful trip planner on its website, in English.
Single-trip tickets are bought onboard and handed to the crew as you disembark.