Why go now?
Many people only think about a trip to the Swedish capital in summer, but now that the nights are drawing in you’ll have fewer visitors to contend with, and more chance to mix with the locals who are back in town from their lakeside cottages.
A more pressing reasons to go now is the fact that the splendid 127-year old Ostermalms Saluhall (1) (“food hall”;ostermalmshallen.se) will shut at the end of this year for refurbishment and won’t reopen until 2018; the merchants will move to a temporary venue.
Arlanda airport is 37km north of the city and served by British Airways (0870 850 9 850; ba.com) from Heathrow, SAS (0871 226 7 760; flysas.com) from Heathrow, Edinburgh and Manchester, and Norwegian (0330 82 8 0854; norwegian.com) from Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh.
The quickest way into town is the Arlanda Express train (arlandaexpress.com), which takes 20 minutes to reach Stockholm Central station (2) and departs every 15 minutes for Skr 280 (£22) one way. Slower, cheaper commuter trains go from SkyCity (between Terminals 4 and 5). Buses (flygbussarna.se) are slower still – 45 minutes to reach the central bus station (3) – but cheaper, at Skr 99 (£8) one way.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Skavsta (103km south-west of town) and Vasteras (106km northwest of town). Flygbussarna buses serve both.
Get your bearings
Central Stockholm spreads across 14 islands, with Lake Maleren to the west and the Baltic sea to the east. Bus (3) and train (2) both set you down in Norrmalm in the centre, where you’ll find the main tourist information centre (4) at 5 Sergels torg (00 46 8 508 28 508; visitstockholm.com; Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 4pm, Sunday 10am to 4pm).
The good-value Stockholm Card (visitstockholm.com), covers entry for 75 museums, attractions, tours and public transport for Skr 765 (£61, for 48 hours).
To the east lies upmarket Ostermalm (shopping) and Djurgarden (green spaces, museums); in the middle Gamla Stan (royals, old town); and to the south Sodermalm (cafés, hipsters). With a fair wind and a stout pair of shoes, it’s all readily walkable.
Stockholm has a transport access card, covering the whole city, on to which you pre-load money (sl.se). A 24‑hour pass is Skr 115 (£9.20). The next jump up is valid for 72 hours, and costs Skr 230 (£18.40). Tickets are not valid on the Arlanda Express but you can travel to the airport on a standard train for a supplement of Skr 85 (£7) each way.
The HTL Kungsgatan hotel (5) at 53 Kungsgatan (00 46 8 4108 4150; htlhotels.com) adopts a budget airline approach to booking: lead-in rooms come without a window; it’s extra to have one, and more again for breakfast. Basic doesn’t mean drab, though, and it’s in a great location. Advance-purchase deals for a room-only double start at Skr 699 (£56).
Miss Clara (6) at 48 Sveavagen (00 46 8 440 6700;missclarahotel.com) opened last year inside a former school. It’s very Scandi-chic, with bedrooms that manage to be both minimalist and cosy, and the staff are very friendly. There’s also a restaurant and pizzeria. Room-only doubles from Skr 1,352 (£108.)
Ett Hem (7), which translates as “a home”, at 2 Skoldungagatan (00 46 8 20 05 90; etthem.se), is a lovely boutique hotel in an early 20th-century townhouse on the edge of Ostermalm. Its vibe is straight from a glossy design magazine spread. Double rooms from Skr 3,800 (£304), with breakfast made from local seasonal produce.
Take a hike
A good way to get a great view of the city, is by walking from Kungstradgarden Park (8) past the imposing Grand Hotel (9) on the waterfront and along Sodra Blasieholmskajen, down to the waterfront by the National Museum (10) (closed for renovation until 2018; nationalmuseum.se). Cross the bridge (11) to Skeppsholmen. The island is not very big, but a walk around the outer path affords panoramic views over the harbour. En route you’ll pass the Moderna Museet (12) (00 46 8 520 235 00;modernamuseet.se; closed Monday) with its extensive collection of 20th- and 21st-century art; and the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (13) (00 46 8 456 1200; mfea.se; closed on Mondays) .
Lunch on the run
Fotografiska (14) (00 46 8 509 00 500; fotografiska.eu) is Stockholm’s waterside photography museum and should be on everyone’s must-visit list. A bonus is that it’s open daily to 11pm. But get there for lunch: it has a terrific top-floor restaurant with harbour views. A large, open sandwich with prawn, egg and dill is Skr 145 (£12).
The area south of Folkungagatan on Sodermalm has been rebranded as SoFo. Here, cool mamas and papas push designer prams around the boutiques and meet friends for fika, the Swedish concept of a convivial get-together over a drink. On Nytorgsgatan there’s a strip of stores (15), such as Acne Studios for clothes at No 36, shoe shop Swedish Hasbeens at No 36A and Parlans confectioners at No 38. At the end of the street, where it meets Skanegatan, is the hip secondhand shop, Stockholm Stadsmission (16), while around the corner is Grandpa (17), at 21 Sodermannagatan, with lots of cool vintage and lifestyle accessories that you never knew you needed, but will want.
Urban Deli (18) at 4 Nytorget (00 46 8 5990 9180,urbandeli.org) does exactly what it says on the tin of organic herring roe: it’s both a shop and café, and if you can bag an outdoor table for a glass of wine on a warm evening, so much the better.
Close by, and bordering Nytorget Square, you’ll find Gildas Rum (19) at 79 Skanegatan (00 46 8 714 77 98, gildasrum.se), which also has outdoor seating and a kitschy, warm interior when the weather’s not so good. Along the street at No 81 is Kaferang (20) (00 46 8 844 929), a more minimalist affair in decor, which serves both drinks and food.
Dining with the locals
In Sodermalm, Nytorget 6 (21), keeps things simple by having the same name as its address (00 46 8 640 9655;nytorget6.com). It has a buzzy vibe, with pavement tables and a wide-ranging selection of dishes, for example meatballs with lingonberries, mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber for Skr 175 (£13).
If you’ve been wandering in Gamla Stan, a walk down towards the water’s edge will bring you to Kornhamnstorg No 53 (22) (00 46 8 209 033; no53.se), whose name is also its address. It’s mostly full of locals rather than tourists and it has a menu that includes flatbreads with toppings such as roast pork, onion, honey, rosemary and spinach for Skr 165 (£12).
Ship-shape: the 17th-century ‘Vasa’Day two
Sunday morning: go to church
Start from Kungstradgarden Park (8) again today. Cross over Strombron Bridge (23) and then uphill, past the Royal Palace (24) (kungahuset.se) to the 13th-century, brick-built Storkyrkan (25) (“great church”) at 1 Trangsund (00 46 8 723 30000;bit.ly/StockChurch; 9am to 4pm daily). Entry is Skr 40 (£3.20), but admission is free if you attend a service, such as Holy Communion on Sundays at 11am. Services are in Swedish (with English translation available).
Out to brunch
In Sodermalm, reserve a table at the Sodra Teatern arts and music centre (26) (00 46 8 5319 9379; sodrateatern.com), which has a jazz brunch on Sunday mornings from 11am, and a great view.
Take a ride
Walk down to the water-front and catch the ferry from Slussen (27) to Djurgarden (28).
A walk in the park
Djurgarden is a wooded island and the green lung of the city. Here, Skansen (29), a “Sweden in miniature” museum, park and zoo founded in the 1890s, is popular with families (00 46 8 442 8000; skansen.se). Admission is Skr 100/£8; opening hours vary, in September it’s 10am to 6pm daily). Also visit Grona Lund (30) (00 46 10 708 91 00; gronalund.com; entry Skr 389/£31) with plenty of rides, rollercoasters and concerts.
Djurgarden also has a cluster of museums. The 64-cannon Vasa was the pride of King Gustavus Adolphus’s fleet when she sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. She lay, preserved by the low salinity of the Baltic, until 1961; now 95 per cent of what’s on show in the Vasa Museum (31) is original (00 46 8 5195 4800;vasamuseet.se; Skr 130/£10.50; open daily 10am to 5pm, Wednesday until 8pm).
Close by is the Museum of Spirits (32) (00 46 8 1213 1300;spritmuseum.se) which highlights Sweden’s love-hate relationship with booze, including the chance to experience an audio-visual hangover. There’s an excellent restaurant and café. Entry is Skr 100/£8; open 10am to 5pm daily, Tuesday to 8pm.
Abba The Museum (33), charts the history of Sweden’s most successful export since Volvo. It’s cheesy but fun (00 46 771 757 575; abbathemuseum.com; Skr 195/£16). Open 10am to 6pm daily, Wednesday and Thursday to 8pm).
Icing on the cake
The Stockholm archipelago has around 24,000 islands. Bucolic Grinda has a hotel, campsite and cabins, and is reached by boat from Stromkajen (34) in around two hours.