Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is an enchanting city by the water, full of amazing and unique things to see and do during your trip. Built on 14 islands where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea, its charm lies in this interplay of land and water. So it’s no wonder it’s called “Venice of the North”!
Stockholm’s roots date back to the 1200s. As a result, its old town, Gamla Stan, is one of the city’s highlights. Nowadays, Stockholm is the biggest city in Scandinavia with over a million people. Despite its size, it is a very livable city, with a relaxed pace of life.
By the way, don’t worry if you don’t speak Swedish: the vast majority of people in all Scandinavian countries speak fluent English. It doesn’t hurt to learn a word or two though if only to show appreciation towards your Swedish hosts.
Moreover, Stockholm is an ideal destination for solo female travellers. Sweden is also a very progressive and egalitarian country. Obviously, the usual common-sense precautions apply, as in any big city, but you won’t be disturbed on the streets or when dining alone.
So, these are the most unique things to see in Stockholm:
1. Wander the medieval alleys of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town
Gamla Stan is the historic centre of Stockholm and its name means just that, “old town”. This is where the city first started, dating back to the 13th century.
Today, most buildings are from the 1700s and 1800s. It is the perfect place to start your exploration of Stockholm, with its pretty cobblestone streets, charming rust- and mustard-coloured houses and cute cafés.
There hardly is a better place to start your exploration of Stockholm than Gamla Stan.
Let yourself wander through its amazing labyrinth of narrow alleys and small, winding streets. You’ll feel as if you’ve travelled back in time to Stockholm’s past.
The heart of the old town is the main square, called Stortorget, aka the “Grand Square”. It is the oldest square in Stockholm and the site of its oldest Christmas Market.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take a break from sightseeing for some hot chocolate and a giant cinnamon roll at Chokladkoppen. This is probably the best hot chocolate in town (tried and tested!)
2. Admire the impressive (but failed) Vasa warship
This is my second fave place in Stockholm. If you have time for just one museum in Stockholm, then this should be it. It may sound like a tourist trap, or something boring, but trust me, it’s not.
At first, it wasn’t at the top of my list, but afterwards, I was so glad I saw it. I mean, how often do you get the chance to get so close as to almost touch an actual 17th-century warship?
Vasa’s story is a bit embarrassing. For 17th-century Swedish ship makers, that is.
You see, at its time, Vasa was the pride of the Swedish navy, but alas, it sunk on its maiden voyage in 1693.
To add insult to injury, it sunk before even leaving Stockholm harbour. However, what was an embarrassment for Swedish ship-building then, was a blessing for modern-time archaeologists, as they were able to salvage the whole ship in 1961.
Nowadays, the ship is an impressive sight. It is massive and beautifully decorated. Standing near it, makes one feel very small indeed! There is also free Wi-Fi available on site, as well as a gift shop and a restaurant. Admission is free for children under 18.
Address: Galärvarvsvägen 14, 115 21 Stockholm
Official website: http://www.vasamuseet.se/
3. See the Golden Hall at Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset)
One of the most impressive things to see in Stockholm is the City Hall, with its 106-metre tall spire, is one of the most famous landmarks of the city.
Designed by architect Ragnar Östberg, it is made of eight million bricks. It looks old, but it is a contemporary building.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the City Hall is where the great Nobel prize banquet takes place.
The Nobel laureates, nominees, city officials and guests first dine in the Blue Hall (Blå Hallen), followed by a dance in the jaw-dropping Golden Hall (Gyllene Salen). The design of the Golden Hall was inspired by the palaces and cathedrals of the Byzantine Empire and it boasts 18 million gold tiles.
I should mention that you can only visit the City Hall with a licensed guide, as part of a tour. The spire tower is open only from May to September, but if you visit during this time, it offers an amazing panoramic view of the city.
Address: Hantverkargatan 1, 112 21 Stockholm
Official website: https://cityhall.stockholm/
4. Tour the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, located in the heart of Stockholm, is one of the largest palaces in Europe, with over 600 rooms.
It is also the official residence of the King of Sweden (meaning he holds official functions there; not to be confused with the actual residence of the royal family, Drottningholm Palace).
The Royal Palace is open to the public all year round. Highlights include the reception halls from the 18th and 19th centuries, the famed Queen Kristina’s silver throne, and the Ordenssalarna (Halls of the Orders of Chivalry).
Given that the palace is on the same island as Gamla Stan, you can easily visit both on the same day.
Address: Slottsbacken 1, 111 30 Stockholm
Official website: kungligaslotten.se
5. Visit the Modern Art Museum (Moderna Museet)
Stockholm’s Modern Art Museum (Moderna Museet) is one of the best collections of modern and contemporary art. It exhibits all kinds of modern and contemporary art, film, installations, drawings and photography.
Here you will find pieces by some of the biggest modern artists, such as Picasso, Matisse and Dali. There is also a sculpture park outside the museum, featuring art by many international artists.
Located on the pretty island of Skeppsholmen, Moderna Museet first opened in 1958 and it was designed by renowned Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.
The museum also has a souvenir shop (I bought a cute mug) and a restaurant with lovely views of Djurgården.
Skeppsholmen island is so pretty that it’s worth visiting even if you don’t go to the museum, as is Skeppsholmen bridge, with its signature crowns (see cover image).
Address: Exercisplan 4, 111 49 Stockholm
Official website: modernamuseet.se
6. Enjoy a quiet moment in the Stockholm Public Library (Stockholms Stadsbiblioteket)
If you are a bookworm like me, or an architecture enthusiast, visiting the Stockholm Public Library is a must.
The library was created by world-renowned architect Gunnar Asplund in the early 20th century. Conde Nast Traveller magazine has listed it as one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Most books are in Swedish, but there are also books in English, French and other languages.
The library’s main hall is a rotunda, and it was the first public library to feature open shelves, thus allowing visitors to access books without having to ask staff for assistance.
Furthermore, the same architect created the park to the south of the library, which features a lovely pond and sculptures.
Address: Sveavägen 73, 113 80 Stockholm
Official website: https://biblioteket.stockholm.se/language/english-engelska/welcome-library
7. Things to see and do in Stockholm: have fun at ABBA, The Museum
ABBA is simply the biggest music group ever to come out of Sweden and the most successful Eurovision Contest winner.
The group has been hugely popular in Europe after winning for the first time in 1974. More recently, it had a return in popularity thanks to the Mama Mia movies and musicals.
You’ll find all sorts of ABBA memorabilia here, from gold disks to stage outfits and more. In addition, the museum is very interactive.
You can dance to ABBA music, sing or even try their outfits (virtually, of course). If you so wish, you can also record your “performance” and download it from the museum’s homepage.
Address: Djurgårdsvägen 68, 115 21 Stockholm
Official website: www.abbathemuseum.com
8. Enjoy free art in Stockholm’s metro/subway
Stockholm’s metro is often called “the world’s longest art gallery” and with good reason. Over 150 artists have contributed their art to Stockholm’s 110-kilometre long metro and most of its stations.
With the price of a single metro ticket, you get to see amazing art from the 1950s to this day, murals, sculptures and modern installations. The main point of this artistic takeover is that art should be easily accessible to all.
That said, if you want to dig deeper (pun intended), there are also guided tours available, which offer more information. An easy starting point is T-Centralen, which is Stockholm metro’s main hub, right in the heart of the city.
9. Go for a tasty fika (coffee break)
Going for a fika is a very Swedish thing and perhaps the easiest way to taste a bit of local life.
So what exactly is fika, you may ask. It is essentially a coffee break, preferable with friends, and always with a sweet treat on the side. Unlike British afternoon tea, however, fika has no set time, although mid-morning and afternoon are two popular times.
Also, don’t worry about where you can best enjoy a fika. Baked goods are very popular in Sweden, so just find a nice café or bakery that is to your liking and enjoy your coffee break, Stockholm-style.
That said, Vetekatten in central Stockholm is a real local institution since it first opened in 1928.
10. Hit the shops
Stockholm is a shopper’s paradise. After all, it’s the capital of Scandinavian design and fashion. And I’m not talking just about IKEA and H&M.
The city has everything, from high-end department stores to independent boutiques. The Swedes, like most Scandinavians, are fond of design and aesthetics, so you’re sure to find something to your liking.
Drottninggatan is the main shopping street in Stockholm, with all the major international brands, as well as local favourites.
For something more exclusive, head to Nordiska Kompaniet, the Stockholm equivalent to Harrods, or Biblioteksgatan, the city’s most exclusive area.
If it is independent boutiques you’re after, make sure you check out the SoFo district in Södermalm, where you’ll find favourites like Grandpa and Beyond Retro.
Read more: The best shopping spots in Stockholm
Bonus things to see in Stockholm: in April, go to Kungsträdgårde and walk under the cherry trees in bloom
If you find yourself in Stockholm in April, you’re in for a treat.
This is the time when the cherry trees of Kungsträdgården, the park behind the Royal Palace, are in full bloom. There is even a holiday to celebrate the beautiful blooms, called Körsbärsblommans Dag (Cherry Blossoms Day) on April 28th. Needless to say, hundreds of people, locals and tourists alike, flock to the park that day to take a stroll under the trees.
That said, the park is popular year-round and it’s a great place to enjoy a tasty fika from the many nearby cafés, play outdoor chess, or skate on the ice ring in winter.
More unique things to do in Stockholm Sweden (and day trips)
Stockholm is a vibrant and charming city, with many interesting things to do. Depending on how much time you have, you can also go on a cruise around the Stockholm archipelago or enjoy contemporary photography at Fotografiska.
If you are travelling with kids, the oldest open-air museum in the world in Skansen is a great option.
Finally, from Stockholm, you can go on day trips to the historic city of Uppsala, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Drottningholm Palace, Sweden’s first town Sigtuna and more.
The list of all the amazing things you can do in Stockholm is endless!