Stockholm is, of course, the capital city of Sweden, famous for quaint twisting streets, gorgeous buildings, and imposing towers. I first visited Stockholm in September 2022 – the first weekend trip I took with my new Erasmus friends. Sadly though, I was really ill and it ruined my experience – there’s nothing worse than sweating out a fever in a shared hotel room with new friends. I came home early and don’t really remember anything, then spent the next week equally ill but in my own flat this time. So when my friend suggested a short visit towards the end of our Erasmus, I was easily persuaded. We didn’t research too much, and left it very late to book – a classic Fizzy-style trip. But it was a wonderful few days of relaxed sightseeing and a good exercise in budget travel.
Staying in Generator Hostel Stockholm
Whether due to our last-minute planning or the city itself, we found accommodation options to be pretty steep (this was also June, so probably getting towards peak season) and that wasn’t ideal for two students stretching their budgets to breaking point. Eventually we decided that our search for private rooms was holding us back, and we settled on Generator Hostel, one of a franchise of hostels in various cities. We’d never shared a dorm before, but it turned out to be an awesome space filled with all kinds of people, from families, solo travellers, to older couples. Our dorm wasn’t full and we barely saw our dormmates, but when we did they were friendly. The hostel was well located for the price (we paid around £27 each per night) and with lots of facilities – although as a true Brit I might have appreciated a kettle! Bedding was included and ready to be put on the beds when we arrived, but towels were an extra fee.
Downstairs was a bar and restaurant area, serving breakfast, coffee and other drinks through the day, and a small dinner menu too. The communal space was extensive and a great place to relax, although on an evening it was actually quite busy! The staff were really friendly and there were bikes for hire, although we didn’t use them. It was a 20 minute walk from Gamla Stan and in a lovely area. All in all, a very good choice.
Exploring our surroundings
On our first morning we grabbed a quick coffee in the hostel , then bought breakfast from the nearby Clarion Hotel on the Too Good To Go app. This is a fantastic way of reducing food waste by buying food that cafes and restaurants would otherwise throw out – and it’s cheaper too. So we may have stayed in a dorm, but we ate a four star breakfast in the sun!
Whilst exploring Gamla Stan, we walked in in circles and circles, around the town centre and across some of the many bridges – there are more than fifty in Stockholm. Our explores included, of course, Stortorget, the iconic public square lined with glamorous building facades. We stumbled across Medborgarplatsen (Citizen’s Square) which I hadn’t seen before, and the foodhall and library there. This felt a little more local and nicely removed from the bustle of the centre of town. It was too hot for coffee, so while I tried to show my friend a proper Swedish fika, we went for smoothies instead. My friend visited me in Gothenburg in January of the same year, but I felt that I didn’t explore the city properly with her because a lot of my friends were leaving that weekend. Result: she never had a cosy winter fika (which Gothenburg is perfect for).
We also took a walk around Riddarholmen, one of the many tiny islands that make up Stockholm and part of Gamla Stan – but you’d be forgiven for not realising the city’s unique structure without looking at a map. This part of the city has many historic buildings dating back to the 17th century, as well as the fantastic Riddarholmskyrkan (church), parts of which date as far back as the 13th century. I loved it’s unique cast iron spire, which is as dark and mysterious as it is beautiful. You can poke your head into the foyer for a quick look, but a proper visit requires a paid ticket.
The Royal Palace
Despite being the official residence of the King, the Royal Palace in Stockholm is often open to the public. For [entrance fee] you can visit the Royal Apartments, the Treasury, the Tre Kronor Museum, and the Museum of Antiquities. On this trip, we visited….none of those things.
Because we were on a budget, if you recall. And o we chose to save somewhere in the region of 170SEK (£13).
Instead, we caught the changing of the guard parade, which is free to watch and held daily between 11am and 1pm – see the links at the bottom of the page for more information. It was an impressive military display which attracts large crowds!
Some great walks and unorthodox food choices
From Gamla Stan, a lovely walk is to walk across Centralbron (central bridge) to Söder Mälarstrand, and walk west along it, past all the boats moored up. They each have a short blurb on a sign next to them. You’ll then come to Västerbron (West Bridge) and can cross back over to the side you came from. This bridge is very high and offers lovely views, even if it does have a bit more traffic. At the end of it, you walk through a small public park to Norr Mälarstrand, the road directly opposite where you enjoyed the boats, and back towards the centre of town. With this route, you’ll pass Stadshuset – the city hall. Its 106-metre tall tower overlooks the city and you can visit it! We didn’t though, as it was past 7pm at that point, so we opted instead to enjoy the architecture of the building from the outside and missing out on panoramic city views.
That evening, though I may not have shown my friend a good fika, I did introduce her to Sweden’s finest burger joint, Maxburger. I don’t do fast food often, but it’s a good budget option, and I have to say, I miss it now that I’m back in England!
Museums and nature walks
The next day we start with a wander around the city, nipping into any shops that took our fancy as we passed by. Breakfast was in Bröd & Salt, a small cafe franchise. It was…just okay! I’m sure there are far nicer breakfast sports in the city.
We passed through Sergels Torg, a public square which I remembered from my first trip, and the nearby Hötorget. We then headed to Djurgården, one of the islands, which houses green parks, historical buildings, and the famous Vasa Museum. On the way, we passed some small obelisks which upon closer inspection had displays to show the quality of air and water in Stockholm. They made for an interesting short read.
Djurgården was a lovely walk on a very hot day, through gardens and paths. We came across a garden centre serving a delicious-loooking lunch spread, and also an old heritage tram! The Vasa Museum was the highlight of the day though. We had to choose one museum to go to, since we couldn’t afford them all, but I’m very glad we chose that one. In the low light, with my old iPhone, I simply couldn’t do it justice in a picture. The ship itself is magnificent, but the museum is also really well planned, with nicely segmented information. In the Vasa Museum, it’s important to remember (and I didn’t know this prior) that you’re paying for ongoing, slightly experimental, conservation, not just a museum, which all contributes to the cost. This conservation itself is interesting to read about as part of the museum.
Outside, after several hours in the museum, we headed to the museum cafe and ate a räkmacka – finally, after almost a year of meaning to try one. It’s an open prawn sandwich with salad and mayonaise, on some kind of rye bread and with a slide of lemon. It won’t be for everyone, but I did find it deliciously fresh and creamy. It was also quite big, so we shared one outside in the sun.
Fuelled for a few hours longer, we then took the ferry across to Skeppsholmen, yet another of the many islands. The ferry was cheap, and easy to catch, and I’m glad we did because the views of the low sun across the water were just perfect. Skeppsholmen used to house a lot of military buildings due to its position at the entrance to Stockholm, but now there is little military presence. You can see the ship af Chapman, which is now a youth hostel!
Dinner & Metro Stations
Dinner that night was a bit fancier than the rest of the trip – we went to Restaurang Tradition for a fantastic menu and very friendly service. I can’t remember how we came across that restaurant, but I think it came down to the shortest queue – a lot of the highly rated restaurants online were very busy. But we managed to find this one, with a lovely outdoor courtyard. Our waiter was very attentive, especially when it came to entertaining our struggles deciding whether to order a bottle of wine (often obscenely expensive in Sweden).
Over dinner, we planned our next activity: a 1 hour 15 minute speed run of the Stockholm metro!
Now, Stockholm metro is famous for its beautiful underground stations that are said to be one huge network of artwork themselves. The problem is, we’d been walking quite happily around Stockholm for a few days, so how were we going to see the stations?
The answer is simple: a single ticket is valid for 75 minutes, so we had to choose a bunch of stations to visit in that time. Here’s what we did:
We started at Kungsträdgården, and changed onto the red line at T-Centralen. From there, we went all the way to the end of the line to Morby Centrum, and spend ten minutes or so at that station. At this point it’s late on a Wednesday evening, so there weren’t many people around. Then, we get the next train in the other direction back to the centre, popping our heads out at stops that caught our eye, such as Tekniska Högskolan and Universiteit, but only truly stopping at Stadion on this line. Back at T-centralen, we switched lines and hopped out at Rådhuset before walking back to our hostel.
It was fun! We giggled at ourselves for being a bit ridiculous, took some pictures, and got to see a side of Stockholm that you don’t see above ground. The art isn’t overstated either – it is truly beautiful. Some of the pictures I see, such as those of Rådhuset, look somewhat (ok, very) edited, but the stations are still impressive in person.
Our final stop of our trip, save for a bit of mooching around shops, was visiting the wonderful Stockholm Library. Located in Norrmalm, it’s quite a walk from Gamla Stan – but this is where a metro ticket would come in handy! It is a beautiful place to visit though, with its grand circular room lined with shelves. We explored the space for a while before it was time for me to hop on a Flixtrain back home and move on to the next adventure.
Visiting Sweden: things to know
Coming from the UK, you’ll find Sweden a fairly easy place to visit. There aren’t any huge culture shocks and even the language barrier isn’t that bad. The only thing that might catch you out, depending on where you’re from and what you’re used to, is the introverted nature of a lot of Swedish people. They won’t be the first to start a conversation, and they might not want to continue small talk, either! But, whilst they won’t necessarily start chatting randomly, they are very friendly and approachable should you need help.
In Sweden, you must be 18 to drink alcohol, but 20 to purchase drinks containing over 3.5% alcohol. These are sold in state-owned alcohol shops called Systembolaget; in supermarkets you’ll only find light beers and ciders and low-alcohol wines. Entry age to bars and nightclubs differs – it could be 20, 23, 25…a whole range! So be sure to check that beforehand.
Finally, it’s useful to know that there is a student discount for public transport, but sadly it only applies to those holding a Mecenat card, which shows your status as a student in Sweden. This was a lifesaver for me when I was studying there, but unfortunately means that discounts aren’t readily available for tourists. So budget for full price! That said, for other attractions such as museums, it’s always worth asking what discounts are available, and sometimes you might just be able to show your regular university ID card.
Speaking of, the cost of living is slightly higher than in the UK. In Gothenburg, the difference was noticeable, but I adjusted quickly. Stockholm, however, was even more expensive still, and so if you’re on a strict budget I’d recommend looking at ways to save money – espcially on accommodation and food.
In this post:
Accommodation: Generator Hostel
- Gamla Stan
- Riddarholmen and Riddarholmskyrkan
- Sergels Torg
- Vasa Museum
- Stockholm Public Library
- The Royal Palace and the Changing of the Guard
Stockholm Metro stations
- Morby Centrum
- Tekniska Högskolan
Food & Drink:
- Restaurang Tradition
Walking route: Söder Mälarstrand, Västerbron, and Mälarstrand