Travel in Stockholm, Sweden is certainly a worthwhile affair. The streets are clean, the people stylish and beautiful, the surroundings an array of architectural styles effortlessly mingled with nature.
I’ve only just begun getting to know this chic city, but in the time I’ve been here I’ve picked up a few handy tips I think everyone should have in their arsenal prior to arrival.
In no particular order, here are my 10 best travel tips for Stockholm:
Plastic is King
Sweden may be part of the EU, but they’ve opted to stick with their own currency, the Swedish Krona (SEK, often referred to as crowns in English). However, you may not see much cash floating around during your visit as you can pay with a credit card for almost everything in Stockholm. The one notable exception to this is public toilets. From bus stations to malls to public parks, toilets are nearly always pay-to-pee. This requires inserting a 5 or 10 kronor coin into a machine to unlock the door. A minor annoyance, but one that can be avoided by carrying small change just in case or using free toilets when you can. If you’ve paid an entrance fee or purchased something (like in a café or bar), toilets will be free.
Public Transit is Queen
For the love of all things holy, NEVER take taxis in Stockholm. The public transit system is fantastic, and a taxi fare stands the chance of not only emptying your bank account but giving you a heart attack in the process. Purchase an SL Access card from any metro station or kiosk and keep it filled with credit. This card can be used on the metro, buses, and trams, where each ride costs 25 SEK ($2.92) with your pre-paid card. SL Access cards are perfect for repeat visitors; the card itself costs 20 SEK but can be re-used on subsequent visits. For short-term visitors, single-use Travelcards can be purchased which are valid for unlimited rides within a 24-hour, 72-hour, or 7-day time period. Be aware that bus drivers do not handle cash, so you must purchase a ticket beforehand. For full fare information, visit the SL website.
Don’t Miss the Metro
Trust me when I say that you’ll be missing something special if you never ride the Stockholm metro. The stations are not only massive and spacious compared to most transit stations I’ve seen, but they are unique works of art. Some call it “the world’s longest art exhibit” in which more than 90 stations have been adorned with sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations and engravings.
Save Big with Casual Dining
Stockholm, and particularly Stockholm’s restaurant scene, has a reputation for being outlandishly expensive. Unfortunately, I’m not here to dispell that rumor today, rather to offer a more affordable alternative. Sit down for a proper restaurant meal and your wallet is bound to feel the pinch, but dine al fresco at one of the city’s kiosks and save big! Hot dog kiosks are easily the most popular (korv in Swedish) but other options (like Thai takeaway, who knew?) do exist. Or if you’re in the mood for a burger, hit up the local fast food chain, Max. A regular burger (albeit a small one) costs just 15 SEK ($1.76) without add-ons.
Plan to Drink? Plan Ahead
Outside of bars and restaurants, alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.5% ABV can only be purchased at Systembolaget, the government-owned liquor store chain. This is easily the most affordable way to drink in Sweden–a nice imported beer might cost you 25 SEK ($2.93) here, whereas the same beer can cost 80 SEK ($9.37) in a bar. As a wine drinker, I save money by purchasing 3-liter boxed varieties for as little as 179 SEK (about $20). Oddly enough, not every Systembolaget has the same opening hours. They uniformly open at 10 am but can close as early as 6 pm during the week, 3 pm on Saturdays, and are not open at all on Sundays. For this reason, it’s important to plan ahead unless you want to spend a fortune on drinks out at bars.
Don’t Forget to Fika
Another drink that Swedes take very, VERY seriously is coffee. There is even a cultural phenomenon centered around the caffeinated beverage known as “fika,” in which one takes a break from working to socialize with friends over coffee and sweet pastries. The kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is one of the most traditional fika pastries, but really, anything goes. Nothing complements a long day of sightseeing like a nice fika–don’t miss this charming (and delicious) Swedish tradition.
Take a Free Tour
Free?! I bet at this point you thought you’d never hear the word. But it’s true, there are a few free things to do in Stockholm, and a free walking tour is one of them. Of course, as with any other “free” tour, gratuity is appreciated by your guide, but the price is up to you. These tours run all year, just make sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Check out just a few of the Stockholm free walking tour options here.
Know When (and When Not) to Tip
Hooray! Workers in Sweden earn a living wage, meaning tipping is not common in Stockholm or elsewhere. Restaurants and taxis are the most common places tipping occurs, but since I’ve already warned you away from taxis, we’ll focus on restaurants. Service charges are almost always included in your bill, especially at upscale places. For exceptional service or during evening meals, rounding your bill up to a nice even number is a courteous thing to do. This can be said for bar service as well–if a beer costs 58 SEK and you pay 60, that’s perfectly fair (but not expected). There is no need to tip for services like haircuts, and even tipping hotel staff is not expected. The most important thing to remember is gratuitous tipping (more than 5-10% of a bill) is never necessary.
Take It All In
There aren’t many hills in Stockholm and due to city regulations there aren’t many tall buildings, either. Fortunately, there are still a few places that offer fantastic city views. Gondolen is a restaurant suspended high above the harbor that offers sweeping views of the city. Though closed in the winter, you can still access the viewpoint for a few photos. Another well-known viewpoint is Kaknäs Tower, the hub of TV and radio transmission in Sweden. At 155 meters high (508 feet) it gives a view of the city unlike any other. The tower houses a restaurant, skybar, and observation deck for your viewing pleasure.
Choose Your Museums Carefully
There is a veritable multitude of museums to choose from in Stockholm, but there are two particularly Swedish ones you won’t find anywhere else: the ABBA Museum and the Vasa Museum. The former (hopefully) needs no introduction–it pays homage to one of Sweden’s most popular exports, the pop group that took the world by storm after winning Eurovision in 1974. The latter pays homage to one of Sweden’s biggest failures, the extravagant Vasa warship that sank not even one kilometer offshore on her maiden voyage. They’ve salvaged the situation in more ways than one, however, as the ship is one of the most well-preserved in the world (after being underwater for more than 300 years) and the museum built around it has become one of Stockholm’s most popular attractions.
And since everytime I think of ABBA this song gets stuck in my head, you get to suffer with me.
I’m sorry. You’re welcome.
Have you been to Stockholm? What tips would you add?