People are beautiful, smiling, tall, and offensively stylish. We must be in Sweden.
An 8-or-so-hour layover in Stockholm? Here ya go.
Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport doesn’t appear as spectacular as its people, but there’s apparently not much you can’t do here. Take a guided tour of the place, get some eyelash extensions, get your dry cleaning done, or even get married here! No joke. Not ready for that kind of commitment? Putz around and enjoy the free WiFi or watch some hunky Swedish men throw around blenders to some blasting indie pop at Joe & the Juice, a popular juice/coffee/sandwich chain throughout Scandinavia. Nothing here will disappoint you.
Because I only had a few hours in Stockholm, I skipped out on the marriage to pack in as much of the city as I could. To get to the center, opt for the Flygbussarna airport coach (a 45-min ride).
Photo by: Flygbussarna.se
Buses run on the (unfortunately named) Swedish-grown organic rapeseed oil and they offer a (relatively) affordable way to travel from the airport. Each way costs 105 Swedish Kronor–$16, as opposed to 260 SEK–$39, the cost of the 20-minute high-speed rail ride. Another plus of the bus: phone charger at every seat! Yes.
I couldn’t resist feeling a bit of Schadenfreude when some old German women behind me started swearing loudly because the ticket machine only took cards (no cash). I, and many of my other fellow expats living in Germany, constantly fuss about how many places in Germany only take cash. Welcome to the 21st century, you’re in Sweden! (Make sure you have a debit/credit card).
The ride to the city center is very green. It is a land of golf courses, trees, Volvos, and more trees.
From the central city terminal, it’s a straight shot to the old city along a bustling, not-so-terribly interesting shopping road, Drottninggatan, but with some superb ice cream options, such as StikkiNikki.
Soon you’ll arrive at the Riksbron (The National Bridge), where you’ll find yourself surrounded by the grand Riksdagshuset (Parliament House), Rosenbad (Prime Minister’s Office), and other official Swedish government buildings. Everything here is appropriately clean and regal-looking.
Photo by: Katie Merrill
At this point, you’ve probably come to realize that Stockholm is a metropolis on water. It’s in fact comprised of 14 islands, while the entire archipelago is made of an impressive 30,000! Hence the fact that one in six Swedes owns a boat and everyone’s dressed here like they’re about to go yachting. I’ve begun to wonder how much Stockholmers’ lives channel a Tommy Hilfiger ad. Verdict: probably a lot.
Photo by: Jeppe Wilkström
Cross any of the five bridges headed south from the city center and you’ve arrived in the enchanting old town Gamla Stan, where the city was founded in 1252. Because Sweden was neutral in both World Wars, this island is certainly one of the best-preserved medieval city centers in Europe and an absolute must if you only have a few hours in Stockholm.
With sloping cobblestone alleyways and tall, older-than-you-can-fathom building facades warmly painted with palates of red, orange, cream, navy, and regal greens, you’ll get the feeling that you’ve walked onto the set of a tasteful period piece.
Walk by the Stolkholm Palace (Kungliga Slottet), the official residence of the Swedish monarchy, which conveniently borders the Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral). Just south of the church lies the oldest square of Stockholm, the Stortorget, from which most Gamla Stan’s iconic photos are taken.
Photo by: miltoncorrea. CC BY
Navigate through the tourists on the main roads of the island and enjoy musical acts performed by fresh-faced locals or pick up any number of Swedish handicrafts and souvenirs, ranging from plush Viking hats to high-end, locally designed kitchenware.
Photo by: Katie Merrill
The storefronts are so tasteful, you’ll want to peek around inside every little one. Wander off from the main shopping roads and pop into a café, where Swedes will be enjoying a fika (beloved coffee break, usually accompanied by a sweet treat).
Hungry for Swedish fish (not the candy)? Head south to Slussen Square. A friend of mine living in Stockholm told me that the best fried herring and knackebröd sandwich you’ll ever have is sold in a small trailer beside the subway station. There’s nothing glamorous about this little place, Nystekt Stromming, but he was right. I let the rich, salty flavors of the fish, pickle, red onion, and cilantro linger on my tongue as I hurriedly walked back to Gamla Stan for one of the last boat tours of the day.
Photo by: Katie Merrilll
There are a few companies offering tours for around 160 SEK from the northeast and southeast edges of the old town, easily found on the water’s edge. With more time, I would probably opt for the free walking tour, but the boat option allows you to see much of the city rather quickly and being out on the water always offers a relaxing change-up.
Photo by: Katie Merrill
The vessel makes a total of eight stops within the most central landmasses of the city, where you’ll be introduced to the Vasa Museum (a very old ship), the trendy district of Södermalm, the Royal Palace, and the impressive Gröna Lund amusement park. You’ll also learn a thing or two about life in Sweden: their amazing healthcare, love of fishing, 18-hour summer days, rough winters, etc, etc.
It was time to make my way back to the airport. On my flight out of Stockholm, I felt lucky to have reserved a window seat as I reveled in my view of the archipelago’s dalmatian-spot islands below a sea of golden cotton candy clouds. Farväl Stockholm! Hopefully next time we’ll have longer together, you were grand.
If Stockholm stole your heart and you decided to cancel your flight and spend the night… trivago is there for you!