Stockholm: Endless Islands, One Unforgettable City

Mamma mia, here I go again. My, my, how can I resist you?

ABBA

ABBA said it best, “Mamma mia, here I go again. My, my, how can I resist you?” This is how we felt from going on another trip in August! August was a busy travel month for us, but we loved every minute of it. This was the first time we visited Sweden and really “how can (we) resist you?!” It was such a cool country with so much history and things to see. We didn’t get to see it all, but what we did see we fell in love with. When we go back, we will have to prioritize seeing the Drottningholm Palace and Skyview high. We spent Friday to Monday there and the August weather was so nice. We ended up staying at the Sheraton Stockholm Hotel and it was a great option because it was so centralized. It was right across the street from the Gamla Stan.

Here are the top activities and sites we recommend for Stockholm.

Gamla Stan

One of the old historic areas of Stockholm is Gamla Stan. We learned that gamla means “old” and stan means “town,” so in other words it is the old town. Honestly, we walked around this area the most because we loved getting lost in its beauty. We loved walking all throughout the streets and finding other charming things about the old town. In this area there are also a lot of great shops to go into or restaurant options (most of the restaurants that we recommend below are in Gamla Stan). 

Kungliga Slottet

Kungliga Slottet, or the Royal Palace, is the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch. The outside was very exquisite with its different-colored stone, different windowpane accents, and neat garden area. This royal palace has seen a lot of expansions (the royal family kept extending the palace out and making it bigger) and changes (it went from a fortress to eventually a palace). 

The inside portion of the palace was so elaborate with its wall tapestries, statues, artwork, marble, and chandeliers. We walked all around the palace and found different entrance points. Each area had more historical facts to uncover. If you have questions as you walk around, the guides in each are friendly and well-informed. There is a lot to see here, so make sure you give yourself as much time as possible to read everything and explore this beautiful palace.  

Storkyrkan

Storkyrkan is a medieval cathedral in Gamla Stan right next to the royal palace. The outside might look simple, but the inside is far from it. This church is the oldest in Gamla Stan and, as such, it was used as the site where royal coronations, weddings, and funerals took place.  There are many things to notice to while you are in the church; for instance, the elaborate wooden statue of St. George and the dragon (above right). It is said that there are relics of saints in there including from St. George. The statue was created to commemorate the Battle of Brunkberg. The dragon is supposed to represent the Danish King Christian I, St. George is supposed to represent the Swedish regent Sten Sture the Elder, and the princess that St. George is trying to save from the dragon (she is not part of this statue) is supposed to represent Sweden.    

Riddarholmen Church 

Another historical church we highly recommend is the Riddarholmen Church. This church is known for being one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm and used to be a medieval abbey. Then it was a Catholic church, but later turned into a Protestant church. Now the building is run by the government and is known for housing some of the burial plots of the Swedish monarchs. Also inside, you can find coat of arms displayed of those knights that were part of the Royal Order of the Seraphim.

The Vasa Museum   

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We found the Vasa Museum on the island of Djurgården. We took a boat tour from Gamla Stan (right outside the palace there is a boat stop) that goes all around, with one of the stops being that island. This museum needs to be high on your list because it was so interesting! This museum’s highlight is the only almost intact 17th century ship. It was a gun warship that sank in 1628, not long after it left port. During its prime, it used to have a lot of color to it and the museum helps explain what colors and images were placed on the ship. The museum also explains all the wooden statues they carved out. We weren’t sure how we were going to feel about this museum, but we ended up really enjoying it and it was a very unique experience. 

The ABBA Museum

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We found the ABBA Museum on the island of Djurgården as well. We knew a lot of their songs, but we did not know much about their personal life. It was interesting to learn more about the band and we loved how interactive this museum made your experience. For example, there were trivia questions (that is when we learned we did not know a lot about them), voice recordings of them talking about their lives, a karaoke booth (where you can email the recording to yourself), a stage where you can sing and dance with ABBA holograms to one of their songs, AND so much more. 

Activities To Do While You are in Stockholm

Stockholm Pass: 60+ Attractions, Hop-On Hop-Off Ticket & Sightseeing Tours 

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This is a great package and card to get before you get there! We both highly recommend it because it gets you free access to a lot of different museums, boat tours, and bus tours. Check out the list of places you get into for free.

NOTE: get this card and start using it at the start of the next day, so you can take advantage of using it the full two days. We ended up getting the card later and using it for about a day and half. We did a lot during that time, but we could have done even more and gotten a better deal for our money if we had two full days. Another note is that if you plan on going to the ABBA Museum, then get that ticket on its own because it is not one of the free museums with this card. 

The “Viking Country” Half-Day Tour by STOEX 

This full day tour was full of picturesque towns, Viking monuments, and plenty of historical information that the guide will share with you.  It was very convenient too because they pick you up and then drop you back off right in front of your hotel. 

We made our way to our first location in Taby, where there is an area known for having ancient Viking ruins. The picture below might look like just a bunch of rocks on the ground, but it used to be where the Viking parliament building was located. Along this secluded wilderness area and beautiful lake view were a few runestones, which are Viking tombstone boulders that tell the life of the Viking that died through Norse images. 

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Then we hopped back into the car and made our way to the Vallentuna region to Granby, which in 400 AD was a Viking settlement. However, before we explored the settlement, we stepped into this adorable farmer’s house. The owner had a delicious and adorable setup of snacks, known as Fika. Fika is the name of a Swedish coffee break where there is coffee and pastries to enjoy. The owner spoiled us by letting us try all four of her homemade desserts! They were all amazing and if you don’t want coffee, then they also have tea and hot chocolate as options. We also got to meet some of the farmer’s neighbors (cats and chickens)!

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Once we were done with our Swedish coffee break, we headed outside and walked up the hill. We warn you that this hill has a lot of cow poop, so be careful where you walk! We are lucky to say our group made it out poop free. Once we made it to the top we had a very nice overlook and this is where the Viking settlement was located. Another good thing about having this guide is he showed us what the settlement would have looked like during the Viking era. While on top of the hill, we were shown this huge boulder. When we took a closer look we noticed it was another Viking runestone. This one is called the Granbyhällen, which is known to be the longest inscription on a Viking runestone in Sweden. 

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Our next stop was at Sigtuna, which is the first real city and first capital of Sweden. We were given a chance to walk around on our own for a little bit. This town was so cute! It was a bunch of pedestrian walkways that had adorable and colorful buildings on either side of us, which had unique stores and some of them sold Viking souvenirs. While walking around the walkway we saw people dressed up in old time-y attire and a bunch of different stands scattered all over with people selling homemade items. They were selling things like fur, chocolates, sweaters, iron pieces like candle holders, and different fried foods. We looked down a path and saw that it led to the water, so we made our way down there and enjoyed the view. Along the waterway there was a nice path and a little park for kids to enjoy.  

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We headed back to where we were dropped off and our guide told us stories and took us over to the St. Olaf’s Church ruins. It is said that the town of Sigtuna is known to be the first Christian town in Sweden. It was a beautiful ruin with a lot of history that the tour guide goes over with you. Not to mention some great Instagram photo opportunities!  

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Our next stop was at Orkesta, where they have the largest concentration of burial mounds in Sweden. The mounds really stretched all the way down. The Vikings used to bury the dead and the dead’s belongings into these mounds. The thought was very similar to the Egyptians where they wanted the deceased to have something that they can bring with them into the afterlife.  

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Just behind the mounds was a church. There used to be a temple here but was torn down around the 1100’s to build the cathedral. Fast-forward to the 1200’s when this cathedral was struck by lightning — they called this act the revenge of Thor. As a result, they moved this cathedral to the town of Uppsala, which we visited later. Another church was later rebuilt in the same area, but to a much smaller scale and was more of a parish church. As we walked around the church you could see on the outside a lot of Viking runestones (see the image of it below). A lot of places use to take the runestones to use as building pieces for the church. This church is known for its well-preserved 12th century frescoes, St. Erik’s path, and Celsius’ tomb. Celsius is Swedish and was buried in the church because the priest at this Lutheran church was his dad. 

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We then started driving to Uppsala. Along the way we were told how Uppsala had the largest, most historical, and most prestigious university in Sweden. This town dates to the 2nd century AD and was known as an important Viking religious temple and burial site. It is also known as being the birthplace of Frey and Freya, two of the original Norse gods. 

Then we walked into the cathedral and it was so ornate, which is not common for a Lutheran church since they are more about being minimalists. However, our guide told us later that it was first a Catholic church. We walked all the way around and there is so much to take in. It was nice to have a guide to point out all the things to look at. Some highlights are: Mantense’s (he was a Swedish botanist who categorized species and plants) tomb; statutes of St. Lars, St. Olaf, and St. Erik; a royal family was planning on being buried here, but they refused to pay the artists, so to retaliate the artists made the statue with two left feet; St. Erik’s relics; and St. Bridget’s hip bone (she is known as the first Swedish canonized saint). 

Culinary Sightseeing & Tasting Tour by FoodTours.eu

We had the best time walking around Sweden with our friends and guide by FoodTours.eu. The guide starts you out at the Östermalms Saluhall, Stockholm’s well-known food market. At the time we were there, the original market hall that dates to the 1800’s was closed for renovations, so instead they created a warehouse right next door that was sleek and clean for the vendors to sell their products. This building is temporary, and we were told that it will be easy to tear down when they don’t need it anymore and reuse the parts as other building materials. 

While we were in the market we went to a stand where we tried cloud berries, which tasted a little bitter and sweet. Then we tried three different types of cheeses. We learned that one of the cheeses we tried was first made in the 1800’s, another cheese we tried was a cumin cheese, and the third one was made by a group of engineers. All three were delicious and very different tasting. 

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Then we headed over to another stand where we were informed that the royal family also likes to frequent this stand to get their meat, hence why you see a picture of them displayed on their counter. While we were at the stand, we got to try a light beer and two different types of moose and reindeer meats. It was for sure something we can’t try often, so we were excited to try it. We did really enjoy some of the meat more than others. Try it yourself though to see if there is one that speaks more to you. The beer was a very light and easy drink. 

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We made our way to a deli market that had some limited seating, so you could tell this place was mostly used as a takeaway place. We commandeered all the seating area and tried their seasonal potatoes, gravy, lingonberry jam, and turkey meatballs. They get their turkey from their turkey farm. These meatballs were our favorite from the trip because they were so less greasy, fatty, and just tasted great.  

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We then walked to the Haymarket building and as we did our guide would occasionally stop and tell us history stories or food explanations. We got to the market and went down the escalators to reach the Kajsas fisk stand and eating area. Funny story, but we went to this place a couple days before the food walking tour (not realizing it would be a part of it). We were so excited though because we knew that the food there was amazing, so we were excited to try some new things there! This place is so welcoming, and we saw before that it has been a family run place since around 1984. We got to meet the owner and he was so friendly. While we were there, we were given a white wine chardonnay and sauvignon blanc that paired well with the meal. We got their Swedish shrimp salad and their butter fried herring and pickles cucumber. We also had their signature fish soup (again, we had this on the first day for lunch in Stockholm). The soup is amazing! It is tomato and herbs with a little cream sauce. Most places in Sweden will make fish soup with more cream than tomato, but this helps separate their fish tomato soup from the rest of the restaurants. 

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Then we made our way back up the escalator before stopping at another stand where we tried all different kinds of licorice sticks. Some were flavored and some were REALLY salty. We were also informed that licorice can be bad for you if you eat too much of it. However, you would have to eat A LOT of it for it to do any real harm to you. 

We kept walking, until we were at a chocolate and pastry shop that is known for winning awards. While we were here, we had two different types of chocolates (one with sea salt and chocolate and the other with chocolate and raspberry filling). You can’t go wrong with getting either of those flavors in our opinion! We also ordered a thick chocolate ice cream that was so decadent — a little bit goes a long way. 

We ended our tour in Gamla Stan. We went to this adorable café that looked smaller on the outside than it was on the inside. It was tucked away within these side streets. Here we had a traditional Fika, which is something Swedish people do twice a day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon). We had coffee and a GIANT cinnamon bun. In the US, a cinnamon bun has icing on it, but in Sweden the cinnamon buns have sugar sprinkles. Both good, but just a different texture when you eat it. Also, we can say that it is less messy than the icing ones! 

Stockholm Restaurants

Aifur

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This was by far one of the coolest restaurants we have been to! It was so unique and really brought all the ambiance you were looking for in terms of a traditional Viking room and meal. The restaurant is in Gamla Stan. This restaurant starts out by having such a fun and welcoming entrance way with flags, a light up sign, and a stairway with lights leading down to the food hall. Inside we were astounded with all the details from the signage, Viking shields, boats hung from above, iron boat candlelight holders, and wood seating benches with etches. Right when we got in there, we were introduced to an announcer who said the name of our group and everyone in the room clapped before we were shown to our seats. There’s also a live band, which does make things a little loud with everyone competing with each other’s voice and the music. However, that did not take away from the vibe and really it just made it feel even more like a traditional Viking bar (or at least what we perceive it to have been like). The food was all amazing and they gave us a two-pronged fork, which again showed they were all about the detail. Each item on the menu came with a story of why the dish was called that.

We ended up sharing a few items with friends and with each other: plate from Trogden, Helgasalad, and Tore Hjort’s Venison. We also got our beer in goblets, which was fun! We ordered: Aifur’s Aifur and Aifur’s Braggot. We both highly enjoyed our selection! If you want to take a look at some of the descriptions or just look further at their site, then here is their website. This needs to be a must place to eat, while you are here!

NOTE: Be sure to make a reservation far in advance because it is not easy to get a seat if you don’t. 

Kaffekoppen

We found this café located in Gamla Stan in this really cute open square and beautifully colored buildings. It was so adorable inside and out. With their fun entranceway and their wood benches outside. We ended up just getting one item to share here, which was their cardamom cake. It was very flaky, and the flavors were wonderful. 

Chokladkoppen

This restaurant is right next door to the Kaffekoppen, so we got one item from here and one from the other place. Here we ended up getting their cinnamon bun with sugar sprinkles. It was very good and a great start to the day. 

Stockholms Gästabud

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This restaurant was in Gamla Stan (I’m sure you can now see a trend on where most of our restaurants were located)! Here we shared a beer and a Briska apple cider. The cider was very refreshing. Then we shared two appetizers and an entrée (we enjoyed every part of our lunch)! We went with some friends and we all agreed that one of the highlights was the small toast with shrimps and homemade mayonnaise. Then we shared three kinds of pickled herring, bread, cheese, and egg. We think that this is a great place to try traditional herring because they do a great job in not letting it taste too fishy and they really know how to marinate them well. Finally, we shared a butter fried salmon with an herb and truffle mayonnaise, served with dill potato. No complaints there either! 

Brickyard 

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This restaurant and bar is located past Gamla Stan on the other island. We stopped in there with some friends to get some appetizers and drinks before going to dinner. They had a great selection of beers, ciders, wines and cocktails. 

Akkurat 

Just outside Gamla Stan was this gastropub. I did not take any pictures while we were here, but we enjoyed the huge selection of beers and whiskies on tap. It had a low-key and chill ambiance inside. 

Tradition

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This restaurant was in Gamla Stan (we know, you are surprised).  Here we started out with a beer and pureed lingonberry champagne. The mimosa was very delicious. For dinner, we shared the cured salmon with toast, sweet mustard sauce, and pickled fennel starter. It was a great mix between a perfectly crunchy toast, fresh salmon, and sweetness from the mustard with the dill. Then we shared two entrees: Swedish potato dumplings filled with fried pork, served with browned butter and lingonberries AND Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumber, and potato puree. Both entrees had a great blend of flavors on our pallets! 

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