Are you planning a winter getaway to Stockholm? Well, this honest travel guide is the one you’re looking for. The snowy season is an extraordinary time to be in the Swedish capital, but it isn’t all fun and games. If you’re visiting Stockholm anytime that is not from June to September, remember it will be cold and very very dark. The chances that people will be super friendly and happy-go-lucky might not be so high. Then again, there’s more than enough beauty to enjoy in Stockholm, as long as you take many many breaks to warm up. In this city guide, I’m sharing all the tips and tricks you need to know for a lovely trip to Stockholm in winter.
Tips and tricks for a trip to Stockholm in winter
- Where to Stay
- Public Transport
- Where to Drink
- Where to Eat
- Free Bathrooms
- How to Escape the Cold
- Winter Wonderland
- Cultural Highlights
Where to Stay in Stockholm
It’s going to be expensive, but if you’re planning a Scandinavia trip you’ll probably already know this. One advantage: pretty much anything should be more-or-less connected by public transport. If you’re looking for something really cheap, go for couch surfing. Otherwise a neighborhood I’d particularly recommend, going from a kind of punk history, is Rågsved.
You’ll need 20 min to get into the city, but you’ll also have beautiful metro views. It has a funny planned structure, which is interesting to experience. One handy rule to keep in mind: the further you get to the central area, the more expensive places will be. Personally, I like the suburbs; not everyone is white and rich and it just seems more ‘real’.
Public Transport in Stockholm
Check out SL.se for your connections, or Google Maps. Definitely get yourself a SL-card as well, since it will be cold and you want to have the option of not having to be outside. In that line I’d get some kind of flatrate tickets, single tickets are almost €3. You’ll only qualify for the student discount with a Swedish student card. Public transport runs really well and I enjoyed the Swedish announcements in the metro, they’re very melodious.
From the airport
If you’re coming from the airport: from Skavsta you have only one choice, namely the overpriced Flygbussarna (bus transport, buy your tickets in advance online). If you’re coming from Arlanda, you can also take the Flygbuss (I think around 100 SEK) but if you want to save money, you can go with SL. There’s a SL-info stand at the airport. You’ll take the bus and then the train. Depending on where you are going and how much money you want to spend, this might be worth it.
Sight-seeing from the ferries
It’s not just public transport, it’s also entertaining to get through the Swedish winter. When I lived in Stockholm in winter, we’d socialize in public transport. A little sad, but definitely true. Public transport can double as a sight-seeing mechanism and it’s always heated, so yay Sweden! Take the ferries, some are short-distance, some are long-distance (one of them travelled for about an hour). It’s absolutely beautiful to see Stockholm and its surrounding nature from the water and was one of my favorite things to do.
On SL.se you can choose the “type” of transport you want to take and check out the ferry schedules. Some don’t go on weekends. Make sure if you do the long-distance ferry you can get back on the long-distance ferry, rather than it being a one-way trip and getting you stuck… somewhere. Most of the long-distance ferries will have bathrooms, and sometimes also electric outlets (I wrote one of my papers in one of them). They will have used ice-breakers so the ferries can get through, so even if you have ice (and you will), it will be fine. Definitely do the Djurgården route from Slussen (Route 80).
Also amazing: Stockholm’s metro stations. The “inner-city” metro and the blue line north are underground, so that’s no fun. If you’re coming from the suburbs in the south, the metro is great to see more of the landscape. Beautiful route: Gullmarsplan to Slussen (which crosses a bridge). Stockholm is known for its metro-station art so that would also be something you could do. The blue line is known to have cool metro stations. Definitely check out Slussen (international attention was paid to this feminist decoration, often in Sweden feminism focuses strongly on menstrual themes) and Kungsträdgården. The tram is also nice. You’ll see all the fancy places people live and you won’t ever be able to afford.
Where to drink in Stockholm
You’ll have to: it’s the hobby of alcoholic, winter-depressed Swedes. It’s expensive, but so what. Better than not making it through to the spring (and beyond). If you want to buy in store: anything with alcohol content under 5% can be sold in supermarkets. Sadly this translates into beer with 3.5% alcohol level. Even worse is that they have these brands that should be good beer, i.e. Pilsner Urquell. Don’t even bother with this stuff. You want Systembolaget, the state-owned liquor store (absolute monopoly).
As depressing it is when you spend a large fraction of your money here, it is actually an incredibly fun store. They’re not allowed to advertise and have restricted opening hours (10.00 – 19.00 during the week, until 15.00 on Saturdays, but you will want to check this again. Sunday it will be closed for you not to drink and go to church). Everything is overpriced and there will never be any sales or discounts, but the store is neat (read: sterile in the Swedish way), you’ll have a super selection and staff guidance if you want, and it’s just really fun.
Where to get the best (affordable) beer
The best beer for quality/price is for Lager this brand that starts with a B (Brygg-something), it comes in a green ½L can. Good Swedish craft beer is Gotlands Bryggeri, its Bulldog series. My favorite beer is a 750ml bottle of Belgian IPA, it has this kind of arty blue label but I’ve forgotten the brand. It’s around 50 SEK.
In bars you’ll be paying more but oh well, so is life in Scandinavia. Cheaper you can get beer here: Baras Backe (Götgatan 33, close to Slussen). Same chain: Baras 2.noll (Medborgarplatsen). For a cheap bar (their beer is 27 SEK before 20.00), they have a really nice atmosphere and cool decoration. If you need hard liquor stock up at the airport duty-free, that’s why your flight will be full of Swedes bringing alcohol.
Where to eat in Stockholm
This is hard because everything is super expensive. Forget about the kebab, whatever you do. Not only will it still be kinda expensive, it will not be worth the not-so-expensive-kronar. Don’t disappoint yourself. I had good Thai food at Thai House Wok on Södermalm once. I only went out to eat when my parents paid and generally preffered to spend my money at Systembolaget.
Herman’s close to Fotografiska is supposed to be good, and it is vegan as far as I remember. Definitely go to Kafé 44 (check their opening times, they’re sporadic). I don’t know if it’s actually a squat but it looks like one, they have good (though I think only vegetarian) burgers and fries and stuff. And cheap refill coffee. Good atmosphere, they’ll have concerts as well. You can play board games and it’s where some more alternative people hang out in the white, rich, vegan upper-class that hangs out on Södermalm.
The best snack to eat
DEFINITELY kanelbullar. Cheap ones at the supermarket Hemsköp (pronounced Hemshöp), more expensive ones at Gunnarsons (Götgatan) or Ingrid (Nybrogatan 23). Try the ones with cardamom. I can’t think of anything else Sweden is very good at in the culinary department, except for knäcke and that’s not what I would call good food. And fish-paste for breakfast, ditto.
Forget many cafés, you’ll need an access code. The good thing is that often Swedes won’t tell you if you’re doing something you “shouldn’t,” so that might help your search. Anyway, we always went to the many free city public museums, some (like the Medieval Museum) are pretty central. Don’t delude yourself thinking that libraries will have free bathrooms. Even the movie theaters I went to had a key code. Exception: Kulturhuset (see below), go to the bathrooms on the level of the library (in the restaurant, just ignore the signs saying you can’t use them).
How to Escape the Cold
Winter in Stockholm can be brutal, so check out the free (or paid) museums. The Moderna Museet (modern art) one is good, the ethnographic one (Etnografiska) I really enjoyed. Some (like the latter) are pretty far out, and they have this museum island called Djurgården (‘animal garden’), but the ferry or the bus can get you there. Plus, then you get to take a walk in the snow and see more of Stockholm. Some are not really up to current museal standards, let’s leave it at that (Medieval Museum). But they’re heated AND they’re free, which is what you want in Stockholm in winter.
Check out the really centrally located Kulturhuset, this was where I’d escape to. It’s a library and cultural space with amazing books, cool furniture and also tons of records and CDs, which you can listen to in the library. They also have pianos that you can practice on. Moreover, it’s just an amazing building. You can sit reading or listening and looking out at the busy people out buying stuff, the national pastime of “socialist” Sweden.
I always wanted to go to the ABBA museum, but who has a spare € 25 for lip-synching to ABBA? I can do that on the metro for free. If you like ships, go to Vasa Museet, but I personally think it’s not worth it (not that I went). People love Fotografiska (photography museum), it is really nice and has an amazing location (if you go there go to the café) but it is also really full. It all depends on what you want your museum experience to be.
Shopping in Stockholm
Södermalm has a lot of secondhand stores which are actually more like vintage, by which I mean they are more expensive than they should be for selling old stuff. Actual (cheap for Stockholm standards) secondhand are the Stadsmissionen and Myrorna (multiple branches). You can buy overpriced, Swedish-design gifts at Designtorget.
Supermarkets in Stockholm
Hemsköp is expensive. ICA is also expensive but less so. Lidl is the cheapest of those three (still not cheap) and will have German Christmas candy. If you want the cheapest, and want to see the class/race/price differential that exists in Swedish society, go to Matdax (only in the suburbs).
Hands down: the old town of Gamla Stan. It will be super full of tourists, but it is really also super beautiful. Because of Sweden’s socialist tendencies, there are a lot of people who actually live affordably on Gamla Stan, because they got an apartment allotted to them. There’s a good science fiction and comic book store on here. You can find cheap beer at the Medusa Lion bar, but it’s not that nice. It might be easier to meet people (tourists) though than the other bars recommended here, which will be populated by Swedes. Their bathrooms can be accessed without a key code.
I would also take a walk from west to east through Södermalm through a parallel street of Hornsgatan. I recommend Brannkyrkagatan street. Beautiful is the view of Riddarholmen from Söder Malarstrand. You’ll be right next to the water/ice. Sometimes this will freeze and you can walk on it. Riddarholmen is also nice to walk through.
This might be too slippery/snowy, but definitely, definitely try to go see Skinnarviksberget. The view here is absolutely fantastic and worth the cold.
If you have time, I would also check out some of Stockholm’s socialist urban planning. I am thinking of the neighborhood Tallkrogen, really beautiful and now completely unaffordable.
Apart from looking at nature from a safe distance when taking the ferries, if you actually want to be part of it, I’d go to the National Park of Tyresta (reachable by SL, but be careful as there might be tons of snow). There’s also an outdoor sauna in Hellasgården, this must be amazing. Watch all the super-fit naked Swedes jump into the cold water, merry Christmas!
There are a lot of cultural activities, and much can be found for free. Always check the event calendars. The best movie theaters are Rio, on the west side of Södermalm, and Victoria, at Medborgarplatsen. Movies are in original language with Swedish subs.
I regularly went to film screenings by the Goethe Institut, where they played German films with Swedish subs. There’s also a lot of concerts. Once we went to one that was free if you entered before 20.00. The music started at 22.00, by that time we had been drinking… more than the entry price. Foolish!
I actually didn’t like it so much but Skogskyrkogården (try pronouncing that) is a UNESCO world heritage site. In Swedish style, it’s in woods, which is beautiful, but also kind of boring. Oh well. Greta Garbo is buried here. There are many old protestant churches, they’ll have a few gravestones dotted on the grass in front of the church. In summer people use this as a park and will do gymnastics on the grass.
Don’t miss: the city library Stadsbibliotek (Sveavägen 73). What a beautiful place! But don’t be fooled, there are no free bathrooms.
Sweden is hard, and Sweden is cold. But remember: if you’ve chosen to go here, you’ll be faced with a beautiful landscape. Don’t be afraid to experience the snowy season in Sweden and use these handy tips for Stockholm in winter whenever you need to. Anyways, enjoy yourself and, whatever you do: listen to your mother and pack a hat and gloves.