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Sofia from Nature Travels shares her top tips for enjoying Sweden’s capital, the “Venice of the North”.
I grew up in a small town Waxholm (also spelt Vaxholm), 45 minute bus ride from Stockholm, and have spent many days shopping, meeting friends and hanging out around the capital. These are my tips for what not to miss when spending a few days there.
The fact that Stockholm is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges makes a tour by boat something of a given. There are many sightseeing boats that will take you on a guided tour around the waterways of the city.
If you have some more time on your hands, it’s worth taking one of the archipelago boats and exploring some of the 30 000 islands that make up the Stockholm Archipelago. Strömma Kanal Bolag has different cruises in the archipelago.
Another option is to take a day tour to Waxholm (the town where I grew up). It’s an idyllic archipelago town with many well-preserved wooden houses from the turn of the last century, painted in the archipelago’s typical delicate pastel tones. Waxholm has numerous charming restaurants, cafés and shops.
Waxholm is easily accessible year-round, by Waxholmsbolagets boat traffic or by bus, If you take the bus, the trip is covered by Stockholm’s public transport service and so is also included in the Stockholm Card. Why not take the boat one way and then the bus back?
Another thing to do in Stockholm is to visit the green island of Djurgården. It is beloved by both Stockholmers and tourists. Djurgården is a calm oasis. There are fine areas to stroll in and to have a picnic. Djurgården is also home to several of the city’s top museums and attractions (including Skansen and the Wasa museum described below), as well as enjoyable cafés and restaurants.
Skansen is an open-air zoo and museum. Here you can stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, from north to south. As a zoo, Skansen is primarily devoted to showing Scandinavian animals. Some 75 different species and breeds of Scandinavian animals are represented.
As an open-air zoo and museum, it’s probably most enjoyable in summertime, but is open for visitors all year around and in early December the site’s central square is host to a popular Christmas market.
The Vasa Museum is a maritime museum located on the island of Djurgården. The museum displays an almost fully intact 17th century ship, the 64-gun warship Vasa, that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. The showpiece is the ship itself, which is simply magnificent. To look up, or down, at a ship that is almost 400 years old and is essentially in its original state is a fantastic experience.
Södermalm is the old working class area of the city, which has turned bohemian chic. Södermalm has a lot of cafés, restaurants, bars and rows of boutiques with a mix of vintage, independent labels, and Swedish mainstream designers.
The vibe in the streets of Södermalm is relaxed, creative and trendy, especially in the Sofo area (South of Folkungatan). SoFo is a play on the acronym SoHo (South of Houston Street, in Manhattan).
In the warm months, Nytorget Square is a bustling social scene. The last Thursday of every month is called SoFo night, where retailers are open until 9pm and offer free entertainment and refreshments to shoppers.
All of Gamla Stan is like a living pedestrian-friendly museum, full of sights, attractions, restaurants, cafés, bars and places to shop. The narrow, winding cobblestone streets, with their buildings in so many different shades of gold, give Gamla Stan its unique character. Even now, cellar vaults and frescoes from the Middle Ages can be found behind the visible facades, and on snowy winter days the district feels like something from a storybook.
Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan are the district’s main streets. In the middle of Gamla Stan is Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm.
Drottninggatan – Sergels Torg
The City area of Stockholm is where the big department stores are and a lazy shopper’s paradise. Sergels Torg is a sunken pedestrian plaza with a triangular pattern (colloquially referred to as Plattan, “The Slab”) and a wide flight of stairs leading up to the pedestrian street, Drottninggatan. Drottninggatan (“Queen Street”) is a major pedestrian street. The majority of the street is car-free and lined-up with numerous stores and shops.
Kungsträdgården (Swedish for “King’s Garden”) is a square/park in central Stockholm. It is colloquially known as Kungsan. The park’s central location and its outdoor cafés makes it one of the most popular hangouts and meeting places in Stockholm. It also hosts open-air concerts and events in summer, while offering an ice rink during winters.
I think that covers it! Those are my my tips – writing this makes me want to go strolling around the streets of Stockholm – hmm, I think a trip to Stockholm might be on the cards for me this spring!
Andrea from Nature Travels goes reindeer herding with the South Sami of Dalarna in north-west Sweden and enjoys some early spring days in Stockholm…
Going to Sweden is always an exciting experience, especially when you get to try out activities that you have never done before. Last week I got to enjoy the terrific wilderness of western Sweden and the busy streets of Stockholm and enjoyed every minute of it!
My trip started on Monday afternoon when I took a flight from London to Stockholm. As I arrived in Sweden’s capital pretty late and my trip would just continue the next day I decided to overnight in the Jumbo hostel at Arlanda airport. I have already spent a few nights in airplanes when flying overseas, but I must confess that I have never had such a relaxing experience doing so. Well, this time I slept in a real bed and not in a narrow airline seat, but this was only one of the many reasons that made my stay in the Jumbo very pleasant.
The next morning I was picked up by Lennart, a Sami from northern Sweden, who would accompany my fellow travellers and me to Idre, the southernmost Sami settlement in Sweden. After several hours’ bus ride we finally arrived in the small village close to the Norwegian border. There we met some of the local Sami residents that would introduce us to the Sami culture in the next few days. After a delicious meal prepared in the local Sami restaurant we went to our accommodation, a small farm from the 16th century, where we would stay during our trip.
On Wednesday, after a comprehensive breakfast with home-baked bread and self-made cakes and chocolates, we set out on snowmobiles to follow the reindeer herd of the local Sami community. Matthias, a young reindeer herder, told us about the traditional way of herding reindeer and the significance of these animals for the indigenous people of Scandinavia. Later we prepared a traditional outdoor lunch, had a cup of coffee with melted cheese (sounds weird, but tastes wonderful) and enjoyed the warm temperatures and the stunning landscape. After lunch we helped the reindeer herders to migrate the herd from its winter meadows in the forest to its summer grazing land in the mountains before we went back to the village for another delightful dinner.
The following morning we headed out to the frozen lakes and tested our ice fishing skills. I had never been fishing before, so I was really proud when I held my newly acquired pink fishing licence in my hands for the first time. However I was not blessed with beginner’s luck and basically spent my morning staring at a small ice hole and not catching anything. After another great outdoor lunch we travelled to a small farm where we could take a short trip on a reindeer sled. After the fun tour we warmed ourselves with coffee and a warm fire in a traditional “kåta” (wooden tipi). We finished the evening with a nice dinner, some wonderful pictures of the area and an interesting description of the year of a reindeer herd.
On Friday we said goodbye to the local Sami community, bought some packaged reindeer meat as a souvenir for our friends and family and drove back to Stockholm. My fellow travellers all had to head back to their homes right after the end of our tour, but I had decided to stay in Stockholm for 2 more nights. After I arrived at my hostel I headed out to enjoy the last rays of sunshine of the day and took the first of many photographs of Sweden’s wonderful capital.
The next day I had breakfast at the Östermalm Food Hall, before I went to the Museum of Technology to experience the Cino4, a 3D-cinema with moving chairs. I somehow missed that the film would be in Swedish, but to my surprise I could understand the most important things and was even able to answer the questions about volcanism that concluded the show. Afterwards I walked through the forests of Djurgården, went over with the ferry to Skeppsholmen and visited the Modern Museum. The collection of photographs was really impressive and I spent quite some time before I went to the cinema for the evening. Luckily there the film was shown in English with Swedish subtitles.
On my last day in Sweden I went on a boat tour around Djurgården and enjoyed the spring-like weather and warm temperatures. Later I walked to Gamla Stan where I watched the Changing of the Guards in front of the Royal Palace. There the marching band that I had already seen wandering through town the day before played some songs and provided the “soundtrack” to the guards’ official duties. Afterwards I spent the rest of my Swedish kronor on souvenirs before I had to go to the airport for my flight back to the UK. I really enjoyed my trip to Sweden and know that it will be just one of many trips to follow!
Andrea from The Nature Travels Team
Nature Travels offers many ways to enjoy the “spring winter” period in Sweden, from dog sledding to ski touring. We also offer a range of Sami experiences in Lapland in the far north of Sweden including reindeer sledding and hiking with Sami guide.
You can see more photos from Andrea’s trip in the Nature Travels Facebook Gallery.
It’s a clear blue day, the early morning sunlight reflecting off the water, so bright and clear that were it not for the forested islands breaking up the horizon it would be hard to see where the water ends and the sky begins. The gentle slap of water against the jetty completes the scene. I’m sat on the porch of our little summer cabin in the Stockholm archipelago having breakfast with my wife, looking out across the water to a small uninhabited island about 50 metres away. Uninhabited by humans, that is, but home to a breeding pair of Ospreys who this year have raised two large, healthy and boisterous chicks. They are surprisingly vocal, the chattering cry of the parents carrying loud and clear across the still waters as they circle above the trees, like irate parents berating their lazy children for sleeping in.
Breakfasts are the best part of the day here – a chance to indulge ourselves with all the traditional trappings of a Swedish breakfast that my wife grew up enjoying here and that I too have come to love, and that we both miss terribly in our everyday life in the UK: filmjölk, räkost, tunnbröd, Kalles caviar, the words themselves are enough to make my mouth water.
Mornings are also a great time for wildlife watching on the island, from the hares nibbling quietly on the grass to the roe deer which peer out shyly from the forest. The island is small, but extraordinarily rich in animal life. A couple of years ago, I was sitting quietly on a log in the woods when a pine marten came up almost to my toes. Take care to remain quiet when making an evening trip to the outside loo and you may see a badger snuffling for plums beneath the fruit trees. You may arrive by boat to find an elk standing in the potato patch watching the world go by.
Today was a day for raptors. As the whole family of Ospreys took suddenly to the skies, it was the first time I had had the chance to watch all four Ospreys in flight at the same time – they were heading purposefully straight for us and they passed so close that you could see the outline of every feather.
They seemed agitated, flapping and screeching, and a few seconds later it became clear why. Watching a buzzard at home in the UK being mobbed by crows as they try to defend their nests is a fascinating sight. Seeing an enormous adult White-tailed Sea Eagle being chased off by a squadron of Ospreys in hot pursuit is nothing short of spectacular.
It seems wrong to apply the image to such a graceful and majestic sight, but the first thing I was reminded of as the huge eagle passed overhead was the opening sequence of Star Wars, where an Imperial battle cruiser makes its seemingly neverending progress across the screen. The aerodynamic, sculpted forms of the Ospreys diving and wheeling around it stood in stark contrast to the imposing, solid bulk of the eagle, like rebel X-wing fighters on the attack.
It seemed that the Sea Eagles had also bred successfully this year, as later that day we would watch enthralled as a young eagle landed on the grass just a few metres from the house, looking out across the island with a quiet self-confidence like a young nobleman surveying the lands he would one day inherit.
White-tailed Sea Eagles are Sweden’s largest bird of prey, 70-90cm long with a wingspan of up to three metres. They have a square, “barn door” profile in flight and can live up to 25 years. They form a species pair with the American Bald Eagle.
As alpha predators, White-tailed Sea Eagles suffered severely in the past from accumulation of pollutants from their prey and were also subject to persecution. Between 1800 and 1970, populations declined steeply all over Europe. Numbers in Sweden are recovering well thanks to intensive conservation measures, including legal protection, habitat and breeding site preservation, winter feeding and a sharp reduction in the use of harmful chemicals. While still a rare and thrilling sight, White-tailed Sea Eagles are expanding their territories once more, and their recovery in Sweden and in a number of other European countries is a true conservation success story.
White-tailed Sea Eagles are able to breed from around 4-5 years of age and mate for life. Their mating display is spectacular, ending with both birds locking claws together and cartwheeling towards the ground. They nest in a huge eyrie of sticks on coastal cliffs or in trees, and often reuse the same nest for many generations. Nests may become so large and heavy that the trees collapse under their weight. Mating pairs produce up to three eggs a year between March and April each year.
In the UK, wildlife enthusiasts travel many miles and wait for hours for the sights we were enjoying at our leisure from the breakfast table – yet another reminder of what a special place Sweden is when it comes to nature and the outdoors. The day after tomorrow it will be time to return home to Dorset – but the cries of the Ospreys echoing across the water, the shadow cast by the Sea Eagle as it glided off into the distance, the scent of the birch trees swaying in the breeze, are vivid memories I will take back with me to England and treasure until my next visit.
Bob, The Nature Travels Team
Heathrow Central Bus Station is a wonderful spot for people watching. It’s late afternoon, and I’m sitting on a bench by stand number 13, watching the world go by. The air is filled with the heady aroma of diesel fumes as an endless stream of National Express buses arrive, load up and head out again, bound for such exotic destinations as Oxford, Worthing and Brighton. All around me a hundred small human dramas unfold – an elderly couple argue quietly together about their luggage, a young mother loses her patience in her struggle to control a wayward toddler, two young backpackers sit on their rucksacks holding hands ….and all to a soundtrack of the roar of jet engines, the neverending drone of London traffic and the chatter of voices in a dozen different tongues. Over the years Heathrow Central Bus Station has played a vital role in many of my travel adventures – the expectancy and anticipation of arrival, knowing you’re off somewhere new and exciting, the joy of coming home to see old friends and loved ones, and occasionally the blank exasperation of seeing your coach pull away just as you reach the stand.
Sitting there as the skies darkened and the pigeons pecked listlessly around my feet, I couldn’t help thinking that the scene stood in stark contrast to the view I’d been looking at earlier that day. Just a few hours before, shortly after breakfast, I had been sitting on a jetty on a small island. It was still quite early, and the morning mist was clearing to reveal a bright blue sky and the promise of a warm September day. A full moon still shone faintly overhead and on a neighbouring island an osprey came in to land on its nest at the top of a pine tree. A few minutes later a flock of cormorants passed over in perfect V-formation like a small black aerial display team, and behind me a field vole emerged warily from the forest undergrowth, sniffed the air for a few seconds, got startled by the flutter of a dragonfly and disappeared from view. As I watched the last of the mist evaporate in the gathering warmth, I caught a glimpse of a very large bird of prey as it flew into view from behind the trees. Another few minutes’ patient waiting and what I could now see was a Golden Eagle glided into view and circled lazily just 20 metres or so above me before heading off to the horizon to try new hunting grounds.
All around me the world was full of life – in the air and on the ground, but still all was calm and quiet. Apart from the distant tak-tak of a small outboard engine and one or two characteristic red and white summer cottages peeking out from the forests of surrounding islands, there were no signs of anyone else being around at all. Somehow it seemed as if the whole scene was being played out just for me, that the world had stopped whatever it was doing and decided to sit back and enjoy things for a while.
What made the sensation so surprising, and in a way so much more special, was that I hadn’t journeyed to a remote and undiscoverd part of the world, spending hours bumping along dusty country tracks or slashing my way through impenetrable forest to get here. This was the Stockholm archipelago, and I was on one of the 24,000 or so islands that make up this stunning marine landscape on the east cost of Sweden. Just over an hour away by boat lay one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world, home to around 800,000 people. This combination of wildness and accessibility has always, for me, been one of the great attractions of Sweden – the country offers some of the most spectacular and wildest landscapes to be found anywhere in Europe, yet the swift and efficient transport networks and the attention paid to planning and design mean you don’t need to travel for days to reach them.
My reverie was interrupted as I glanced at my watch and realised it was time to get going. Lifting our luggage into the boat, we gunned the engine and headed out across the dead calm waters. Ninety minutes later we were sitting in Arlanda airport, the sights and sounds of the archipelago still fresh in our minds. As Douglas Adams wrote in Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, ‘as pretty as an airport.’ Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort.” But perhaps he’d never been to Arlanda. While nothing compared to the sweeping majesty of the landscape I had been in earlier that morning, Arlanda would probably do rather well in a world airport beauty contest, and is certainly a lot more attractive than Heathrow Central Bus Station….
Bob from The Nature Travels Team
Nature Travels is the UK specialist for wildlife, outdoor and adventure holidays in Sweden. Our sea kayaking experiences take place in the beautiful and wild Trosa archipelago just to the south of Stockholm.
With 2000 miles of coastline and an archipelago of 24,000lands just off the capital Stockholm, Sweden is a wonderful destination for sea kayaking.
Sea kayaks, or touring kayaks, are longer, more stable versions of the kayaks intended for whitewater paddling. They are effectively small boats with a spray skirt to keep you dry during your adventures. While less maneuverable than whitewater kayaks, they are more comfortable and have a greater capacity for luggage storage. They don’t turn as well, but they are ideal for paddling in a straight line!
Sea kayaks may be designed for one, two or even three persons, with storage space in the body of the kayak for luggage and camping equipment. The possibility to take everything you need with you makes sea kayaks perfect for extended trips around the Swedish archipelagos, especially since, thanks to the “Every Man’s Right” system of public access, wild camping is generally permitted on most of the islands.
The design of modern sea kayaks has its root in the boats used by the indigenous peoples of North America and Greenland. In fact, the word “kayak” comes from the Greenland Eskimo work “kajakka”, meaning “small boat of skins.” Steering is accomplished by a combination of paddle work and, usually, but a foot-operated rudder. The rudder is usually retracted when landing.
These days sea kayaking is becoming increasingly popular, combining as it does much of the hiker’s joy of exploring nature in silence with the novelty and adventure of being on the water. What’s more, although your technique will certainly improve after a few days, sea kayaking is a very accessible sport for novices. The boats are stable and will not capsize easily, and with a little practice even a beginner can cover quite reasonable distances from the very start.
As you glide quietly through the water, kayaks produce very little disturbance to local wildlife, which makes it possible to have astonishingly intimate encounters with marine mammals and birdlife. Kayaks are therefore the ideal mode of transport for marine wildlife safaris!
Nature Travels offers sea kayaking experiences in the beautiful and wild area of Södermanlands archipelago, a short distance south of Stockholm. The experiences are open to novice or more accomplished paddlers, and give you an excellent opportunity to explore this unspoilt area in tranquility and silence. We also offer a tailor-made sea kayaking experience, where a tour can be created to suit the needs and wishes of your group.
The waves lap gently at the side of the boat and the cries of an Osprey echo across the water…. sometimes it seems that the Swedish coastline might have been created just for sea kayakers: so get paddling!
The Nature Travels Team
To many of us in the UK, while we may look longingly at the exploits of Torvill and Dean and dream of being creatures of such elegance and grace, the word “ice-skating” probably conjures visions of families hand-in-hand endlessly circling the local rink, periodically picking themselves up painfully from the ice before stumbling onward.
In Sweden, it is a very different story: welcome to the world of tour skating (otherwise known as trip skating, Nordic skating, or long-distance skating). Imagine yourself gliding through a silent winter world of natural ice, traversing frozen lakes and sea, experiencing a part of the natural world you never thought possible.
The Swedish winter freeze usually begins around November, with many small lakes freezing over. While cold weather is good, snow is bad and can make lakes unsuitable for skating – a period of sustained cold weather lays good ice foundations for the season to come. Next the larger lakes freeze, often followed by parts of the Baltic archipelago. While the major water routes are kept open by the passage of the passenger boats, once the freeze comes those who live in the archipelago year round will usually need to resort to snow scooters to get around, although you may occasionally see a car or two driving across the ice!
Once conditions are right, the skating begins, with 60-80km being a normal distance for a day tour. Some more experienced skaters can cover 150km a day or more.
Tour skates are very different from rink skates, with a blade about 50cm long. Bindings attach them to special boots (rather like hiking boots) or cross-country boots and the heel is often free, like cross-country skis. Poles may also be used to aid propulsion and add stability. As skaters may find themselves far from home and a long way from land, as a tour skater you will also need specialist safety equipment, including:
– ice claws in case it is necessary to haul yourself out of holes in the ice
– an ice pike to test the thickness of the ice
– a throwing line to hold on to as you are pulled from the water
– a rucksack to carry your supplies and a dry set of clothes and to act as a buoyancy aid
– helmet, knee and elbow pads to protect you from falls
Tour skating is an exhilarating, unique and hugely enjoyable experience, but should always be undertaken with an experienced guide with a good knowledge of natural ice.
Tour skating is accessible to everyone, but by some it is taken very seriously indeed. Each year the Vikingarännet race takes place on the Mälaren, an old Viking route rich in history, between Uppsala and Stockholm. This year’s 80km (about 50 mile) race was won by Johan Håmås, a 29 year-old from Stockholm, in just 2 hours 40 minutes.
Long-distance skating is a wonderful way to explore Sweden in the winter. You don’t need to have any prior skating experience, and in fact the technique required has more in common with cross-country skiing than rink skating. Watch some of our clients in action this winter on the lakes around Trosa.
The Nature Travels Team
Nature Travels offers 4-day Ice Skating on Natural Ice experiences easily accessible from Stockholm. For more information please see Ice Skating on Natural Ice.
Calling all salty sea dogs! Does your heart yearn for life on the ocean wave? Do you long to feel the breeze through your hair? We have added an unusual and unforgettable summer experience – a journey back in time where you join the crew of a fully-restored Schooner on a voyage along the Baltic coast!
This experience is a modern-day voyage of discovery. Experience everything from setting sail, towing the sail and manoeuvering the ship to helping in the galley.
However, life on board is not all hard work. A large part of the time on board is spent relaxing, taking in the sea view and enjoying your time together with your fellow crew members.
The Schooner was built in Sjötorp, in Skaraborgs Län in 1915 from oak and pine. She is one of the many sailing merchant vessels that used to sail the Baltic. She was used for cargo until the mid 1960s, when she was bought by Egil and Kerstin Bergström and used as the family home until 1977.
Share an experience beyond the usual – navigating the Baltic in a Schooner under full sail! For more information about this experience please see: Sail on a Schooner: Navigating the Baltic
The Nature Travels Team