Picture clean sparkling waterways, stunning architecture, expansive green parks, museums and art galleries galore, distinguished theaters, exciting sports teams, and enough restaurants to keep you busy for months on end. That’s an accurate portrait of pretty Stockholm, the capital of Sweden and its largest and most populous city.
Situated on a set of 14 islands that are part of the so-called Stockholm Archipelago, this city of about 2 million (including the entire metropolitan area) is often referred to as “The Venice of the North”, though most would argue that it’s much cleaner and much more affordable than its Italian namesake. That makes it attractive to visitors the world over, and many fans of Stockholm obviously choose to stay after visiting the city; about one-fourth of the population is immigrants, a fact that’s evident by the huge number of languages spoken here, the many ethnic restaurants, and the interesting neighborhoods both inside and outside the city limits.
If you’re a first-time visitor to Stockholm, you’ll be enchanted by this unique city whose islands are connected by 57 bridges, making it a joy to explore if not a little challenging at times. Nonetheless, this capital city has many sites that you simply must see, whether you’re signed up for a private tour, touring with a group, renting a car, riding a bike, or making your way around on foot.
Simply Must-See Stockholm Sights
Though Stockholm is young in comparison to many of Europe’s great cities – it was established about 750 years ago – its history is rich as is its culture, evident in many of the places you’ll want to visit. Here’s a list of attractions that provide an insightful look at the city.
- The Royal Palace – Sweden is a constitutional monarchy (with a democratic government) and, as such, the capital city boasts a magnificent palace that’s home to the Royal Family. This official residence of the king has more than 600 rooms and much of it is open to the public. Built during the 18th century in Italian Baroque style, the palace has five museums inside, including the Tre Kronor Museum (dedicated to the castle that originally stood on the site), a Museum of Antiquities, an Armory, and much more. Don’t miss the Royal Stable with its stunning coaches and be sure to catch the daily changing of the splendid Royal Guards.
- Skansen Open-Air Museum – This world’s oldest open-air museum is nothing short of fun and fascinating. It gives a true picture of how Swedes lived in days-gone-by and it’s a hit with visitors of all ages. You’ll find about 150 reconstructed buildings spread out over some 74 acres of land here. The dwellings were brought to Stockholm from locations all around Sweden in order to give visitors a look at the culture and traditions of the entire country. Visitor the blacksmith, watch glassblowers at work, check out the weavers, and try your hand at churning. In summer, the open-air concerts are fantastic and you can “get your Swede on” by participating in a little folk dancing. Don’t miss the small zoo, which is charming and a hit with the kids.
- City Hall – Considered a leading example of National Romanticism, Stockholm’s red-bricked City Hall was designed by Swedish architect Ragnar Östberg and includes a 106-meter-tall tower crowned with the Swedish coat-of-arms. It’s probably the most recognizable building in the city and its splendid interior – which includes many great works of art – is open to the public. Be sure to photograph the Golden Hall with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles (Nobel Prize winners party there each year), and enjoy a climb to the top of the tower, where the view is magnificent.
- Nationalmuseum – A world-class museum of art and design, this Stockholm treasure profiles the work of great Swedish artists in a variety of mediums as well as works by international masters like Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Goya, and others. Of special interest is the Modern Design gallery (1900 to present) which includes Swedish handicrafts and features an exhibit on Scandinavian design developments over the decades.
- Gamla Stan – One of the most popular visitor attractions in Stockholm, Gamla Stan is an impeccably well-preserved medieval city center that was the location of Stockholm’s founding in 1252. This is one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas of the capital city, easily traversed on foot. It’s a place you can spend hours exploring, thanks to attractions like the Stockholm National Cathedral, the Nobel Museum, the Riddarholmen Church (once a Franciscan monastery), the historic Stortorget Square, and much more. Stick around in the evening and head to one of the many restaurants and bars in the Gamla Stan and don’t miss the opportunity to shop for handicrafts along the neighborhood’s narrow streets.
- Royal National City Park – A wonderful place to visit during the warm weather, this lovely park is about as picturesque as they get. Considered the first national urban park in the work, it stretches about six miles throughout the city. You may not have the opportunity to explore all of it, but it’s an excellent place for a stroll or just a little relaxation during a day of busy sightseeing. So diverse is the park that you’ll find all sorts of habitats within, from forests to beaches. There are also plenty of manmade attractions inside, including an amusement park, several historic structures, lovely inns, a palace museum dedicated to Karl XIV, a neo-Classical Italian villa, botanical gardens, ancient remains, and plenty of cafes and restaurants. Explore on bicycle, too!