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entertaining Stockholm visitors: a tried-and-true guide

We’re just about 8 weeks into our time here, which marks the height of entertaining season for us DIS students. Whether it be family who overcame the fears of jetlag, a romantic partner excited for the momentary break from being long-distance, or a friend or two coming from near or far, it seems as though all of us have spent at least one weekend of the last few returning to the tourist mindset we just recently escaped, except now with visitors in tow.

Sunset over Södermalm

For me, hosting has been my life for the past three weeks. First, it was my family, who spent a week in this previously-unknown land to them, with two of those days being spent above the arctic circle.

Then, it was my wonderful girlfriend, currently studying at DIS Copenhagen, who graciously came here so we could spend the weekend in the more sophisticated of DIS’s two Scandinavian locations (I only kid!).

And, most recently, it was a dear friend from my home university (Tufts), who wore the only warm clothes she packed into her suitcase 8 weeks ago before boarding a flight to Madrid, Spain, for the semester.

I think it’s safe to say that after entertaining 3, dare I say, quite different audiences, I have some suggestions for a day or two’s itinerary.

Before the arrival…

As is custom with any serious matter, the job starts well before touchdown at Arlanda or the end of the line at T-Centralen.

Here’s what needs to be done first:

  • If your visitor is arriving from Arlanda, give them a quick crash course on the Arlanda Express. It’s significantly cheaper, quicker, and more environmentally friendly than a taxi or Uber.
    • In my eyes, all that needs to be said in this Arlanda Express crash course is “take it if you really love and trust me”
  • Buy them an SL card the day they arrive; as I’ve previously written, it’s a real skeleton key.
    • I’d highly recommend the unlimited 24/48/72-hour option, depending on the duration of their stay; this can be bought at the ticket booth inside every station

The one mandatory day…

I think there are a few aspects necessary to experience for a visitor to get a real understanding of the Stockholm scene. Luckily, the tried and true itinerary seems to hit at least some of them.

the view from Djurgårdsfärjan


  1. Like every foreigner who’s spent a blink in Sweden but acts like they’re its rightful prince, I’m obligated to recommend starting the day with a fika, the Swedish tradition of relaxed conversation over a coffee and pastry.
    • Depending on where in Stockholm you start, this could be at Karla Cafe in Östermalm, Kafe Rang in Hammarby, the Starbucks in T-Centralen, or just about anywhere that suits your needs.
  2. Make your way to the Slussen metro stop. From here, follow the signs to the Djurgårdsfärjan #82 ferry, a short commuter ferry that connects the islands of Gamla Stan and Djurgården.
    • During the 10-minute ferry ride, you’ll be blessed with fantastic views of Södermalm, Gamla Stan, and Östermalm.
  3. Take the first stop on the Djurgårdsfärjan, which drops you on the doorstep of Stockholm’s amusement park, Gröna Lund (unfortunately, it’s in hibernation for the winter).
  4. A short walk brings you to many of Stockholm’s best museums: the Vasa Museum, Nordic Museum, ABBA experience, Viking Museum, etc.
    • If the significance of my three (3) recent visits to the Vasa Museum hasn’t sunk in with you, just know I’ll fight anyone who argues otherwise that it’s Scandinavia’s best museum.

Afternoon and Evening:

Stockholm’s major public square, Sergels Torg, on the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
  1. Take the Djurgårdsfärjan back to Gamla Stan. If you’ve timed it right, you should be off the ferry sometime in the mid-afternoon (maybe after getting lunch at the Vasa Museum restaurant…). My unscientific, certainly refutable yet unchangeable opinion is that this is when Stockholm’s old town is at its prettiest.
    • In Gamla Stan, see Stortorget (Stockholm’s oldest square), the Royal Palace, and take some time to shop for a postcard or two.
  2. On the way out, walk through the Swedish Riksdag before continuing on the Drottninggatan up into Norrmalm.
    • This pedestrian street cuts through the Swedish commercial district while passing the central square (Sergels Torg) and some of Stockholm’s best department stores.
  3. Find somewhere for dinner in this neighborhood — you really can’t go wrong (except maybe at the T.G.I. Fridays…).

An important note: this is written as if it’s a classic day in Stockholm — overcast with maybe a peek of Sun in the late afternoon. If the sun’s out in the morning, maybe switch the timing of Gamla Stan and a museum.

Day 2 and more: whatever suits your interest

if you take a right just past the gates when leaving the Gamla Stan stop, you quickly come to a great spot to watch the sunset and maybe take a photo or two; my girlfriend and I did just that

Beyond the above itinerary, which I personally think could be almost a requirement for anyone spending a few days here, it’s all up to you.

That being said, here are some further options for Swedish sightseeing, all of which I’ve done and can absolutely endorse:

  • Spend another day in Djurgården: in addition to the museums, the island is covered in a thick blanket of green spaces — a perfect way to spend a sunny day.
    • Perhaps, you could then take the #7 tram towards T-Centralen, and exit after a few minutes while along the water’s edge in Östermalm, Stockholm’s wealthiest neighborhood. Or, you could continue to the public ice skating rink in Kungsholmen.
  • Explore Södermalm, Stockholm’s largest island. Here, there are a number of thrift and antique stores, a plethora beautiful architecture and great views of the city. It’s also home to my favorite meal in Stockholm: the tasting menu served at Tabbouli on the island’s west side.
  • See if one of Stockholm’s three soccer teams has a game. The city is home to Hammarby, Djurgården, and AIK; each is home to rowdy crowds and each is a member of Sweden’s top league, the Allsvenskan.
the scenes during a Hammarby match… #bajen

Or, if a day trip sounds interesting:

  • Spend a day in Tyresta National Park, about 75 minutes south of Stockholm by public transit, and far less if you’re willing to dedicate an Uber trip for it. The park protects one of the largest coniferous old-growth forests in all of southern Sweden; it’s an absolutely beautiful place.
  • Take the hour-long ferry to Vaxholm, the de facto capital of Stockholm’s archipelago region. Albeit quiet during the winter months, it supports a quaint town nestled within the 30,000 islands that make up the archipelago region. I wrote about a trip there near the end of this entry.

To keep in mind…

Stockholm’s a place unlike anything found in the US, or really anywhere outside of Scandinavia. That means it’s got architecture, culture, and traits you just can’t get easily.

So, if your ideal weekend here is to just explore one part that you can’t seem to get enough of — maybe the eclectic streets of Gamla Stan, the luxury stores of Östermalm, or the comfort of your Scandinavian hotel room — then ignore everything you’ve just read.

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