Stockholm, Sweden has a reputation as a historic, elegant, world-class city, and it turns out it has a rather quirky side as well. Beyond the winding cobblestone streets and statuesque brick buildings that make up the Old Town and medieval Gamla Stan, there are plenty of strangely wonderful attractions that will keep visitors occupied for days—which just so happen to also make for some pretty awesome photo-ops. Here are some of the best things to do.
See a warship at the Vasa Museum
Welcoming 1.3 million guests per year, the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) is one of Stockholm’s premier attractions. The gargantuan facility was built around the massive 17th century warship which famously sunk in Stockholm’s harbour on its maiden voyage, due to an engineering fail of epic proportions. Despite going down in the heart of the city the Vasa was not recovered for 300 years, but as it rested in clay for all that time it was nearly perfectly preserved when it was finally brought to the surface.
Today, the museum holds the actual ship, which is an incredible 69 metres long and 50 metres tall. There are also numerous exhibits detailing what life would have been like on board the vessel, a demonstration about how it was salvaged, and a film about the doomed Vasa.
Sip a cocktail at the subzero ICEBAR
It wouldn’t be a visit to Scandinavia without some sort of winter activity—regardless of what season it is—which is why a visit to the ICEBAR is so popular. Found in the hip Nordic C Hotel near the central train station, the icy lounge is open year-round and kept at -7 degrees celsius to preserve the intricately carved ice sculptures.
Visitors pay an entry fee that includes one cocktail, then slip into a warm coat and gloves before heading inside the ICEBAR. There, they’ll find a subzero lounge which includes bartenders serving up colourful concoctions (in glasses fashioned out of ice, natch), along with lighting installations that shine a spotlight on the arctic art. Even those who don’t drink can get in on the fun, as the ICEBAR is family friendly and serves up non-alcoholic bevys for little ones.
Ride the rails along an underground art gallery
Travellers don’t have to head inside a museum to view incredible art installations in Stockholm—in fact, it’s as simple as buying a ticket and riding the metro. Nearly 100 of the city’s underground subway stations make up what some call the “world’s longest art gallery,” where artists have transformed otherwise drab, concrete terminals with vibrant sculptures, paintings and mosaics, each with a different theme.
The most photographed one is the Solna Centrum station along the city’s blue line, where a ferocious red installation along the platform looks reminiscent of the gates of hell. The Skarpnäck station is also worth visiting to see the granite benches which are a nod to Stonehenge, as is the futuristic looking Tekniska Högskolan station.
Wander through Gamla Stan
With its charming facades and narrow, winding alleyways, it’s easy to see why Gamla Stan is considered the crown jewel of Stockholm. The Old Town has been the heart of the city since the 13th century, and is home to some of the most important buildings and monuments including the Nobel Museum and Stockholm Cathedral.
Today, the medieval district hosts boutiques, cafes and restaurants popular with the tourist crowd, who are easily won over by the quaint facades, overflowing flower boxes and impressive sculptures that decorate the laneways. Perhaps the most popular spot of all is Stortorget, a pretty plaza anchored by a grand, colourful row of buildings squeezed together like Lego blocks.
To escape the throngs of crowds, visitors should explore Kindstugatan, a picture-perfect street near Stortorget that is just as enchanting as it is tranquil, or narrow Mårten Trotzigs alley.
Sleep in an airplane hotel
#Avgeeks rejoice! When it comes to quirky, it’s hard to beat a night at Jumbo Stay which just might be one of the world’s most memorable hotels. Since 2009, guests have been able to book a room in an actual Boeing 747, which has been retrofitted into a hotel complete with 33 rooms—including one in the cockpit.
The jumbo jet now permanently sits outside Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, which makes plane spotting a breeze. Suites include TVs, Wi-Fi and a private bathroom, and stays start at just $50 per night for shared accommodation—a welcome budget option in the famously-expensive city.
The idea of eating one of Santa’s sleigh-drawing helpers can be tough to swallow, but reindeer is actually a very common dish in Sweden. It just so happens to taste pretty good too. Those who are game to try it (*groan*) can expect to shell out about $30+ for a plate which usually includes a reindeer steak paired with a side of potatoes and vegetables.
Top tip: Swedish meatballs are famous in their own right, so if the idea of eating Rudolph is hard to swallow then be sure to order up a plate of the steaming, sauce-covered Swedish staple.
Tour some quirky museums
Those who complain that museums are boring clearly haven’t been to one in Stockholm. The city is home to dozens of quirky exhibitions, many of which are located on the so-called “green” island of Djurgården. Perhaps the most famous is ABBA The Museum, which is dedicated to the famous Swedish pop group. Fans can check out their legendary stage costumes and gold records, and sing along beside avatars of the famous four. Admission also includes entry to the Swedish Music Hall of Fame and the History of Swedish Popular Music.
Those who enjoy a tipple or two should check out Spiritmuseum which chronicles the history of alcohol in Sweden, provides information about how spirits are produced and even hosts the annual Swedish drinking song championships. No visit would be complete without some sipping, which is why Spiritmuseum also offers wine tastings.
Experience thrills at Gröna Lund
Those looking for a change of pace from historical walking tours and relaxing boat rides will want to head to Gröna Lund, also found on located on Djurgården. Along with hosting concerts by world-class performers like Elton John, the amusement park has more than 30 rides including roller coasters, bumper cars and a haunted house. Don’t skip Eclipse, a sky-high swingset that rewards visitors with incredible views of the surrounding archipelago.
Get a glimpse of the royals at Stockholm Palace
A fun thing to do in Stockholm for those who consider themselves royal watchers is to make a trip to the grand Stockholm Palace. Situated in the Old Town overlooking the city, the baroque palace is the official residence of Sweden’s monarchy.
While the royal family doesn’t actually live on site these days, the 600-room palace is still used for official business such as meeting with visiting heads of state. Visitors are welcome to explore the interior, as part of the daily guided tours that are scheduled around official receptions.
Even travellers who don’t head inside will find lots to explore around the expansive grounds, and should time their visit for the daily Changing of the Guard, or the ceremonial march through Stockholm which takes place during the summer months.
Glide through the city on a boat ride
As Stockholm is situated on the shores of the Baltic Sea and built on 14 different islands, it’s no wonder the city is so proud of its maritime heritage. A great way to get a different vantage point of the city is by enjoying a boat ride which navigates around the many districts, which are linked by more than 50 bridges. A popular option is to book a Hop-on Hop-off tour which has nearly two dozen stops, and private boat rentals are also available from spots like Strandvägen, which is the picturesque waterfront esplanade.
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Globe Guide explored Stockholm in collaboration with Viking Cruises. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.