Stockholm: The Broken Capital

By Al (and Matt, in pink) 

The Broken Capital is not reference to any alleged political instability, or social unrest, rather it refers to the fact that the capital and its surrounding areas is made up of approximately 24,000 islands and islets – the Stockholm Archipelago.

The biggest towns of the archipelago, apart from Stockholm, are Nynäshamn, Vaxholm and Norrtälje. The village of Ytterby, famous among chemists for naming no fewer than four chemical elements (erbium, terbium, ytterbium and yttrium), is situated on Resarö in the Stockholm archipelago. This is where we stayed for 3 of our 5 days in the area. We are not chemists. There was simply a good deal on Airbnb!

Stockholm

The city architecture reminded me a lot of Prague (future blog post to come!), with a distinctive Gothic theme. This perfectly juxtaposes the general tranquillity of the city, with commuter boats and ferries meandering through the waters surrounding the city’s iconic sites, including Parliament, the Vasa Museum and Djurgarden.

If you like history, then I’d highly recommend visiting the Vasa Museum. You’ll find a full sized 17th century vessel, 95% of which is original material. The boat sank 10 minutes into its maiden voyage, but fortunately sank in the Baltic Sea. Due to the sea’s low salt composition, the boat was almost fully preserved.

The first day was unexpectedly warm in the capital, and you could tell the locals appreciated it.  Stockholmers lined the streets, chins raised and eyes closed facing the sun that has largely eluded them for the last 6 months. However, the rest of our holiday was very cold. Snow threatened for the majority of the time, but sadly did not settle. Winds clipped off the waters’ edges, making sightseeing a chilly challenge. Fortunately, you’ll find lots of boutique shops to duck into; a personal favourite was the beeswax candle shop found in Gamla Stan (the ‘Old Town’). I liked the Viking shop, also in Gamla Stan, which is full of drinking horns, iron metal work to Viking design and various other trinkets nodding to Scandinavia’s Viking past. 

I was disappointed with the availability of local cuisine. We scoured the streets looking for restaurants serving traditional (cliché!?) dishes, such as meatballs and fish. We searched in Gamla Stan, and Sodermalm (the trendy south of the city) but were unsuccessful. If you like Mexican, Italian or Texan food, you’re in for a treat. We did manage to have dinner on a hotel-cum-boat (I for one certainly don’t remember a cum boat! Would have made for a very different experience) along Soder Malarstrand which was quirky, and surprisingly affordable (if you like tap water!). If you’re willing to stretch your budget and crack into the overdraft then you can eat local in one of the few establishments offering such – but we were unwilling to wince with every bite at the prospect of the bill. 

Vaxholm/Resaro

Vaxholm is considered the ‘capital’ of the Archipelagos. Undoubtedly pretty, it was rather quiet and deserted at this time of year. We walked around most of the island in under an hour before hopping on the bus back to Resaro (where we were staying).

You’ll find Resaro north of Vaxholm. A very quaint and rustic ‘suburban’ commuter town is the best way I can describe it. Again, very quiet. However we did enjoy a beautiful sunset looking over the waters. Romantic, I know.

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Uppsula

About an hour north of Stockholm, and 20 minutes away from Stockholm Arlanda Airport, you’ll find the historic university city of Uppsula. Pretty enough, with an old silo shaped castle.

We walked along the river, wandered up the hill to the castle with its high views over the city and then headed back down to the Cathedral which is free to look around with its beautiful stone figures to kiss for luck. Well worth our morning visit! 

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Sigtuna

If your plane isn’t until late in the day you would be a fool to waste it hanging around the airport or lazing at your accommodation as late as possible instead head to Sigtuna which is just a bus journey away and is the oldest town in the country. As we came to expect from what we saw everywhere else, Sigtuna has stunning views over the water and the yonder scenery and is pleasant to stroll around even in the cold wind that welcomed us in March. 

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Review

I would advise visiting the country in winter (Dec-Feb) or high summer. On the one hand you’ll benefit from picturesque snow scenes. On the other hand you’ll experience long days, and hours of sunshine. Whilst the weather did not mask my experience, it was rather grey (except for the first day, which was unexpectedly, but pleasantly, warm). On 3/5 days it snow/sleeted, but did not settle.

I got the impression that the country is slowly awakening from its winter hibernation at this time of the year (late March). A lot of the popular outdoor tourist activities were either not operating at all, or operating a reduced schedule. Sightseeing boat rides were not running yet, and I did not see anywhere offering kayaking in the archipelagos. Admittedly, falling into the bone-chilling Baltic sea would probably have ended my holiday early, so perhaps this was a good thing!

This is a budget travel blog. Sweden is, no doubt, an expensive country. Fortunately for me, Matt has family in Stockholm, who were able to offer us free accommodation for part of our trip. The other part of our trip we stayed in an Airbnb. If you’re willing to sacrifice eating out, then you can save a lot of money cooking for yourself. 400SEK (approximately £35) for a main course is astronomical!

Whilst the country was indeed ‘sleepy’ as Al continually mentioned and has done since to everyone and their cat, and is expensive in many respects, it is in fact very friendly to the budget traveler. This is because of one reason – the public transport and the great value you can get on a 7 day pass! We got one each and it enabled us to bus across the islands and head into Stockholm from our rural island retreat for free*, get a discount on travel to Uppsula and also travel to Sigtuna for free from the airport. The public transport also gave me plenty of opportunities to smash Al at numerous games on my phone including Monopoly and Poker. 

BB Al’s Review: 3.5/5

BB Matt’s Review 4/5

*technically not free, you do have to pay for the 7 day pass which cost 330SEK (approximately £30). But certainly good value for money!