Stockholm was my first stop on a 36-day trip through Europe where I visited 9 countries. I only had one full day and two nights there, not enough time to see everything. These are the sights and experiences from my short but worthwhile visit.

Stockholm, Gamla Stan in the foreground, from the top of the City Hall tower. Credit: Stories and Artworks by Bill

How I Got There

My flight from the U.S. arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. From there, I took the Arlanda Express into the center of town. It was quick and convenient. I caught the train without ever leaving the airport. Ticket machines and helpful staff were everywhere.  It closely resembles London’s Heathrow Express. It was an easy trip from the central station on the T-Bana to the Hornstull stop near my hotel.

Where I Stayed

I stayed for two nights in the Langholmen Hotel. Until 1975, it served as a prison. Now converted into a hotel, the owners have embraced the building’s former purpose. There were reminders and pictures throughout that recall the history of the building. The rooms are the original cells, small and made of cinderblock, yet comfortable. Heavy wooden doors with ornamental iron locks and bars over the windows, as well as a mirror in the shape of a guillotine, completed the look of the room. The interior of the building retained the hollow emptiness of a ward of prison cells. Walking the perimeter around the rooms resulted in loud echoing footsteps, and all of the doors in the hallways slammed shut loudly with an authoritative clunk, no matter how carefully and slowly I tried to close them.

The interior of the Langholmen Hohtel. Credit: Stories and Artworks by Bill

I was able to reach Gamla Stan and other tourist areas in Stockholm comfortably from there using the T-Bana. The location itself, on a small island, was park-like and serene. It was more like a quiet leafy neighborhood than a large city. Bicycles rode past, parents pushed strollers and children played soccer in a field near the entrance. I loved my stay there and will happily return on my next trip.

The river near Langholmen at sunset. Credit: Stories and Artworks by Bill

How I Got Around

I walked and used the subways (T-Bana). I used the T-Bana often in my short stay. I try to use public transportation wherever I travel, I enjoy seeing how people live and commute. I also love the challenge of navigating around a new city, versus being driven in a taxi or a tour bus. The T-Bana was fast and ran frequently. It accepts contactless credit cards for payment at turnstiles, a nice feature as it eliminates waiting in line to buy tickets. Additionally, many of its stations are artfully decorated and are worth taking time to see.

What I Ate

In the days that led up to the trip, I worried about breakfast. It was on my mind often. My habit at home is to eat a large breakfast in the morning, then smaller meals during the day. I knew in Europe this was not a common practice. Just a coffee and a croissant usually. That wasn’t going to work for me. Fortunately, when I walked into the dining room for breakfast at the Langholmen I was presented with a feast, I was overwhelmed with options. I lingered over coffee, freshly baked bread, and absurdly large delicious breakfasts in the pleasant dining rooms during my two days there. I stayed in many hotels in the numerous stops I made on this trip after Stockholm, but I never had a breakfast like the one at the Langholmen.

The amount of food I ate for breakfast at the hotel buffet each morning left me quite full until late in the day. The one lovely and notable meal I ate was the Swedish Meatballs at Meatballs for the People. It was a friendly and cheerful place. I don’t like eating alone in a restaurant, but there, seated at a communal table outside, I was soon involved in pleasant conversations with other travelers. I chatted with a young tourist from Mexico about her journey and mine. The one place I regret not trying was Fern and Fika which was near my hotel and offered vegan pastries.

What I Did And Saw

I arrived in Stockholm late in the afternoon and had only that night and one full day to experience it. That did not leave much time. After dinner at Meatballs for the People it was already late. I decided I had time for one stop. The nearby (though it required a long walk through the Katarina neighborhood) Photografiska Museum of Photography was on my list, and it has the added benefit of being open until 11 p.m. every day, unusually late hours for a museum. There was an impressive Peter Lindbergh exhibition on display. I wasn’t familiar with his name, but his photography was instantly recognizable. He took iconic pictures of supermodels in the 80s and 90s that graced fashion magazines of the day. I did not know I was looking at high art back then when they originally came out. I enjoyed walking through the dark mood-lit galleries, admiring the photography among smartly dressed Scandinavians sipping champagne. For a short time, I was infinitely cooler than I am in real life.

After an hour or two of wandering the museum, I decided my day was full. I left for the hotel, some 30 minutes away by foot and metro then foot again. It was raining. I was alone in a city that was new and foreign to me, navigating in the dark with confidence. I was happily exhausted. I thought to myself, this is why I travel.

The next day was my one full day in Stockholm. I started with a visit to City Hall. I took two separate tours, one for the main building and another to walk to the top of the tower, pictured below. It was an impressive space, especially the Golden Hall, covered floor to ceiling in mosaics made from gold-covered tiles. In addition to its architecture and decoration, it is the home of the annual Nobel Prize banquet. The climb up the tower was worthwhile even for someone with a fear of heights. It was a clear sunny day and the 360-degree views of Stockholm were impressive.

Stockholm City Hall. Watercolor on paper, by the author. Credit: Stories and Artworks by Bill

I also spent time walking the streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic center. It was charming and well preserved with buildings in warm yellow colors and grand old wooden doors. However, the main streets were crowded with tourists and the shops and restaurants that cater to them. Fortunately, it was easy to turn down quiet alleys mere feet away. When I did I found I was usually alone walking along peaceful cobblestone streets lined with apartments and homes. This arrangement is too precise to be accidental. There is clear planning that allows people to live in relative peace so near a busy tourist destination. I appreciate that these quiet streets are preserved for the people who live there and the stray introverted tourists who like to walk them.

One of the quieter streets in Gamla Stan. Credit: Stories and Artworks by Bill

Next, I took the T-Bana to the Ostermalm neighborhood. My destination was the Ostermalms Saluhall food market, which contained an impressive array of restaurants and a strong smell of smoked fish. Unfortunately, I was still quite full from my breakfast meal at the hotel. The Ostermalm neighborhood was pleasant with pedestrian-only streets full of shops and families. It was a Saturday and locals were out doing their shopping. I stopped to rest at a nearby park with a coffee among the families and dogs, all out on a sunny afternoon.  

By this time, the sun was setting and I walked back for one last look at City Hall. The walk took me through more modern architecture and shopping areas in the Norrmalm neighborhood, then past the Central Station. I took the opportunity to see where my train would leave for Copenhagen the next morning.

At the end of the day, I sat in the courtyard of City Hall. I wrote postcards and was surprised to see numerous wedding parties emerging from the building every few minutes. I then learned that it is a popular wedding location, with 60 wedding ceremonies every Saturday. The ceremonies are secular and very short. A new wedding party comes out of the doors and onto the square celebrating and taking pictures before the ones preceding it are finished with theirs. It was a happy and festive scene, a jumble of happy couples and families of all sizes and varieties all together. Sitting there, admiring the view and the festivities and a secular wedding ceremony lasting only a few minutes, I wished I had gotten married there.

It was only 5 PM but I was tired. I walked 22,000 steps, about 10 miles. I took one more opportunity to meander around the quieter streets of Gamla Stan and eventually found the subway station for the trip back to the hotel. The last kilometer of walking on Langholmen Island was pleasant. I stopped for a few minutes to watch some kids playing soccer. It was an early night, as I had to pack for my train to Copenhagen in the morning.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Stockholm and hope to go back someday. It has a great combination of new and old architecture. The city is surrounded by water and pleasant views at every turn. There are museums, parks, and historical landmarks all conveniently accessible. It was clean, relatively smoke-free (compared to the rest of Europe), easy to navigate using public transportation, and friendly. I hope the experiences I shared here help you plan your trip to Stockholm!