When we planned our trip to Sweden, neither of us had imagined island-hopping as part of the itinerary. I didn’t even know that Sweden was known for its islands … that is, outside of the major islands that make up the city of Stockholm itself. But possibly because it’s summer, and our trip through Iceland left us both wanting to spend as much time outdoors as we could, cruising to the scenic archipelago seemed like the best way to spend our second day in Stockholm. One good island day left us craving more, so we devoted a second day to island-exploring on the coast of Gothenburg. We were so happily surprised by the beautiful scenery and relaxed island atmosphere that we wanted to make sure to share photos and tips for anyone who might be visiting in the future.
Stockholm Archipelago: Grinda
There are a few ways to get out to the archipelago. The most hyped option we found in the tourist literature was a tour by rigid inflatable boat, a small and speedy boat that sits so low in the water that passengers are issued gear to keep them dry as the craft zips around the islands. On the plus side, the boat’s small size and the operator’s adventurous branding means that these cruises bring you up close to some of the lesser-known spots throughout the archipelago. But it’s a steep price tag (about $75 per person) for a 90-minute experience that doesn’t even allow you to leave the boat to explore an island. Still, the less pricey 3.5-hour steamboat cruises seemed like they weren’t exactly our style, either. We chose instead to just commit to the limited weekday ferry schedule (timetables indicated that the ferry service is most commonly used to get people to and from the islands in the evenings and at weekends … understandable since many Swedes probably keep cottages there) to visit one island.
After a harrowing bout of navigating the Stockholm transit system around numerous unexpected construction-driven detours, we (barely) successfully boarded the 8am boat to Grinda. About two hours by ferry from the port in central Stockholm, this island seemed most accessible while still more rustic than the advertised resort town on the very closest island, Vaxholm. At 90 SK (about $13) apiece, the ferry tickets were surprisingly
The morning ferry trip through the archipelago was one of the highlights of our visit to Stockholm. The islands are gorgeous, and we loved sitting outside watching them fly by. From what I’ve read, there’s no official count of the islands in the Stockholm archipelago, but most estimates fall around 25,000.
When we landed at Grinda, we were a little disappointed to find that all of boat and bike rental services, outdoor cafes and even the general store had just closed for the season. We should probably have done our research better, but the morning was still clear, so we hiked through the woods to the rocky cliffs along the island’s northern coast, and came upon a gorgeous campsite and swimming/diving beach, where it looked like several families were enjoying a laid-back summer holiday. We made a mental note in case we come back to Sweden in a future summer … camping here would be a treat.
We found our way to Grinda Wärdshus, the island’s well-known hotel and gourmet restaurant. The cozy lobby and bar were full of international travelers of all ages. We had cardamom-laced kanelbullar buns and coffee on the deck overlooking the water…
… and, when a surprise cloudburst turned the island instantly stormy, found ourselves curled up on the deck with our books for almost three hours. A very relaxing afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, we made it out for another walk around the southern end of the island, where we passed some small farms and a rustic hostel/cabin resort occupying the sandier beaches.
We made our way back to the dock to meet the 4:30 ferry back to Stockholm.
Gothenburg Archipelago: Styrsö
Like Gothenburg itself, the Gothenburg archipelago won us over instantly with its beauty and small-town charm. Located much closer to the mainland coast, these islands are also vastly more accessible – we took city tram #11 to its terminus at the ferry launch, and quickly boarded a boat bound for Styrsö. Ferry rides cost only a bus fare, so we stamped our 5-fare cards when we got on the boat, and that was taken care of. Since we visited the island on a Saturday, the tram to the ferries was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with island-bound passengers. Many of them looked like local teens, and I daydreamed a little about how nice it would have been to be able to so easily get out to an island for a day with all my friends back in high school, without any worries about cars, or even much money.
Styrsö is one of the archipelago’s southern islands, which are sleepier towns where cars are entirely prohibited. It’s a fishing community with a fair amount of residential development and infrastructure, a nature preserve and numerous spots for public swimming. You can see Styrsö and its neighbor island Donsö, both of which we visited, on this map:
Question: If no cars are allowed on the island, how do residents get around?
When we arrived around 11 am, we found a small café where we rented one of two ancient green tandem bikes.
Though riding a bicycle built for two around the island was romantic in theory, we lasted all of 30 minutes before we realized it wasn’t going to work. I (back seat) was completely unable to give up control and Mike (front seat) wasn’t willing to warn me in advance before, say, braking unexpectedly.
We returned to the shop and exchanged the tandem for two separate three-speed cruisers and immediately found we were much happier together when we both maintained some independence.
A few more photos from our island day: