Tag Archives: stockholm

Travel Diary: Two Swedish Archipelagos

12 Sep image006

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

View of Vaxholm from the ferry

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.

Mike and me on the ferry

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.

A symbiotic relationship

Swedish chickens!

As the island map sign warned, beware the rare, smooth-skinned Hasselsnok.

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.

On the city tram


On the ferry

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?


On little carts like these ...

... on gas-powered mopeds with big pallets on the front, like these ...

... and on all manner of bicycles.

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 metaphor?

View from my bike. So cute!

A few more photos from our island day:

Mike on the rock where we had our picnic lunch

Our picnic

View from the rock

Super Mario mushrooms growing in the Styrsö woods

Another woodland creature

We biked across the bridge to Donsö, a nearby island which is home to a big community of boat and ship owners. This is a photo of the Donsö harbor.

Here is Mike on the bridge between Donsö and Styrsö , telling me we need to go back so we don't miss the ferry.

Travel Diary: Stockholm in the Sunshine

5 Sep image065

I have no clue how we got so lucky. Despite another rainy forecast, we woke up to gorgeous sunny skies again on Wednesday and Thursday. With crisp air, striking skylines and sparkling water everywhere, Stockholm seems to be made for sunny days. It felt a little strange to be back in a city after the staggering natural beauty of Iceland, but the weather made it very easy to appreciate our new surroundings.

We began with a visit to Ostermalm Saluhall, an indoor food market jammed with all manner of delicious things.

Fresh hazelnuts .. I didn't realize they look like this.

We picked up some bread, salad, fresh plums and some dry, buttery Swedish cheese called:

Ostermalm is known for trendy shopping, so we spent a few minutes browsing the nearby stores. Design Torget is famous for Swedish kitsch:

We had to stare at this board game for a few minutes before we realized what it was. Then we stared some more, in disbelief.

A walk down Ostermalm’s long harbor offered stunning views of water, boats and architecture.

Even the bike rental shop was stylishly Scandinavian.

We crossed the bridge into Djurgården, a vast urban island park (formerly a Royal game preserve).

After another hour of walking, we spread our picnic lunch on a smooth stone overlooking the water.

The skies were starting to look at little threatening, but we still went ahead and rented a canoe to paddle around the island. I’m really glad we did.

Tivoli Gröna Lund amusement park in Djurgarden

Time for some more ice cream! The Swedes make a version that was almost as good as the Iceland soft serve … though it seemed maybe not quite as light? And I actually liked the Icelandic cake cone better than the luxe waffle cone.

We had originally planned to spend the late afternoon at the Moderna Museet (modern art museum), so we caught the Djurgarden ferry heading in that direction. As we ferried back toward Slussen and Sodermalm, we caught sight of a beautiful double rainbow! We realized that neither of us was actually too excited to spend hours indoors, so we gave that one up and got off the ferry at Slussen instead.

Can you see the second rainbow? It's above the first, but much less bright.

I am pretty sure that seeing a perfect rainbow on your third anniversary is a very, very good sign.

We walked from the east side of Sodermalm all the way back to Hornstull, catching views of the city from the well-known island cliffs. We caught sight of this pretty hot air balloon drifting over Stockholm as the sun set:

First Day in Stockholm

3 Sep The big pink building to the right is the Nobel Museum, dedicated to the famous prize.

The flight from Reykjavic Airport into Stockholm took about 3 hours. We rode the Arlanda Express train from the airport into the Centralen transit station – the speedy trip (with free wifi!) took only about 25 minutes. Our friendly Stockholm airbnb host, Agneta, met us at Centralen to hand us the keys before boarding her own train out of town.

We bought 72-hour Travel Cards for 200 Swedish Kroner (about $32) apiece. The cards gave us unlimited access to all SL (Storstockholms Lokaltrafik) transit, including the Tunnelbana (subway), buses, trams and in-city ferry service. For longer stays, the 7-day Travel Card is a far superior deal at 260 SK, but I’m pretty sure we used at least our 200 SK even in just three days, and it was well worth it for the convenience of never needing to think about tickets.

Stockholm Overview

Stockholm is beautifully spread over a group of islands, each with its own established aesthetic and neighborhood character.

Map by Lonely Planet

Agneta’s studio apartment was located in Hornstull, an area in the northeastern corner of Södermalm, or Söder, which is known among Stockholm’s neighborhoods as the eclectic, artsy center. It was a good location for us, with lots of interesting shops, ethnic restaurants, and a five-minute walk to the Tunnelbana.

She even left us a bottle of champagne, some chocolate and a note wishing us a happy anniversary!

Gamla Stan

We decided to spend our first afternoon exploring Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s “Old Town.” It’s located on the smallest of all the islands, immediately north of (relatively) sprawling Söder. It’s full of gorgeous old architecture, charming narrow brick roads, bridges and plazas.

We stopped for coffee and rolls at the Grillska Husets Konditori overlooking Gamla Stan’s main plaza.

The big pink building to the right is the Nobel Museum, dedicated to the famous prize.

A few more selected views of Gamla Stan:

Stockholm city bikes

While Mike stopped at the mobile phone shop to try to figure out why our phones weren’t getting any reception, I took a detour through the dizzying Åhléns department store.

I wasn’t in the mood to browse fall clothing, so I wandered instead into the supermarket in the store’s basement for a glimpse of Swedish groceries. I really liked the vintage-style graphic packaging:

Hearing the church bells chime the hour, we went back to visit the Nobel Museum (Entry is free on Tuesdays after 5pm). It’s a small museum, but we found a lot of interesting things to read about past prizewinners, the ceremony and the award itself. I thought it was very cool, for example, that artists are commissioned to design and create unique award certificates for each winner, so no two Nobels are the same (though all winners receive identical medals). Below is an example of the certificate awarded to Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Literature, 1931):

We left Gamla Stan and took the train back to Sodermalm for dinner at a Korean restaurant (because, cinnamon buns aside, we are not so in love with herring- and ham-centric Swedish cuisine). Our friend David from Seattle, who is spending the semester here at the University researching water and systems ecology, met us at the restaurant. He took us to a great neighborhood bar called Nada, where the Turkish owner was working behind the counter. The owner took a break from mixing drinks to sit down with us, and shared a few entertaining stories about expat life in Sweden.

He said he’s working on opening a new nightclub, and is hoping to one day bring the Coyote Ugly phenomenon to Stockholm.


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