Tag Archives: sweden

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: Göteborg

10 Sep image064

Göteborg (English: Gothenburg) was the surprise gem of our trip around Scandinavia. After the wonders of the Icelandic landscape and the urban excitement of Stockholm, I was wondering whether we’d really find much to do in the sleepier, smaller, west-coast Swedish city. We had strong faith in a glowing recommendation from Rachel, my widely traveled sister-in-law, so without much advance planning beyond our travel tickets and an advance airbnb booking, we boarded the train for our two-plus hours’ journey.

Mike printing our e-tickets at the train station in Stockholm

Parting view of a beautiful rooftop in Stockholm

Our train. We sat in the "quiet car" to avoid cell talkers and other transit buzzkills.

And, just like that, we were in Göteborg!

We disembarked at the Central Station and bought transit cards good for 5 rides apiece, which we used to board the #1 Tram toward our airbnb flat. The tram took us about 2km, and we walked half a block with our suitcases:

Route from Central Station (A) to our airbnb flat (B)

The stylish, light-soaked, minimalist modern loft apartment was no doubt the highlight of our airbnb stays thus far. I took lots of photos to keep on hand for inspiration when we’re finally in one city/home long enough to actually decorate!

The first afternoon, we set out to see the city on foot. We started with Haga, a little district near the flat that’s known for its historic buildings and neighborhood charm.

This is when the magic of Gothenburg began to take over. Neither of us could put a finger on exactly what made the city so absolutely irresistible, but there it was … the surroundings were beautiful, the streets and sidewalks were alive with cheerful people out enjoying the sunshine, their lunches and one anothers’ company; the shops were charming; the buildings were beautiful; there were plenty of places to walk along the water, either on the coast or along the city’s canal; and the city was full of green space: according to the city-sponsored tourist guide, Gothenburg has the equivalent of approximately 175 square meters of park space for every inhabitant — in US measurements, that’s nearly 1,900 square feet.

For comparison’s sake, here’s a chart I found showing parkland per person in major US cities (graph credit: Per Square Mile):

Click to view the source website for more detail.

Streets in Haga

View of city park across the canal

The working port

Waterfront tourist attractions

Architectural detail

City view of the canal

We enjoyed using the city bike sharing scheme, called Styr & Ställ. We purchased short-term licenses (about $1.50 each) and got unlimited access to the bikes for three days. You can check them out for up to 30 minutes at a time at no charge, which gave us plenty of time to get from place to place around the city; we’d dock the bikes, walk around and check out a new bike for the next ride. I did notice that the Gothenburg bikes did have locks attached to them, however, so that if you wanted to check the bike out for a longer-term period and ride it to a place where there was no docking station, you had the option of locking it securely.

Also, the food was delicious. We definitely ate the best meals of our trip during our 2.5 days in Gothenburg, even without visiting any of the numerous Michelin-starred restaurants that the city is known for (and — probably because we didn’t veer into that Michelin territory — we also found dining in Gothenburg to be more affordable than in any of our other destinations in notoriously pricey Scandinavia). If you travel there yourself, I highly recommend:

Linne Terrassen Kok & Bar for its Swedish specialties (I loved my fresh seafood soup)

Le Petit Cafe for its heavenly brunch, baked goods and toothache-sweet decor

En Deli Haga for its pita wraps, bursting with Mediterranean vegetarian goodness:

One massive wrap was enough lunch for us both.

I also developed a new affinity for sweet black licorice. My very favorite was a kind of fat, chewy licorice straw filled with orange-scented sugar creme, which we found in a candy shop in Gothenburg.

I wish I had another one of these right now.

And, Finally … Fika 

Fika is something to love about Sweden. It’s the traditional afternoon coffee hour, when Swedes customarily sit down with friends and enjoy coffee and sweets. Sometimes they share cookies, but more famously they indulge in kanelbullar, the ubiquitous, cardamom-laced Swedish cinnamon rolls. After walking through the entire city that first afternoon, and witnessing throngs of Swedes cuddled around tables enjoying these — either in their traditional single-serving bun size, or in massive, mind-blowing, giant-size rolls that we ogled in the windows of numerous shops, which were served to tables of people who sliced them like pizzas for distribution — we found ourselves in desperate need of a fika of our very own.

Alas, it was nearly 6pm, and the first two shops we entered were completely sold out of cinnamon buns. In the third shop we entered, however, the grumpy but friendly proprietor gave us two buns for the price of one.

On a whim, I asked him why Gothenburg was so absolutely wonderful. To which he said, “Hmph. I don’t like it. I’ve lived in Sweden all my life and I can’t wait to close up this shop and move somewhere where the people are friendly.”

Then he threw in a cookie because, as he told it, he was about to close anyway and “you Americans love cookies.”

 I let Mike tackle the cookie. I was more than happy savoring every last bite of my kanelbullar, dunked liberally in Americano.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.