Stockholm is a city I want to love. On the surface this seems like a large city I should love. There are miles of coastal waterways and islands, extensive green space in urban parks, many museums and strikingly beautiful people all around. Seems everyone speaks perfect English, so communication is not an issue for this monolingual American tourist. But after five days in Stockholm I never developed an attraction to this Nordic urban entity. I never felt the vibe.
There is a vibe in Stockholm that will appeal to many travelers. Unfortunately, the vibe of Stockholm does not resonate with me. Rather than Stockholm syndrome adaptation, I simply wanted to move on with my travel life to another place. I anxiously awaited my onward flight to Krakow, Poland.
I expected to find myself in a more lively urban environment in Stockholm with near 24-hour summer activity in July. Of course, in a city the size of Stockholm there are plenty of experiences available and much of my dissatisfaction is from being in a place relatively expensive for an American tourist on a budget. A large part of my problem with Stockholm was economic. This is one of the most expensive tourist cities on the planet. There is a high cost to be a tourist in Stockholm.
There are many museums, however, the average cost of museum tickets ranges from about $12 to $20 per person. Museums tend to be expensive in many cities. London is my favorite museums city, a city with dozens of free museums.
$8 for a beer in a bar and $20 for a restaurant entrée adds up. In five days I never saw a single person drinking alcohol on the streets or in the parks of Stockholm. Copenhagen and Amsterdam have many budget eateries for meals under $10 per person and public drinking is common, meaning dinner outside on the streets with alcohol is a $20 evening meal option for a couple. Norway seems to have loads of Subway sandwich shops for affordable fast food. London and Amsterdam have numerous grocery stores with packaged meals at affordable prices of $5 to $8. Dining in downtown Stockholm seemed to be nearly all sit-down restaurants with few budget meal options. A hamburger at McDonald’s is around $8 to $10 and there are very few fast-food places around the main tourist sections of the city besides McDonald’s. Grocery stores seemed scarce, generally with limited hot food items, lots of frozen food items and most stores were closed by 9pm. There were cheap hot dogs for under $3 in sidewalk stalls in some of the more touristed places, but I never met a hot dog or sausage I like.
Café Menu Grilled Cheeseburger 189 SEK = $21 USD, Caesar Salad 189 SEK.
The cost for a tram, bus, metro or ferry in city center is about $3 per ride.
Bike rental starts at 80SEK ($9.35) for one hour, 60 SEK ($7.02) per additional hour, 250 SEK ($29.22) for day, 300SEK ($35.07) for 24 hours.
Sweden is a credit card society. This is my fourth trip staying in Sweden in the past year and I have never seen any Swedish currency. All my economic transactions have been by credit card. Make sure you have a credit card PIN number and memorize it.
But it is not the high cost of tourism in Stockholm that turned me off. I spent several nights in Oslo, Norway two years ago, a city that was far more expensive at the time than Stockholm in July 2016 and I liked the vibe I found there.
What is it about Stockholm that had me feeling bored? I have struggled for the answer to that question for several days. I don’t require much to entertain me. Simply walking around city streets usually is sufficient to keep me occupied and amused for several days.
People in Stockholm are polite, helpful and kind. The city felt like one of the safest places I have been. Stockholm seemed like a place where you would feel comfortable to let your 13-year old child go out on their own for the day without worry he or she will be corrupted or abducted.
There is a satisfying tourist vibe I feel on nearly all my European trips that I did not feel in Stockholm. The nightclub across the street from my hotel window sounded like a full blown rave from 10pm to 3am in the morning. Yet, outside walking the streets each day I did not hear any music. In five days I came across no live bands playing on the concert stages in the city parks. In five days I saw few people playing instruments on the streets. The only buskers I heard were in Gamla Stan, the primary tourist zone of the city. Bike paths are seen all around, but aside from tourists and locals riding around Djurgarden, the Royal Park island covered in museums, I saw relatively few cyclists in the city along the miles of bike paths compared to what I have seen in Copenhagen, Amsterdam or even Oslo. Boats are all around in a city built across many islands, but there always seemed to be long lines of people waiting for boats and commuter ferries between the city’s islands.
There were moments when I felt a satisfying tourist vibe. Stockholm Ghost Walk provided a couple hours of theatrical history to Gamla Stan, the oldest section of the capital city and island site of Sweden’s Royal Palace. The Vasa Museum provided an unparalleled opportunity to admire the sheer size and ornate decoration embodied in an authentic 17th century wooden naval war ship, preserved where it lay for 333 years in the cold, polluted, low oxygen water of Stockholm Harbor upon sinking on its maiden voyage after only sailing about 1,500 meters.
Modern transportation in this city by the sea is quite efficient with the ability for me to travel from Radisson Blu Strand Hotel, walk to the T-underground metro, walk to the train station, travel 25 miles to Arlanda airport in 20 minutes at 200km/hr on the Arlanda Express and be checked into my Norwegian Airlines $68 flight to Krakow, all in less than one hour before 7am on a Sunday morning.
Eating, Drinking and the Price of Food in Stockholm
I pride myself on my ability to find good food value anywhere I travel.
There seem to be few grocery markets in the downtown city around the main tourist hotels and even fewer places with healthy meal choices, aside from full dining sit-down restaurants. Ice cream vendors outnumber street vendors of all other kinds of foods by a large margin. 7-Eleven and McDonald’s are the most prevalent easily accessible stores for food and drink without paying for a full dining experience. I’d rather go without food.
I would have thought there would be hundreds of people on the streets all hours of the day and night with a city metropolitan population of 2.2 million, nearly a quarter of the country’s population, especially considering there are over 20 hours of daylight sufficiently bright to walk from 11:00pm to 2:30am without artificial light. Yet, there were times in the middle of the day when few people passed us over blocks of city streets when walking outside the main routes of Gamla Stan and the waterfront to Djurgarden and its museums.
City and waterfront cafes were often full, but at $20 for a salad or sandwich and $8 to $10 for a beer or wine, that is the kind of activity I engage in sparingly as a tourist. I never saw anybody drinking alcohol in public. There is definitely a kind of temperance vibe in Stockholm toward public drinking, similar to USA cultural norms. Yet locals talk about how Swedes are party people who drink a lot. Stockholm has American attitudes about public drinking and that is something I have rarely encountered anywhere else in Europe on my trips. There is a very different vibe towards alcohol in Sweden compared to the liberal public drinking observed in Copenhagen or even Oslo and Bergen, where a beer or bottle of wine in the hands of people sitting in parks or on the waterfront in the center of downtown are a common sight.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Swedes are boring, just that I was bored in Stockholm.
I actually prefer being in nature and doing outdoor activities to urban city life. I’d love to go island hopping on boats or out into the Sweden wilderness surrounded by natural life, but that is not the kind of trip activities I planned for five days and nights staying at Stockholm city hotels.
Barnacle geese – wondrous beauty is found everywhere, like Djurgarden, Stockholm.
I was kind of bored in Stockholm due to the cost of activities and evening venues and the experience has me thinking that I don’t want to come back here on vacation again when I compare my days in Stockholm to the energy I felt in the summer street party atmosphere all around Copenhagen, Denmark or the active outdoors lifestyle I enjoy when hiking around the hills of Bergen, Norway with hundreds of locals. I have spent many great vacation weeks enjoying other parts of Scandinavia over the past two years. I thought I would find the same kind of vibe in Stockholm, but I didn’t.
Stockholm is not a city attuned to the kind of European vacation I enjoy. There are many aspects of Stockholm that likely meet the needs of other types of tourists. I simply never felt the European vibe in Stockholm I have found in nearly every other city in Europe where I have stayed for several days.
Time to move on and see what kind of vibe I feel in Krakow, Poland.
I am certain I will be back in Sweden before long. Low cost of flights between California and Stockholm Arlanda keeps me passing through this country. But most likely I will only be transiting through the airport on my way to some other European city. Stockholm did not leave me with a desire to return.
This was a difficult piece to write due to having been in Stockholm primarily for TBEX, a travel writers’ conference. I have seen hundreds of gorgeous photos and tourist descriptions of Stockholm by other writers in the city at the same time as me. But I have no reason to gloss over my ambivalence to the city. There are many aspects of Stockholm I enjoyed, but the overall experience convinced me that I will focus my European travel plans on other places.