Jul182016

Stockholm, I’ll be back, but probably not stay

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.

Stockholm City Hall

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.

Stockholm embrace

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.

City street

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.

Nordiska Museet

Nordiska Museet – Nordic Museum, Stockholm

$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.

Cafe menu

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   Bike rental prices

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.

Stockholm shopping

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.

City Park

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.

Stockholm ferry

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.

Vasa

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.

Arlanda Express

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

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.

Stockholm at night

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.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. I’m getting a vibe you just were in the wrong areas and didn’t exactly know where the urban culture was located. The same goes with Oslo and Helsinki I think, while in Copenhagen it’s much easier to enjoy wherever you are.

    Next time, ask for a young local’s advice on where to go and what to see. The urban culture in the Nordic capitals has been growing fast these last few years.

  2. @la – you are so right in that I simply did not find the places to be that i would have enjoyed. One of the issues is this was a working trip to Stockholm for the conference so I had limited times to get out and about. My primary point is that the main tourist areas of the city are not well suited to my style of budget travel.

    The lack of food options aside from restaurants was a major problem for me in the places I visited. In all fairness to the Stockholm municipality, I only covered about one square mile of the city from Central Station to Djurgarden and Norrmalm.

    In most major cities I tend to find myself seeking out the university district and I was nowhere near that area of the city.

  3. Ric,

    I heard this about Stockholm from several people, they were just underwhelmed and they all try to compare it to Amsterdam, St. Petersburg, Oslo or another northern capital and they all say the same — it’s just not as fun for a tourist, or that it is just not as vibrant for them. It sounds like a theme from a several different people (and age groups). I never had an opportunity to visit, but to this day nobody has ever raved to me about that city so it is kind of low on my list.

    Thank you for this detailed review and feedback, I enjoyed reading it.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  4. Thank you for this honest and detailed review. It is really helpful and I think I will focus my European travels on other places for now (I haven’t been to many European cities yet). Thanks!

  5. @Michael Spata – I walked around the city several hours every day. Gorgeous people were everywhere, although the number of man buns are a bit over the top as a fashion statement. Many gorgeous views too. The Nordic cuisine is too expensive for me.

    I have spent summer trips in many cities and countries around Europe. There was not much I saw happening in Stockholm that was not commercialized and required money to do. We found ourselves navigating the streets dodging numerous baby strollers and geriatric cruise ship tourists much of the time.

    I enjoyed Stockholm better in January than in July for its Nordic charm in winter. There are interesting people everywhere and places around Europe I have enjoyed visiting far more for history, architecture and culture.

    As I said, many people will enjoy the vibe of Stockholm. It just did not thrill me. I don’t know why exactly, but in my four trips to Sweden this past year I have not found any of the places resonate well with my travel style and desires.

    To each his own. I’m loving Krakow, Poland. There is all kinds of stuff happening around this city in July.

  6. If you are eating at Subway and McDonalds while on a trip to a foreign city, then there is certainly a problem. I have to say that reading this column has made me unloyal. Best of luck with your travels and I do hope that you open up your mind and truly experience what each city has to offer. All it takes is just a little research.

  7. Eva – I don’t eat at McDonald’s. I mentioned in this article that I would rather go without food. I walked around Stockholm on a Friday night looking for hot food under $20 and I walked into a McDonald’s, the most prevalent restaurant around the tourist sections of Stockholm to see there was nothing but hamburgers and fried chicken nuggets on menu. I’d rather go without food. I went back to my hotel after an hour of searching for take-away hot food and made a cold spinach salad with tuna I had purchased in the market. The one grocery store that was open in Central Station had no hot food.

    Most of my meals are self-prepared from grocery stores.

    I ate several local dishes in Stockholm including reindeer meat. I had a fantastic shrimp meal in one restaurant. My point was there were few options for hot food in Stockholm besides sit-down restaurants with a starting price tag of $40 a meal for a couple.

    Restaurant culture is not my lifestyle. I live in a major foodie place in Monterey/Carmel California, but I rarely go to restaurants. I eat seafood most days of the week I purchase in markets and cook myself. One of the most unpleasant experiences I find is having a restaurant meal that is worse than the meals I cook for myself and I find that happens at least 50% of the time I eat out.

    I rarely eat sandwiches at all. Subway and fast food are not my dining style, but my point is that in Stockholm it is not even an option. There are McDonald’s all over the place in the waterfront tourist areas and few other options for a quick take-away meal.

    In my travels around Europe I generally find many food options to meet all kinds of dining budgets. I did not find those options in Stockholm. Stockholm is sit-down restaurant culture in the most touristed areas.

  8. A few cold comments from seemingly offended locals … well it is hard to disagree with you. You chose Stockholm and Kraków to compare. I feel the same about both cities. You can always find something new and fascinating in Kraków, and the low prices make for a wide availability of experiences that would be very expensive in Stockholm. Try a wonderful chocolatier Karmello in Kraków, my most recent discovery. Maybe it is possible to find a similar place in Stockholm [with the price x4].

  9. I jumped at the opportunity to go to TBEX Europe when I saw Stockholm was the host city. I have spent about six weeks in Norway – several towns, Copenhagen and Helsinki in past three years and I wanted to spend time in Stockholm since I enjoyed these other places. All those places are expensive too, but I found interesting street life to enjoy in those cities. I did not find that in Stockholm. Perhaps I happened to walk on this street when there was something happening on that street? Perhaps this week was quiet city life and next week Stockholm will be loaded with street parties. I don’t know. But, like gambling more hoping to win big, sometimes it is better to stop wasting money and move on to other activities.

    I like many things about Sweden, but I like many other places I have been to in Europe more. So I will focus on other places for my travels.

    I have travel to six other countries in Europe planned for 2016. I will write my honest opinions about those places too. These are only my opinions and obviously from the perspective of a tourist with limited knowledge of a local area. I try to back up my opinions with actual observations and facts learned from my travel.

    Unlikely I will ever have much to say about local food and dining since I maintain a fairly regular diet concentrated on fruit, vegetables and seafood I prepare myself from grocery store shopping wherever I go.

    It’s Annoying to Read Tourist Critiques of a Place You Call Home

    My home town of Monterey, California is one of the most visited places in the USA for a small town its size of 30,000 residents. We have millions of visitors each year. I hear European languages almost anytime I am out and about walking the streets and parks.

    I know what it is like to read a review of my hometown Monterey when people say how the Monterey Bay Aquarium was nice, but too expensive and Cannery Row did not meet their Steinbeck fueled desires of a landmark with its overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops and vacant lots.

    When I was a teenager in the 1970s the downtown portion and waterfront of Monterey millions of visitors enjoy each year these days were cavernous shells of abandoned fish packing canneries and the beautiful waterfront bike and pedestrian path was railroad tracks. The state parks of fragile coastal sand dunes today were trampled over by drunks in large trucks competing to see who could climb highest before grounding out in the sand. Beach fights were a frequent happening.

    I see a place that is better than it was 40 years ago and our town caters to tourism. As a local I don’t go to the tourist sections of town all that often. I head to the parks where I can drive in 15 minutes and really be out away from the tourists or around the tourists who are truly interested in the natural environment of our coast and hiking in the parks. The wild ocean scenery is the truly remarkable part of central coast California. Finding those places is much harder to do if you are a tourist in town at a hotel and looking primarily for the sights within walking distance.

    Boating looks to be the ideal way to tour the Stockholm region with its thousands of islands. Unfortunately, my wife has always had an issue with motion sickness and boats are an infrequent transportation option when we travel together.

  10. The Clarion Sign 4* hotel goes on rewards for 10K points which can be had via the Choice points+cash and cancel trick for $75, tax included.

    Krakow sounds more like my place. Since I go to Prague a lot I’ll have to get over there soon.

  11. I agree, Stockholm is sleepy and a bit dull. Everything is pretty, people are nice, and the streets are safe but the mix and lack of culture just doesn’t do it for me.

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