Alone in Stockholm – a tale of an unfriendly city 

Alone in Stockholm – a tale of an unfriendly city 

This is my guide to surviving Stockholm on your own in the winter, the mistakes I made, where to go and what’s worth seeing.

Having visited all of Scandinavia except Sweden, I really wanted to got there.

My first two mistakes were going solo and going in November.

I flew with Norwegian Air which was a nicer airline that SAS – if you’ve flown with Scandinavian Airlines you’ll know what I mean, they literally don’t smile. Norwegian Air is expensive from the UK and this flight from Manchester to Stockholm cost £52. More than I usually pay but cheap for this airline.

Window seat on Air Norwegian
Window seat on Norwegian Air

Arriving at the main airport Stockholm Arlanda, I took the Flybussarna coach to the central bus station in Stockholm. The coach came every 10 mins. It took 45 mins to reach the city centre. I recommend the bus or train over a taxi. Stockholm is an expensive city and taxi prices aren’t regulated so a taxi from Arlanda to the centre can cost over €60.

The weather was cold, damp and there was snow on the streets. The sun set by 3pm and it was grey all day. With few daylight hours the days felt so short.

Stockholm at 1pm
1pm in Stockholm
Stockholm at 2:30pm
2:30pm in Stockholm
Stockholm at 5:30pm
5:30pm in Stockholm

I stayed at City Backpackers Hostel Stockholm, a 7 minute walk north of T-Centralen. It had good transport links, huge clean rooms and free tea and coffee. It also had a sauna – saunas are a very Scandinavian thing. The downside was, the hostel wasn’t very social and was geared towards groups rather than individuals. Staying here was my third mistake.

1) Get a drink

Determined to make the most of my time in Stockholm I headed to the nearby bars. The trendy area is Södermalm to the south of the city but as it was so cold I stayed local to the hostel. The majority of bars around T-Centralen looked imposing and expensive. Eventually Yelp led me to Lion Bar, a chain of cheap beer bars in Stockholm.

Adolf Fredriks församling
Adolf Fredriks församling – I passed on my walk to find a bar

I ordered a Swedish snaps and beer. Snaps is a small glass of spirits made of vodka mixed with herbs and spices.

They’re typically served in tall long-stemmed 60ml glasses and common at Christmas and Midsummer, as well as summer crayfish parties. Snaps go well with salty foods and a beer.

I had a snap called O.P. Anderson Aquavit in a 40ml shot glass. I also tried a pint of Spendrups which is a common Swedish beer.

(Remember to raise your glass and say “Skål!”)

Snap and beer Stockholm
Snap and beer

I’m fine drinking alone in bars. People find this strange and say they wouldn’t do it but once you break the ice and start doing it, you no longer feel uncomfortable. Plus, I can go on my phone and chat with friends back home.

The bar wasn’t very busy so I tried to speak to the barman about snaps but he didn’t want to know. I looked around the bar and everyone appeared deep in conversation.

Later I returned to the hostel for a cup of coffee and to plan my next few days in Stockholm.

Chilling at the hostel with free coffee
Chilling at the hostel with free coffee

2) Go to the Museums

Nordic Museum

My first stop was the the Nordic Museum. It’s located in Djurgården an island in central Stockholm. It’s an impressive building from the outside which is why I was interested in it.

Nordic Museum Stockholm

Nordic museum Stockholm
Nordic Museum Stockholm
View from The Djurgården Bridge
View from The Djurgården Bridge
Nordic Museum Stockholm
Nordic Museum

It cost 100 SEK to enter. Stockholm is expensive and this was a little overpriced. But I was happy to be out of the cold. It’s a generic museum with exhibitions about Swedish culture. I enjoyed learning about home brewing culture in the Taste of Hops exhibition.

There was a group of school children who ran past and smiled at me. I realised for the first time I’d seen a smile!

Vasa Museum

By far the highlight of my trip. This cannot be missed.

Located around the corner from the Nordic Museum, this museum is home to an almost fully intact 17th century gun ship called the Vasa. It was salvaged after it sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.

The museum explains why the ship sank and how it was found and subsequently restored. It’s on two floors so you can look down inside the ship. The wooden carvings on the ship are so intricate and you can get up close to see them.

Vasa ship Stockholm

Vasa ship Stockholm

Vasa ship Stockholm
Vasa ship

I like that they can make a huge tourist attraction out of a failed ship.

It was too cold to stay out long so I skipped Skansen Open-Air Museum.

3) Free Walking tours

I went on a free walking tour of the city centre. The guide was a pregnant Canadian woman who had lived in Stockholm for 12 years. She spent a long time talking about how amazing maternity and paternity leave are in Sweden.

The top of large stairs by Sergels torg
The top of large stairs by Sergels torg

We saw lots to do with Greta Garbo. A top actress from the 1920s and 1930s who was born in Stockholm.

They love her so much she has a square named after her and she is on the new 100 SEK note.

We went along the main shopping street Drottninggatan and later saw the the bank where the famous “Stockholm Syndrome” originated from. I learnt how during the robbery the hostages sided with the robbers and the theories on what happened. I also saw where the Nobel Prizes are given out.

We walked along the main shopping street Drottninggatan. There were 4 H&Ms in view of each other. H&M is a Swedish brand and they love it. Spot the H&Ms in the picture below.

H&M on Drottninggatan
H&Ms on Drottninggatan
Start of the Christmas decorations on Drottninggatan
Christmas decorations on Drottninggatan

The guide kept telling us how the walking tour wasn’t free and you had to tip. She spoke about how a cheap lunch is 100 SEK and how 50 SEK isn’t much in Stockholm. 50 SEK is €5.20 and what I would usually tip for a free walking tour but she kept hinting it was too low.

4) Gamla Stan (Old Town)

By 3pm it was already dark. I headed to Old Town or Gamla Stan as the Swedes call it. It wasn’t very busy and had cobbled streets, coffee places and tourist shops. Stockholm Palace and Stortorget (the oldest square in Stockholm) are also here.

Cobbled Streets of Old Town
Cobbled Streets of Old Town

I enjoyed exploring Old Town and seeing the buildings lit up. I passed through Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, the narrowest alley in Stockholm before heading to the Palace.

Stockholm Palace
Stockholm Palace

Gamla Stan is also home to Järnpojke, known as “little boy who looks at the moon”. People touch his head for good luck and leave a coin (which goes to the church). It’s located behind the Finnish church near Stockholm Palace and is worth finding if you’re in the area.

In winter the little boy is dressed in hats and scarfs knitted by locals.

Järnpojke "little boy who looks at the moon"
Järnpojke “little boy who looks at the moon”

Unfortunately, the Christmas markets don’t start until the end of November and I was a week too early – my fourth mistake.

Christmas Markets waiting to open in Old Town Stockholm
Christmas Markets waiting to open in Stortorget

5) Kulturhuset – The House of Culture

This is located south of Sergels Torg. There were lots of people resting inside on the comfy sofas in the warmth. I was happy to find a free place to sit with a great view.

View from Kulturhuset - The House of Culture
View from Kulturhuset – The House of Culture

The top floor also had a decent priced cafe.

The Stockholm International Film festival is in November and films are often shown in Kulturhuset. Film buffs come to Stockholm for this as it’s the highlight of the cultural calendar in winter.

6) Ice Hockey Match

Another fun thing to do is go to a game. Sweden is a sporty country with over half the population actively taking part in sport. In the winter Ice Hockey takes over and the Swedes go mad for it. I bought a ticket online a week before to see Djurgården vs Skellefteå at Hovet area, which is 20 mins on the metro from T-Centralen.

I wasn’t using the metro for many journeys so I didn’t buy a SL Access card. A SL Access card costs 20 SEK and you can top it up and use it on the metro and buses.

Instead I bought a paper ticket from the machine at the metro station. If I had taken more journeys I would have bought a SL Access card as paper tickets were expensive – £6 to get from T-Centralen to Golben station next to Hovet Arena.

I arrived at Hovet early so I got a beer for 50 SEK.

Pre-game beer
Pre-game beer

For the first time I felt energy in this city. Djurgården is a Stockholm team (one of the islands that make up Stockholm) and lots of supporters were there.

Introducing the teams
Introducing the teams

Don’t sit too near the front as there’s a really high barrier around the ice rink.

Start of the game
Start of the game

Ice Hockey is an exciting fast paced game. There was lots of chanting and singing. It was a great atmosphere. I tried to join in the chants, even though I don’t speak Swedish.

Game in progress
Game in progress

Overall

The number one thing I recommend is the Vasa Museum. This ship is incredible and so well preserved.

The second thing is to catch an Ice Hockey match. It was fun to see the swedes passionate about something.

The mistakes I made:
Going alone
Going in November
Staying in a large unsocial hostel
Going before the Christmas Markets opened

If I ever return to Stockholm it will be for the cray fish parties at the end of August when I’d have better weather. I would also stay in the north part of the south island Södermalm, a more happening district and not near T-Centralen, which was more business oriented.

If you had a different experience in Stockholm please comment below. I’d like to hear it.

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