Sweden's capital city may leave you struggling. Struggling trying to decide what to do, that is. Each of Stockholm's districts have their own individual character, and are all worth exploring if you have time – from the upmarket and wealth of Östermalm, to the hipster vibes of Södermalm and the medieval charm of Gamla Stan. For those with less hours to spare, I've done my best to slim down Stockholm's wealth of offerings to my Top 5 things to do while staying in this ultra-cool city:
1. PUBLIC FERRIES
You haven't experienced Stockholm to its fullest until you have experienced it from the water. This doesn't mean, however, that you have to queue with hoards of tourists waiting for a ride in one of the bus-like boats that go under the bridges to get a piece of the scenic watery action. If you've opted for a 72-hour travel card from Stockholm's public transport provider SL (which I highly recommend you do), its value for money stretches even further than the tram and Tunnelbana – you can hop on some of the ferries, too. The route included with the SL ticket is that between Slussen, Djurgården and Skeppsholmen – just scan your ticket before getting on board and away you go! If you're the only one at the stop at Skeppsholmen (unlikely as that is), make sure to press the button to indicate to the ferry that you want it to stop there otherwise it may well just cruise on by, leaving you standing waiting at the water's edge.
A visit to Stockholm's Södermalm district is a pilgrimage-must for any hipster worth their salt. Arguably one of the world's capitals of cool, Stockholm and its inhabitants effortlessly exude style, and if you want to go straight to the source of chic then Södermalm is where you want to go. Once a working-class district, hilly, higglydy piggledy Södermalm is now where you will find the hipster elite, some of the best fashion and design boutiques in the city, foodie hotspots and, yes, an abundance of bearded men on vintage bicycles. The heart of the neighbourhood is the SOFO area, but it's really worth spending time wandering around because you never know what you may stumble upon. Oh, and if you want to fit in with the local cool kids, then make sure to refer to Södermalm only as 'Söder'.Here are my Top 3 Söder tips:
Fjällgatan – soak up the breathtaking panoramas from this clifftop location and when you're done, grab a bite from nearby veggie buffet restaurant Hermans.
Nytorget – arguably the beating heart of Söder, this little pleasant square is surrounded by boutiques and trendy food joints worth checking out, like Urban Deli and Nytorget 6. Or, you can just do as the locals do – grab a drink to-go and stretch out in the sunshine.
Sofia Kyrka – this impressive church on one of the neighbourhood's many hills offers some pretty awesome views of surrounding Söder. It's also filled with cool crowds chilling out catching rays in summertime.
3. SHOP (BUT MAYBE NOT UNTIL YOU DROP)
As Stockholm is so expensive, it's unlikely that you will have come here with the intention of going on a shopping binge. That doesn't mean that you should bypass spending during your stay though – Stockholm is the perfect place to pick up a few select timeless pieces to lift your wardrobe or home and give it a little splash of Scandinavian style. For luxury brands and haute shopping centre experiences, head to Sturegallerian and upmarket Östermalm. Food aficionados can revel in Ostermalm's Saluhall food hall – but sadly not until 2018 when it reopens after an extensive facelift. Foodies need not despair though, they can still shop Saluhall's wares at a temporary market hall on Östermalmstorg opening in April 2016. If after a time this still hasn't satisfied your luxe shopping desires, then go a step further over to the Norrmalm district and Stockholm's famous department store: NK. Those in search of some cheaper vintage gems and unique design items should head over to previously mentioned Södermalm, where the trendiest pieces are to be found.
4. WALK THE DISTRICTS
It may seem self-evident, but you'd be surprised at the number of people I meet who spend most of their travels stuck on public transport as they trundle from one district to another in a city. I'll say it again, the best way to experience a place is through all the sights, sounds and smells you can soak in – and the best way to do that is to walk from one neighbourhood, or one sight, to the next. Stockholm is the perfect city for doing this, with its many bridges and walkways linking its neighbourhoods across the waters. What's more, most of the beautiful old town Gamla Stan is pedestrianised – and the parts that aren't are still pedestrian-friendly. I walked my way from Gamla Stan, right the way around past Skeppsholmen and Norrmalm to where Östermalm meets Djurgården. It was definitely the highlight of my trip and if the sun is shining, I highly recommend you do the same. Either that, or grab a bike.
5. GAMLA STAN
Winding cobbled streets? Check. Beautiful architecture? Check. Pedestrianised? Check. Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town dating back to medieval times, feels so well preserved that you can be forgiven for feeling as though you are in an open-air museum. It has everything needed to satisfy even the most sightseeing-obsessed tourist: palaces, museums, churches, narrow streets and nooks and crannies to get lost in, cute little shops and cafes...the list goes on (how all this fits elegantly into such a small space remains a mystery to me). Quick tip: if you aren't a museum addict but still want to get a glimpse of the impressive interiors of the palace, stepping inside the Royal Chapel is completely free and well worth the look. If searching for the full chocolate-box town experience, head to Stockholm's oldest square Stortorget, which can also be found in Gamla Stan. The general rule of thumb for making the most of this tourist hotspot is to arrive early before the crowds. Then, take your time here and don't rush – it's the perfect place to wind down as you wind though its medieval streets. And if you are in need of refreshments after a morning of exploring, then you'll be pleased to know that two of my favourite places to eat in Stockholm, Hermitage and Bröd und Salt, are right here (see Eat: Stockholm to find out more).