Visiting Stockholm for the first time? Here's how to stretch your Krona and Dollars!!!
At first glance, it seems like many of the stereotypes about Stockholm are true. The locals really are blond and gorgeous, the city really does look like a picture-perfect post card, and the prices really are sky high!
But like most stereotypes, you'll find there's a lot more than meets the eye if you're willing to take the time and really dig deep. The locals are indeed gorgeous - but they are also very diverse. The city is gorgeous too - and there's diversity there as well in architecture and style.
And those prices? Well, with a bit of hard work you CAN make your money go farther! Here's how I get great value in Stockholm.
1.) Stock up on the Stockholm Pass.
The incredibly comprehensive Stockholm Pass includes virtually every museum in the city - and Stockholm has some of the best museums in the world! I love that the card includes both the "big" museums which are so well known (as many savings cards exclude them) and also the smaller ones as well.
One crafty tip to keep in mind is that the 1 day pass is actually good for 24 hours, so depending on the timing you can visit attractions on two days. This is especially helpful when you consider that most Stockholm museums are only open from 10:00 am to 4:00 or 5:00 pm.
2.) Step aside, taxis! It's transit's turn to shine.
Of all the cities I've visited, Stockholm is the best in terms of it's clean, comfortable, comprehensive public transit. Little details, like the patient, English speaking bus drivers who created a "special" stop for us when we got lost and then patched together a 3-bus route to get us back on track, makes all the difference in the world for a new visitor.
Individual rides are very affordable, and if you are using the Stockholm Pass with the added travel card (formerly the Stockholm Card) it's even more affordable. The travel card includes unlimited public transit (including the metro).
You can also use it to get to and from the airport. Airport transportation is expensive, with the private shuttle bus costing 110 Krona and taxis are close to 500 Krona. The commuter train (NOT the Arlanda Express) to the airport is included as it classified as public transit. You only have to pay a 75 Krona additional airport fee (payable at the airport station in cash or credit.) While these kinds of fees are annoying, at least you ARE saving some money overall.
(Traveling with a Eurail pass? Note that the Arlanda Express, the high speed train connecting the airport and Stockholm's Central Station, is an included service in your Eurail pass. This trick worked out perfectly for us - we were using a 'day' of our pass to travel from Stockholm to Copenhagen anyway, so our journey into the city center from Stockholm's airport was free.)
3.) Hit the road with the Red Bus
When visiting Stockholm for the first time, it's terribly tempting to spend all your time on the island of Gamla Stan. It's renowned for it's charming cobblestone lanes and, chances are when you picture "Stockholm", this is what comes to mind. But Stockholm is a large city, with dozens of neighbourhoods to discover.
The Red Bus is a hop on, hop off tour bus with pre-recorded commentary in over a dozen languages. Their main circuit takes you off Gamla Stan and helps you explore the rest of central Stockholm. Many of their stops correspond with the attractions covered by the Stockholm Card - but keep in mind that the bus only comes around about once an hour in the off-peak season.
While Stockholm is an immensely walk-able city, it was so nice to have a warm seat and let someone else worry about navigation and information! Making things even nicer was the fact that they included the central station as one of their stops. We were able to leave our accommodations, explore the city at dawn, and then finally take off our packs when we boarded the bus, relaxing until it was time to focus on the trip back to the airport.
4.) Stay in a hostel or value hotel- really, DO IT!
Nervous about trying a hostel for the first time? Worried you'll feel out of place in what's traditionally seen as a young party kid's game? Stockholm is absolutely the city to try hostels for the first time. Sweden has a long tradition of quality hostels, ranging from converted jumbo jets near the Stockholm airport, ships in the harbor by Gamla Stan, and even dozens of rustic rural properties that welcome nature loving explorers.
We stayed in the STF Best Hostel Skeppsbron in its final weeks as an official hostel, just before its transition to Hotel Gamla Stan, a value focused hotel. Our private hostel room is now a private hotel room and I believe the smaller dorms have been converted to private hotel rooms as well, but the 28 bed dorm remains and functions the same as always. But whether it's classified as "hostel" or "hotel", our private room offered us a great value.
We loved that our room came with homey touches like a writing desk, an armchair, a rug, and even a potted plant! It seems like such a little thing but that plant turned the room from just a place to sleep into something special. We slept soundly and it was hard to pull ourselves out of bed in the morning. I'm sure jet lag was a contributing factor but we were also so comfortable.
I was also blown away by our view of the water. Even in a city like Stockholm, you can get a gorgeous waterfront view for less than $100 a night. And in the morning, breakfast was included. There was the standard fare of coffee, cereal, milk, bread rolls, and jams, as well as more traditional Swedish offerings of rye rusks, sliced cheese, and cucumber.
Gamla Stan is a historic island and this was a historic property - each room had a slightly unique shape and layout and reflected the character of the property. There is a small elevator that goes up to the 3rd floor (always a treat!) but if you've been out to a nearby pub, take note when you are coming back home that the property's stairs are very slightly uneven, no doubt owing to the building's age.
Our visit had only two downsides, both of which I think it's reasonable to attribute to the changes being made for the transition from hostel to hotel. The first is that the Wi-Fi was very slow and very spotty. We had to go to a pub to get a strong enough connection to check in for the next day's flights. Hopefully there will be improved service after the renovations.
The second concern was our bathroom. It, like the rest of the room, was spotlessly clean. But there was a horrible smell, like an open sewer, that we could not remedy despite having the windows open for hours. We were unable to find the source of this awful smell - and certainly there was nothing in the gleaming room that would account for it. It really was overwhelmingly strong and we chose to use the shared washroom down the hall. We finally concluded that it was coming from the shower drain and, with the door closed, the rest of the room was unaffected. It seemed likely that renovation work was the culprit as there was construction on our floor.
I think it's important to judge a property not on a problem but instead on how it's remedied and, in fairness to them, we didn't ask for a solution. I feel confident that, had we approached them, the friendly staff would have tried to help us. But we were exhausted and there was a washroom just down the hall - we made the choice to stay put and didn't want to fuss around going up and down the stairs or gathering our belongings and moving. While the bathroom situation was unpleasant, I also believe it was most likely temporary and I would happily stay with Hotel Gamla Stan on a return visit to Stockholm.
5.) Get out of Gamla Stan for Gastronomy
There's a reason why Gamla Stan is so popular with visitors- it really is as charming as everyone says it is! But it is also ground zero for Stockholm's most expensive bars and bistros. We had two beers at the Bishop's Arms and it cost over $25. Coffees and and a cinnamon bun rang in at close to $15. Ouch!!!
To get a better bang for your dining bucks, use your Stockholm Pass to travel outside Gamla Stan and check out the food scene on other islands. It's not cheap food you're in search of but rather restaurants that give you the meal of a lifetime - all for the cost of pub grub in Gamla Stan.
We headed to LUX restaurant on Lilla Essingen (it's a favourite haunt of Anthony Bourdain) and our three course meal (complete with lobster, seafood, drinks, coffee, and dessert with homemade ice cream) came in under $200. This was a huge splurge for us, but it was also one of the best restaurant meals we ever had and it was worth every penny. Our money went much further on a less trendy island and we were also thrilled to see a quieter, more sedate side of the city. (Sorry, no photos at all! Sometimes the best nights are Instagram-free!)
YES, you CAN save in Stockholm!
Value travel isn't just about finding the cheapest prices - it's about getting the best bang for your buck. The high cost of living and visiting in Stockholm has funded one of the safest, cleanest, most welcoming cities in the world. Local residents enjoy a tremendously high standard of living and travelers benefit from this as well. A trip to Stockholm can pose many challenges to the budget minded traveller but with a few value minded tips you can have a fantastic visit without breaking the bank.
Here's what else we loved in and around Stockholm
Inside Stockholm's Nobel Museum
Stockholm's Tiniest Cafe Serves Up Big Treats
Tales from the Anti-Adventurist: Stockholm's Wildest Boat Ride
Our visit to Stockholm was sponsored in part by the Stockholm tourism board, the Swedish branch of Hostelling International, and Red Bus Tours and we thank them for their support. As always, all writing, research, and opinions remain our own.