Lola A. Åkerström rounds up some insider tips for Stockholm you need to know.
I’ve written about Stockholm for so many publications where I shared various insider tips for Stockholm and optimizing your time in the city. So I’ve compiled some of the tips here as a quick go-to guide:
- Daily Lunch – Eating out in Stockholm can be downright expensive and it’s not uncommon to spend upwards of $15 just for a sandwich. A local insider tip is to keep an eye out for signs that say “Dagens rätt” or “Dagens lunch” placed outside restaurants and windows especially around lunchtime. This means “dish of the day” and they’re usually served at affordable prices. In most places, the total price usually includes a salad buffet, bread and butter, water as well as coffee.
- Transport from Airport – Taxis are expensive so it’s best to avoid them while traveling around Stockholm. The cheapest way of getting from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to town is to take an airport transfer bus like Swebus which gets you downtown in 45-50 minutes. But the faster way to get to town is to take the 20 minute Arlanda Express train from the airport directly to Stockholm’s Central Station.
- Public Transport – Stockholm has an extensive and efficient public transport system comprised of subways (tunnelbana), bus and tram networks, ferries, and some long-distance trains. Tickets can be purchased at stations and kiosks showing the “SL” logo, and you can find departure times and schedules online. For convenience, you can alternatively purchase the Stockholm Card which provides unlimited rides on public transport including access to over 80 museums and attractions around the city.
- Systembolaget – While many clubs and bars readily serve alcohol and hard liquor, it’s more challenging for you to just buy a bottle off the shelf at any store. The government heavily regulates the sale of alcohol and hard liquor so you have to buy liquor from one of over 420 government-run Systembolaget retail stores in Sweden.
- Queuing – Many businesses and stores use a ticketing system which is a small wall-mounted or free-standing machine that dispenses notes (nummerlappar) with numbers written on them. Before joining a queue, look to see if those standing in line are holding small pieces of paper. If they are, then look around for the dispensing machine.
- Eat at a bakfika – This means “back pocket” and are actually the bistro sister restaurants to many of the Michelin-starred fine dining restaurants in town. So if you’d like a Michelin quality meal at reasonable prices that won’t leave you eating Ramen noodles for the rest of the week, try one of the back pocket restaurants in town. VisitStockholm has a list here.
- Drink from the tap – Seriously the water is probably cleaner out of the tap than in a plastic bottle so bring your own waterbottle and just fill up from the tap.
- Early shopping – Do your shopping early because many stores and attractions open their doors late in the morning (10-11am) and close early (5-7pm). And they close even earlier on weekends and are completely closed on Sundays.
- Tipping – Tipping is not mandatory. If you appreciate the service and would like to leave a tip, 5-10% of your total bill is more than enough.
- Learn Swedish – While learning a few essential phrases in Swedish would be appreciated, almost everyone in Stockholm speaks some English so don’t fret too much. But to get a closer foot into the culture, learning phrases in Swedish will help. Check out the Nemo Swedish App.
- Free WiFi – Stockholm is one of the most connected cities in Europe and there’s access to free WiFi where you can hop on the internet and get some work (or mindless surfing) done whenever you want. And many public spaces offer free WiFi too for example, at Central Station, there’s free wireless and most cafes and hotels provide them for free to their guests. You can download the app Free WiFi Map to find out where the free connections are around you and you can learn more here.
- Carry change for toilets – Stockholm is pretty much a cashless society where people would prefer to pay for minute purchases with their bankcards but there’s one area where it would be wise to carry a few coins. Toilets in large public spaces like malls and gallerias often charge SEK 5 or SEK 10 to use. So try to use free toilets when you see them as often as you can and carry a few coins for emergencies.
- Ride buses for free with baby strollers – Beyond making public places, transportation, and buildings accessible for those with disabilities, there’s a certain thoughtfulness in Stockholm that extends beyond price discounts when it comes to families as well. For example, parents traveling with infants and babies in strollers ride free on public buses. After all, where would parents leave their stroller-bound child while having to pay the bus driver? So if you’re traveling with a stroller, your cheapest bet is to ride the buses for free.
- Beware the month of July – It’s not uncommon to find restaurants and stores shut down for an entire month, usually in July, while employees take their four to six weeks of holiday. Sure, a lot of the more touristy restaurants and larger spots might be open but a lot of the smaller businesses that get you closer to the culture are definitely closed for the month.
- Take off your shoes in private homes – You’ll quickly notice that shoes are taken off when entering private residences in Sweden. Some explain it with the simple fact that Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during winter and are prone to dragging in dirt. Others say it’s a sign of respect for the home. Either way, you might want to think twice before wearing full lace-up boots when visiting folks.
- Free bus shuttle to IKEA – Thinking of vising IKEA while you’re in the land of its birth? IKEA’s free shuttle bus departs from the bus stop Vasagatan 10 (outside Central Station) every hour at 10-19, Monday – Friday. The last bus leaves IKEA Kungens Kurva at 19:30 and stops at Hornstull, Fridhemsplan, and Kungsholms torg on the way back to Central Station.
Keep your plastic bags – Think twice before you toss out that plastic bag. Most Swedish grocery stores charge you for plastic or paper bags in an effort to keep waste low and encourage recycling so hang on to it while in Stockholm.
- Free subway art tour – Did you know Stockholm’s subway system is the world’s longest art exhibition? Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (Greater Stockholm’s traffic agency locally known as “SL”) runs free weekly guided art tours of its underground subway art led by certified guides. You’ll need is a valid ticket to ride the trains but the tour itself is free.
- A room for children – Kids rule in Stockholm and there are many free resources for families. One such resource is Rum för Barn (Room for kids) located on the fourth floor of Stockholm’s iconic Kulturhuset. This exquisite children’s library allows you to read and borrow books in many languages, as well as let your kid try their hands at painting and sculpting, listen to stories and fairy tales, participate in sing-alongs, and other daily activities organized by staff.
- Weekend cruising to nearby Baltic ports – Because of Stockholm’s distinct location along the shores of the Baltic Sea and its deep canals which make it ideal for docking cruise ships, cruising is a major (and cheap) activity here and you should definitely take advantage of it. You can sail to Latvia for the weekend and back for the cost of an exclusive fine dining experience in town.