Stockholm is sprawled across multiple islands and offers so much culture, history and natural scenery to explore. There are over one hundred different museums to see, most of which the average visitor won’t have time to enjoy — the average foreign traveller only dedicates 2 days to visiting Stockhom.
With this in mind, here are my museum-hopping tips for making the most of a short-stay in the capital of Scandinavia.
Day 1: Djurgarden
One of the main islands in central Stockholm, Djurgarden is home to many of the major museums and is a great place to dedicate an entire day. Everything is pretty compact, so it is easy to navigate on foot or bike, and offers some great views of central Stockholm.
Start your day at the most famous of the museums on Djurgarden — the Vasa Museum. A 17th century warship, the Vasa sank in Stockholm’s harbor in 1628 where it remained undisturbed for over 300 years. In the 1960s, the Swedish government endeavored to exhume the ship and reassemble it on land. The museum itself was custom built to hold the reassembled Vasa, which is the central exhibit. You’ll wander around the looming ship through the various exhibits, learning about the history of the Vasa & it’s modern conservation along with seeing artifacts found aboard the ship.
To be honest, I was skeptical about whether I’d like this museum but Swedes take some serious pride in it (and it’s the most visited museum in Scandinavia), so I figured it was worth a stop. And I’m happy to report, it totally was! As the only preserved 17th century ship in the world, the sheer size of Vasa’s wooden hull is reason enough to visit. I have a new appreciation for how massive these ships were!
Next up on your whirlwind museum tour is just across the street — Nordiska Museet. This museum covers all kinds of cultural history from around the Nordic region. I liked the folk art exhibit as well as the modern migration exhibit, which talked all about the modern context of the immigration debate happening in Europe. They’ve also got some cool fashion & jewelry from decades (and centuries!) past that are worth a visit. Overall, this museum is great for brushing up on some basic Swedish and Scandinavian history.
By this point in your day, you’re probably starting to get hungry. Your next stop should be Skansen, the world’s only open air museum. Think of it as a mini (as in compact, not miniature) version of Sweden, where you can walk through the different regions’ history, cuisine and culture. You don’t really need an itinerary here, it’s fun to just explore. You will get an appreciation for the diverse parts of Sweden! A few restaurants to consider include Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh, Flickorna Helin Voltaire Cafe, or Oaxen (not really in Skansen, but more near the waterfront).
Feeling a post lunch coma and need a little pick-me-up? Walk about 10 minutes south of Skansen to the ABBA museum. It’s upbeat vibe and fun interface will have you perked up in no time. I’m not much of an ABBA fan, but I find it endearing how proud the Swedes are of their most famous band, which is what drove me to visit.
The museum is sort of like ABBA personified in a place — energetic, lively, colorful. You’ll wander through the band’s history, highlights of their tours and music videos, and get up close and personal with their wardrobe. You’ll even get a chance to sing with ABBA (or at least the digital version of the band). It’s a silly and light-hearted museum that only takes about an hour to explore. Plus the bar in front offers decent cocktails at the end of your visit!
Pooped from all the museums yet? If not, Djurgarden also has the waterfront Spirits Museum for wine & beer lovers, an Aquarium, or a theme park for kids.
Day Two: Central Stockholm
For day two, I took a more relaxed pace; I was feeling a little museum’ed out after day one.
I started my day at Fotografiska, a modern photography museum near Sodermalm (of “Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” fame). You can’t beat the location of this modern warehouse turned museum — it’s right on the shore and has stunning city views. Fotografiska only features photography exhibitions, which rotate throughout the year. At any given time, there are about 6-8 different galleries and it will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to walk through.
During my visit, there was an incredibly moving show from Nick Brandt called “Inherit the Dust” featuring photos of environmental destruction in East Africa, as well as a lively exhibit about Greta Garbo. You can always check online to see what will be there during your visit. You’ll end your tour in the Fotografiska cafe on the top floor, which I highly recommend as an ideal spot to enjoy a nice Fika (more on that here).
The entire island of Gamla Stan, about 20 minutes walk along the waterfront from Fotografiska, is basically a museum. It is the oldest part of Stockholm and is a great place to wander around. It’s probably the most touristic spot in Stockholm, but I’d still recommend budgetting a few hours here.
You’ll stumble through narrow & meandering alleyways, cobblestone streets, and pubs that have been in business for over 100 years. Similar to Skansen above, you don’t need a particular agenda here, just see what you find. A few restaurants you might want to stop at for a snack or light lunch would be
If you like the more formal museums, Gamla Stan is home to the Nobel Museum (as in Nobel Peace Prize), 2 impressive cathedrals and at the north end, the Royal Palace. If you’re into palaces, this one is pretty impressive. It is one of the largest in Europe that is open to the public.
Done with the museums and walking yet? If not, make your way over to Stockholm’s City Hall for a quick history on the city, and beautiful views from the iconic tower. The imposing ivy-covered brick walls are visible throughout the city, but they are even more impressive up close. The formal tour takes an hour or two but if you just want the views, you can choose to only climb the tower. Get ready for over 500 steps after which you’ll be rewarded with 360 views of central Stockholm. It was from this vantage point where I got a true appreciation for how the city sprawls across all the different islands.
TL;DR: Recap of where to visit
Stockholm has a myriad of different museum options for any type of visitor. With limited time in the city, here is the rundown of the top hits: