Every city, no matter how much it tries to fight it, tends to have to some pretty stubborn clichés. New Yorkers are all rude but love brunch, Parisians are all impossibly chic chain smokers. So with that lens, Stockholm is either a desolate Winterfell-like city harbored in the Far North—or it’s a Scandinavian wonderland full of tall, icy blondes; ABBA; and, um … reindeer, maybe?
Like every cliché, Stockholm’s hold some truth. You will see a lot of ridiculously attractive people with flaxen hair, and yes, most Swedes are vocal about their love of ABBA. But Stockholm is also a city full of world-class food, fashion, museums, and more. I spent more than two months living and working there last year, and found that it was every inch as cosmopolitan as New York or Paris, with the added bonus of still feeling a bit under-the-radar and effortlessly cool.
Stockholm is the capital of Scandinavia, and, as such, has plenty of grandeur in the form of breathtaking architecture and sweeping views (perfect for those jealousy-inducing Insta shots!). It’s ancient (it was founded in 1252), it’s big (more than 2,500 square miles), but manageable (less than one million people live here).
It’s also a hot spot for creative types, from startups (Spotify was founded here) to some of the best home-design stores in the world. The city is spread out through 14 islands, all connected by the clean and punctual Tunnelbanna (T-banana), and is super easy to walk around in, as long as you remember to pack your walking shoes.
What to do
Hang out in Södermalm or Gamla Stan, the city’s Old Town, for your best chances of getting snapped by a street style blogger (or sighting one). The ancient cobbled streets and colorful houses make the perfect backdrop for any minimal outfit you (or they) might be rocking. And when you’re tired of all the posing, make sure to grab a fika, or afternoon coffee and pastry, at one of the city’s many coffeeshops.
And be sure to check out the Nordiska Museum on the island of Djurgarden for a crash course in Scandinavian culture, including a fascinating exhibition on Swedish fashion from the middle ages to today, and try your own hand on the catwalk. The nearby Vasa Museum is not to be missed, and contains the world’s only intact 17th-century war ship. Even if you’re not a history buff, the sheer size and scale of the warship is breathtaking.
And if you go in warmer months, Stockholm’s archipelago—a massive network of more than 20,000 islands—is not to be missed. It’s only an hour’s ferry ride from the city center, and many Swedes escape to the islands for picnicking, swimming, and hiking.
Where to shop
London and Paris may be the most famous for their shopping options, but like many other things, Swedes just don’t like to brag. For some high-end shopping of Scandinavian clothing and cosmetics, head to Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm’s oldest department store. Here you’ll find home and beauty goods, as well as fashion from local Swedish brands like Acne, Tiger of Sweden, House of Dagmar, Filipa K, as well as international brands like See by Chloe, Diane von Furstenberg, and more.
And for a mall experience like no other, head to Mood Stockholm in nearby Norrmalm. But don’t expect to sip an Orange Julius and wander through Hot Topic. This mall high-concept and curated, with under-the-radar boutiques and international brands existing side by side. On a Friday of Saturday night, it’s the perfect spot to grab a glass of wine (vin) and unwind to one of the city’s top DJs (yes, really).
For can’t-be-missed sales on designer brands, check out the Acne and Filipa K outlets, which both offer some serious markdowns that, in and of themselves, make it worth a visit to the Scandinavian capital. Or, if you’re more into indie boutiques, check out the island of Södermalm, south of Gamla Stan, for impossibly hip vintage and consignment shops plus cool clothing and lifestyle boutiques like Grandpa and Nitty Gritty for instant Cool Girl status.
And it wouldn’t be a trip to Sweden without a visit to H&M mecca. Check out the flagship in Norrmalm for multiple layers of fast fashion goodness, from his and hers clothing to home goods. Pro tip: It has a lot of pieces that you just can’t find stateside, so yes, while it is H&M, it’s still something that you couldn’t get back home.
Where to eat
No trip to Stockholm would be complete without trips to the city’s food halls. Saluhaul in trendy Östermalmstorg is arguably the most famous, and offers family-owned stands offering delicious cinnamon buns and sweets, as well as several places to grab a lunch special of salmon, dill, and potatoes. Hötorget, in the city’s center, offers another take at a quick lunch or a place to grab fresh fruits and flowers and turns into a flea market on Sundays.
For a traditional Swedish meal, get yourself to Smörgåstårteriet (Dalagatan 42) for a modern take on classic Scandi cooking. Current menu items include smoked salmon in a mushroom broth, reindeer with cranberries and juniper, and fir ice cream with sweet cucumber. And if you need a familiar taste of America, visit Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson’s American Table Brasserie and Bar for just the right about of kitsch in the form of cowboy decorations and American flags, and a little taste of home.
Photo: The Urban Spotter
If you go…
Getting there: Both SAS and Norwegian Air offer low-fare, nonstop options into Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport out of major American airports like New York’s JFK and Los Angeles’ LAX. Then, it’s only a 20-minute ride on the Arlanda Express, a high-speed train, to T-Centralen, Stockholm’s transit hub. Word to the wise: Don’t try taking Ubers. The high cost and exchange rate isn’t worth it, especially when it’s just quicker (and often, more scenic) to take the T-banna.
Where to stay: Miss Clara’s by Nobis in Norrmalm is one of my favorite places to stay. It’s got all the Nordic design I’d want in a hotel, not to mention it’s centrally located between plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance. Rooms start at $150 a night. For those wanting more of a party atmosphere, Berns Hotel in the city center has the party on-site with two restaurants and a nightclub in-house. Single rooms start at $155.
What to pack: Stockholm’s climate is famously fickle, and even in late spring, expect to need a jacket and sweater in the evenings. For winter, you’ll be fine with a warm woolen coat and plenty of layers. Summer doesn’t get warmer than about 75 degrees, so leave your tiniest sundresses at home and opt for the more Swedish look of skinny black jeans, a top in a muted color, and the hippest jacket you own.