Before we arrived in Stockholm, our knowledge of Sweden's capital was based purely upon Nordic Noir crime dramas and novels, Andrew's understanding of Swedish football and far too many trips to Ikea; it was fair to say that we were pretty clueless.
And, perhaps, we're not alone? Here are a few things we wish we had known before our visit to this great little city, which we hope will help you plan the perfect visit to Stockholm!
it's not cheap
We know, you're probably all aware of this - Scandinavia is a pricey place! However, even after several months in Europe (and well out of our cheap Latin American backpacker mentality), we were shocked at the cost of, well, pretty much everything in Stockholm.
We did, however, really, really enjoy that £5 cup of coffee.
there are bicycles everywhere
With nearly 800 km of bicycle paths zig-zagging their way across Stockholm, it's no surprise that there are bikes all over the city (around 150,000 city-dwellers commute daily in the capital).
In fact, in the warmer weather, this is an excellent way to negotiate this incredible city. Whether you choose to rent a bike from a local store or utilise the popular public cycle scheme, it's very easy to access your own set of wheels.
Check out this post for further information on the city bikes scheme.
if you want to buy booze, you'll need to go to the Systembolaget
Coming from a country where you can wander out of your front door, and find at least 15 local shops within 5 minutes that will sell you all sorts of booze, Stockholm was a bit of a culture shock!
Whilst you can get low-alcohol beer from a supermarket, anything stronger and you'll have to find one of the government run Sytembolagets. Brought in to control Swedish drinking (apparently they had quite a problem decades ago), it makes buying drink to have at home or in the hostel a little more tricky.
Make sure you have valid ID (it's illegal for them to sell to people under 20) and that you know the opening hours - they shut on Sunday and only open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Also bear in mind that not all sell spirits.
the city empties during summer
Understandably, for a country that receives pretty shocking winters, when the sun comes out people hate to stay in the city, with most instead choosing to disappear off to their summer houses. Great for the residents that want to spend August topping up on their tan, not so great for visitors to the city.
Of course, you won't struggle to find shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops that ARE open, but we certainly had to miss out on a couple of places we were planning to visit.
the transport system is excellent - but it'll cost ya!
Public transport around Stockholm is genuinely excellent, with a comprehensive metro, bus and tram network. But, as we discovered when we arrived in the middle of the night on our arrival, it's not cheap (a few years ago it had the most expensive single journey bus ticket in the world!)
You can purchase single, daily and 3-day tickets at all metro stations, but the buses are strictly cash free affairs. If you get stuck, you can buy tickets in the 7-11 shops that appear to be everywhere.
Also, consider downloading the SL app. It has interactive maps for planning your route, and you can even buy tickets on it which are then just shown to the bus driver - great for getting you out of a pickle! Remember however that your 75 minute window for unlimited use of the ticket starts as soon as you purchase it (if you're a couple, you can buy two singles on the app).
Lastly, don't be surprised if you get lost more than once in the metro stations - we found the layout in a number of them pretty confusing.
Stockholm's metro stations are also famed for being akin to a public gallery - to find out how to see the best of this with only one ticket, check out this post.
the city is full of incredible coffee shops
The Swedes love their coffee, so much so that they have developed a word that does not exist in English, to name a time taken with friends for coffee and cake - fika. We can definitely get down with that!
Whilst you're here, why not check out some of our favourites...
English is spoken everywhere
Whenever we head somewhere new, we love being able to speak at least a little of the local lingo. However, no matter how much Nordic noir we seem to watch, Swedish is a language which has eluded us.
We really needn't have worried. The Swedes speak excellent English, often without even an accent!
That's not to say that it isn't nice to learn please and thank you, but it was reassuring to know that if we ever got completely lost, we'd be able to ask for some help.
take note when using chip and pin
Chip and pin is not a new concept, but they do do something a little different here.
Instead of entering the amount for you, we were often expected to input it ourselves, and then enter our pin. Easy enough once you know about it, but when you nearly pay 5000+ Kroner (instead of 50) for a couple of beers, you realise it would have been nice if someone told you in advance!
it's made up of lots of islands
Before we arrived in Stockholm, we knew a little of its geography and of the massive archipelago that extends from the city.
What we didn't realise is how many islands and waterways exist within the city limits. It certainly provides you with some amazing photo ops! If you have the time, we'd highly recommend trying to make it out to the Stockholm Archipelago - 30,000 small islands reachable by a boat from the city.
the cheapest way to get from the airport
Getting to and from airports can cost an absolute fortune, as it seems all train lines are privately owned and charge a premium - Stockholm is no exception.
After a lot of research (and a successful journey) we can wholly recommend the direct bus service Flygbussarna. Whilst there is a local bus service, if you're arriving late at night like us, knowing you can be in central Stockholm within 45 minutes is worth a little extra. Online prices are less than the airport, and, if you buy your ticket in advance, you get it even cheaper (99SK) and simply hop on the first bus you see outside the arrivals terminal.
hostels will charge extra for sheets
We've both travelled extensively across the world, and only very, very rarely have encountered hostels that require an additional payment for sheets.
Turns out it's quite the norm in Stockholm. If you're staying in the city for more than a couple of days, then it doesn't work out too much more, but if it's just for the night (like us before we moved to an apartment), it'll up the nightly rate quite significantly so it's worth making sure of the additional costs for sheets before confirming your booking.
As a side note, and this is not something we do very often, there's a hostel in Stockholm that we'd really recommend you don't stay at. Short of providing a very long-winded story, suffice to say that their customer service is shocking - just do yourselves a favour and give Acco Hostel a miss.
supermarkets are actually reasonably priced
For those on a tight budget, you'll be pleased to know that there is one area where you can save some money.
Unsurprisingly, buying and cooking your own food is significantly cheaper than eating out - but we were shocked at just how much cheaper produce was in supermarkets in comparison to in restaurants and bars. In fact, it was cheaper than Paris (the city we'd been in not long before arriving in Sweden). Quite a shock!
airbnb is an excellent option
We're huge fans of Airbnb, and in recent months have increasingly opted for this type accommodation over hostels. In Stockholm, if there's more than one of you and you're also on a bit of a budget, we can't recommend checking out Airbnb enough. For less than £50 a night, we got a beautiful studio apartment all to ourselves - even with slightly higher transport costs, considering that's around what we would have paid for two hostel dorm beds, we know we made the correct decision.
New to Airbnb? Why not sign up via this link, and you can get £25 off the cost of your first booking!
The tourist card is really good value for money
Every big tourist city seems to offer a tourist card, with varying degrees of usefulness. Often you'll get a small discount at some top sites, but rarely do you get so many for free! The Stockholm Pass provides free entry to more than 60 big tourist attractions (including almost all the best museums and galleries in the city) and as well as free bus and boat tours.
You can buy cards that last 24, 48, 72 or even 120 hours, and even have them shipped out to you before you arrive in Stockholm, and they're not activated until you visit your first attraction.
Our top tip? If you plan to buy multi-day tickets, you may well be better off purchasing multiple 24 hour tickets. Inevitably you'll want to see and do some things that aren't covered by the pass or are free anyway, but if you've already activated your card, your time will be ticking away anyway.
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Our time in Stockholm was supported by Visit Stockholm, but all opinions are our own.