Stunning natural beauty, rich history, and progressive social values conspire to make Stockholm one of the desirable travel, and living, destinations in Scandinavia. Built on a series of islands and canals, the city has been dubbed the Venice of the North. It's cosmopolitan, with a refined dining scene, world-class art galleries, and cultural venues. Best of all, the city is made for walking and cycling across bridges and through neighborhoods that have been largely preserved with architectural styles from as far back as the 1200s.
Situated right at the edge of the water, the official residence of the Swedish king is open for tours of the Royal Apartments. The 600-room complex also includes the Armoury, several museums, and the Treasury, where you can view the jewel-encrusted regalia of the royal family. If you want to see where the Queen of Sweden officially resides, visit Drottningholm or Queen's Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from downtown Stockholm.
If you have time for only one Stockholm attraction, make it Gamla Stan—the city's old town. With colorful buildings that date back to the medieval era, the atmosphere here is like no other. Wander the cobbled streets and discover ancient frescoes and architectural flourishes hidden amidst the tiny shops and cafes. The oldest street is called Köpmangatan, and it's been a site of retail action since the early 1300s. Great place to grab a souvenir or two.
Because of its charming harbor, quays, and canals, touring Stockholm by boat is a great way to get a sense of the entire city. You can take a tour of the Royal Canals, which takes you through the leafy green Durgården and past historical buildings like the Vasa Maritime Museum. There are bars and restaurants on board of many sightseeing boats drifting through Stockholm, so choose according to your mood and the weather.
This enormous public space unfurls its greenery right through the center of Stockholm and comprises of three royal parks—Haga, Ulriksdahl and the Djurgården. Bike and canoe rentals are easily accessible, and trails and canals meander through forested areas. The Djurgården has a visitor center, and there are many cafes located throughout the park system for lingering over coffee in the sun.
This Swedish dining tradition may be familiar to anyone who has shopped at IKEA. The smorgasbord is basically a buffet of cold and hot dishes for grazing and sharing. There are some Stockholm chefs who elevate the tradition with experimental fusion dishes, but the traditional smorgasbord is available everywhere and almost always contains popular dishes such as meatballs with lingonberry jam, gravlax, open-faced sandwiches, and pickled herring. Wash down the goodies with schnapps or aquavit as the Swedes do.
To help visitors understand how Swedes used to live in the 19th century, the Skansen open-air museum acquired houses and farmsteads from all over the country to create a small village in Durgården Park. This postcard destination is animated by costumed staff and interactive exhibits. A zoo, an aquarium, and several restaurants make Skansen a full day's outing, especially if you've got small kids.
Scandinavian design is revered for its clean lines, minimalist practicality, and use of pristine natural material such as birch and silver. The best place in Stockholm to source Swedish furniture, jewelry, and clothing is the neighborhood of Ostermalm. Posh boutiques, antique emporiums, and gourmet spots to dine are all easy to find in this highly walkable district. There's even fresh produce and fine food market, the Ostermalmhallen.
Stockholm's most popular attraction is a draw for dancing queens from all over the world. Part of the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, the ABBA museum is dedicated to Sweden's best known musical export. Its exhibits were designed with input from the supergroup and include their gold records, costumes and a number of VR installation and a documentary cinema. You can even recreate a recording session with the band. As the museum says in their marketing materials: walk in, dance out.
Natives of Stockholm enjoy some of the best cultural facilities in the world. One of the most beautiful has to be the Royal Swedish Opera House. Built in 1773, the theater is home to the Royal Swedish Ballet and the Royal Swedish Opera and Orchestra. There are daily tours of the reception and backstage areas of red and gold splendor.; if you're lucky, you can even get your hands on a discounted rush seat to watch the ballet or opera.
The Ericsson Globe is the world's largest spherical building. Used mostly as a concert venue, this circular structure is also the home arena for the Swedish national hockey team. The Skyview ride consists of 2 glass-domed gondolas that carry visitors to the apex of the Globe for spectacular 360-degree views of Stockholm and beyond. Sunsets are especially popular, with dinner in adjacent restaurants and champagne bars waiting upon your descent.