The trick to planning an itinerary in Scandinavian winter is to plan around the daylight. The sun sets at 3:30pm in November, so we had to hustle at times to see the city.
Our flight arrived at Stockholm Arlanda at 12:30pm, it was a Monday so customs did not take long at all. In general, I found the Scandinavian airports to be very efficient and much more automated than US airports.
Getting into the city
There are 2 ways to get to the city center: a 45 minute bus (cheaper) or a 20 minute Arlanda Express train (more expensive).
In both cases, it is cheaper to buy tickets online. There is wi-fi at the airport so I did a quick purchase on my phone and hopped onboard with the QR code. You can buy a 1-way or return (roundtrip) but it is not cheaper to purchase together; a one way bus ticket is ~$12pp.
We opted for the bus since it comes right in front of the airport (the signs are very clear) ad it comes frequently. In Oslo, we landed at 2:30pm and did not have much daylight left so we chose to take the express train there.
We stayed at Generator Hostels Stockholm, so we got off at the last stop, Central Station. At first, you’ll get kind of twisted as to what direction to go since you are dropped off OUTSIDE of the station not in it. Therefore, you can’t look for Exit signs that tell you what street you’re stepping onto. GPS helps here and you should be able to navigate to your hotel. Generator was about a 10 minute walk.
Stockholm in general is very generous with its wi-fi so if you don’t have data, you can usually stop into a coffee shop or stand right outside it to find your bearings.
Generator Hostels Stockholm
This place is said to be the “hip” hostel in the city and just by the looks of the outside of the building, you can tell. Downstairs is bustling with a coffee bar and bar bar serving hostel guests as well as external visitors. Signs are posted advertising daily happy hours and pre-parties for the weekend club outings.
The staff are super chill; we were checked in very quickly. We requested a private bedroom and bathroom so we got just that. The room is small but enough space for a bed, a small desk and space to talk around. Stockholm in general was very clean! No worries about staying at a hostel here. The price point isn’t really a selling point though, it’s still over $100/night to stay here.
We stayed a Monday through Wednesday so we didn’t have noise issues but that may not always be the case. Check out is at 10am and it costs extra to store your luggage so plan accordingly.
One of the first things you will notice is Stockholm’s coffee chains – the 2 largest being Wayne’s Coffee and Espresso House. We wanted to try one of these to get our bearings – since we knew amazing coffee awaited us in the rest of Sweden and in Oslo.
I ended up really liking the Espresso House concept – it’s just like Starbucks but hygge and Scandinavian design allow them to take it to the next level. Each location looks like a cozy, high end coffee shop with quality coffee and pastries that is not to be overlooked.
Gamla Stan (Old Town)
After getting properly caffeinated, we were ready to walk the city. Of course, it was already dark at this point but the city is beautiful at night.
I was setting out for the Stockholm Christmas Market which ended up not even being open yet – it opens the 2nd week of December. I also wanted to see the Royal Palace because the pictures looked gorgeous. Up close, it actually looks just okay. It’s better to view it from across the water. Speaking of water, Stockholm is a city built on a bunch of tiny islands (archipelago) so you will often find yourself crossing bridges to get to the next neighborhood. This is what we did to get to Old Town, and then again to get to Sodermalm.
Old Town is where the Nobel Museum sits inside a popular, open square for pictures. Branching off this plaza are narrow alleyways that are ripe for exploring. Many shops line the streets but you’ll find that many are touristy-souvenir shops.
Sodermalm – Gondolens and The Pelikan
The better shopping is in the neighborhood called SoFo in Sodermalm. We passed through a street of trendy shops. You can’t really miss it as you walk straight down through the island.
Right as you cross into Sodermalm, I spotted an elevated bar that looked like it had good views. We stopped in for a quick drink. I was intimated at first because Eriks Gondolen is actually a very fancy restaurant that serves the rich, local folk. However, they are welcoming of tourists into the bar area. It’s certainly full of English speaking tourists here but the bartenders are dressed up nice and make good cocktails. The view is decent but I would skip this one if you are in a rush to do other things.
Of course, we were making a beeline for a restaurant called The Pelikan. This place was name dropped on Reddit and said to serve traditional Swedish fare. What better way to start the trip? As advised by the staff there, we ordered the pork knuckle and Swedish meatballs with gravy. The pork knuckle is definitely pricey, ~$30, but something we felt we had to try once. It was worth it! The meat was super tender and tasted delicious with the spicy mustard served alongside it. They actually give you 3 different kinds of mustard but we loved the spicy one the best – the others were sweet and peppery.
We took a train back to our hostel – a subway ride here is ~$5 so definitely walk when you can. The city is small enough that you can get most places within a 20 minute walk. Stop and enjoy the snow along the way – but don’t slip!