Why are all the most beautiful cities in the world so expensive? If it weren’t for the uber-expensive cost of living, Stockholm would be one of my favorite city in my travels.
I was lucky enough to be in Stockholm for my birthday in 2015. I couldn’t have imagined a better place. Except for the costs. I mean, €10 for 100 ml of Saki?! Now that the only reason I didn’t like the city is out of the way, let’s talk about why it was so perfect and why you need to visit.
The first hurdle is arriving in Stockholm. Ferries can be very expensive, unless you leave from Turku in Finland. Leaving from Turku is about €20, while leaving from Tallinn or Helsinki will cost €100-200! If you do choose the ferry, while it is expensive, it’s also quite an experience. Most come with a full buffet. If you choose an overnight passage you won’t have to pay for a hostel.
If you plan to fly in, make sure you arrive at Arlanda Airport, which is still 40 km away. Otherwise you could end up at Skavsta Airport which is 100 km away. The cheapest buses from Arlanda start at €10, while the Arlanda Express train is €30. Like I said, not cheap. At least the bus ride at sunset is unbelievable.
Once you get to the city you’ll have to get a hostel, if you haven’t already found a couchsurfing host. There are about thirty hostels in Stockholm, starting at €17 a night. I stayed at Anedin Hostel, which was on a boat. Not the nicest hostel I’ve stayed at, and the cabin wasn’t facing the water. But hey, it was on a boat! There are a few other hostels on boats in Stockholm. The best rated hostel for the cheapest price seems to be City Backpackers Hostel, which is very close to where the bus from the airport will drop you off.
Once you get into town, make sure that the free walking tour is one of your first actions. There are two tours to take, one exploring the “new” (300-year-old) town at 10 AM, and the second in old town (Gamla Stan) at 1 PM. They both start outside the Gamla Stan station (click for map). Anastasia does a great job leading the tour and giving the history and facts about the city. A lot of the information she presented is probably unknown even to locals. I am still trying to validate the idea that it used to be illegal to have curtains in Sweden. Maybe a Swede can comment on this post and vindicate it.
After the tour, go to town. Or get out of town. There is so much to do. If you’re a fun-freak like me, head to Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s amusement park. They closed a couple days before I arrived (damn) and Weird Al Yankovic was performing the day I left (double-damn). Explore the old town, watch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace at 12:15 PM, eat some Norwegian salmon or visit the numerous museums on Skeppsholmen Island. This post is about getting to Stockholm on a budget, not all the things to do there. Those will come later.
For meals, it should be pretty obvious that a city situated on fourteen islands should have fish as it’s main cuisine. Other meats, potatoes and dairy products also are common. The most famous seem to be the Swedish meatballs. It’s almost impossible to find a plate of them for under €15 in the city center. For a budget traveler, I recommend taking the free shuttle to IKEA, leaving from a bus stop across from the Central Train Station. That’s what I did. The meatballs there are about €5. Maybe they’re not quite as good as the restaurants in town, but they were in my budget and still delicious.
Did you know that Stockholm was the first city to be selected as the European Green Capital in 2009? It’s definitely deserved. Around 40% of the city is green parks and preserves, so much so that 90% of the population live within 300 meters of a park. The water is some of the cleanest in Europe and people can swim and fish directly in the city center. They have some of the best recycling in Europe, and he list goes on.
While the public transportation is very good, it’s also quite expensive. Tickets start at about €12 for a day pass (I can’t find prices for single tickets). However, chances are you won’t have to worry about them. Unless you are planning to visit one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the outskirts of the city, most of the attractions are within walking distance of the center. Just make sure you pick a hostel in that area as well. Mine was a little south from Gamla Stan Island, but the longest it took to walk anywhere was about 45 minutes.
Other than that, the only recommendation I can make to save money in Stockholm is plan your trip ahead of time and keep it as short as possible. In two days, I was able to see a good portion of the city, as well as take both of the walking tours. Of course, the child in me would have loved to spend a day at Gröna Lund had they been open.
Luckily the best part of Stockholm doesn’t cost anything, and that’s the stunning beauty of it. I don’t know what it is about the geography in this part of the world, but all the sunsets alone are to die for. The parks and waterways throughout the town are magnificent. Not to mention the rest of the country, which is the third largest in Europe. If you’re going to travel there, at least there is free camping anywhere you want.