There are only a few cities in the world that carry the historic pedigree of Stockholm, and certainly not very many this far north that have played such an important role in the evolution Europe. The earliest records of the name ‘Stockholm’ is from when the city was founded in 1252, but as far back as the 10th century a Norse settlement on the same spot called Agnafit was a major hub in the iron trade. Throughout the centuries the city has played a vital strategic role in the region, and today is one of Europe’s great cultural, political, financial and tourist hubs.
Of course, major European capitals are not known for being cheap to visit, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty you can do without spending much money. In fact, Stockholm is known for its beautiful architecture, clean air & water, and many municipal attractions that mean that there’s plenty to do even if you don’t want to spend a cent! Here are five things you can do in Stockholm for free that will still allow you to soak up the atmosphere, appreciate its beauty, and get to know the local culture a bit closer.
1) Pomp & Circumstance: If you head to the Gamla Stan (Old Town) area, you can easily spend hours wandering around the cobblestone streets, between ancient buildings (some of which date back to the 1500’s), and watching the crowds of tourists and locals go about their business. This little island – now roughly in the center of the city – was all Stockholm was at one point, but the city has grown and expanded around it. Every day (schedules vary depending on the season), you can witness the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, a suitably formal and visually impressive procession of guards in bright blue uniforms and shiny, spiked helmets.
2) Skate or Swim: Stockholm is often referred to as The Venice of the North due to the fact that the city sits on dozens of islands large and small on the waterlogged boundary between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. That means a lot of water – lakes, rivers, canals, moats, and crashing ocean waves are all within a few minutes’ drive, so why not take advantage of it? In the summer, swim in Stockholm’s famously clean water at Smedsuddsbadet Beach or Fredhällsbadet Beach. During the winter, there are several ice rinks in the city where you can rent skates and show off your skills, or if you’re a more experienced skater, head to Trekanten Lake or Norrviken Lake to experience gliding along on natural ice. There are also tour companies that offer skating packages – check with the Stockholm Tourist Center.
3) Shop, eat, shop: Most big cities have a market that shouldn’t be missed, and in Stockholm it’s the Östermalm Food Hall. Since the late 1800’s, people have been coming here to stock up on gourmet cheese, warm bread, fresh fish & meat and all manner of food and supplies. There are also some great restaurants and comfy cafes inside where you can spend a few hours eating, sipping or simply people watching. In the summertime, stock up with a selection of goodies and head to nearby Humlegarden Park for an out-of-this-world picnic.
4) Get cultured: If you want to learn more about the city, you can’t go wrong with the Stockholm City Museum. It’s actually not totally free – those over 19 years of age have to pay 70 krona (US$10.5) – but it’s still a great place to get caught up on the city for a small price. The museum’s mission is “to preserve the city's cultural heritage, bring it to life and convey it to Stockholm residents, visitors and future generations” and it does a great job, with exhibitions that cover the city’s medieval past, its people and its culture. There are 300,000 items of historical interest, 20,000 works of art, 3,000 oil paintings and over 3 million photographs. It’s also home to Mercury, the first planet in the Swedish Solar System, a 1:20-million scale model of our astronomical back yard which begins in Stockholm (with the Ericsson Globe arena) and ends 950km north at the Institute of Space Physics, with a monument representing the Terminal Shock boundary of the sun’s heliosphere.
5) Get political: Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. It has the eighth highest per-capita income, was ranked third on the Legatum Prosperity Index, has one of the world’s best income equality ratios, and was declared the best-governed country of the best-governed region of the world by The Economist magazine. So how do they do it? Get an idea with a tour of the Riksdag, the national legislative assembly where all the big decisions are made. Free tours are held of the facility every few hours during the week.
There are plenty of other things to see and do in Stockholm - it didn't become one of Europe's most famous cities by being boring! - but these ones will give you a good taste of the city without breaking the bank first. Upptäck spännande och charmiga Stockholm!! (That means "discover exciting and beautiful Stockholm!")