Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Vienna... these tend to be the most popular choices for a short-haul European city break.

But why not try Stockholm?

This delightful Scandinavian capital has a lot to offer and, although eating out and drinking is expensive, the cost of travel is very reasonable with a Stockholm Pass, giving visitors free entry to a host of memorable sights.

Maria and I headed out to Sweden at the end of May and it proved a glorious time to see the city at its best, with brilliant sunshine all five days we were there, and the scent of lilac bushes everywhere very seductive.

The city’s 14 islands offer a beguiling mix of culture and nature, and our hotel, the Hellstens Malmgard, was at the top of Sodermalm, the island just south of the historic old city Gamla Stan.

In Stockholm you are never far from water and after checking in at our hotel, we stretched our legs with a walk high above the northern shore, where there are glorious views across to City Hall, and over the bridge at Slussen to Gamla Stan’s bustling narrow streets.

Here you experience medieval Stockholm. It is touristy, but the crowds add to the atmosphere. You can take the 36 steep steps down through Stockholm’s narrowest alley, Marten Trotzigs Grand, a photo opportunity for all, it seems.

A must here is a ‘fika’ – a coffee and cake – at Sundbergs Kondirori.

The Royal Palace, the king’s official residence, with many of its magnificent state apartments open to the public is worth seeing.

Each district has its own special feel. Yesterday and today comes together in Gamla Stan, while Sodermalm, with its art galleries and open-air cafes, is charmingly bohemian.

The Stockholm Pass includes free entry to attractions and museums, and includes a range of boat and bus tours. And you can use the Hop-On Hop-Off buses and boats to take you there. On our second day we used it to visit the Vasa Museum, Nordiska Museum and Skansen, on Ostermalm, again within easy walking distance – although we did catch one ferry to hop over to Djurgarden, considered the pride of Stockholm with its unspoiled nature and beautiful walkways to magnificent palaces and dazzling gardens.

The Vasa is the name of the 17th century ship that sank in Stockholm’s harbour just a few minutes into her maiden voyage. She was salvaged in 1961 after five years of planning.

Looking around the superb Vasa Museum, and seeing how tall the ship was, you wonder how on earth they ever thought it would float!

Skansen is an open-air museum that seeks to preserve traditions and handicrafts, and features Nordic plants and animals. The huge bears, who have a large area in which to roam, were my favourite.

Next day we took a boat trip inland to Drottningholm Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the monarch’s summer residence. Impressive grounds surround the palace, and it makes a very pleasant day to look around.

Back near the hotel, at Slussen, the Katarina-hissen is a historic lift and viewing platform, and thanks to a recommendation from our hotel manager, we enjoyed a fine, and very affordable, meal here at Eriks Gondolen. The restaurant has an expensive smart restaurant, and a cosier “Kitchen” eating area – again with splendid views.

In most restaurants a main course in the evening will set you back £25 to £30, and a glass of wine or a beer is at least £8 to £9. So you have to plan carefully where you eat out.

One excellent inexpensive place, frequented by students, is the vegan restaurant Hermans, where you can eat as much as you want – and delicious it is too – for about £16. We sat outside in its garden high above Fotografiska with views over to the old town and Stockholm harbour.

Of all the places to visit, Fotografiska turned out to be the most interesting. This venue for international photography had two terrific exhibitions on when we were there, and the building too is special. It has a prize-winning top-floor restaurant offering dazzling views across to Djurgarden and Skeppsholmen islands. And it’s opening hours are great. We arrived about 11pm after dinner... no problem as it was open till 1am!

Our hotel was a beautifully restored former manor brimming with history and it was delightful having breakfast in its tranquil garden. We also took a ferry into the inner archipelago to the island of Vaxholm, staying at the historic fortress, part of which has been converted stylishly into spacious bed and breakfast accommodation. There was plenty to see in Vaxholm too... another delight that made Stockholm a great place to visit.

The details:

  • Jon and his wife Maria stayed at Hotel Hellstens Malmgard (hellstens, as a guest of Visit Stockholm (
  • They travelled with Norwegian, which has flights from Gatwick to Stockholm from £45 each way.
  • A two-day Stockholm Pass, giving free entry to more than 60 top attractions, and free bus and boat tours, costs about £75.