Rick Steves Snapshot Stockholm


By Rick Steves

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With Rick Steves, Stockholm is yours to discover! This slim guide excerpted from Rick Steves Scandinavia includes:
  • Rick’s firsthand, up-to-date advice on Stockholm’s best sights, restaurants, hotels, and more, plus tips to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • Top sights and local experiences: Explore charming Old Town, atmospheric Gamla Stan, and trendy Södermalm. Sample authentic Swedish meatballs, visit the Skansen open-air folk museum, treat yourself to a Swedish massage, and take a cruise through the stunning archipelago
  • Helpful maps and self-guided walking tours to keep you on track
With selective coverage and Rick’s trusted insight into the best things to do and see, Rick Steves Snapshot Stockholm is truly a tour guide in your pocket.

Exploring beyond Stockholm? Pick up Rick Steves Scandinavia for comprehensive coverage, detailed itineraries, and essential planning information.



This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves Scandinavia, introduces you to Stockholm, the bustling capital of Sweden. With its modern buildings and dedication to green living, Stockholm has the feel of a gleaming metropolis, but it offers a satisfying blend of Old World charm and 21st-century tech. Start at its core with a stroll through the Old Town, Gamla Stan. Then visit the Vasa Museum with its 17th-century warship, the Nordic Museum covering five centuries of Swedish lifestyles, and Europe’s original—and unsurpassed—open-air folk museum, Skansen. Indulge yourself in this city’s aristocratic delights, including the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace and the elaborate smörgåsbord at the Grand Hotel. For a side-trip, visit Drottningholm Palace, the royal family’s opulent summer getaway, or Uppsala, a classic university town with a soaring cathedral. Then catch a boat and unwind among Sweden’s rocky garden of more than 30,000 islands—Stockholm’s Archipelago. Here in Stockholm’s playground, you can count the pretty red cottages, go for a lazy stroll or bike ride, or relax on a sandy beach.

To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:

Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time

Orientation, including tourist information (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints

Sights with ratings:

▲▲▲—Don’t miss

▲▲—Try hard to see

—Worthwhile if you can make it

No rating—Worth knowing about

Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range

Connections, with tips on trains, buses, boats, and driving

Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, hotel reservations, transportation, and more.

To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.

Ha en bra resa! Happy travels!




Scandinavia’s heartland, Sweden is far bigger than Denmark and far flatter than Norway. This family-friendly land is home to Ikea, Volvo, ABBA, and long summer vacations at red-painted, white-trimmed summer cottages. Its capital, Stockholm, is Scandinavia’s grandest city.

While it’s still the capital of blond, Sweden is now also home to a growing immigrant population. Sweden is committed to its peoples’ safety and security, and proud of its success in creating a society with one of the lowest poverty rates in the world. Yet Sweden has thrown in its lot with the European Union, and locals debate whether to open their economy even further.

Until 1996, Swedes automatically became members of the Lutheran Church at birth if one parent was Lutheran, and up until the year 2000, Sweden was a Lutheran state, with the Church of Sweden as its official religion. That’s now changed: Swedes can choose to join (or not join) the church, and although the culture is nominally Lutheran, few people attend services regularly. While church is handy for Christmas, Easter, marriages, and burials, most Swedes are more likely to find religion in nature, hiking in the vast forests or fishing in one of the thousands of lakes or rivers.

Sweden is almost 80 percent wilderness, and modern legislation incorporates an ancient right of public access called allemansrätten, which guarantees the right for anyone to move freely through Sweden’s natural scenery without asking landowners for permission, as long as they behave responsibly. In summer, Swedes take advantage of the long days and warm evenings for festivals such as Midsummer (in late June) and crayfish parties (kräftskiva) in August and September. Many Swedes have a summer cottage—or know someone who does—where they spend countless hours swimming, soaking up the sun, and devouring boxes of juicy strawberries.

While Denmark and Norway look westward to Britain and the Atlantic, Sweden has always faced east, across the Baltic Sea. As Vikings, Norwegians went west to Iceland, Greenland, and America; Danes headed south to England, France, and the Mediterranean; and Swedes went east into Russia. (The word “Russia” has Viking roots.) In the early Middle Ages, Swedes founded the Russian cities of Nizhny Novgorod and Kiev, and even served as royal guards in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). During the later Middle Ages, German settlers and traders strongly influenced Sweden’s culture and language. By the 17th century, Sweden was a major European power, with one of the largest naval fleets in Europe and an empire extending around the Baltic, including Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Poland, Russia, and Germany. But by the early 19th century, Sweden’s war-weary empire had shrunk. The country’s current borders date from 1809.

During a massive wave of emigration from the 1860s to World War II, about a quarter of Sweden’s people left for the Promised Land—America. Many emigrants were farmers from the southern region of Småland. The House of Emigrants museum in Växjö tells their story (see the Southeast Sweden chapter), as do the movies The Emigrants and The New Land, based on the books of Vilhelm Moberg.

The 20th century was good to Sweden. While other European countries were embroiled in two world wars, neutral Sweden grew stronger, finding equilibrium between the extremes of communism and the free market. In the postwar years, Sweden adopted its famous “middle way,” an economic model that balanced the needs of the democratic state and the private business sector.

The Swedish model worked very well for a while, providing a booming economy and robust social services for all. But the flip side of those ambitious programs is one of the highest tax levels in the world. After a recession hit in the early 1990s, some started to criticize the middle way as unworkable. But Sweden’s economy improved in the late 1990s and early 2000s, buoyed by a strong lineup of successful multinational companies. Volvo (now Chinese-owed but Sweden-based), Scania (trucks and machinery), Ikea, H&M (clothing), and Ericsson (the telecommunications giant) led the way in manufacturing, design, and technology.

The global economic downturn of 2008-2009 had its impact on Sweden’s export-driven economy: Unemployment ticked upward (although it remains enviably low compared to other countries), its famously generous welfare systems felt the pressure, and its Saab car manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection. But Sweden has rebounded since the crisis, and the country’s fortunes have outpaced those of the European Union—Sweden’s main export market.

Historically Sweden has had an open-door policy when it comes to accepting immigrants (the country’s immigration laws are the most generous in Europe). Since the 1960s, Sweden (like Denmark and Norway) has accepted many immigrants and refugees from southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. This praiseworthy humanitarian policy has dramatically—and sometimes painfully—diversified a formerly homogenous country. Many of the service-industry workers you will meet have come to Sweden from elsewhere.

More recently, with refugees flooding in from Syria and Iraq, Swedish social services have been tested as never before. The politics of immigration have become more complex and intense, as Swedes debate the costs (real and societal) of maintaining a culture that wants to be blind to class differences and ethnic divisions.

Though most Swedes speak English, and communication is rarely an issue, a few Swedish words are helpful and appreciated. “Hello” is “Hej” (hey) and “Good-bye” is “Hej då” (hey doh). “Thank you” is “Tack” (tack), which can also double for “please.” For a longer list of Swedish survival phrases, see the following page.

Swedish Survival Phrases

Swedish pronunciation (especially the vowel sounds) can be tricky for Americans to say, and there’s quite a bit of variation across the country; listen closely to locals and imitate, or ask for help. The most difficult Swedish sound is sj, which sounds roughly like a guttural “hw” (made in your throat); however, like many sounds, this is pronounced differently in various regions—for example, Stockholmers might say it more like “shw.”

English Swedish Pronunciation
Hello. (formal) Goddag! goh-dah
Hi. / Bye. (informal) Hej. / Hej då. hey / hey doh
Do you speak English? Talar du engelska? tah-lar doo eng-ehl-skah
Yes. / No. Ja. / Nej. yaw / nay
Please. Snälla. / Tack.* snehl-lah / tack
Thank you (very much). Tack (så mycket). tack (soh mee-keh)
You’re welcome. Ingen orsak. eeng-ehn oor-sahk
Can I help you? Kan jag hjälpa dig? kahn yaw jehl-pah day
Excuse me. Ursäkta. oor-sehk-tah
(Very) good. (Mycket) bra. (mee-keh) brah
Goodbye. Adjö. ah-yew
zero / one / two noll / en / två nohl / ehn / tvoh
three / four tre / fyra treh / fee-rah
five / six fem / sex fehm / sehks
seven / eight sju / åtta hwoo / oh-tah
nine / ten nio / tio nee-oh / tee-oh
hundred hundra hoon-drah
thousand tusen too-sehn
How much? Hur mycket? hewr mee-keh
local currency: (Swedish) kronor (Svenska) kronor (svehn-skeh) kroh-nor
Where is...? Var finns...? var feens
...the toilet ...toaletten toh-ah-leh-tehn
men man mahn
women kvinna kvee-nah
water / coffee vatten / kaffe vah-tehn / kah-feh
beer / wine öl / vin url / veen
Cheers! Skål! skohl
The bill, please. Kan jag få notan, tack. kahn yaw foh noh-tahn tack

*Swedish has various ways to say “please,” depending on the context. The simplest is snälla, but Swedes sometimes use the word tack (thank you) the way we use “please.”


If I had to call one European city home, it might be Stockholm. One-third water, one-third parks, one-third city, on the sea, surrounded by woods, bubbling with energy and history, Sweden’s stunning capital is green, clean, and underrated.

The city is built on a string of islands connected by bridges. Its location midway along the Baltic Sea, behind the natural fortification of its archipelago, made it a fine port, vital to the economy and security of the Swedish peninsula. In the 1500s, Stockholm became a political center when Gustav Vasa established the monarchy (1523). A century later, the expansionist King Gustavus Adolphus made it an influential European capital. The Industrial Revolution brought factories and a flood of farmers from the countryside. In the 20th century, the fuming smokestacks were replaced with steel-and-glass Modernist buildings housing high-tech workers and an expanding service sector.

Today, with more than two million people in the greater metropolitan area (one in five Swedes), Stockholm is Sweden’s largest city, as well as its cultural, educational, and media center. It’s also the country’s most ethnically diverse city. Despite its size, Stockholm is committed to limiting its environmental footprint. Development is strictly monitored, and cars must pay a toll to enter the city. If there’s a downside to Stockholm, it’s that the city feels wealthy (even its Mac-toting hipsters), sometimes snobby, and a bit sure of itself. Stockholm rivals Oslo in expense, and beats it in pretense.

For the visitor, Stockholm offers both old and new. Crawl through Europe’s best-preserved old warship and relax on a scenic harbor boat tour. Browse the cobbles and antique shops of the lantern-lit Old Town. Take a trip back in time at Skansen, Europe’s first and best open-air folk museum. Marvel at Stockholm’s glittering City Hall, slick shopping malls, and art museums. (Even “also ran” museums in this city rank high on the European scale.) Explore the funky vibrancy of the design-forward Södermalm district.

While progressive and sleek, Stockholm respects its heritage. In summer, military bands parade daily through the heart of town to the Royal Palace, announcing the Changing of the Guard and turning even the most dignified tourist into a scampering kid.

With extra time, consider one or more Stockholm side-trips, including the nearby royal residence, Drottningholm Palace; the cute town of Sigtuna; or the university town of Uppsala, with its grand cathedral, Linnaeus Garden and Museum, and Iron Age mounds (see the Near Stockholm chapter). Stockholm is also an ideal home base for cruising to island destinations in the city’s archipelago (see Stockholm’s Archipelago chapter).


On a two- to three-week trip through Scandinavia, Stockholm is worth at least two days. For the busiest and best two- to three-day plan, I’d suggest this:

Day 1
10:00 See the Vasa warship (movie and tour).
12:00 Tour the Skansen open-air museum and grab lunch there.
14:30 Walk or ride tram #7 to the Swedish History Museum.
16:30 Ride tram #7 to Nybroplan and follow my self-guided walk through the modern city from Kungsträdgården.
18:00 Dinner at one of my recommended waterfront restaurants, or take a harbor dinner cruise.
Day 2
10:00 Ride one of the city orientation bus tours (either the hop-on, hop-off or the 1.25-hour bus tour from the Royal Opera House), or take the City Hall tour and climb its tower.
12:15 Catch the Changing of the Guard at the palace (13:15 on Sun).
13:00 Lunch on Stortorget.
14:00 Tour the Royal Armory (if it’s reopened from its renovation; if time and budget allow, also consider the Nobel Museum and/or Royal Palace sights), and follow my Old Town self-guided walk.
18:30 Explore Södermalm for dinner—it’s just across the locks from Gamla Stan—or take the Royal Canal boat tour (confirm last sailing time).
Day 3

With an extra day, add a cruise through the scenic island archipelago (easy to do from Stockholm), visit the royal palace at Drottningholm, take a side-trip to charming Sigtuna or Uppsala (see next two chapters), or spend more time in Stockholm (there’s plenty left to do and experience).

Orientation to Stockholm

Greater Stockholm’s two million residents live on 14 islands woven together by 54 bridges. Visitors need only concern themselves with these districts, most of which are islands:

Norrmalm is downtown, with hotels and shopping areas, and the combined train and bus station. Östermalm, to the east, is more residential.

Kungsholmen, the mostly suburban island across from Norrmalm, is home to City Hall and inviting lakefront eateries.

Gamla Stan is the Old Town island of winding, lantern-lit streets, antique shops, and classy cafés clustered around the Royal Palace. The adjacent Riddarholmen is similarly atmospheric, but much sleepier. The locks between Lake Mälaren (to the west) and the Baltic Sea (to the east) are at a junction called Slussen, just south of Gamla Stan on the way to Södermalm.

Skeppsholmen is the small, central, traffic-free park/island with the Museum of Modern Art and two fine youth hostels.

Djurgården is the park-island—Stockholm’s wonderful green playground, with many of the city’s top sights (bike rentals just over bridge as you enter island).

Södermalm, just south of the other districts, is sometimes called “Stockholm’s Brooklyn”—it’s young and creative. Apart from fine views and some good eateries, this residential island may be of less interest to those on a quick visit.



On Sale
Nov 23, 2021
Page Count
184 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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