What springs to mind when someone mentions Sweden to you? Swedish design, epitomised by the clean lines of Ikea perhaps? Or maybe its culinary delights such as meatballs and pickled herring? Better still, what about those Swedish super troopers Abba?
I had one day in Stockholm as part of a cruise along the Baltic Sea to St Petersburg. Although I had visited the city before on a grey November weekend in 2002 to celebrate friends’ wedding, I was looking forward to exploring Stockholm again in the summer sunshine. It was also an opportunity to pay homage to Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid.
If like me, you are visiting Sweden’s capital as part of a cruise and have only 24 hours or less to seek out the best bits, you will need to make some tough choices. To help you make the most of your day in Stockholm, here are some essential practical tips, including how to get from the cruise terminal, and my pick of what to see and do.
Why visit Stockholm?
For its charming historic centre, cool vibe, friendly locals and one of the world’s most alluring cityscapes.
Stockholmers call their city “beauty on water” and it’s not hard to see why. Situated on approximately 20 islands, waterways crisscrossed by 57 bridges and abundant greenery, Stockholm is a stunning city.
How I visited Stockholm on a cruise
- Cruise operator: Celebrity Cruises
- Cruise ship: Celebrity Silhouette
- Time in port: 8 am – 5 pm
Getting to central Stockholm from the Frihamnen cruise terminal
Stockholm has two major cruise terminals: Frihamnen and the more central Stadsgården. Some ships may also park up at Nynashamn, 36 miles south of Stockholm, and smaller ones may dock at Skeppsbron right in the centre of town.
The approach to Stockholm is sensational. A steady hand from the captain is needed as, over a three-hour period, the ship navigates the archipelago of 24,000 islands that stretch for 80 km east of the city. It’s worth setting your alarm clock to sit on your balcony to take in the view, a mixture of barren rocks circled by seabirds and islets populated by brightly painted wooden summer homes.
But don’t worry if an early start doesn’t appeal. You are also treated to these views as you leave port. Having said that there is something magical about waking up to this sight.
Celebrity Silhouette berthed at Frihamnen. Here are your options for getting from Frihamnen to Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s Old Town).
Option 1: Walk
It will take you around an hour to walk from Frihamnen to Gamla Stan. Unless you really want to walk off some of those extra calories consumed on-board, this is probably not a feasible option.
Option 2: Use public transport
Pick up bus #76 from outside the cruise terminal. When you exit the terminal, turn left and you will see the bus stop on the other side of the road. This will bring you to Djergården in 10 minutes (handy for the museums including the Abba Museum) and Gamla Stan in 15 – 20 minutes. Bus #76 runs every 6 – 10 minutes.
Although single tickets are available (SEK 45), I recommend buying a day ticket to get the best out of your day in Stockholm. This costs SEK 130 (USD 10) and you can purchase it from the shop in the cruise terminal. You are not able to buy tickets on board the bus.
Option 3: Cruise Shuttle Service
A local tour operator provides a shuttle service, running every 20 minutes. This costs USD 15 for a return journey.
Option 4: Hop on hop off buses
Yes … the ubiquitous hop on hop off (HOHO) bus is available.
These open-top double-decker buses serve 20 stops. The duration of the entire route is 1.5 hours and buses are timetabled to arrive every 10 – 20 mins in peak season.
A 24-hour HOHO bus ticket costs €32
If you book online, a cheaper alternative is the HOHO bus service run by Stromma. A 24-hour ticket costs SEK 192 (€18).
Their open-top double-decker buses serve 23 stops. The duration of the entire route is 100 minutes and the frequency of buses depend on the month of the year.
What to do during one day in Stockholm
So now you know how to get from the cruise terminal to central Stockholm, let’s take a look at how you could use your precious time onshore.
Visit the Abba Museum
Mama Mia! Relive the Swedish fab foursome’s glory days through this fun and interactive museum.
The first part of the Abba Museum, dedicated to the Mama Mia films, is a little underwhelming. Here you will find props from the films, costumes and testimonies from the cast.
But descending to the main exhibition, you now get the real deal. Learn about Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid’s professional lives before they became an acronym of the first letters of their first names. Watch Abba winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Concert with Waterloo.
A vast collection of their extraordinary costumes are on display in the museum, as are some of their many gold and platinum discs and album covers from across the globe.
Film buffs amongst you will love the interview with the renowned Swedish director Lasse Hallström. Before achieving international acclaim with movies such as My Life as a Dog and The Cider House Rules, he cut his teeth directing almost all of Abba’s videos as well as Abba: The Movie in 1977.
Abba were one of the pioneers of pop videos. Despite a small budget, Hallström managed to put together compelling, and iconic, videos.
The Abba Museum is tremendously interactive. You can become the fifth member of Abba by performing on stage with Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid, virtually try on their costumes and re-mix their tracks. By scanning your ticket on the adjacent scanner, your visit will be saved for 30 days. Huge fun.
Visiting the Abba Museum – tips and information
- The Abba Museum is at Djurgårdsvägen 68
- To get there from Frihamnen cruise terminal, take bus #76 to Djergården from where it is a 10-minute walk. The museum is also served by the HOHO buses.
- Entrance fee SEK 250 (USD 26).
- The Abba Museum is cashless; only cards are accepted.
- Small lockers and a cloakroom are available (free).
- To beat the crowds, I recommend visiting the Abba Museum early in your day in Stockholm.
Walk around Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town)
If you have just one day in Stockholm, you should not miss Gamla Stan. This was the most alluring historic city centre that I visited on this cruise, even beating the gorgeous Tallinn.
The best thing that you can do is to allow yourself to get lost in the old town’s tangle of narrow, cobblestoned streets. My suggestion is to make your way first to Stortorget, Gamla Stan’s oldest square,
Stortorget, the beating heart of Galmla Stan since the Middle Ages, is where the 1520 Stockholm Bloodbath – the mass execution of Swedish nobles by the Danish king Christan II – took place. Today, it is an achingly picturesque cobblestoned square that is flanked by beautiful ochre-coloured patrician houses.
When you have finished admiring Gamla Stan just go wherever your feet take you. Keep your eyes peeled for Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, Stockholm’s narrowest lane.
Royal palace (Kungliga Slottet)
I didn’t have time to take a tour of Sweden’s baroque royal palace but did enjoy admiring it from the outside.
If you are there late morning, try to catch the changing of the guards at 11.45 am. As this takes place in the outer courtyard, you do not need a ticket for the royal palace to watch it. Check out the official website for further information.
The royal palace – tips and information
- The royal palace is at Slottsbacken 1
- The ticket price is SEK 180 (USD 19) which grants you entry to the following: The Royal Apartments, Tre Kronor Museum, The Treasury, Gustav III Museum of Antiquities, The Armoury and the Royal Burial Church of Riddarholmen.
What was it like to visit Stockholm from a cruise?
I loved my day in Stockholm and was utterly seduced by its setting and its medieval old town. With its Baltic Sea archipelago, Stockholm boasts the most spectacular approach of any port that I have visited on a cruise, from the Western Caribbean to Norway’s fjords.
One day in Stockholm isn’t enough to do the city justice. Given more time, I would have liked to have visited the Vasa Museum, taken a look at the metro system – called the longest art gallery in the world by some – and taken a tour of the royal palace.
But don’t let the short time you have in the city deter you from making the most of your visit. Whilst you will need to accept that you can’t do it all, it is possible to explore quite a bit of Stockholm before your cruise ship sets sail. And the city’s other attractions? Well, you can look forward to seeing them on your next visit.
Stockholm – More practical advice for cruise passengers
Language – Swedish. English is widely spoken … and spoken well.
Currency – Swedish Krone (SEK). However, cards are widely accepted, even as payment for small purchases such as a cup of coffee. Therefore, I did not bother getting local currency and used my card instead.
Tipping – A gratuity is often added to your bill. However, if a service charge is not included in your bill, a 5 – 10% tip is customary.
Getting around Stockholm – Stockholm has an excellent integrated public transport system. Many of the main tourist sights are clustered around Gamla Stan.
The Stockholm Pass – The Stockholm Pass is stuffed full of stuff: free entry to over 60 of the city’s attractions, free bus and boat tours and a guidebook thrown in for good measure. But at SEK 669 (71 USD) for a one-day pass, it is not cheap.
During my day in Stockholm, I knew that I wanted to visit the Abba Museum, which is not covered by the Stockholm Pass, and walk around the Old Town, for which I wouldn’t need admission to any of the city’s attractions. Therefore, it would not have been of value to me.
However, depending on what you plan to do in Stockholm, you might arrive at a different conclusion. Think about where you might be able to visit and how much individual tickets and transport will cost compared with the cost of the Stockholm Pass.