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Wednesday, 08 August 2007

Stockholm on a Budget

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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stockholmI’ve met too many people who’ve decided to cut Scandinavia out of their European itinerary because of fear of high costs. So, this spring when I caught a sale for a $199 round-trip ticket to Stockholm from NY ($389 with taxes) I grabbed it and was off on another adventure – to prove Stockholm is possible on a budget.

The flight was downright cheap, so my budget was off to a good start. But unless you watch sale fares every day, you should probably plan on at least $600 from the US – and the fares climb dramatically higher in summer. Another option would be to fly into a major gateway like Paris or London and continue on a cheap European airway like Ryan Air, Easy Jet, or Wizz Air which all have cheap flights to Sweden’s capital.

stockholmOnce in Stockholm you’ll be delighted by the beautiful capital. Its picturesque old town shows off in an array of colors and as you walk its cobblestone streets you’ll catch glimpses of its aristocratic past as well as its sleek, minimalist present. The chic shops with smooth lines were the predecessor of the uncluttered IKEA style that the whole world seems to love. In another display of contrast visit the Royal Palace where you’ll see a room of modern furniture belonging to the new king that’s housed in a highly decorated classical hall. The fancy furniture from generations past that you’d expect to see in a historic Palace sits in rooms beside it.

There are many ways to cut costs in Stockholm. First, you can walk nearly everywhere because it’s a relatively small city. Furthermore, you see much more of people’s everyday lives when you’re walking through their neighborhoods. Stockholm sits on a collection of islands, so that makes it an especially lovely place to wander.

stockholmEnjoyable free activities in the old town include watching the change of the guards outside the Royal Palace at 12:15 pm (1:15 on Sunday) with all its pomp and circumstance. Uniformed men parade in on horses and perform an elaborate, lengthy ceremony with guns, cannons, and flags waving. Another is relaxing on one of the benches or outdoor cafes in Stortorget square and watching the Swedes soak in the sun. Summer is a long- awaited event here after the darkness of winter, so you’ll see the whole community outside enjoying it. In fact, if you want to see the midnight sun that Scandanavia is famous for, you can take the train north to Lapland, but even in Stockholm it’s daylight past 10pm.

stockholmThere are an abundance of museums in Stockholm, so I would recommend getting the Stockholm Card for at least one day of your visit which offers free admission to all museums and public transportation – otherwise the museum admissions can really add up to about 80 kronors (~$12) each. You could try to consolidate your museum visits into one or two “museum days” and on the others do some walking tours and day trips to the islands of the archipelago.

stockholmAt the top of my list is the open-air museum Skansen – an old-style village that has influences from every part of Sweden where you can take a walk through the past and see glassblowers, potters, bakers, tiny houses, windmills, old-time shops and post offices. Animals found in Sweden like reindeer, bobcats, and bears can be observed in a large zoo area at one side of the huge park. Of all the museums I visited, Skansen was the most uniquely Swedish. Kids love it as well and you could easily spend the entire day here if you planned on seeing everything and having lunch overlooking the city.




Close by is the Nordiska Museum with its Swedish cultural exhibits housed in a picture perfect building and the unique Vasa Museum with a ship’s mast on top. Named after the Swedish Viking ship ‘Vasa’ which was recovered and restored from the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor where it capsized centuries before and is now on display in this huge room surrounded by a multitude of displays about ship life at that time.

Another good choice is the Royal Palace where you can visit the Royal Apartments, Armory, Chapel, Treasury, Museum of Antiquities, and the Hall of State. A visit is a window into the life of royalty and the fact that the apartments are still used today to entertain visitors make them even more interesting.

The National Museum is the place to go for art with the largest collection of artwork in Sweden. Swedish artists are featured as well, as they also are at the Moderna Museet, if you like modern art. There are also a number of smaller, more specific museums that I explored such as the Medelhavsmuseet (Museum of the Mediterranean) which has an exhibit of sculptures and objects mainly from Greece and Egypt; the Ostasiatiska Museet with its far east antiquities; and the Nobel Museum which is all about the Nobel Prize, the man who started it, and those who’ve won it and their works.

stockholmBe sure to check out Riddarholm Church and its gorgeous metalwork steeple and inside the medieval abbey you can see the tombs of the Swedish monarchs. Also, stop by the Kulturhuset to check the schedule for the various performances and cultural activities going on while you’re in town or for an impromptu concert outside.

During my visit I mainly stayed in the center of town, but if you have time you can venture further out and visit the islands of the Stockholm archipelago, some unspoiled car-free getaway islands are only a couple hours boat ride from the city center. You could also take the ferry across to Drottingholm Palace – private residence of the Swedish royal family. Or, a steam ship further out to Gripsholm castle in Mariefred.

I stayed at two different places for my four nights in Stockholm. The first: City Backpackers Hostel was a place that offered inexpensive midweek rates and a number of advertised amenities, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. I barely got any sleep (which probably has more to do with my roommates than the hostel) because the people in my room either stayed up late and were noisy, or got up at five in the morning and were noisy. But the hostel didn’t come through on some of its claims like ‘free espresso and cappuccino’ because the machine didn’t work (and the sign on it saying it would be fixed promptly looked like it had been hanging there for quite a while and remained there throughout my stay). Also, I had to switch rooms each night, which was a pain – making my bed three times and having to wait around each morning until the check in time at the next room. I’d booked about three weeks beforehand, but I met people who’d booked the week before who didn’t have to switch, so I guess my pleas of “if you get any opening in the same room, please switch things around so I don’t have to change rooms” went unheard.

stockholmThe other, Langholmen, was a great find that I definitely recommend. They offer both hostel and hotel “cells” in a nicely renovated prison! The single hotel cells are snug, but have comfy beds with plump pillows, phones, wifi, and nice bathrooms. The decorations are striped pillowcases and pictures of newspaper clippings of former prisoners. There is a pull-down bed on top and a trundle bed underneath if you want the full effect. There are double rooms as well with double beds, they are quite a bit bigger though, which is good if you have lots of stuff, but they loose some of that ‘cell’ feeling (which could also potentially be a good thing!). The hostel cells have bunk beds and hall baths and are without phones and linens (can be rented). Regardless of which room you choose, you’ll love this place.

Langoholmen is on a small, peaceful island surrounded by walking paths. Right next to the hotel you’ll find an area filled with lush gardens smelling of herbs and lilacs. Each small garden area has a little potting shed, some of which are big enough to have a dining table with a view, but most have a picnic table outside. stockholmThe walking paths around the island are lovely, birds sing as you walk though trees and rocks overlooking the canal full of boats and beyond to the other islands. It is such a special area; it’s hard to believe the prisoners had this island to themselves. You can see a bit of the history in a walk around the island as well, you’ll pass the nice homestead of the original prison director, and if you want to know more, there’s a prison museum right inside Langholmen’s main building.

Langholmen has a morning breakfast Smorgasbord where you can fill up before your day – there are eggs, sausages, bread, jam, cheese, crackers, cold cuts, granola, yogurt, oatmeal, juice and coffee – you may not need to have lunch. Breakfast is included with a hotel stay, but 85 kronor extra for a hostel stay. There is also a café that serves lunch and snacks and a nice restaurant for dinner, or you can go right to the pub which serves dinner as well with a staff dressed in striped prison pajamas!

If your visit is during a weekend or in the summer you could try the Stockholm a la Carte website for great prices that really do make your trip affordable. Their prices include breakfast at your hotel and all transportation and museum admissions as well as some sightseeing tours. It is a real value during the slower periods when they help fill up empty hotel rooms and it may even end up being less expensive to stay in your own room at a hotel than at a hostel over the weekend.


For example: City Backpackers (along with some other hostels) charges a premium for weekend stays and they don’t include breakfast. So if you stayed there (at 345-520kr plus 65kr if you need sheets and a towel), paid 85kr for a breakfast buffet and bought the Stockholm Card (290kr for one day, 420 for two, 540 for three) to cover transit and museums it would cost at least 720 kronors for one day (about $108). It would be about the same cost for an a la carte package at a downtown hotel, but you wouldn’t have to share a room with 4-8 people and bring your own sheets, and if you’re willing to stay outside of the city center (after all you have free transportation), you can get a package for about 400 kronors (approx $60) per person. Solo travelers will be thrilled that there is no extra charge for single occupancy; it is exactly half the cost of double occupancy.

Even if you can’t find an a la carte package that you like, compare hotel prices with hostels for weekends and summer – a very nice double room at Langholmen is 1370 kronors and a simple room with two single beds at City Backpackers is 1120 on Saturday night and once you add sheet and towel rental and breakfast it is actually more expensive! So, I strongly recommend checking around.

Other tips for managing Stockholm while pinching pennies would be to go to some of the set menu prix-fix lunches that abound, or to a lunch buffet like Ortagarden’s huge vegetarian spread (85 kronors) which is very good and then just pick up a few snacks for dinner. A goldmine is the Naturbageriet in the old town that has many varieties of bread but also serves specialties like spinach pie and delectable, mainly vegan deserts. These filling treats are the perfect to-go meal and after you devour them just stop at a nearby café for a drink and to savor the evening sun.

stockholmWhen you want to have a nice meal head down to Sodermalm where the prices are a little less steep and trendy restaurants are sprouting up all over in this formerly working class neighborhood that has seen a surge in restorations and renovations. I had a very nice meal of poached salmon with shrimp and tagliatelle pasta at Gusto Italian an upscale restaurant in Sodermalm for 125 kronors.

stockholmRemember that the prices in Stockholm are comparable to most other western European cities, so don’t miss out on this beautiful, friendly, cultured city.


Stockholm Card:

Stockholm a la Carte:

Langholmen Hotel and Hostel:

City Backpackers Hostel:

Ortagarden, Nybrogatan 31

Naturbageriet, Stora Nygatan 6 or Krukmakargatan 27

Gusto Italian, Swedenborgsgatan 13

©Christina Kay Bolton

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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