‘Stockholm’ and ‘cheap’. Two words that you don’t often hear uttered in the same sentence. It is common knowledge that tourists’ hard-earned cash doesn’t stretch that far in the Scandinavian countries, making visiting them an expensive affair. So when I invited my parents to visit me in Sweden only 9 weeks after Christmas I promised them a good time that wouldn’t break the bank. I had my work cut out for me. With this in mind we headed to Stockholm for the day to check out the place that the adverts proudly refer to as the ‘Capital of Scandinavia’.
Stockholm truly is a beautiful city. Nestling on the east coastline of Sweden and leading out to the Baltic Sea, Stockholm comprises of 14 islands which are connected by 57 bridges and boasts a beautifully preserved medieval town centre. It is impossible to visit Stockholm and not be swept away by centuries of fascinating history – hoards of Vikings launching their longboats across the open seas in search of action and adventure, their shouts echoing through the narrow, cobbled alleyways. It is to the 13th century alleyways of Stockholm’s old town – Gamla Stan – that a tourist on a budget should head for and if you want to keep it cheap then avoid the tunnelbana (metro) and go by foot. Cross the road outside the main entrance of Central Station, turn left and take the steps up just before McDonald’s and walk straight down Drottninggaten: this road will take you right past modern Stockholm and into the past. When the usual city centre shops make way for the vibrant blue and yellow forest of Swedish flags fluttering from endless displays outside the souvenir shops you know you are pretty close.
Gamla Stan is pretty all year round: in the summer the streets are thronged with people lapping up the precious rays of the sun and the deep blue skies provide a glorious backdrop to stunning architecture. In the winter the lake is thick with ice and the snow-capped rooftops look like a scene from a picture book. Time spent wandering aimlessly through the winding streets quickly passes, especially if you factor in a fika break on the way to take in Stockholm the way the Swedes do – leisurely. As it was rapidly approaching lunchtime we started looking for some lunch and eventually came across quaint little coffee shop ‘Old Street Café’ on Vasterlanggatan and decided to stop for a Varm Choklad. The restaurant was serving a lunchtime menu of traditional Swedish fare; meatballs served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam, including salad, bread and a choice of tea or coffee all for the bargain price of 75 kronor (£7.28) – believe me it doesn’t come much cheaper in Sweden (a McDonald’s meal will cost about 60 kronor). Once we had ordered our food we discovered a narrow staircase at the back of the restaurant leading down to what is claimed to be Stockholm’s oldest medieval cellar, the perfect choice for our lunch in Gamla Stan.
After a tasty meal in Gamla Stan we took a ferry from nearby Slussen over to the island of Djurgården. The ferry costs 40 Kronor (£4) for a one-way ride although it is possible to walk to the island, using the pedestrian bridge, if you have a bit more time and energy. Crossing the lake by ferry offers spectacular views back over the old town and is an interesting ride both in summer, or in winter when the boat crunches its way through large sheets of ice to make its way towards Djurgården. Once on the island there is plenty to do: visit the Vasa Warship museum, theme park Gröna Lund or outdoor museum Skansen. We were on our way to visit Skansen in order to see some native Scandinavian animals. Skansen is Europe’s oldest outdoor museum and is home to wolves, bears, lynx, elk, and reindeer amongst other things. As well as seeing the animals visitors to the museum can walk around traditional Swedish farming homesteads, watch glass-blowing demonstrations, learn about Sami culture from the North of Sweden, and visit seasonal events such as Christmas markets—all for an entrance fee of 70 kronor. Some areas within the park, such as the Aquarium, carry an extra entrance charge and this is where a budget traveller’s expenses begin to add up but it is possible to have a fascinating afternoon learning about Swedish culture at Skansen for only the initial price.
To get back to Central Station we took a 40 kronor tram from outside the park to Sergels Torg, the large square in Central Stockholm and a short walk back to the train station making our total for a day out in Stockholm 225 kronor each (£21.84) – not bad for one of the world’s most beautiful cities. And with the cost of Ryanair flights from London at an all time low you can see why it is such a popular weekend destination!