10 Things I love about Stockholm

2012
07.29

I have been living in Stockholm for the best part of three years now.

Inspired by my friend Thomas Wilkinson’s “The 10 best things about living in Thailand” on his blog Earthoria, I thought it would only be fair for me to share my thoughts on the ten best and worst things about life in Stockholm, Sweden.

I am deliberately avoiding generalising about life in Sweden as a whole because I believe that I have not yet reached that level of knowledge about the country in its entirety to allow me to post a helpful review. What I do know is that life in Stockholm and a handful of other “big” cities here, is significantly different to that of the rest of the country and generalising will probably not be just.

1. Water, water, water!

Stockholm, a city in water

Stockholm, a city in water

They don’t call it “Venice of the North” for no reason. Stockholm is not one city. It’s a collection of thousands of islands and islets (around 24,000 to be more precise!), some large but most small, forming the Stockholm Archipelago (or Skärgården as it’s known here), one of the biggest of the Baltic Sea.

There’s access to water everywhere here! You feel like you never live too far from a canal, a river, a lake or the sea. The distances between the islands are generally small, small enough to be able to canoe between groups of them, peg your tent and call it home for an evening.

The islands are beautiful, the water is swimmable (at least during the warmer summer months anyway!) and with so many around, chances are that you will never have to worry about privacy or overcrowding.

2. A boater’s paradise

Scandinavia has amongst the highest boat ownerships per capita in the world. With so much access to water, owning a boat, no matter how big or small, is a no-brainer.

The marina of Sandhamn in the outer archipelago of Stockholm. Stockholm has among the highest boat ownerships per capita in the world.

The marina of Sandhamn in the outer archipelago of Stockholm. Stockholm has among the highest boat ownerships per capita in the world.

What makes boating even more appealing here in Stockholm, is the fact that the seas are generally very calm thanks to the sheltering that the thousands of islands on the archipelago provide. If you plan your trip carefully, you will not have to worry about freak sea conditions, destructive waves and dangerous currents. Perhaps a small downside of all this (especially for the inner archipelago) is that sailing becomes less exciting with motorboats benefiting the most out of the conditions.

But what is a real treat here is the fact that (at least for now) boat owners do not require a driver’s license, insurance or registration of their vessels, with licenses only becoming mandatory if your vessel is over 39 ft long.

The natural protection that the archipelago offers combined with the abundance of access to water and the ease of obtaining a boat, makes boat ownership not only extremely affordable but often more sensible than owning a car!

3. A cyclist’s paradise

If boating is not your thing, get on a bicycle and ride away. With one of the most integrated cycling networks in the world, endless

Stockholm's cycling network is extensive and well maintained. Source: Caroline Tibell, SvD.se

Stockholm’s cycling network is extensive and well maintained. Source: Caroline Tibell, SvD.se

on and off-road tracks and plenty of pristine nature to cycle on, Stockholm gives you no excuse to leave the bicycle at home. Drivers generally show respect towards cyclists and the activity is a very cost-effective alternative to public transport commuting for anyone who lives within the city centre’s limits as the city itself is relatively small.

The roads in the city centre are generally well maintained even in the deep winter and I have been proudly commuting back and forth to work in -22C temperatures without much trouble.

4. Take a hike!

Granted, Stockholm could do with some mountains to hike on. But what it lacks in ruggedness, it more than makes up for in natural beauty and vistas. There is no shortage of opportunities for walks, no matter how long or short. Most of Stockholm is a walker’s delight!

From strolling along the Old Town in the city centre to exploring the nearby parks and lakes, from walks along the endless waterfronts to getting lost inside thick forests just a few miles out of the city, Stockholm will not fail to impress.

Areas are very easily accessible, well signed and full of opportunities to relax in privacy and “disconnect” as the locals like to say. Bring a picnic basket, good company or a book and enjoy!

5. Roam baby, roam!

In Sweden, the right to roam allows you to call almost any place in the country home. Source: johanssonkajak.com

In Sweden, the right to roam allows you to call almost any place in the country home. Source: johanssonkajak.com

Swedes will never miss an opportunity to emphasise their right to roam. By law, the entire Swedish land is accessible to everyone as long as people respect each other’s privacy. This is a true wanderer’s treat. Nothing is off limits. You can go and peg your tent on someone else’s land or island, anywhere you fancy and as long as you haven’t set camp right outside their bedroom, you’ll be more than entitled to do so.

This right alone makes all of the aforementioned experiences priceless. I have made it a habit to get lost with the boat in the inner archipelago, find an island that looks nice, dock, start a BBQ and call it home for the night. In at least half of those instances, the islands I found were private.

6. White powder

Romme Alpin; a ski resort just over a couple of hours outside Stockholm

Romme, a ski resort just over two hours out of Stockholm

While Stockholm itself is as flat as an ironing board, day-trips to ski slopes such as Romme and Kungsberget are only a short bus ride away. The skiing isn’t Alpine class but fine for a day-trip.

What’s even closer however is a network of cross-country skiing trails dotted around the city, many accessible easily by public transport, such as Rudan and Haninge with their 5-15 kilometer cross-country trails.

7. Clean

Stockholm is without a doubt a clean, green city with high regards for environmental sustainability and preservation.

The city is not only garbage-free but the water that runs through it is in many areas clean enough to swim in. There are in fact several beaches within the city’s limits that have been awarded the European Union’s Blue Flag certification.

Same goes about the quality of the air, helped no doubt by traffic congestion reduction measures as well as the abundance of green spaces.

8. Healthy

Yes, cities that successfully educate about and promote a healthy lifestyle are often able to do so largely because of their affluence. Stockholm is no exception. People of all ages seem to have a visit to the gym or some other sport activity central to their weekly routine; and it shows! Of all the cities I’ve lived in, it’s far more common here to leave work and head to the gym rather than the pub.

9. Public transport that (art)works

The Stockholm Subway (T-Bana), also known as a long-art exhibition for the multitude of modern artworks displayed on its stations. Source: vargklo's Stockholm Subway Flickr Photoset

The Stockholm Subway (T-Bana), also known as a long-art exhibition for the multitude of modern artworks displayed on its stations. Source: vargklo’s Stockholm Subway Flickr Photoset

You can tell if a Stockholm-sider has not lived abroad by the way they complain about the state of public transport in their city.

Generally speaking, public transport in Stockholm is boringly functional and efficient. The subway is clean and safe, the trains and buses are modern, smooth and silent. Their timing accuracy is generally flawless and the pricing is not unreasonable. The transport network is broad with the underground train network covering a large percentage of the population.

What’s best is that the subway runs 24/7 during the weekends so that people can go home after a night out without having to sell their kidneys for a taxi ride.

The Stockholm subway system (also known as T-bana, short for Tunnelbana) is also known for the multitude of modern art exhibitions taking place in each of its stations, making it one of the longest art galleries in the world.

10. Engelska? Yes, of course!

Last but not least, one of the biggest welcoming factors in Sweden is how good the Swedes are at speaking English. I’m not just talking grammar here? Their vocabulary, pronunciation and use of idioms are so good that it puts most European countries’ English language programmes to shame.

This is a blessing for the tourist and a curse for any foreigner who wants to settle here and learn the language. As soon as the Swedes realise you are not from here, they will switch to English no matter how hard you try for the opposite.

Their love for the English language goes hand in hand with their curiosity to meet foreigners. I’d say that as a foreigner, you should generally find it easier to talk to a random stranger in Sweden and engage them in a conversation than as a Swede.

So there you have it, my ten “Like”-factors about Stockholm, some of which I’m sure apply to the rest of Sweden too.

As far as likes and dislikes go, I find a series of pocket books extremely entertaining, brutally accurate and very informative when it comes to getting an insight into some of the world’s nations and their folk.

This series is called “The Xenophobe’s Guide To…” and a book is available on the Swedes too.

For every Ying, there’s a Yang!

In my next article, I will write about the 10 things I dislike about Stockholm…

In the meantime, feel free to share your views!

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