How To Have A Cheap Scandi Holiday In Stockholm When You've Got No Money
The Debrief: Because it's hella expensive and you spent all your money on wines
Illustrations by Livi Gosling
If you’ve ever stared for slightly too long at a cushion with a moose pattern on it or start salivating whenever the & Other Stories website loads in your browser, chances are you’re coveting a bit of Scandi cool.
But while there’s arguably no better place to pursue this than in Sweden’s trendy capital, Stockholm, its modernity and style don’t come cheap. That’s why we’ve compiled a guide to the best budget bits of the city, so you can enjoy a stellar but non-spendy stay. Varsågod (Swedish for ‘you’re welcome’).
Brace yourself for the inevitable eyeball assault that is the colour scheme of a Ryanair plane, because climbing aboard one of these is your cheap ticket to Stockholm. If you book flights a few months in advance, you can get there for as little as a 20 quid, which will seem a bargain compared with that cinnamon bun you’ll be eyeing up in a Stockholm artisan bakery.
The plane lands in Stockholm Skavsta, which is an hour from the city (you can’t fly from Britain to Stockholm itself, it’s not just Ryanair being, you know, Ryanair). From here, you can hop on a £11 bus to the city. And once you’re there, most places are accessible on foot or you can catch the Swedish metro – the Tunnelbana. Stations are marked with big blue T signs.
Where to stay
Pitch up with the trendies in the once gritty but now up-and-coming neighbourhood of Hornstull on the southern island of Södermalm (take to shortening this to Söder – pronounced ‘soda’ – for top Scandi cool points).
Airbnbs are generally better value than hotels in Stockholm and have the added benefit of offering you a chance to pretend to be peaceful and together in that unique IKEA way (even the most cursory glance at a few Airbnb apartments confirms that everything in Sweden is indeed bought from IKEA).
If there’s four of you, this snazzy apartment is around £20 each a night and has a barber shop (probably helpful only if you have an unkempt male in tow) and vinyl store downstairs.
Do as the Swedes do and drink in the apartment before going out to avoid being financially crippled by the city’s alcohol prices. But make sure you’re up to speed with Sweden’s unusual booze-buying system first.
The state has tried to limit the intake of alcohol among its citizens by setting up so-called ‘Systembolaget’ – specifically designated shops for selling alcohol. These are the only, and I repeat only, places you can buy it aside from actual bars and restaurants. You can’t get it in supermarkets (they don’t stock anything stronger than low-alcohol beer) and off licences will be nothing more than an exotic dream once you’re happily ensconced in Scandi land.
Beware the opening hours – the Systembolaget shops close at around 7pm on weeknights, 3-4pm in the afternoon on Saturdays and they aren’t open at all on Sundays.
The shops are easy to find. Either pound the city’s streets looking for green and yellow signs (the Systembolaget are neatly colour coded as such), or type the word ‘Systembolaget’ into Google maps.
If you want to ensure ALL THE ALCOHOL is at your fingertips and are up for a linguistic challenge, you can find them in this very-much-entirely-in-Swedish app. Press ‘butiker’ in the side menu, type ‘Stockholm’ into the search bar, and the nearest Systembolaget will blossom from the map like green petals of joy.
Check out the cocktails and clubnights (the latter resume at the end of August) at the edgy Marie Laveau, or party with young blonde things in Trädgården, an outdoor club under a Söder bridge. It’s open all summer and has a distinctively festival feel if you’re already pining for Glasto. For cheesy tunes and a nautical edge, try Patricia, a nightclub on a boat on the north bank of Söder. Its Sunday night parties are a staple on the gay scene.
If you’re heading out more centrally, drink at Kåken, which comes with the promising strapline ‘party now, you die later’. Don’t be tempted by the infamous Spy Bar around the corner, which is expensive, selective, and as my Swedish correspondent reliably informs me, hasn’t been cool since the nineties.
If you need to laze off your hangover but don’t fancy doing it in the now slightly putrid-smelling and pizza-packet-filled apartment, head to pretty park Tantolunden to lie inert under the Swedish sunshine. Or if you can weather venturing a bit further, make the trip to the island of Djurgården, a leafy oasis in central Stockholm.
For lunch, rootle around the supermarkets and take a picnic to Skinnarviksberget, the highest natural point in Stockholm, which has unexpectedly amazing views. And when dinnertime rolls around, make a beeline for the K25 food court – where you can eat street food made by the nearby restaurants – or choose between Stockholm’s gratifyingly wide variety of food trucks. You could also opt for the yummy vegetarian buffet at Herman’s, a restaurant on the clifftops north east of Söder.
Don’t leave without trying a traditional ‘fika’, which I have loosely translated as ‘eating sweet things and drinking coffee with your friends’. I’d recommend ordering a dammsugare (chocolatey-marzipan lime green and brown slab) or a chokladboll (uh, yep, that’s a ball of chocolate). The best area for coffee on Söder is around a square called Mariatorget or try Café String, Café Pascal or Kafé Esaias.
Watching the Scandinavian women gliding by in elegant grey shift dresses can make you want to sign away all of your worldly assets immediately at the tills of the nearest designer boutique. But check out Hornstull’s marknad and the Bruno Vintage Market on Götgatan on Sundays for retro bargains instead.
Free museums are sadly a rarity in Stockholm, but contemporary art venue Färgfabriken is only £5 entry and has an interesting selection of exhibitions. Elsewhere, Fotographiska, one of the largest photography museums in the world, is well worth the £10 entry fee if you don’t mind splashing out a bit.
For activities that are completely free, amble along the cobbled streets of the old town (Gamla Stan), and get lost among picturesque old buildings.
Or, if you’re short on both time and money, admire the art in the subway stations. At 110 km long, Stockholmers boast this makes it the longest art exhibition in the world. You could even do this from the comfort of the train, which is basically like walking through a museum really quickly. Winning.
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Illustrations by Livi Gosling
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