Like any city, the big attractions, such as the Vasa Museum (recently named the best museum in the world) or the Abba Museum are going to attract the crowds. That said, if you arrive early you should be able to get in and see everything before the sweaty masses show up. Going late has a similar effect: most of the mid-day crowds have moved on to other things and you won’t be jostled every which way as you try to enjoy your time. A top tip is that some museums, such as Fotografiska, have evening hours on certain days—it’s the perfect time to visit after dinner.
Stockholm is home to nearly 100 museums and that means there are plenty of niche ones that don’t get the same attention as the bigger names. Try Millesgården, which is just over the bridge in Lidingö, and features both a permanent indoor and outdoor exhibition as well as visiting exhibitions—and a hosts a truly great restaurant with killer views. The Jewish Museum is a wonderful place to explore the history of Jews in Sweden, as well as enjoy visiting exhibitions and lectures. The Tramway Museum is a great one for both kids and adults and will fill you in on the history of transport in a city with an incredibly comprehensive public transport system.
Stockholm is filled with parks both big and small, and no matter what time of year they’re wonderful for walking and also for taking in some of the city’s fantastic public art. Djugården is always worth a visit but go further astray and try Hagaparken, which is just a short walk from Odenplan in Vasastan and features wonderful paths for strolling, a lake for fishing and skating, museums, cafés, and plenty more. If it’s winter go to Vasaparken and join the locals in sledding down the hill or skating on the dedicated outdoor rink. Nacka Reserve is massive and it’s here where you can truly find space, whether that’s to canoe or kayak, ski, hike, bike, or just wander around picking berries and mushrooms.
Every city has a morning and afternoon rush on the subway and other public transport, and lucky for you Stockholm is not just very walkable—it’s a true joy to walk around. You can walk from Central Station to Djurgården in under 30 minutes, and Gamla Stan (Old Town) is even closer. So while your subway card is great to use if you want to take a lot in you’re better off hitting the pavement to get from point A to point B. And remember to stop for a fika at one of the many cafés that line the city streets. If you do take the subway make a day of it—it’s home to the world’s longest art gallery and you can go from stop to stop and take in some incredible creativity at nearly every station—but don’t do it at rush hour!
Stockholm’s popularity continues to grow, with record numbers of tourists arriving each year, but there is definitely an off-season and the best time to avoid the heaving crowds of summer is during the later winter months. January and February may be dark but they are cozy, as people are ready for post-holiday fun, and you won’t be battling for a table at the best restaurants or a seat at the hottest bar. And Swedes are so mellow at this time of year—it’s the perfect time to make friends with the locals—and there is a magical beauty that can’t be found anywhere else.
Gamla Stan is a wonderful place to visit but it can get beyond crowded on the main thoroughfares. If you hit those early enough you can start exploring the small side streets and alleyways as the other tourists just start to arrive. Down those side streets you’ll find charming little art galleries, independent shops, and cozy cafés and restaurants tucked into basements or through courtyards. Keep your eyes open for handwritten signs that will help you find your way.
To really get away from the crowds, head to Kungsholmen, Hammarby Sjöstad, or the far reaches of Södermalm, where tourists don’t normally flock and where you’ll be able to really immerse yourself in the local scene. Just at the start of Kungsholmen, you’ll find the famed City Hall, but if you move on from there you’ll be in the midst of a lovely series of neighborhoods packed with local restaurants, cafés and shops, and some wonderful little parks. Hammarby Sjöstad is one of the newer areas of Stockholm and has burst into life in the past few years. Not only are there plenty of places to eat and drink, there is also swimming, skiing, and much more. Södermalm has the busy areas and streets, such as Nytorget and Götgatan, but if you move away from these areas it’s wonderfully local in feeling, and like the rest of the city, it’s where locals live and play, so it’s perfect for having that “real” Stockholm experience, not the one that’s put on for show.
New restaurants are popping up all the time but there are some classic eateries that serve traditional Swedish food and that don’t normally make it into the guidebooks. Try KB, which is just a stone’s throw from glamorous Stureplan but easy to walk by without noticing if you don’t know it’s there. Another great option is Hornstull, in the area of Södermalm to the far west, which is only now coming into its own—meaning it hasn’t yet been discovered by the tourists and the scene is still manageable, with great eateries and clubs, as well as some great shopping, including some of the best secondhand shops in Stockholm.
During the summer even parts of the Stockholm archipelago can feel crowded, but if you visit smaller islands such as Möja or Kymmendö, you’re less likely to be knocking elbows with too many people. Certainly Sandhamn and Fjäderholmarna are worth visiting and are big enough to escape the crowds, but remember they are very popular so many not the best choice during the peak summer months. Another option is to visit during the off-seasons. A winter cruise into the archipelago is magical and a unique way to enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos.