...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stockholm on a shoestring

(Edited 15 September 2007)

Need tips for a 3-day itinerary in Stockholm? Here's about a short trip we did on May 2007.

It literally pays to plan your itinerary well when you're thinking of going to another city as a tourist. I did exactly that for two straight weeks before Kristine arrived --plain planning-- for a short 3-day stay in Stockholm. The tour plan should (for my sake) be cheap but (for Kristine's part) could allow us to explore most of Stockholm and experience what the city is best known for.

Here are some useful tips I could share about planning a cost-effective yet interesting tour of Stockholm:

(1) On tourist spots: Sweden is well-connected in the internet, and most museums and tourist destinations have websites of their own (see a list of them with links here). It's worth checking out when guided tours are going to take place, since they are free with the entrance fee and usually informative and engaging. These websites are usually available in English too, but it sometimes helps to know a bit of Swedish (or to otherwise use an online dictionary like this one) since some information isn't translated.

(2) Getting around: As with tourist spots, the Stockholm's local commuter transportation company (SL) has a website in which you can check specific bus schedules, routes, and even how much time it takes to go from one destination to the other. Fortunately, the guided tour schedules in most museums are well-spaced, leaving just enough time to commute from one museum to another to catch the next tour -- that is, if you're planning to do as us and cram all in a short time. (And yes, the SL site is also in English for non-Swedish speakers!) If you're looking for some street in particular and don't know where it is, just type the street name, number and city under the field Var? at hitta.se. Hitta (which means "to find") is a Swedish map site.

(3) If planning to be really touristy: Planning really did pay off and saved us a lot of money and time, especially since we had something called the Stockholm Card, which gives you, among other things, free museum entrances and free ferry transportation between Gamla Stan and Djurgården (an 8-minute trip that otherwise takes long by bus, not to mention by foot. This ferry leaves every 20 minutes, and the schedule can be accessed at Stockholm Sightseeing's website). The Stockholm card -- at least for this year -- also allows the bearer to go on two free guided boat trips, and entitles you to discounts on others (e.g. to the Drottningholm Palace). I don't know how often the offerings included in the Stockholm card change; it is better to look at their official site to be sure about what's free and what's not. After that, it's up to you to make the most feasible schedule depending how long your card is valid.

The Stockholm card really is the cheapest way to go when planning to see Stockholm's tourist traps... err, destinations. :-) For a 290-kronor card, you can visit all the museums, ride all public transportation, and take boat tours around two islands within 24-hours (more expensive 2-and 3- day cards are available too). Since Sweden changed governments last year and entrance to state-owned museums are no longer free, the card really is a practical thing if you're planning to visit these places. At the end of three days, we were able to cram 6 museums (4 of which had guided tours) and 3 boat trips (one of them was a 1-hour scenic trip), spend way under our budget and still manage to have a semi-relaxed pace... if you don't count that I've been nicknamed by both Marcus and Kristine as the Tour Hitler! Anyway, the card has versions in 40+ other European cities, which has us dreaming which city we're to meet Kristine next. (Heh heh. Now all I need is a job!)

(4) Food: There's also the issue of where to eat. I wished the Stockholm card came with food discounts, but that might be wishing for too much. :-) However, there are a lot of cheap places to eat in Stockholm (as well as a lot of expensive ones), so it would save you some money and time if you only found out which ones are which in advance. I did a lot of internet searching for this, but to cut that long route short, among the nice cheap places we found were Jerusalem Kebab in Gamla Stan Gåsgränd 2 (with lots of regulars eating and chatting with the restaurateur -- always a good sign).

There's also the lower floor of Kungshallen foodcourt at Kungsgatan 44. They have Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Cajun and other ethnic cuisine to choose from, all at reasonable prices. Most dishes range from 60-80 kronor in both places, and the portion sizes are good. On a day that you decide to have a fancy dinner though, my tip is that you should also clear away from restaurants that lie in main streets. In Södermalm, for example, we found a relatively cheap bar (called S.E.A. Balthazar) with a freindly atmosphere, away from drunken crowds and strange characters that populated the bars just a block down. Finally, for my last food tip: if you're doing a lot of walking in one day, always bring a bottle of water with you during your trip. Tap water in Sweden is potable and clean. We refilled our bottles where we could, instead of paying for overpriced bottled water at 15 kronor a pop.

(5) Lodging: For this trip, Kristine shouldered our hotel stay, but there are many cheap (and safe and clean) hostels to stay in in Stockholm, among others the centrally-located Fridhelmsplan Hostel, which even has a breakfast option. Other hostels endorsed by the Swedish Tourism Association can be seen in this site (the site itself is in Swedish, but the links to specific hostels have English-language options). You have to book way ahead to hostels though, apparently even during low-season. These was one of the things we didn't plan for, so instead, Kristine booked us online at Wallinhotel. Our hotel stay probably cost more than all our 3-day activities rolled together (even when you consider that we were three people), but the breakfast buffet there was great.

(6) Our itinerary:

Day 1.
Meeting Kristine at the Central Station -- walking around Gamla Stan (one of Stockholm's islands that houses its old town) -- guided tour of Nobel Museum (no picture-taking allowed) walking along the waters of Östermalm -- a scenic boat trip around another one of Stockholm's islands, Djurgården. Click here for pictures.

Day 2.
Breakfast at hotel -- guided tour at Vasa Museum -- guided tour at the Royal Castle (no picturetaking unfortunately) -- visit to National Museum of Fine Arts -- visit to Skansen open-air museum and zoo. Pictures of Day 2 here.

Day 3.
Guided tour to Stockholm city hall (Stadshuset), where the dinner party to the Nobel Awards are held -- shopping and meryenda -- watching the changing of the Royal Guards at the Royal Palace -- getting bags from hotel -- train home. Day 3 pictures here.


On to some of our activities!

The most notable museum for me had to be The Vasa Museum, which Swedes consider to be unique around the world. The museum is literally built around the Vasa, a 17-century Swedish ship that had been found intact under the sea mud in 1961, more than 300 years after it sank. When constructed, the Vasa was actually envisioned to be one of the mightiest warships in the world, but anyhow it sank 15 minutes into its maiden voyage in front of all the shocked spectators of Stockholm, who were actually excused from work to see spectacle! Now the recovered Vasa lures different kinds of spectators, most notably Japanese tourist groups :-) It was really a sight to see though. I highly recommend this museum (and a tour included in the entrance fee) for anyone going Stockholm; it's a change from the usual museum of beautiful objects, and I thought it gave a lot of insight into the life and times when Vasa was built, when kingdoms went to glorious wars with each other, and every serf was actually funding this in some way.

Skansen, on the same island as the Vasa Museum, is literally where the Swedes gathered everything they thought was "typically Swedish" and put them out on display on a huge theme park. It's a romantisized micro-version of good ole' Sweden itself: they recreate Swedish festivals, portray Swedish country life (you can relive it too, complete with costumes), they display and serve traditional food, and play folk songs... Their zoo houses animals endemic in Sweden, such as reindeer, bears, elks, and wolverines, but they have other animals too such as merecats, lemurs (with whom you get to walk around with--they actually move like cats!), primates and exotic fish. I guess one can say that the zoo is like any zoo anywhere, but I just realized that I haven't been in any outside Manila Zoo (for a gradeschool field trip) and Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife, both of which made me feel a bit sad for the animals. If you're not bothered by the fact that these animals are taken from their natural environment to be ogled at by paying visitors, it actually makes for an interesting place. It's somewhat awe-inspiring to be near so many different animals, and being caged in with lemurs and such makes you realize how animal you really are...

See also:
a shorter, wackier article on Stockholm by me, in pictures. (thru
this link)


Blogger Christianne said...

Haha, ako lang yata ang hindi na-amaze sa Vasa. The concept is nice but when I went there I was a bit underwhelmed. My sister's not too enthusiastic about going there either, mas gusto daw niya sa palaces and parks :)

11:35 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

hi Christianne! Kristine just left this morning... Well, ika nga, to each his own tourist trap :-) Heheh. It was nice to be able to catch up with you and your family in Stockholm. Sa uulitin!

12:57 PM


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