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How to See Stockholm on a Shoestring

Stockholm has me dazzled. The Swedish capital is vibrant, humming with youthful energy, wide-open green spaces, and a forward-thinking arts-and-culture scene begging to be experienced. Unfortunately, all that dazzle can leave your bank account a little bit bleak. Stockholm routinely ranks among the world’s most expensive cities for visitors and locals alike (a fact I discovered firsthand while paying for a $7 drip coffee while quietly, inwardly weeping).

It’s true that airfare from the States will never be cheap, but fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save a few kronor while on the ground. If you keep these tips in mind, a budget-friendly stay is totally possible, and you won’t feel like you’re missing a thing.

Hip Hotels

Accommodations in Stockholm can be on the expensive side, with rooms at the most luxurious properties topping out near the thousand-dollar mark. But contemporary local chains offer plenty of value without sacrificing on comfort or cool Swedish style. The Nobis Group, for instance, operates a small portfolio of hotels around the city, including the elegant new Miss Clara and the Hotel J Nacka Strand along the harbor. Rates at these properties start at well under $200 per night. Similarly, Hotel Rival (TripAdvisor’s number-two stay in Stockholm) has a price point around the $200 mark and a prime location in hipster paradise Sodermalm. Do some research on TripAdvisor and you’ll find that even the most budget-priced properties look downright sumptuous: To Swedes, elegant, stripped-down style is key.

Sightseeing for Cheap

The Stockholm Card is one of the best deals we’ve encountered in this often pricey city. Available for purchase online, the card gives you access to most of the city’s museums and attractions, a free tour, a city map, and, best of all, unlimited use of the public transportation system. Passes start at about $72 per day but the real value is in multiday passes, available in two-, three-, and five-day increments. Unlike city passes in other cultural capitals, which only offer a handful of museum and attraction options, the Stockholm Card offers entry to 80-some sights. For further inexpensive transportation, consider picking up a three-day Stockholm City Bikes pass for the duration of your trip (about $22).

Colder Is Better

Yes, Sweden gets cold, but if it’s a deal you’re after, winter is the time to get it. The Northern Lights make rural destinations popular, but Stockholm prices can be much more competitive in the colder months. Look for deals January through March…and pack your warmest parka. You’ll want it to explore the free, cozy Christmas market at open-air museum Skansen, where glogg (warm mulled wine) and traditional holiday treats like saffron buns and gingerbread can help keep you warm.

Traditional Eats

Most visitors notice right away that restaurants in Stockholm are generally higher priced than those stateside. But there’s an easy hack: husmanskost. The term, which literally translates to “homeowner fare,” means traditional Swedish cuisine, the kind of homestyle dishes that many Stockholmers grew up on. These meals tend to be starch-heavy, filling, and tasty—and cheap. Bars, restaurants, and cafes across the city offer a two- or three-course menu of husmanskost for a set price, called a dagens ratt, or daily menu. Those that don’t have a dagens ratt often include several traditional items on the regular menu, such as toast skagen, pickled herring (a can’t-miss part of the local cuisine at any price), or those famous Swedish meatballs, that are priced well below the restaurant’s other offerings.

A general note about dining out: Drinking in Stockholm is expensive, with high local taxes levied on alcohol. Seeing the prices on a wine list are enough to make Keith Richards a teetotaler, so imbibe very moderately.

Shop Smart

In this minimalist-fashion-forward city, you can find a number of clothing brands that are only available in Sweden. If you’re dying to shop, visit these before you head to shops that can be found stateside. Yes, H&M, Zara, and other fast-fashion retailers abound in the city, but their wares are hardly unique; there’s no reason to waste money there. Instead, check out Swedish brands like Filippa K and Cos, H&M’s modern, minimalist capsule store. (Prices can be laughably high, but I found pretty good deals at the clearance racks.) If you’re a vintage fiend, Stockholm’s secondhand shops are filled with even more good deals. Many shops are in SoFo, a boho neighborhood in Sodermalm, where you can also find inexpensive cafes and bars that are perfect for when you’re all shopped out. 

Free Outdoorsy Fun

It seems that no matter the weather, Stockholmers love to spend time outdoors. There are a great many parks and public spaces to enjoy, and visitors shouldn’t overlook them for easy and inexpensive entertainment. The Royal National City Park consists of three separate parks (Haga, Ulriksdal, and Djurgarden) connected by the picturesque Brunnsviken Bay. On Djurgarden, I found plenty of trails for hiking, biking, and walking, plus inexpensive cafes and museums. In nice weather, it’s a great place to plop down with a picnic lunch or a good book. I made like a local and polished off several thrillers by Swedish crime writer Camilla Lackberg while basking in the warm, sun-soaked park.

Any other money-saving Stockholm tips, readers?

(Photos: Dara Continenza)

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