Skip to Content

10 things that surprised me about Stockholm

10 things that surprised me about Stockholm

Last Updated on January 19, 2024

Having traveled to dozens of countries and hundreds of cities over the past five years, it is getting harder and harder to find places that surprise me. When I took the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm for a quick weekend getaway in Sweden’s capital, I sure didn’t think that Stockholm would surprise me, but there were several things that I didn’t expect. And, admittedly I didn’t expect to love Stockholm as much as I did! I am already thinking about a return trip and how I can work Stockholm into my summer travel plans. I shared how to spend a weekend in Stockholm in a separate article, but here are ten surprising Stockholm facts, as well as some Stockholm trivia:stockholm in the snow

10 surprising facts about Stockholm

1 Stockholm is spread out across 14 Islands

I knew that there was a lot of water around Stockholm, but I had no idea that the city was in fact sitting on 14 islands! These islands, located at the mouth of Lake Mälaren, which eventually flows into the Baltic Sea, are all very close together and connected by 57 (!) bridges, and you can walk from island to island.

Gamla Stan is the oldest one of them, the place where the first settlements of Stockholm were built in the 14th century. Stockholm actually translates ‘log island’ (‘Stock’ in Swedish is ‘log’, and ‘holm’ means ‘island). ‘In Stockholm, you’re never far from the waterfront’, one of our local guides told me, and for someone like me who loves the water, that makes the already beautiful city even more attractive to me. And if 14 islands aren’t enough for you: the entire Stockholm archipelago is made out of 30,000 islands.

If you want to get a taste of what it is like to live on one of these thousands of islands, I recommend staying in an AirBnb – this semi-detached house with backyard near the Långängen recreation area on Lidingö Island is a great option, for from the water

2 So fresh and so clean

I knew that Stockholm was regularly listed as one of the prettiest cities in all of Europe, and yet I was still surprised to see how clean and neat the city was. There is no heavy industry, and that combined with the fresh sea air, is the reason why Stockholmers enjoy some of the cleanest air of any European capital, and Stockholm was the first capital to be honored the ‘European Green Capital’ award.

An interesting Stockholm fact: 95 % of the population lives less than 300 meters from a green space! The city is very active when it comes to building energy-efficient houses, sustainable land use, environmentally friendly local transport, the amount of public green spaces and recycling – I am a big fan.Stockholm trivia

For those willing to delve deeper into Sweden’s Greenside, Sweden, again, has a lot to offer in this case. The website friluftskoll offers detailed insights and extensive resources into the city’s outdoor spaces, so you can stay safe and enjoy without any worries.

3 Fika is taken very seriously here!

This is something I can definitely get behind – the typical Swedish coffee break. As a German, I was very much reminded of our afternoon coffee and cake break (Kaffee Und Kuchen), probably my favorite thing about German culture, but I think Fika is even a bit better. Why? First of all, Swedes take their coffee culture serious. Instead of just a plain ol’ filter coffee, you get an espresso or cafe latte, always prepared with utmost professionalism.

And the pastries you usually get with your coffee – to die for! Kannamummabulle (cinnamon buns) or kardemummabulle (cardamom buns) were always so fresh and delicious, I was considering moving to Stockholm just for those. There are tons of coffee bars all over Stockholm, and I would make it my mission to try (and rate) them all.

cafe mellkvist

Fika at Mellqvist Kaffebar

4 You can follow in Lisbeth Salander’s footsteps

If you don’t know who Lisbeth Salander is, you might want to skip to #5, but if reading this name gets you as excited as it gets me, you will be delighted to hear that you can go on dedicated Millennium Tours which bring you to the apartment of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Blomqvists’s apartment, Milton Security (the company she worked for), and other places of interest from the popular trilogy.

I have to admit that reading Stieg Larsson’s Trilogy was what first piqued my interest in Stockholm (especially the Södermalm neighborhood) and while I didn’t have time to join a Millennium Tour this time, I’ve already put it on my must-do list for my next visit. If you don’t have time for a guided tour, you can save these 8 locations every Millennium fan has to visit in your GoogleMaps app and create your very own Millennium walking tour through Stockholm.

By the way – the photo above was taken in what used to be Stieg Larsson’s favorite coffee shop, and also that of his main character Mikael Blomqvist.

kaffe stockholm

Kaffe, where Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) had coffee in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

5 Stockholm is very cultural

Stockholm is one of the cities with the most museums per capita in the world, making it a paradise for cultural tourists. There are nearly 100 museums in the city – a surprising Stockholm fact that I had no idea about! The Nationalmuseum is Sweden’s biggest art museum with over 16,000 paintings and 30,000 handicraft objects, and you’ve got something for every interest:

  • Modern Art at Moderna Museet
  • the excellent photography museum Fotografiska
  • Skansen (an open-air museum on Swedish country life)
  • the Vasa Museum (famous for the reconstructed Vasa Ship)
  • the Nordic Museum and the Stockholm City Museum on Swedish culture and the history of the city

…and the list goes on and on.

Stockholm is also home to the Nobel Museum, after Alfred Nobel decided to set up a fund in his name to commemorate advance science and Stockholm held the first Nobel Prize awards ceremony in 1901.

Fotografiska Sweden

Fotografiska: a revamped industrial building which now houses a photography museum. And currently showing a Herb Ritts exhibit!

And of course there is an ABBA Museum – which only opened in 2013, is interactive and even lets you sing with the ABBAs on stage and record their songs, and already attracted over half a million visitors!

In addition to all these museums, Stockholm is also home to a number of internationally acclaimed art galleries and several theaters. And UNESCO geeks can visit three World Heritage sites in the Stockholm region.

I also learned that Stockholm was home to the world’s longest art exhibition, which is its subway system – the tunnels are all covered in art – but I didn’t spend enough time in the subway to truly appreciate this unique art gallery.

stockholm street art

Some of my favorite art – street art – is hard to come by in Stockholm

6 A city of cyclists

I personally love to ride a bike whenever possible, so of course one of the first things I noticed were the many bike lanes. There are nearly 500 miles /800km of bike paths in Stockholm, and I could see myself cycle all over town all summer long. I am not sure if I would be as brave as the Stockholmers I saw on their bikes – considering that it was snowing heavily during my visit, there were quite a few cyclists! – but judging by the amount of bikes that I saw around town under a thick layer of snow, I assume that nearly everyone in Stockholm owns a bike and that most of them use it year round.Stockholm surprising facts

7 Stockholm has a booming restaurant scene

During my weekend in Stockholm I ate at quite a few restaurants, and three of them had just opened. The restaurant scene in Stockholm is booming, with new restaurants opening all the time, expanding their space or adding another branch, and the food is very creative.

There are meatballs of course (which you have to try if you eat meat – I was told that they were so much better than meatballs anywhere else in the world), lots of seafood and reindeer meat dishes, but I was surprised to see such a large variety of international cuisines and beautifully designed restaurants (I could add a whole paragraph about Swedish design here, which I absolutely loved). In total, there are over 1,000 restaurants in and restaurants

8 Stockholm in white looks even better!

Confession: I am not the biggest fan of winter. I know, this isn’t really news for most of you, but I usually despise the white stuff. I wasn’t even sure if it was worth visiting Stockholm in the winter, considering daylight hours are limited, it’s cold, and it might be snowing. However, in Stockholm, it didn’t faze me in the slightest that I was wandering around in a heavy snowstorm for hours, watching how the entire city got slowly covered in a white blanket.

Stockholm is already incredibly picturesque, but the snow made it even prettier – one of the most surprising facts about Stockholm I discovered! I also loved how the snow was like a soundproof cover, swallowing every noise you usually hear in a city. On my walk around Gamla Stan, the Old Town, I felt like I was the only person out, and I cherished the silence.Stockholm surprising facts

9 Independence outweighs chain

I was surprised to see relatively few chain stores around the city – instead, I stumbled upon boutique shop after boutique shop, independent book stores, and loads of independent design and clothes shops. Independent stores are definitely going strong in Stockholm, something I was happy to see in this age and day where the shopping streets are usually dominated by the same brands. (Of course there are still big brands in Stockholm, and let’s not forget that both Ikea and H&M were founded in Sweden).Stockholm surprising facts

10 City of technology geniuses

Did you know that the computer game Minecraft, popular internet radio Spotify and internet telephone provider Skype were all invented in Stockholm? Technology company Ericsson was also founded in Stockholm. That’s some Stockholm trivia I was completely unaware of prior to my visit, but I am particularly grateful for Skype, which has made it so much easier for me to stay connected with family and friends on my travels… who knew I was using something from Stockholm on an almost daily basis!Stockholm surprising factsHave you been to Stockholm? Which surprising Stockholm facts would you add to my list?


Sunday 22nd of March 2015

Dani, like you I love Stockholm, especially Gamla Stan. I visited in early spring when the warmth was just returning to the city and the water under the bridges were already melted. Reason #8 is definitely up there - the city is even more fairytale-like under the snow! Gorgeous!


Sunday 22nd of March 2015

Peggy - I bet spring time is a wonderful time to visit Stockholm! I can't wait to go back and I want to cycle around and kayak and explore the parks :) And eat more Kannamummabulle ;-)

Carrie @Jetwayz

Friday 20th of February 2015

I haven't been to Stockholm yet, and honestly it wasn't that high on my list. But it looks pretty amazing! And i loved the girl with a dragon tattoo series...would love to follow her footsteps


Tuesday 17th of February 2015

I just LOVE that you included a photo of Meatballs- For the People! I just got back from there this weekend and had the BEST meal from my whole trip there. Awesome post, and almost all of those surprised me as well!


Tuesday 17th of February 2015

Addie, I am so happy to hear that - had a great meal there, too, even though I'm a vegetarian! But their veggie meatballs were excellent :)


Monday 16th of February 2015

Love Stockholm! It's beautiful during the summer and the Rålambshovs park is great place to enjoy the sun.


Tuesday 17th of February 2015

I hope I'll get to return in July or August! Would love to cycle around the city and enjoy picnics in the park! :)


Sunday 15th of February 2015

I visited for the first time last month also and wasn't impressed at all by the city. Though it kept it's european charm and architecture, the people are quite standoffish and everything is expensive. The gypsy beggars were the most surprising thing about the city for me.


Wednesday 18th of February 2015

Drew - interesting that you found the people standoffish! I actually thought they were quite nice, but I'm used to Scandinavians being pretty reserved. I didn't see any gypsy beggars at all - wondering if they were waiting out the snowstorm somewhere?!