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Colourful buildings, Gamla Stan, Stockholm

24 hours in

Not much time in the Swedish capital? We choose our three favourite things to do when you've only got one day

You could spend weeks – or even months – exploring the beautiful Swedish capital. But if you only have 24 hours in the city, here's a short itinerary of must-see sights that can easily be squeezed into a day.

Vasa Museum

Without doubt one of the best museums in Stockholm, the Vasamuseet tells the story of an ill-fated warship that set sail from the city on 10 August 1628.

The Vasa was the pride of the Swedish crown – a lavish, richly-decorated construction built by hundreds of craftsmen. On the day it began its first and final voyage, thousands of Stockholm's inhabitants turned out to watch the spectacular ship set sail.

But the design of the ship was flawed, and the top-heavy vessel never made it out of the harbour. Within minutes of departure it had tipped over and sunk to the bottom of Saltsjön, drowning 30 of the people on board.

The Vasa lay at the bottom of the bay for 300 years until, in 1961, she was raised and put back together. The mud that the ship had been submerged in all this time had acted like a preservative – almost everything that you see in the museum is original.

Vasa Museum

The ship is vast – it's 69m long and nearly 50m tall – and as you enter the museum the scale of it takes your breath away. You can walk right around the outside of the ship on three different levels – giving you a close up view of canons, port holes, rigging and decorative carvings, all remarkably intact. Then climb high into the roof of the building to view it from above.

There are two further levels of exhibits, including a 1:10 scale model of how the Vasa would have looked as it set sail – a glorious, techni-colour showpiece that contrasts sharply with the almost black tones of the rescued ship. You'll also find artefacts rescued from the Vasa, and reconstructions of life on board.

Don't miss the fascinating and moving lower-floor exhibit that tells the stories of several of the passengers. Skeletal remains of more than half of the passengers were found on the raised ship – and forensic science, along with artistic imagination, has been used to build up a picture of what some of these people may have looked like.

The resulting, believable models accompany accounts based on what was known about the passengers – such as 30-year-old Filip, wearing a cap like those retrieved from the sunken ship. He was almost certainly the helmsman, as his remains were found at the wheel. Or Beata, one of two women found on board. She was a guest on the Vasa, and would have left the vessel a short distance away, at Vaxholm in the Stockholm archipelago – if it had got that far.

Vasa ship detail, Vasa Museum
Reconstruction of a passenger, Vasa Museum

The Vasa museum has an excellent, ongoing environmental policy, including careful use of resources, reduction of pollutants, a recycling programme and the introduction of energy efficient LED lighting.

Gamla Stan

The gorgeous old town in Stockholm is a maze of twisting, cobbled streets and lanes, flanked by tall, colourful 17th and 18th century buildings. Situated on an island, Staden – and attached to central Stockholm by a series of bridges – it's a wonderful, atmospheric place for a wander. There are plenty of opportunities to indulge in “fika” – a very Swedish tradition involving coffee, friends or family and maybe a pastry or two – in one of the many cafés you'll find here.

Coffee sign, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
A drawing of a cat, coffee sign, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Alleyway, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Tall church buildings, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Tall buildings, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Shopping street, Gamla Stan, Stockholm

There are plenty of sights to keep you busy – it's in Gamla Stan that you'll find the Royal Palace and cathedral, as well as a fascinating museum, the Medeltidsmuseet, exploring Stockholm's medieval history. But the chief charm of the area lies in the lazy exploration of the narrow streets and stairways.

Dala horse shop sign, Gamla Stan, Stockholm
Shop sign, Gamla Stan, Stockholm

One of the main shopping streets is Västerlånggatan, a long street lined with fashion boutiques, craft galleries, souvenir shops and cafés that stretches right across the island.

Västerlånggatan is often packed with tourists, but it's relatively easy to escape the crowds by veering off into any of the smaller side streets.

Take to the water

Taking a boat trip is one of the best ways to see Stockholm. The capital is made up of 14 islands, with about a third of the inner-city area comprised of water – so hopping on board a boat will give you a different perspective of the city.

It's a great way to get around too. The Hop On Hop Off sightseeing service stops at eight different locations around the city – getting you to top spots such as the Vasa Museum, Royal Palace and Gröna Lund amusement park, and giving you fantastic views of the city while resting weary legs and feet.

Stockholm boats

Stockholm boats © Jeppe Wikström/

Ericcson Globe from Clarion Stockholm

Stockholm at night © Ola Ericson/

Stockholm at night

There are several other boat tours you can take. The Fjäderholmarna Islands boat trip – taking 25 minutes – gives you a taste of the archipelago if you're short on time.

Fjäderholmarna is a small, pretty island with outdoor cafes, trees and green spaces. There are also several spots where it's possible to swim – great for a warm summer day!

Or you can take the Royal Canal Tour, which glides under Stockholm's bridges and through the locks connecting Lake Mälaren with the Baltic Sea. An audio guide gives information about sights along the way – including Gamla Stan, the lively district of Södermalm and the green island of Djurgården.

These boat trips are all available for free with The Stockholm Pass – a sightseeing city card that includes free entry to over 60 top attractions, saving time and money. The pass includes the Vasa Museum, Royal Palace and Gröna Lund amusement park – as well as Hop On Hop Off tours by bus and boat.

Way to go

When planning a visit to Stockholm, your first port of call should be the excellent Visit Stockholm website. It contains all the latest news of events in the capital, as well as comprehensive guides for getting around, shopping, what to see and where to eat. Be sure to check out Visit Stockholm's excellent guide to green eating options in the city – featuring cafés and restaurants offering vegan, locally-produced and organic meals.  

The best way to get into the centre – especially if you're on a flying visit and pushed for time – is the excellent, efficient and speedy Arlanda Express train service from Stockholm Arlanda Airport. Just a short walk from Arrivals, the train whisks you into the city centre in just 20 minutes – it's the fastest way to get into town. It's also an eco-friendly option: running on 100 per cent green electricity, with very low emissions, it's the second most environmentally-friendly way to travel after cycling

The Clarion Stockholm is an environmentally-friendly hotel situated in the lively Södermalm district, just 50m from Skanstull metro station. It's a stylish, modern hotel with smart, spotless rooms and friendly service. Read our full review of the Clarion Stockholm.

Ericcson Globe from Clarion Stockholm

Green Adventures January 2017