Winding cobblestone streets, ancient churches, medieval squares – even a royal palace.
It’s all here in Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town).
Dating back to 1252, Gamla Stan is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval centers in Europe.
Needless to say, there are many interesting things to do in Gamla Stan.
The best way to take in these delightful Gamla Stan attractions is to walk this historic area.
8 Things to do in Gamla Stan
We’d flown into Stockholm for a Baltic cruise a few days earlier so we could enjoy some “pre-cruise” time exploring the city.
And so, armed with our trusty Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Ports guide, we set off on foot to explore Gamla Stan.
We tried to follow Rick Steves’ Stockholm walking tour of Gamla Stan.
But that’s part of the fun of exploring these old European towns, isn’t it!
(If you don’t want to get lost, you can take a free guided walking tour; scroll down to the end for details.)
In the end, it didn’t matter.
Gamla Stan is sufficiently compact – and visually rich – that it didn’t bother us if we had to retrace our footsteps a couple of times.
Here, then, are 8 fun things to do in Gamla Stan (and sights to see):
1) People-watch in Stortorget
Stortorget (or “the Big Square”) is the oldest square in Stockholm.
It’s lined by beautiful buildings and houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, once owned by wealthy merchants.
The cafés around this Gamla Stan square make good people watching spots. As do the many benches which invite you to plop yourself down and soak up the atmosphere…
2) Squeeze through the Alley of Marten Trotzig
How skinny can a street be? Pretty skinny!
The “Alley of Marten Trotzig” (Marten Trotzigs grand) is the narrowest street in Stockholm – a mere 35 inches wide.
It consists of 36 steps, which get narrower and narrower as they lead to the top of the alley.
The alley is named after Marten Trotzig (1559 to 1617), who became one of Stockholm’s richest merchants. (Unfortunately, being rich was not enough to protect him from being beaten to death.)
3) Tour the Stockholm Royal Palace
Built in Baroque style, the 18th century Swedish Royal Palace is the official residence of the Swedish royal family.
Many rooms are open to the public, however, including five museums. When wondering what to do in Gamla Stan, it’s worth building in some time to see some of these museums.
The Armory contains royal costumes and armor.
The reception rooms with their splendid interiors are worth a look too.
Also, don’t miss the daily changing of the guard outside, which is quite a show-stopper.
4) Admire the Storkyrkan
Near the Royal Palace, Storkyrkan (literally “the Great Church”) has been around for as long as Stockholm.
Built in 1279, Stockholm’s medieval cathedral is home to fascinating artifacts like the wooden sculpture of St. George and the Dragon.
On top is the clock tower, built in 1743 – at 216 feet tall, it’s hard to miss!
5) Browse for moose memorabilia
Apparently there are more moose per square mile in Sweden than in any other country.
That probably accounts for why moose memorabilia are popular as souvenirs – like this blanket decorated with moose pictures.
If you’re moose-mad, you’ll have fun doing a little Gamla Stan shopping, checking out all the moose-themed souvenirs.
6) Gawk at all the bicycles
Gamla Stan itself is more geared to walking, but Stockholm in general is quite bicycle-friendly.
It’s fun to see all the bicycles people wheel around.
7) Stop for fika
Fika (pronounced “fee-ka”) is essentially Swedish for taking a break for coffee and a pastry, perhaps a cinnamon roll or vanilla bun.
Of course, we indulged in the Swedish custom too and stopped for fika while walking Gamla Stan.
8) Eat at one of the Gamla Stan restaurants
Indeed, eating and drinking is popular in Gamla Stan!
And there are many tempting restaurants in Gamla Stan if you want more than just fika.
Map of Gamla Stan
You can zoom in and out on this map of Gamla Stan to plan how you want to explore the area.
Free walking tour of Gamla Stan
Several tour companies offer free Gamla Stan walking tours.
The idea is that hopefully you’ll pay the guide what you think the tour is worth at the end.
The tours range from 90 minutes to 2 hours, and they’re given in English. You need to reserve your guided Stockholm Old Town walk in advance.
Also check out this top-rated, small-group guided walking tour of the Old Town. (You can also choose a private tour if you prefer to have your own guide.)
Or maybe you’d like to combine an Old Town walking tour with a food tasting tour?
This guided 4-hour Nordic food walk has you tasting Swedish seafood at the food market, locally made chocolates and polkagris (traditional Swedish candies) at a tiny factory in Gamla Stan.
Other fun things to do in Stockholm
You might want to buy a Stockholm Go City Pass.
This is a sightseeing city card that gives you free entry to over 45 Stockholm attractions, museums and tours. It’s good value if you plan on doing a fair bit of sightseeing in Stockholm.
Some other popular tours and places to visit in Stockholm where you can use the card for free admission include:
- The Viking Museum
- Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour
- Royal Canal tour
- Storkyrkan Stockholm Cathedral (#4 above in Gamla Stan)
Stockholm travel tips
Best time to visit Stockholm?
We were fortunate we were visiting in September, at the end of Stockholm’s tourist season.
We didn’t encounter the crowds we understand can gather in summer. Can’t blame them though… With its lakes and fingers of waterways, Stockholm is crazily beautiful.
It’s no wonder people want to visit!
If you can, don’t visit in July or August. While the weather is dry and warm in high summer, prices are the highest and it’s very busy too.
To avoid hordes of tourists, the best time to go to Stockholm is June and September.
Transportation from the airport:
We pre-booked a chauffeur-driven car with Blacklane to take us from the airport to our hotel. Blacklane is a professional driver service that contracts with a network of licensed drivers in over 50 countries.
Surprisingly, the rate was only slightly more than what a taxi would have cost, but we had the added comfort of being met at the airport in a strange city.
Stockholm visitor information:
For more on what to do in Stockholm, see Visit Stockholm, the official tourist information website.
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Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except 1, 2 and 14)