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8 Best Things to Do in Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s Old Town)

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.

Things to Do in Gamla Stan
What to see in Stockholm? Gamla Stan Old Town, of course!

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.

Stockholm's Old Town is a veritable living museum, overflowing with churches, palaces and colorful buildings.
Stockholm’s Old Town is a veritable living museum, overflowing with churches, palaces and colorful buildings

We tried to follow Rick Steves’ Stockholm walking tour of Gamla Stan.

But we got lost anyway – just as we have in other higgledy-piggledy medieval towns like tiny Trogir and the 1,700-year-old palace city of Split in Croatia.

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

One of the best things to do in Gamla Stan is simple - sit in Stortorget Square and enjoy the people-watching
One of the best things to do in Gamla Stan is simple – sit in Stortorget Square and enjoy the people-watching

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

Alley of Marten Trotzig, Gamla Stan
Yes, this is one skinny alley!

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

Stockholm Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan is one of Europe’s largest palaces

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

Storkyrkan
This church has several names: Storkyrkan, Stockholm Cathedral and the Church of St. Nicholas

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!

Storkyrkan Clock Tower
If you need to orient yourself in Gamla Stan, just look up for the Storkyrkan clock tower

5) Browse for moose memorabilia

Red blanket decorated with moose
Who wants a moose-decorated blanket?

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

Bicycling in Stockholm
With over 470 miles of bicyle paths, Stockholm is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities!

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

Cinnamon rolls for Swedish fika
Warm fresh-baked cinnamon rolls at a Gamla Stan cafe

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.

Fika in Sweden
Taking a break for Swedish fika

8) Eat at one of the Gamla Stan restaurants

A restaurant in Stockholm Old Town
A restaurant in Gamla Stan down a cobblestoned side-street

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.

Everywhere you look in Gamla Stan, there's something interesting to see.
Everywhere you look in Gamla Stan, there’s something interesting to see

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.

See these companies for a free tour:

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

Sweden's capital city is made up of 14 islands, and there are lots of beautiful places to visit in Stockholm!
Sweden’s capital city is made up of 14 islands, and there are lots of beautiful places to visit 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.

We used the card to visit:

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)

Where to stay in Stockholm

Overlooking one of Stockholm’s harbors, our base was the Hotel Diplomat Stockholm, originally built in 1911 as an Art Nouveau palace – lovely!

See our review of the Hotel Diplomat.

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!

Bottom line?

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.

Experience more of Europe!

Bonn (Germany) | From visiting Beethoven’s house to ogling the pretty Poppelsdorf Palace, you’ll love these delightful things to do in Bonn.

Dubrovnik (Croatia) | Get high and walk the Dubrovnik city walls!

Porto (Portugal) | Is Porto worth visiting? Absolutely! (Especially if you read our tips on how to avoid the crowds)

Planning your next trip?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And find crazy useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

GetYourGuide | Check out the best local guided tours and book skip-the-line tickets to attractions.

World Nomads | Never travel without insurance! World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities, as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear. We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.

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Things to Do in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except 1, 2 and 14)


About the authors:

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Denise Brownell

Thursday 27th of July 2017

I will book mark this article for my upcoming trip. We are also departing from Stockholm for a Baltic Cruise. Gamla Stan sounds like a perfect day 1 after overnight flight...........and Fika will help!

Janice and George

Friday 28th of July 2017

The "fika" will definitely help after flying overnight to get to Stockholm! Have a fabulous Baltic cruise!

Anda

Sunday 6th of November 2016

I liked Stockholm way more than I expected, Gamla Stan in particular. We were very lucky with the weather too. It was just perfect. The little cafés around Stortorget were my favorite place for ice cream and people watching. So much to see and photograph all around the Old Town and the port area.

Janice and George

Sunday 6th of November 2016

The weather can make a big difference to one's perception of a place - glad you had good weather too :-). And, yes, Stockholm is very photogenic...

Alison Abbott

Saturday 5th of November 2016

My husband has been to Stockholm often and I was always so disappointed I couldn't make a trip with him. Now I know first hand what a beautiful city I missed. Next time I will have to make sure my calendar is clear!

Janice and George

Saturday 5th of November 2016

Yes, make every effort to go with him next time he visits! You won't regret it :-).

Jessica

Friday 4th of November 2016

Looks lovely, love the tall colorful old houses! I have never been to Stockholm but this looks like a great area to begin exploring!

Janice and George

Friday 4th of November 2016

You have to get lost in Gamla Stan if you visit Stockholm. Once that's out of your system, you can venture elsewhere :-).

Janice and George

Thursday 3rd of November 2016

We tend to go to more warm weather places too - especially as we live in Canada (so we need some of that sunshine in winter). But we were really impressed by northern Europe - Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, etc. - which was all new for us. It probably helped that we lucked out with beautifully warm and sunny weather :-). Anyway, we think you'd enjoy Stockholm!