Spanning 14 islands on the edge of the Baltic, the city that bills itself as the Capital of Scandinavia is certainly its most beautiful. Frequently hailed as the most child friendly city in Europe, Stockholm is the complete package when it comes to a family weekend away. It is small enough to get around on foot, has stacks of green space and crystal water and is packed with all the culture, food and design cred that you’d expect from a famously on-trend capital.
Here’s what to do in Stockholm with kids in tow.
WHERE TO STAY
This 5 star boutique hotel is everything you expect from Stockholm – relaxed and understated yet seriously stylish. Centrally located on the waterfront overlooking the Old Town, the friendly (but impeccably dressed) staff know the city inside out and can give you advice and recommendations on what to do (in faultless English).
The interconnecting room layouts provide excellent family space but they are limited in number so book ahead. Extra beds can also be added to most room types though, free of charge for under 12s.
The book-lined lounge area, with its huge chesterfield sofas, serves food all day and is very popular with locals so buzzes with activity from late afternoon and well into the evening. You can also take the brilliant breakfast there.
Children are made very welcome and are a regular fixture in the lounge but be aware that the communal spaces are fairly small and while the atmosphere is relaxed it is still rather refined. So, if your kids prefer to do laps of the breakfast room rather than eat their cinnamon buns in peace, you may feel more comfortable with the relative anonymity of it’s vast sister property, the Grand Hotel, next door.
If you are going to be spending a lot of your time on Djurgården (and chances are, with kids, you will be) this small waterside retreat is within striking distance of all the major attractions. The huge garden and surrounding parkland make it hard to believe you are only a (very scenic) 15 minute walk from the city centre and the popular restaurant has a lovely waterfront terrace open in the summer. Dedicated family rooms have a separate bedroom with a sofa bed for kids in the living area, but extra beds can be provided for other room types as well – with only 36 rooms it books up quickly.
Enjoying a spectacular waterfront location on Nacka Strand, Hotel J is less than 20 minutes from the city centre by boat or bus (10 minutes by car) but feels like a world away. The nautical New England inspired decor at this converted summer house is straight from the Ralph Lauren interiors playbook – think light wood and plenty of red, white and blue. The popular waterfront restaurant has great views back across the city and the harbour and excellent seafood. Cosy and inviting in the winter, Hotel J is really at its best in the summer when kids can blow off steam in the garden and you can take in the midnight sunset from the deck or your room’s balcony.
WHERE TO EAT
Situated in the upscale neighbourhood of Östermalm, this 19th century food hall has everything you could possibly want to pull off the perfect picnic – don’t miss the salted licorice, fabulous breads and super fresh seafood. If you want to eat in, either do battle for one of the popular table spots to eat your stall purchases or opt for table service at one of the restaurants: Lisa Elmqvist serves up exemplary versions of all the Swedish seafood classics inside the hall or try its sister spot Lisapåtorget in the outdoor courtyard.
A beach/jungle themed Thai restaurant with dancing fairy lights and indoor thunderstorms may not be top of your list for a romantic night out but for a dinner with kids it really hits the spot. Serving all the Thai standards, this is a fun, playful option if you want to take a break from meatballs and open sandwiches. Tables are dotted throughout different sections of the fantastically kitsch restaurant, including some perched over waterways and inside converted tuk-tuks.
The incredible sourdough and rye breads from this chain of stone oven bakeries fly off the shelves every day but it’s the cinnamon (and cardamom) buns that steal the show. Simply the best we have ever tasted. Just don’t leave it too close to closing time to stock up on yours as they’ll all be gone. There’s 11 branches across the city (and now a store in London too, so if you’re lucky enough to live in Shoreditch…).
If you are travelling with older kids who can navigate dining on a bar stool, head to Bakfickan in the opera house for the best traditional meatballs with all the trimmings. You’ll never eat the Ikea version again. It has a no reservations policy (and is very small) so get there early for lunch or be prepared to queue.
This greenhouse style cafe forms part of an upmarket garden centre with beautiful gardens, a small food store, bakery and organic vegetable patches. Imagine a low-key Petersham Nurseries serving some of the best sandwiches, cakes and coffee in Stockholm – all organic and made on site. Eat on the terrace or, even better, at one of the picnic tables in the apple orchard. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also on Djurgården, making it the perfect pit stop before or after a trip to Skansen, Junibacken or one of the museums. A firm Mr Fox favourite.
WHERE TO PLAY
If you are in Stockholm with kids, chances are you will be spending 99% of your trip on the island of Djurgården – the urban park which is home to most of the city’s kid-friendly attractions (see What To Do below) and the perfect place to make the most of the long summer days. Mostly traffic free, there are vast stretches of forest, grass and meadows interspersed with museums, restaurants and harbours. Bikes, seaways, golf carts, canoes, skates and rowing boats can all be hired from Djurgårdsbrons Sjöcafe to explore the island.
Grab a coffee and head to this urban oasis to blend in with the well-heeled residents of Östermalm. The park boasts a terrific playground, cafe and skateboard ramps but is really central making it easy to slot some playtime into the rest of your day’s sightseeing plans.
Ivar Los (no website, Bastugatan 22, Södermalm)
The main draw of this popular park on bohemian Södermalm is the spectacular panoramic views back across the city centre and the Old Town. There is a good kids playground too, making it a win-win.
WHAT TO DO
If you are planning to visit a few museums invest in a Stockholm Card that gives free entry to over 70 museums and attractions as well as free public transport.
A must-do in Stockholm with kids, this indoor adventure theme park (based on the works of Pippi Longstocking creator Astrid Lindgren), is as popular with local families as it is with tourists. Board a red coach for the story-train ride that crosses through miniature fairytale landscapes (with English narration on request), then discover the inter-connected playrooms, which are transformed into fantasy towns or houses. Kids can dress up, throw themselves down slides and generally charge around.
Until January 2017 it also plays host to a Meet the Moomins exhibition. There is a great book and toy store too. (The story train ride does have some sections that may be frightening for younger or nervous kids, but it’s still worth a trip for the playrooms alone).
This enormous open-air folk museum features a zoo, aquarium, vintage amusement park and plenty of trails to walk and play. The museum’s main exhibits of traditional Swedish houses may not be too thrilling for kids but the animals and the rides rarely fail to entertain. The main zoo houses mainly Nordic animals (bears, wolves, moose) and there’s a separate children’s petting zoo (Lill-Skansen) as well as pony rides, horse and carriage rides and a miniature train. The aquarium houses spiders and snakes that can be petted (by the brave) but charges a separate entrance fee from the main museum. In December it hosts a wonderful Christmas market and a program of festive activities.
Museum of Science & Technology (Tekniska Museet)
Stockholm’s answer to the Science Museum spans three floors and will keep children of all ages occupied for hours. Babies and toddlers will love the Minirama room with mad mirrors, blocks and toys while older kids can get stuck into the Teknorama area – full of machines they operate with their bodies, including a giant electricity generating hamster wheel. Head to the Machine Hall where suspended displays of cars, planes, trains and motorbikes thrill transport obsessed toddlers. Sweden’s only 4D cinema (with individual remote controls, moving seats and 3D specs) is housed here too. There are daily shows in English – and a great cafe for lunch or an afternoon coffee stop.
Home to the magnificently preserved warship the Vasa (that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628), this museum is an absolute must with older kids. The sheer scale of the ship (the largest of its kind in the world) is mind-blowing and the reconstructions of the crew members inside are eerily lifelike. There are two museum ships moored outside as well, which kids can clamber aboard and investigate. Rosendals Trädgård (see Where to Eat above) is walkable afterwards.
If your kids prefer wheels to boats (or love both), check out the Spårvägsmuseet (Transport Museum) on Södermalm where they can climb aboard vintage buses, trains and trams.
Sweden’s oldest amusement park blends old world charm and tame favourites (carousels, bumper cars) with modern white-knuckle rides including Europe’s tallest free-fall tower and rollercoasters. Situated on the water’s edge in Djurgården it has great views back across Stockholm. As you’d expect, there are height restrictions on many of the rides (currently 1m40) but there is plenty to entertain younger kids too.
OUT OF TOWN
If you are staying longer than weekend, jump on a ferry and head out to explore the beautiful archipelago which starts just a few miles to the east of the city centre. Host to the summer houses of many Stockholmers, the islands enjoy more sunshine than the city in the summer months and have an atmospheric Swallows & Amazons feel to them with quaint wooden homes and beautiful beaches.
June to August is the easiest time to visit as all the hotels, restaurants and facilities are open and ferries from the city centre are frequent. Always book ahead though as accommodation books up quickly in the peak months. Popular with the sailing crowd, Sandhamm is 2 hours from the city and has a long beach and good options for staying and eating. Closer to the city, Grinda, Utö, Fjäderholmarna and Vaxholm are all picture perfect choices for a trip out of town.
WHERE TO SHOP
There is no escaping the fact that Stockholm is expensive and shopping is unlikely to be high up your list – even popular brands such as Polarn O. Pyret, Brio and H&M are widely exported and cheaper back home in the UK than they are in their native Sweden.
Geggamoja are famous for their brightly coloured unisex kids clothes, toys and blankets (all in organic cotton) and while boutique stockists in the UK are growing, this is one brand you might want to stock up on in one swoop at their Östermalm flagship store (Grev Turegatan 10).
LIKE A LOCAL
Children under 7 travel free on buses and the Tunnelbana at all times (and, from noon on Fridays and over the weekend, up to six children under 12 travel free). Bus travel is also free for one adult with a child in a buggy. You can’t buy bus tickets in cash onboard buses so make sure you have bought a ticket or a travel card in advance.
If you are self-catering remember that the sale of alcohol is controlled and therefore only the state approved chain Systembolaget sells alcoholic drinks. Check opening times (they close Sunday).
Always use a recognised taxi firm (Taxi Stockholm, Taxi Kurir or Taxi 020). Car seats for kids can be booked. Unregistered taxis can be expensive and occasionally dangerous.
WHEN TO GO
Stockholm is at its best for family travel between May and September when you can spend long days outdoors – at the height of summer temperatures reach into the low 30s and the sun doesn’t set until nearly 11pm (and rises again at 3am). June is a perfect time to visit but avoid the midsummer weekend (around 24 June) as many restaurants and attractions close for this important local holiday.
Stockholmers tend to decamp to their summer houses in July and the city can feel slightly deserted (and some restaurants close for the month).
December is great for an atmospheric pre-Christmas visit with ice skating at Kungsträdgården and a trip round the markets at Skansen, provided your kids like cold weather. And we mean cold.
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Compiled by Kate Douglas-Hamilton with special thanks to Jennie B-J.
Mr Fox city guides are a comprehensive must-do list of places to stay, play, eat, do and shop in family-friendly cities. Compiled by writers who have tapped up the locals and thrown their children in at the deep end to bring you a tried and tested edit of the best places to be. Which leaves you nothing to do but book flights. Simple. See the rest of our Family City Guide series here.
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