The Stockholm Archipelago is perfect for outdoor adventurers who enjoy kayaking, fishing and bird-watching
Hidden away in the Baltic Sea is a vast group of islands that has, up until now, been left largely in peace, with little interest from the rest of the world. But as travelers seek out new destinations and virgin landscapes, the Stockholm Archipelago is coming into its own as a fresh sight for jaded eyes. The archipelago, the world’s largest, extends from Stockholm for about 37 miles to the east, and with 24,000 islands running along Sweden’s north-south coastline.
Lotta Thiringer, U.S. director, Visit Sweden, believes people travel to Sweden to experience something exotic, and to relax. “As travelers are becoming more and more independent and looking to do ‘their own thing,’ many discover how easy it is to just hop on a boat for a day-trip or for a couple of nights to the archipelago,” she says. One may come across fancy towns with hotels and nightclubs on some islands while others might have a single inn and very few visitors, giving every kind of visitor something to enjoy.
What to Do
Outdoor activities are popular—swimming and sunbathing being the most common, Thiringer says, but kayaking, fishing and sailing are also available. During spring and early fall, hikers can take to quiet trails. The islands also abound in opportunities for seal- and bird-watching (Thiringer recommends the eagle tours).
Several boat services run dinner cruises, where guests sail on an old steamship and enjoy the sunset as dinner is served. Visitors with more time to spare can go island-hopping, exploring each island in greater depth. Cruise ferries of the Viking Line sail between Helsinki and Stockholm; Stockholm and Turku; and Helsinki and Tallinn. These cruises can be part of a complete Scandinavian itinerary, or separate mini-cruises between cities, with hotel accommodations provided in each city at special rates. Other tour operators are Borton Overseas, Scandia World Travel and The Nordic Company.
A popular destination is Sandhamn, where the yachting community meets and many regattas either begin or end. In Vaxholm, amid century-old wooden houses, the Kastellet, a fortress, is open to visitors, who can stay overnight on the premises in a bed-and-breakfast.
Since the islands protect the waterways from the sea’s turbulence, sailing is mostly smooth and gentle. “The yacht trips come in many different shapes—you can go out for a couple of hours or for a couple of days,” says Thiringer. “Generally there are about four to seven people onboard, and depending on your level of proficiency you can be the captain or deckhand, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. The skippers are very experienced and will adjust the sailing to the requests and abilities of the group.”
Some companies also arrange themed sailing. Sailing Events, for example, has organized trips to writer August Strindberg’s cottage, Bruno Liljefors’ Bullerö and seal safaris.
Thiringer’s favorite island is Huvudskär, about two hours from the mainland. Visitors can borrow boats and canoes from the one hostel there, and barbecue on the bridge long into the night. “Just the boat trip is worth the [journey],” she says.
Where to Stay
The islands’ accommodations range from campsites to hostels and hotels, but Thiringer says “even the most spartan hostels are well-kept and have their own charm.”
Before setting out to sea, travelers can luxuriate at the Grand Hotel Stockholm, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, which opened in 1874 opposite the Royal Palace. This fall, the hotel will unveil a new 15,070-square-foot Raison d’Etre Spa. The property is ideal for those who prefer day trips to the archipelago. Contact General Manager Nils Axing at [email protected].
On the islands themselves, for traditional accommodations, travelers should consider Sandhamn’s Seglarhotellet, which has a spa and both an indoor and outdoor pool. The hotel has 79 double rooms, three suites with private sauna and Jacuzzi, and nine newly renovated apartments by the outdoor pool. Contact Managing Director Magnus Widell (011-46-705-269-560, [email protected]).
Many historical houses have been turned into hostels or hotels. Elfsala Gästgård on Värmdö, an 18th-century fishermen’s inn, is now a guesthouse with four rooms. Agents can contact Manager Olof Hagstrand at 011-46-706-313-520.
Utö Värdshus on the island of Utö, one of the most remote in the archipelago, dates to the turn of the century. Greta Garbo, painter Anders Zorn and August Strindberg reportedly stayed there. It now has several cabins and annexes with views of the sea. Contact General Manager Malin Lidström (011-46-850-420-307, [email protected]).
For gourmands, Grinda Wärdshus, about an hour’s boat ride from Stockholm, has earned several awards for its cuisine, besides being selected, notes Thiringer, for “the best cuisine in the archipelago.” The travel agent liaison is Eric Lund, 011-46-854-249-491.
Smådalarö Gård is an 1810-built manor house that has been converted into a four-star hotel with 62 rooms and a nine-hole golf course. Contact Hotel Manager Eric Waxin at 011-46-850-155-120.
SAS to Sweden
Travelers heading to Sweden will appreciate Scandinavian Airlines’ recent upgrades to its Economy Extra class, available on flights from the U.S. (nonstop from New York and Chicago) to Stockholm. Economy Extra passengers checking in at the SAS Business counter are eligible for priority boarding and are coddled in a separate cabin onboard a 35-seater A330 or an A340 that seats 28. Passengers have a larger allowance for checked baggage and may carry one additional piece of hand luggage.
Seats in Economy Extra are more comfortable than in Economy, and each seat has a power outlet for a laptop. Economy Extra passengers also have a digital in-flight entertainment system with audio and video on demand.
They receive a three-course lunch or dinner with a selection of wines, alcoholic beverage and other refreshments.