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Budget Stockholm: How to afford a summertime trip to Sweden
Stockholm has an expensive reputation -- those who return from a visit to this swanky Swedish capital rave about its slick design, luxurious cuisine and modern amenities. As a result, would-be travelers automatically expect it will be more expensive than other European destinations. It isn't.
Though subtle, the capital of Sweden has a thriving and widespread budget culture – you just have to look in the right places to find it.
First off, it goes without saying that general budget travel tips hold true to this city. For example, if you want to save money it's probably not the best idea to stay in the luxurious Grand Hotel or eat at five star restaurants every night. It also helps to pack a lunch, take the extensive public transportation and avoid tourist traps. That said, a few local tips apply well to the city, and Gadling's ebullient and knowledgeable staff have compiled some below.
Swedes take their food very seriously, and it's quite easy to spend one's entire daily food budget on a simple, fresh cooked meal. Eating on a shoestring here can thus be a bit of a challenge, but there are plenty of ways to stay frugal.
Food markets are a great way to find great, fresh food at reasonable prices. Perhaps the most popular (and certainly the most hyped), Östermalms Saluhall (Östermalmstorg, 114 42) is one part tourist attraction and one part high-end food market. Among the myriad vendors, there are several tables available for taking a seat and enjoying a freshly prepared lunch, great places to sit, munch on some fresh herring and watch the commerce pass you by.
As an alternative to Saluhall, the more modest and less expensive Hötorgshallen (Hötorgshallen, 11157) is also in the center of Östermalm right next to the Hötorget metro stop. During the daytime, one can also find fresh, farmer's market fare and the occasional flea market in the cobblestone, airy Hötorget Square.
For inexpensive restaurants, it's best to take a few steps away from the popular downtown areas and seek out some outstanding, neighborhood digs. Though it's still close to the city, SoFo (short for South of Folkungagatan) is a great place to explore and find a new favorite haunt. Moving west on Skanegatan street you wont get more than three blocks before you find a fantastic new restaurant, but if you want our pick, try the Urban Deli (Nytorget 4).
Recommended by several guides including TimeOut, Cliff Barnes (Norrtullsgatan 45) serves decent Swedish fare to a younger, more raucous crowd. If you stay past 11 be prepared to dance, past 11:30, prepared to dance on the tables.
On the deepest budget end of the spectrum, street food is always a possibility in Stockholm, and those open to the idea of fried onions will be pleasantly surprised by the hot dog culture here. Just north of the Medborgarhuset Metrostop on Götgatan (incidentally a huge bar area) there are plenty of options available.
Finally, if you're interested in a bit of vegetarian fare, our good friend and Stockholm resident Doug Lansky suggests Hermans (Fjällgatan 23B) for a wide spread of delicious, all-you-can-eat, contemporary Swedish cooking.
Like in any destination, when demand is high (during the summer, ie) hotel prices are similarly high. Where this doesn't regularly apply is in the private market. None of VRBO's three (only three?!) properties host seasonal rates, and some creative Google searching will surely locate another sheaf of possible rental properties.
If hotels are your thing, however, fret not. Eurocheapo lists a variety of inexpensive hotel options scattered around the city, and a cross-reference of lowest-priced Kayak hotels against the Tripadvisor database should yield a few options inside of the city limits. Additionally, Frommer's hosts the entirety of their hotel database online where you can reverse sort by price.
Note that while summer rates will still be high, you may be able to find a few deals during the Midsommar festival near the end of June, when many locals are out of town and when hotel loads are similarly light. Be advised, however, that you may have to deal with creative holiday schedules.
As an alternative to traditional hotel lodging, Stockholm also has a wide range of unique hostels from The Red Boat Mälaren (it's a boat!), on Lake Mälaren to the Jumbo Hostel (it's an airplane!) outside of Arlanda Airport.
It might be cliché, but one of the best inexpensive tourist attractions in Stockholm is people watching. From the moment you set foot in the Stockholm airport you'll probably notice that everyone is gorgeous, and many an hour have Gadling staff spent sitting at Muggen Cafe (Götgatan 24) in Södermalm celebrating various passers-by.
Digressions aside, the best way to tackle most of the city's sites on a budget is with a tourist pass. Providing free access to scores of museums and attractions, The Stockholm Card is one of your best bets for universal tourist access. Prices range from $50 to $90 and if you plan on going to more than a couple of museums the cost is totally worth it. You can acquire the card prior to departure online or downstairs at the airport once you arrive.
If approaching the museum scene piecewise, make sure to keep the Vasa Museum (Djurgårdsvägen 36) near the top of your list. Centered around a painstakingly restored 17th century ship (in its entirety), the Vasa is one of the most unique attractions in the world, is multilingual and offers free admission to anyone 18 or younger. Admission for adults is $15 or free with the above Stockholm Card, and a visit here can easily last half of a day.
Another excellent and inexpensive museum is the recently opened Fotografiska (Stadsgårdshamnen 22), which currently features an outstanding Annie Leibovitz exhibit and a slightly creepier fetal photography series. Admission runs around $14.
Outside of the tourist scene, one great way to explore the region and enjoy the natural beauty of Stockholm is via the ferry system. Since everyday Swedes rely on this network to commute between downtown and the hundreds of archipelago islands, prices are relatively low and the variety of destinations quite high. Vaxholm, for example, is a bucolic, beautiful island town only an hour away from downtown Sweden and can provide a full day of exploration and socializing.
Ferries can be picked up across the city. A major hub from which tourists can get further directions is right in front of the Grand Hotel in Östermalm.
Finally, keep your surroundings in mind when planning out your frugal trip into Stockholm. Though budget options are available, the city is built upon a foundation of high quality, well-done goods and services. It's thus best to leave a bit of wiggle room in your overall budget, even if you're the best penny pincher in the county. Rest assured, that on a budget or a binge Stockholm will always please.