Stockholm is a walkable city that also has excellent public transport. Assuming you only have half a day, it’s a good idea to stay above ground and see as much as possible, so this tour can all be done on foot with the odd boat trip. Start at the island of Kungsholmen, once known for its small-scale industries in the 19th century but now an elegant residential area of apartment blocks and a lovely park – the Ralambshovsparken.
Created in 1935, it links in with other parks on Kungsholmen to make a delightful place to stroll year-round. You’ll find cafés, play areas for children, a beach, a skate park, an open-air theatre (in the summer) and sculptures by modern Swedish artists. The Monument over Yxman (1967) by Eric Grate will see you off as you begin the attractive 20-minute walk to the next stop, at the eastern tip of the island.
Kungsholmen is also home to the stunning Stadshuset (City Hall). It was designed by Ragnar Ostberg in 1923 in the Swedish National Romantic style, although parts look almost as if they have floated in from Venice – monumental yet playful, and an arresting sight both from across the water and from its attractive terrace, with steps leading down to the Riddarfjarden bay flanked by two statues, Song and Dance, by Swedish sculptor Carl Eldh.
The golden crest on top of the 1,140-foot tower is the Three Crowns or Tre Kronor of Sweden, its heraldic emblem dating from the 1300s. You can take a guided tour of the interior if you have time (or if it’s raining), which includes the Golden Room, the Prince’s Gallery and the Blue Hall, where the Nobel Prize banquet takes place each December. 90 kr ($11). international.stockholm.se
3 Royal Palace
Cross the bridge next to City Hall and go via Norrmalm then the tiny island of Helgeandsholmen to reach Gamla Stan (the Old Town). Take a little time exploring its winding streets and souvenir shops before making your way to the Royal Palace. You could spend all day here. As well as the huge expanse of buildings, there are several museums including the Treasury and the Royal Armory.
If time is tight, simply wander through the palace itself, the rooms of which are impressive examples of late Baroque opulence with their furnishings and paintings. Must-see sights include Queen Kristina’s silver throne, looking very empty now but for all the visitors taking selfies; and the richly decorated Royal Chapel, which is up some stairs close to the entrance and exit. Open Tues-Sun 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM; 160 kr ($20). kungahuset.se
4 Vasa Museum
Swedes aren’t naturally boastful, but it can sometimes feel that way after listening to some of the recorded commentaries you get on the city’s open-top buses and boat cruises. Everything from Ikea and Tetra-Pak to the pacemaker and dynamite is a Swedish invention, not to mention car brands such as Volvo and the much-missed Saab. If you’ve had to listen to a lot of this self-congratulation, the antidote is to swing by the wreck of the Vasa and learn of its ignoble fate.
Intended as a mighty warship, even its own designers doubted it would stay afloat, and so it proved – having launched into the harbor in 1628, the first gust of wind caused it to capsize, killing 30 and sinking into mud, where it remained remarkably intact for 333 years until 1961. It was then raised and restored. Open daily 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, until 8:00 PM Wed; 130 kr $15). vasamuseet.se/en
5 Moderna Museet
From the Vasa Museum, take one of the circular boat trips that stop here (single tickets from Allmanna Grand pier to Skeppsholmen cost 30 kr/$3.60). These range in length from a few minutes to a whole archipelago tour, or you can just pick and choose your journeys. A short one would be across Ladugardslandsviken bay to the island of Skeppsholmen opposite, where the chief attraction is the Moderna Museet (modern art museum).
Collections change regularly but it is well worth a visit and is a great spot for lunch in the restaurant, where there are views across to Djurgarden. The permanent collection features works by Picasso, Dali and Rauschenberg. Open 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM Tues and Fri, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Wed-Thurs, 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM weekends; admission is free to permanent shows. modernamuseet.se