Discover Stockholm by boat

Discover Stockholm by boat

The Swedish capital is sometimes referred to as the "City that floats on water" - so an excellent way to experience and explore it, and beyond, is by taking some boat trips

By Andrew Marshall

Published: Fri 11 May 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 May 2018, 2:00 AM

Geographically speaking, Stockholm is spread across 14 islands at the point where the freshwater Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. Each island has its own character, and this beautiful city is a scenic labyrinth of waterways, waterfront views, forests and parkland, where you are usually no more than a few minutes walk away from water. 
Start your exploration of Stockholm's water world underway by catching the year-round public Djurgården ferry (Djurgårdsfärjan) which incorporates many of the city's main attractions. Once the ferry departs from its main terminal near the Slussen Tunnelbana (Metro Station), there are fabulous vistas (and great photo opportunities) of the island of Gamla Stan (the Old Town) with its distinctive red, yellow and ochre tapered buildings, as it heads across the water to Djurgården Island, the city's leisure oasis and national park packed with footpaths and cycling trails. 
This is also the jumping off point for Gröna Lund (Sweden's oldest amusement park dating from 1883 with a host of thrilling rides and attractions), the impressive Skansen open-air museum (with its zoo, replica of a 19th century town, historic buildings and outdoor exhibits) and Scandinavia's most visited museum - the superb Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum) built around the Royal Warship Vasa
The Vasa lay at the bottom of the sea for well over 300 years after it sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was finally discovered and salvaged in the 1960s with virtually all its treasures intact, including sailor's pants, carpenter's tools and hundreds of original wooden sculptures. After a careful restoration process, the ship, now the oldest identified and complete ship in the world, is the museum's crowning glory. Along with several exhibitions, there's a fascinating film of the restoration and a guided tour. 
After exploring Djurgården, catch the ferry to the island of Skeppsholmen which boasts the Moderna Museet (Modern Art Museum) - showcasing one of Europe's finest collections of contemporary art, including key works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol. There's an excellent gift shop and restaurant/café with views across the water to Djurgården. The ferry's final stop is on the island of Gamla Stan with its network of narrow cobbled streets crying out to be explored, in addition to catching the pomp and ceremony of the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. 
From around May to October, a steamboat excursion inland along the serene waters of Lake Mälaren, taking in Drottningholm Palace, the Swedish royal residence, is a must do. Situated right on the lake-side and inspired by Versailles in France, this superbly-preserved palace and its grounds date back to  the17th and 18th centuries. Another recommended boat trip is to the ancient Viking island settlement of Birka (on the UNESCO list), where you can see the remains of Sweden's most important medieval trading centre and a dizzying array of ancient finds.  
To the east of the city lies the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago - a unique array of 24,000 pine-clad islands and islets scattered across the water for 60km (37 miles) in the direction of Finland. Only a hundred or so are inhabited, but that still gives Stockholmers and visitors a good selection to explore. Although the sea can be cold, even in the warmest months, the islands are largely unspoilt by mass tourism or development of any kind. 
From the Strömkajen ferry terminal in front of the famous Grand Hotel, numerous streamlined ferries leave every day, stopping at dozens of islands that dot the blue waters of the Baltic Sea. Most of the boats leave around mid-morning (there are timetables posted on every jetty), which means you can get to quite a distance before it's time to return. You can buy tickets from the Waxholmsbolaget office on the quayside on Strömkajen (or on the boats themselves), but if you are planning to visit several islands, it may be worth buying the Interskerries Card (Båtluffarkort), which gives five days' unlimited travel for around 350 kroner. 
Vaxholm is one of the most visited islands, and makes for a great introductory trip to the archipelago. Shortly after leaving Stockholm, the ferry skillfully manoeuvres its way through a maze of narrow passages, stopping here and there to drop off commuters and visitors along the way. Distinctive Scandinavian homes with their yellow, musk and red facades contrast vividly against the ubiquitous conifer woodlands and rocky outcrops of the islands.
Vaxholm is a cluster of pretty homes huddled around an atmospheric wooden harbour, where a creaky old sailing ship sits at her moorings. An imposing stone fortress, which once guarded the waterways, rises from the water to complete the picture. In the 19th century, Stockholm merchants created an enclave of lavish homes on Vaxholm, making it one of the wealthiest islands in the archipelago. Today, it has more of a village air: you can stroll the quaint streets, explore the art galleries and browse gift shops.  
The island of Sandhamn has been a destination for seafarers since the 1700s, and is still popular today. Stockholmers go there to explore the labyrinth of alleyways that surround the tiny boat harbour, go sailing or kayaking, and sunbathe on the sandy beaches from which the island gets its name. 
For a more back-to-basics island experience, head for the island nature reserve of Grinda where it's possible to camp or rent a rustic old chalet for the night. Finnhamn, Möja, Gällnö, Utö and Svartsö are other island options, and you could easily spend a week making a variety of boat journeys in the Stockholm Archipelago and within the city itself.

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