Things to do
10 reasons to visit Stockholm’s archipelago off-season
When the summer crowds depart, the archipelago returns to its natural state. Around 200 of the 30,000 islands have permanents residents, but they’re not very many – which means that it’s peaceful and quiet. There’s plenty of opportunities to roam around and experience life on the islands.
Autumn, winter and spring – all the off-season seasons have their own charm. Enjoy the beauty of September when the leaves shine in yellow, red and orange, the magic of winter when white snow and frost cover the islands and the sea freezes over (some years, see point seven further down), or welcome spring and see how nature comes to life again. On many islands, you may also run into wild animals on your walks. There are deer, foxes, rabbits and badgers on many islands, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you may also see sea eagles and seals.
There’s something about winter swimming that makes you feel re-born. It may seem daunting for first-timers, but we assure you, you’ll thank us later. Especially if there’s a sauna at hand. The Stockholm archipelago offers several great opportunities for winter swimming. Abborrvass Bad is a lovely traditional sauna by the water you can rent on the island of Svartsö, while Sandshamns Seglarhotell has floating saunas, from which you can jump directly into the water. Both islands are located a couple of hours from the city by ferry. (Remember to always be safe: if you have a heart condition, don’t attempt winter swimming.) If you want to swim outdoors but prefer a heated pool, try Marholmen hotelin Roslagen. The bus trip to the island takes 90 minutes; start by taking bus 676 from Östra Station to Norrtälje and from there, 632 to Marholmens vägskäl.
Swedes are masters of making the most of the darker time of the year. Who cares that the sun sets early when you can light up the dark with roaring fires, candles and twinkling lights. And never mind the cold when you can curl up under a blanket with a nice book and sip a warm drink or gather your near and dear for a long overdue dinner. Some restaurants in the archipelago are open all year around. Sandhamns Värdshus welcomes diners every day all year around, and Möja Värdshus opens its doors on winter weekends. Both are located in the mid-archipelago a few hours’ ferry trip from downtown Stockholm and serve hearty Swedish food.
Many islands like Utö and Sandhamn have their own Christmas markets, filled with little red huts where local entrepreneurs sell crafts and delicacies from the archipelago – perfect gifts to take home. Strolling around with a cup of warm glögg and a gingerbread cookie in your hand is guaranteed to get you in the mood for the holidays. Some local restaurants, such as Utö Värdshus, a 2,5 hour trip through the southern archipelago, and Fjäderholmarnas Krog, only 30-minutes from central Stockholm by boat, also open for the Christmas season, offering a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. If you’re lucky, it might even snow.
Booking a nice hotel room in the archipelago in the summer might be a challenge due to the crowds – but off-season there’s less demand. Still, many wonderful hotels and B&Bs keep their doors open and also serve food. Try, for instance Svartsö Skärgårdshotell & vandrarhem, a simple but pleasant hotel, or Missionshuset, a B&B housed in an old church on Sandhamn. Or go for a different kind of archipelago experience at Siggesta Gård, a functioning farm with elegantly renovated rooms on Värmdö, 50 minutes from the city by bus 437 or 439 from Slussen. For travel information, visit sl.se
On clear winter days, when snow covers Stockholm, many locals think that the capital is at its prettiest. Those days are perfect for a winter cruise around Fjäderholmarna, Stockholm’s closest islands about 30 minutes from Nybrokajen. Hop on the boat and enjoy the wintry views along the city’s quays. If you want to sit outdoors on the deck, there are blankets and warm drinks on offer. With any luck, the sea has frozen over and you’ll get to see how the ferry breaks the ice.
Cross-country skiing is such an enjoyable way of being in nature, and it suits everyone regardless of age. Pack a rugsack with sandwiches, water and something warm to drink and head outside. For instance, Nacka golf club’s course in the Velamsund nature reserve, 20 minutes from the city, turns into a lovely ski trail on snowy winters, with trails between 3,4–12,5 kilometres. To get there, you take bus 474 from Slussen towards Hemmesta, change to bus 424H in Gustavsberg and get off at Nilstorpsvägen. Hemmestaspåret on Värmdö island is another nice spot for skiing, offering trails between 2,5–7,5 kilometres in a pretty forest. Bus 439 from Slussen will take you there in an hour; get off at Kolvik.
Ask your hotel or a local for tips to find the best trails near your destination, and don’t forget warm clothing. If you don’t want to bring or buy your own equipment, you can rent a package from Sporthyra (sporthyra.se).
Many hotels charge less for the rooms off-season and offer attractive packages with accommodation and food included.
Looking to learn about life on the islands from the experts themselves, those living here all year around? During the summer season people are often busy taking care of their restaurants, kiosks and stores, but off-season, the pace is much slower, and they’ll have more time to chat.