Where can you go sea kayaking one day and immerse yourself in the luxury of a city break the next? Stockholm's Archipelago... sounds promising doesn't it.
Someone has counted 24,000 islands making up the archipelago around Stockholm. From fair sized ones a couple of kilometres around to isles that are more realistically, and generously referred to as monster pebbles - which is how they must have looked to the person who counted them from the air. Some are barren and some sprout tufts of grass and pines, or a single cabin or multi million krona homes, while some have whole towns, and ports with luxury stores and appetising looking restaurants hemming them.
One of the best things about travelling around and across these islands is the vast variety of entertainment opportunities they offer. Hang out on the more cosmopolitan islands around Stockholm, and hop between charming old ports with all the mod cons, pack your bags and go camping on some of the small wooded islands, ferrying between them for variety, forge out alone in your sea kayak to explore some of the further reaches of the archipelago or mix it up for a break that successfully includes a physically challenging adventure and a city break. I might even have to use the dreaded cliché of having something for everyone...
The first thing to decide is how you're going to see the archipelago: your mode of transport around the islands and what kind of roof you want over your head at night:
Sweden has a cool rule called: Allemannsrätt, which translates to Everybody's right, meaning everyone has a right to enjoy the great outdoors and you can pitch a tent wherever you like – under these conditions: the land you're staying on can be private but it has to be uncultivated, your spot also has to be out of sight of any homestead -within 150 metres and you have to ask permission to stay, and you have to remove your own rubbish and stay for only 48 hours. This rule makes island hopping with your tent a very simple planning exercise.
The best way to get between the islands is by ferry, it's about £25 for a five day pass, using water taxis between the smaller islands. You're only ever a few hours out of Stockholm so you're hardly in the wilderness, even if you're staying on one of the uninhabited, smaller islands. If you prefer the facilities a campsite affords that's always an option as well, just book in advance and check to see that you don't need to be a member of any camping organisations to stay – for some sites you do. Camping Ängby has been recommended by one of our World Reviewers, Andy Knight.
The main challenge of opting to explore this region by boat and sail is getting hold of a clear chart so you can take into account the rocks below the surface, and decide which of the hundreds of pretty port towns you're hopping between. A GPS will make all the difference. Marinas vary in price, as they do greatly in atmosphere and facilities, but there's an even larger selection of sheltered harbours to moor in at night if you're trying to keep costs down, and plenty of smaller ports selling supplies if you want to avoid marina stops entirely.
If you want to spend some time in Stockholm proper it's possible to sail on the city's channels as well. Alternatively book a berth on a boat and let someone else worry about that sort of thing for you.
Choosing a kayak as your mode of transport means you have even greater agility and flexibility. It's also cheap: you can camp or book in to an inexpensive cabin; and scenic: your combined paddling and floating speed is around the same as walking. The Sörmland region south of Stockholm is a good choice of paddling ground, most of the islands are less than a kilometre apart and this area has islands of both the rugged stony variety and green, pine spiked ones. Not many of the islands have perfect beaches, but if you're in a kayak and you spot one you can take advantage of being the only one there.
There are plenty of guided options to choose from, but these gentle waters and camping friendly islands are a good place to set out if you've not been sea kayaking on your own before. Just choose a kayak with enough space to pack everything you need to live self sufficiently for a few days. But it's highly likely you'll find something more enticing to eat in the surprisingly common waterside grocery stores and marinas.
The entire archipelago has mobile phone coverage – Sweden is so organised - so you're never really alone, and can always find the nearest B&B if you get sick of camping.
Vaxholm has a reputation for having one of the prettiest traditional harbours of all 24,000 islands and islets. It started off just a 16th Century Vaxholm Castle, but expanded to include a fortified harbour, then the town, then the island of Vaxön that it sits on, then 64 islets of Stockholm's archipelago within its municipality. Until 1912 all of Vaxholm's buildings had to be made of wood, which kept the place looking traditional for the people who kept summer homes here, or visited the charming spas, and the number of wooden buildings still exceeds buildings with a more modern design.
You can drive to the town from Stockholm but for most people it's far more enjoyable to travel the 45kms by.
Björkö means Birch Island. In this case it's an island of birches and ancient treasures. In the form of the remains of a Bronze Age community, which thrived on this island around 800 BC. The oldest of the island's excavated sites is a burial ground which has nine main grave sites, two of them under burial mounds and one under a stone cairn, but there are 15 graves in this oldest burial ground and another 70 or so in two other graveyards on the island – the later bodies are buried in more modern coffins. These excavations prove that this is one of the first inhabited parts of Sweden. The selection of artefacts buried with the corpses also prove that the people who lived here traded with the rest of Europe.
Munso used to be an island but the waters have dropped, and now the island is a town on the edge of a lake, and connected to the mainland. One of the island's, now town's, main features is its 12th Century round church, but the green setting surrounding the largely traditional looking town make it a popular spot for visitors.
Möja is easily reached by ferry from Stockholm, and is popular with visitors as a foodie heaven, for its cafes, restaurants, hostels and food stores...the local speciality is strawberries. Before the 19th Century there weren't any permanent settlements on the island, it was just used to grow things – including fields of strawberries. There was plenty of fishing and hunting happening on the island pre 19th Century as well, but there are remains of ancient human habitation in the marshes and under the island's pale cliffs.
Sandhamn translates to Sand Harbour, and is located on Sandön, which translates to Sand Island. The natural harbour is beautiful, and well loved by pleasure boaters, most of them hopping the 50kms over from Stockholm. People have been pleasure tripping to this spot for a hundred years at least, and cafes, restaurants and other visitor facilities and attractions have been built along this pretty shore. Visitors can also come over via ferry. The centre of town has a mixture of wooden houses and more ornate summer villas built at the opening of the 20th Century, but along the water's edge the famous tower and chapel, and the bakeries and cafes and tavernas, were all built more recently.
Grinda is east of Vaxholm and west of Möja. It's the beaches that make this island a popular choice to visit. It's also easy to get to by ferry and has a shop and cafe, bar and taverna, but not much else so a lot of campers think its perfect.
Djurgården is Stockholm's garden island, it used to be the Royal Game Park, and this is where many of Stockholm's museums, galleries, monuments and great buildings are found, including an amusement park and an open air museum. Despite all that there's still large swathes of forest and meadow left for picnic-ers to enjoy when they 'pop over', possibly on their yachts, which they can park in one of the island's yacht harbours. The game park was established in the 16th Century and stocked with elk, deer and reindeer. But there's none of that now. The island's highlights are the Beckholmen historic dry docks, the Cirkus theatre, a heritage tramway, the art gallery Liljevalchs konsthall, the Rosendal Palace, a Nordic Museum, the Vasa Ship Museum, and Skansen, the world's largest open air museum.
Gamla Stan was where Stockholm started, and when the commercial and residential sections spread onto 13 surrounding islands, the tiny winding streets and maze of old restaurants and boutiques remained, leading up to the palace. Stortorget, in the centre of Gamla Stan, is the small public square in Stockholm's historic heart.
There's also an island called Boo – but it's not as fun as its name suggests. Agno has a less fun sounding name but is another one worth visiting.
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