Winter escapes: treat yourself with a trip to the ‘Venice of the north’

If you’ve had a gruelling last 18 months (and let's face it, who hasn’t?), perhaps now is the time to really treat yourself. Whether you live in Sweden or fancy a European city break as travel opens up again, there are a multitude of reasons to put Stockholm at the top of your list of stress-busting destinations.

Winter escapes: treat yourself with a trip to the 'Venice of the north'
Stockholm in winter. Photo: Getty Images

Stockholm provides a unique experience thanks to its location on an archipelago of 14 islands; the city is sometimes known as the ‘Venice of the north’. Each island has a distinct feel, from the vibrant cobbled streets and alleyways of Gamla Stan to the rare combination of world-class museums and wide open green spaces in Djurgården. Stockholm is a destination of many faces, where you can jump on a water taxi and find yourself in a different world without ever leaving the city.

A long winter weekend in Stockholm is the perfect way to indulge yourself and recharge your batteries after a prolonged period of stress and anxiety. The locals really are experts in making the most of the deep midwinter. Mulled wine, fabulous spas, sumptuous food, and plentiful festive markets can turn Stockholm’s short, winter days into a positively blissful experience for discerning visitors.

And all this is just 18 minutes away from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport on Arlanda express, the most comfortable, stress-free, and environmentally-friendly way to travel to Stockholm city centre. Even better, if you’re travelling with children, they can ride for free until they’re 18. 

Want to treat yourself by discovering (or rediscovering) Stockholm? Find out how choosing Arlanda express might save you time, stress and even money

wintery view of Stockholm at Christmas. Photo: Henrik Trygg/

Staying in luxury

Once you’ve disembarked from Stockholm’s top-rated means of transport (according to Tripadvisor), there are an impressive variety of accommodation options, from boutique hotels to Airbnb rentals with stunning views. But if cosseting yourself and your loved ones is the priority, there are two very special spa hotels you should know about, each only 30 minutes from the city centre by car.

Yasuragi combines Japanese and Scandinavian spa culture in a tranquil setting in Hasseludden that looks out on the Stockholm archipelago. It’s the perfect place for couples or friends to unwind after a busy day exploring Stockholm. Relax in the heated outside pools on a hill with incredible views over the pine trees and sea and feel yourself floating up towards cloud nine.

Hot springs at Yasuragi. Photo credit: Yasuragi

Or there’s Ellery Beach House, set in the lush landscapes of Lidingö, one of Stockholm’s most affluent areas. With its palm trees, spa, and day beds, it evokes something of the spirit of California. But this is very much Stockholm, hence there’s a heated outdoor pool at this inspired choice for anyone who missed out on a summer vacation – or can’t wait for the next one.

Markets, merriment and a medieval cityscape

Now you’ve found your base and enjoyed a rejuvenating spa treatment, it’s time to explore the twinkling winter lights of Stockholm. Time it right (from around the last week of November to the cusp of Christmas), and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Stockholm’s magical Christmas markets. They don’t come much more atmospheric than the annual market in Gamla Stan (the Old Town), which happens to be one of the best preserved medieval city centres in Europe. Charming, little red huts are decorated with glittering lights and – fingers crossed – a veil of seasonal snow.

Wander among them to your heart’s content, browsing artisanal handicrafts, plates of reindeer and elk meat, and traditional Swedish Christmas sweets. The experience is best enjoyed with a glass (or three!) of warming glögg (Nordic mulled wine) – even if you end up feeling a little fuzzy, you’ll be merry as can be.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town, in the snow. Photo: Jeppe Wikström/

When you travel to Stockholm Central Station with Arlanda express, it’s easy to start your winter break with a quick stop in Gamla Stan. You can walk there from the station in 10 to 15 minutes – and enjoy some of the city’s best views on your way. Not far away, on the island of Djurgården, you’ll find Skansen Christmas market, in the world’s oldest open-air museum, with its bonfires, market stalls filled with yummy goodies for the Christmas table, and locally produced crafts.

Treat yourself: check out the full range of Arlanda express ticket options and prices now

Feast on music and Christmas foods

One of the real joys of this period is the return of live music. Many have missed the shared sense of wonder at great music being played by talented and passionate musicians in front of live audiences. Book yourself some tickets for classical concerts at Berwaldhallen, some of which will feature the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, who play a repertoire of classics. If that’s not your style, you could catch top Swedish rock outfits like The Hives at Stockholm’s Avicii Arena in mid-December. 

With Christmas just around the corner, you’ve got every excuse (if you need any!) to indulge in a delicious Swedish julbord (the Swedish Christmas buffet). You’ll find the festive banquet laid out on restaurant and hotel tables across the city. Gravlax (dry-cured salmon marinated in herbs), herring cooked and pickled in a multitude of different ways, cold meats, eggs, pates, sausages, salads, Swedish crispbreads and, of course, the centrepiece of every julbord, the julskinka, or Christmas ham.

Typical Swedish julbord (Christmas buffet). Photo: Getty Images

You can really treat yourself at the Grand Hotel. Or, with Stockholm being a city of awe-inspiring views over the water, try a julbord on one of the city’s skärgårdsbåts (the ferries that travel between the 14 islands). Don’t eat meat? Eatery offers a vegetarian julbord option in its four Stockholm restaurants.

Serene strolls, sublime sights

One of the most attractive aspects of Stockholm is just how easy it is to find serene spots, where you can walk or just sit and enjoy the views. After visiting the bustling streets of Gamla Stan, or the hipper charms of Södermalm with its vintage shops and the absorbing Fotografiska museum, you could head to a green (or perhaps white!) oasis in the heart of the city. 

Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen islands are ideal for a romantic or relaxing mid-winter stroll. As you amble around these small islands, you’ll discover sublime views in all directions, with Strandvägen and Djurgården to the north and east, and Södermalm and Gamla Stan to the south and west. Stand still and drink it all in – peace, quiet, and loveliness in the centre of one of the world’s most majestic winter cities.

Want to discover Stockholm (or fly out of Stockholm)? Find out how choosing Arlanda express might save you time, stress and even money

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Stockholm nightlife: Seven cheap pubs and dive bars that are worth a visit

The Stockholm bar scene isn't just made up of expensive wine and fancy cocktails. There are also numerous pubs that may not make a 'best pubs in the capital' list, but are as budget friendly as they are laidback, and perfect for grabbing a beer without breaking the bank.

Stockholm nightlife: Seven cheap pubs and dive bars that are worth a visit

Going out to enjoy a meal and drink can be a very enjoyable experience, offering the chance to unwind and socialise. However, eating out or just going out for a beer can be expensive. Here are some of the more affordable bars and restaurants in Stockholm.


Hellströms Bar and Restaurant has a snug and welcoming atmosphere. They offer meals such as sandwiches, salads and burgers. They also have weekly offers, pasta nights on Monday and Tuesday nights, a fajita buffet on Wednesdays, burger and fries offer on Thursdays and a nacho buffet on Fridays.

Along with meal deals during the week they also have club 90, with music from the 90s from 8pm-1am on Wednesday night, a music quiz every Thursday and a pre-party from 10pm on Saturday. Finally, their afterwork promotion takes place every weekday between 3pm and 8pm.

The price of beer starts from 30 kronor ($2.90).

Find out more about their events here.

Location: Fatbursgatan 1, Stockholm

Crazy Horse and Black Elk

With three venues across Stockholm, the Crazy Horse is a lively and bustling bar. They offer a wide range of menu options, from snacks to burgers, fajitas, salads, fish and grilled dishes. It can get busy, so bear that in mind.

The cost of beer starts from 32 kronor, before 6pm.

More information can be found here.

Location: Sveavägen 60 & 61 and Götgatan 44, Stockholm

Lion Bar

This bar has a friendly and laid-back environment. With five locations in Stockholm, Sundbyberg, Vasastan, Sveavägen, Gärdet and Hornstull they feature a curated selection of dishes, which include fish and pork to burgers and steak. The post-work offer is available until 7pm from Monday to Friday.

Beer starts from 32 kronor, before 7pm.

More information can be found here.

Location: Tulegatan 7, Roslagsgatan 20, Sveavägen 74, Furusundsgatan 20 and Hornsgatan 154, Stockholm

The International Bar

Located in Östermalm, Gamla Stan and Birkastan, the International Bar is another favoured venue. The bar can be noisy, but it is a welcoming environment. Like many other bars, it has a broad food menu to choose from, which includes Swedish meatballs, fish and chips, burgers and pizzas.

They also have afterwork reduced rates from Monday to Friday between 3pm and 7pm. The bars also show sporting events, such as the Premier and Champions Leagues.

Cost of beer starts from 39 kronor.

Additional information can be found here.

Location: Norrlandsgatan 23, Mälartorget 13 and Rörstrandsgatan 11 Stockholm

Bara Enkelt & Bara Backe

The Baras group has eight venues across Stockholm and Uppsala, with Bara Enkelt and Bara Backe being popular spots.

The atmosphere in these bars is energetic and vibrant, especially on the weekend. Both bars offer a food menu, which includes snacks such as fries and halloumi sticks along with mains, including burgers and pasta dishes. Afterwork discounted prices are offered every day until 5pm.

Draft beer starts from 42 kronor.

Book a table or find more information here.

Location: Skånegatan 59 and Götgatan 33, Stockholm

Retro Bar

Another popular sports bar with a television screen at every corner, so you won’t miss any of the action. With an American-inspired food menu, they serve a range of burgers, stakes, pasta dishes, fajitas and salads. Their afterwork promotion is on until 6pm from Monday to Friday. When it comes to sports, they show matches from the Premier and Champions League to the NFL and more.

The cost of a beer starts from 54 kronor.

Book a table or find more information here.

Location: Sveavägen 120, Sveavägen 55, Sankt Eriksgatan 22, Hornsgatan 136 and Bondegatan 25, Stockholm

Flying Horse

If you are looking for a bar to watch football, the Flying Horse is a popular sports bar. When a football match is being screened, this bar has an exciting and dynamic atmosphere, offering a wide selection of food, from light bits, like sandwiches to main meals which includes burgers, fish, chicken and salads. The pub offers discounted prices on drinks for their afterwork deal from Monday to Friday until 6pm.

Due to the venue being a popular sports bar and it does fill up quickly, if you are planning on going it is recommended that you book in advance.

The cost of beer starts from 59 kronor.

Get more information on this bar here.

Location: Odengatan 44, Stockholm