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The ultimate guide to exploring Stockholm's archipelago islands

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The ultimate guide to exploring Stockholm's archipelago islands
Vaxholm, the 'capital' of the archipelago. Photo: Catherine Edwards
16:44 CEST+02:00
This week's warmer weather means it's the perfect time to get outside and onto the water to explore Stockholm's archipelago. Thousands of islands – some boasting towns of picture-perfect wooden cottages, others emptier and more remote – are scattered through the Baltic Sea. Our in-depth guide will help you travel like a true Stockholmer, with tips on where to go and what to do there.

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Historically home to farmers and fishermen, the Stockholm archipelago is today a major tourism destination, with many city-dwellers owning second homes there and a wide choice of hostels and hotels on many of the islands.

But it's still possible to find an oasis of calm in the skärgård (literally translating as "garden of skerries"), with forests to explore, beaches to sunbathe on, and of course the sea all around you.

Each island has its own character and facilities vary from absolutely nothing (though these more remote islands are typically only accessible by private boat) to all the bells and whistles and more. The Local has selected ten of the best destinations from all parts of the archipelago, so there's something for everyone, to help you navigate one of the most stunning parts of Sweden.

The basics

The archipelago is enormous and varied: the central archipelago is most easily accessible from Stockholm, while the southern and more sparse northern parts are quieter with incredible expansive views.

Map of the archipelago: Hydrographica/CC BY-SA 3.0

Many of the larger islands in the centre are actually accessible by bus, including Vaxholm, Stavsnäs, and Gustavsberg in Värmdö, where you'll find the Artipelag museum. 

But of course a large part of the charm comes from getting out on the water, and in summer there are plenty of options to tour the archipelago by boat (and some services run year-round). 

The private-run Cinderella boats depart from Nybrokajen in central Stockholm, and Waxholmsbolaget boats leave from Strömkajen close to Kungsträdgården. The departure times listed in our guide below are from these two spots, but if you live close to Nacka Strand or Gåshaga in Lidingö, it's possible to get to many of the islands from there instead, to save you travelling into the city centre.

Best of all, in the off-peak season of 2018, you can travel with Waxholmsbolaget completely free if you already have a 30-day, 90-day, or annual SL (Stockholm public transport) card. This applies until April 29th, and again during autumn between September 3rd and December 9th. During the summer months, you can buy single tickets for particular destinations, or a 420-kronor five-day island-hopping pass. 


Photo: Bengt Nyman/Flickr

READ ALSO: The curious reason Sweden has so many bright red cottages

If the ferry times don't suit you, there are several companies offering taxi boats between different islands.

Packing enough food and drink is essential if you're travelling to any of the smaller islands, but most of the popular destinations have cafe and restaurant options. Both ticks and mosquitoes are common in the forest areas, so insect repellent and a tick remover are also worth packing. If you're travelling with a pet, check if the island you're visiting is an Environmental Protection Area, which means dogs have to stay on leashes.

Make sure you've double-checked boat times, since these can be infrequent for the islands further out from Stockholm – and at a few stops you need to make a special request for the boat. Complete travel timetables and a journey-planning tool can be found on the Waxholmsbolaget website. However, you don't need to worry about being left behind! If you're there in time for the final boat service but there's not enough space for everyone on the boat, the ferry companies will organize transport for you. It's also good to know that most boats are well-equipped with a cafe and free Wi-Fi.

Destinations

Vaxholm

Journey time: 55 minutes each way from Stockholm (Strömkajen) with Waxholmsbolaget, 50 minutes and 115 kronor each way with Cinderella (Strandvägen) from April 27th.

Best for: Anyone short on time or not too outdoorsy

Don't miss: The beautiful shoreside Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café


Vaxholm fortress. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/Scanpix Sweden/TT

Vaxholm is the best place to make your first foray into the archipelago, for two good reasons. Firstly, it's simple to get there, with relatively quick, very regular departures from central Stockholm (you can even take the bus back to town if not in the mood for two boat trips in one day). Secondly, there's plenty to do. The archipelago's self-proclaimed capital has plenty of charming wooden houses, shops, and restaurants on offer, and there's a spectacular fortress – climb the tower for free or pay for entry to its museum. Be aware though that a trip to the fortress requires paying for the short electric ferry ride.

Alternatively you can get away from the harbour to try out the hiking trails through the quieter side of Vaxholm. And nearby is the small island of Badholmen, which can even be rented out for private weddings, parties, and events.

Grinda

Journey time: 1hr 55 each way from Stockholm (Strömkajen) with Waxholmsbolaget, 1hr20 and 130 kronor each way with Cinderella (Strandvägen) from April 27th.

Best for: Active families

Don't miss: A sauna visit

 

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This is the first public island in the archipelago proper, meaning you can only get there by water. Grinda has options for camping or staying at the art nouveau-style island hotel (Grinda Wärdshus), where you can splash out on the indulgent floating sauna. Alternatively (and much more cheaply!) there are more saunas at the hostel and one on the waterfront.

Keep things simple with forest hikes, swimming and relaxing on the beach, or choose to get active by renting kayaks or paddle boards and playing petanque or volleyball. There's a forest trail for children, aimed at teaching them about the archipelago's flora and fauna, and they can visit the animals at the island farm.

Sandhamn

Journey time: Around two hours total on public transport: Take bus 433 or 434 from Slussen to Stavsnäs (approximately 1 hour), where the Waxholmsbolaget boat to Sandhamn takes 30 minutes or 1 hour, depending on when you leave. Find the timetable here.

From April 27th, Cinderella boats will also run directly from Strandvägen. The trip costs 160 kronor each way and takes 2hr15.

Best for: Island nightlife

Don't miss: The museum, which will clue you in on archipelago life over the centuries


Filming for the Sandhamn Murders TV series in the village. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Made famous worldwide by the Sandhamn Murders crime series, we assure you this island is much more peaceful in real life, but there's still plenty to do. Stay close to the harbour for lively bars or a trip to the spa, or venture inland to explore the forest walking trails. There are bikes and motorboats to hire, or you can spend the day fishing, playing mini-golf, or sailing. For fans of the books set on the island, there's a Sandhamn Murders trail you can follow on your own.

Arholma

Journey time: Approximately 4 hours with Waxhomsbolaget from Stockholm (Strömkajen). Find the timetable for direct ferries here.

Alternatively, you can travel to Simpnäs by car or bus (2-3 hours), from where the ferry takes 15 minutes.

Best for: Maritime tradition

Don't miss: The Arholma beacon, an old lookout post that hosts an art gallery during the summer months as well as offering stunning views out to sea


By the water in Arholma. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

One of the largest islands in the northern archipelago, Arholma is also the furthest north of the populated islands, so making the journey here is a true adventure. It's a great destination if you want to learn more about Swedish defence and maritime history, by taking a guided tour of the old military facility or exploring the coastal defence museum. Or just relax in the forest or public sauna before testing out the many swimming spots.

Möja

Journey time: 3hr20-45 each way from Stockholm (Strömkajen) to Berg, the island's central town with Waxholmsbolaget. An extra 20 minutes gets you to Långvik and 10 minutes on top of that takes you to Dragedet. Find the full timetable here.

2hr45 and 160 kronor each way from Stockholm (Strandvägen) to a variety of stops on the island with Cinderella, from April 27th.

Best for: Postcard-perfect archipelago villages

Don't miss: Wikströms Fisk, a seafood restaurant run by one of the only professional fishermen in the entire archipelago


Photo: Bengt Nyman/Flickr

A trip to Möja, inhabited since Viking times, is unlikely to disappoint. It's well-equipped for tourists, with cafes, shops, hostels and cottages to rent, but retains its traditional charm. There are several different villages so if you do some research (or just explore!) you can head to the spot that suits you best. Berg has a museum and a small outdoor dance floor, while up the north end of the island at Långvik you get great views over the water from the jetty.

Svartsö

Journey time: 2hr20 each way from Stockholm (Strömkajen), travelling to Alsvik (Svartsö) with Waxholmsbolaget. Add on an extra 15 minutes to get to Skälvik on the eastern side of the island. Find the timetable for that journey here, or here to get to Norra Svartsö (2hr15).

1hr30 and 150 kronor (to Alsvik and Skälvik) each way with Cinderella, from April 27th.

Best for: Forest walks

Don't miss: Storträsk, the largest lake on the island, which is great for swimming


Photo: debjam/Flickr

At Alsvik, the ferry pulls up right by Systembolaget (the alcohol store) allowing you to purchase any last minute beverages for your picnic on the nearby beach. Explore the island on foot or bike, wandering through the thick forests and relaxing by the lakes. When it comes to finding accommodation, you can rent a 'glamping' tent from Svartsö logi or opt for a room in the hotel or hostel.

Landsort/Öja

Journey time: Around 2hr15 total. First, take the commuter train from Stockholm to Nynäshamn, and change to the 852 bus to Ankarudden. From Ankarudden, it's a 40-minute ferry ride. Find the full timetable here.

Best for: Bird-watching or rural relaxation

Don't miss: The unusual accommodation – rent rooms at the pilot lookout tower (with amazing views) or former military barracks


The lighthouse is the oldest in Sweden. Photo: Joopey/Flickr

Landsort is the farthest south you can get in the archipelago, and although the island's official name is Öja it also goes by Landsort, which is what the lighthouse at the southern end is called. Just 35 people live in the charming village, but you won't get bored here. It's home to some unusual nature and also well worth a visit are the 3,000-year-old labyrinth – built with supposed magic powers to bring good luck in fishing and sailing – and the eerie plague churchyard. In the summer of 2018, a sculpture exhibition means that you'll stumble across plenty of artwork on a walk round the island. The only downside is that so much of the journey there is done by land.

Finnhamn

Journey time: 4hr20-40 each way from Stockholm (Strömkajen), sometimes including a change of boat at Vaxholm, with Waxholmsbolaget. Fine the full timetables here and here.

2hr10 and 160 kronor each way with Cinderella, from April 27th.

Best for: An eco-friendly trip

Don't miss: Renting a rowing boat to take you to one of the smaller islets – Finnhamn actually refers to a cluster of islands


Photo: Lasse Dilschmann/Flickr

Home to sandy beaches and idyllic swimming spots, Finnhamn is an island paradise, and the boat stops close to the popular restaurant Finnhamns Café Krog. You can have an active trip with a rented kayak or SUP and discover why they call it Paradisviken (Paradise Bay), or spend an afternoon on a high ropes course or paintballing. There's also, of course, the chance for a more peaceful stroll through the forest, and plenty of varied food and accommodation options.

Gällnö

Journey time: 2 hours with Waxholmsbolaget from Stockholm (Strömkajen) on a direct ferry (find the timetable here); alternatively take the bus towards Sollenkroka or Boda on Värmdö and catch a ferry from there.

Or 1hr30 and 150 kronor each way with Cinderella, from April 27th.

Best for: A total escape from the city bustle

Don't miss: The cherry blossom and apple trees in bloom in spring


Midsummer is another great time to visit. Photo: Bengt Nyman/Flickr

Another slice of genuine archipelago life, with sandy beaches, rowing boats for hire, swimming spots, and fields and meadows. Although it's not too far to get to from the centre of Stockholm, in terms of the pace of life Gällnö couldn't be further away.

Utö

Journey time: 2 hours. If you take the commuter train to Nynäshamn, you can take the boat from Fiskebryggan right next to the station, to Alå. 

For a slightly shorter journey time (1hr40) but more complicated route, take the commuter train south from Stockholm to Västerhaninge, then the 15-minute 846 bus to Årsta brygga, from where the ferry takes 40 minutes to Gruvbryggan. 

Best for: Beaches

Don't miss: The windmill, with panoramic views over the island and sea, or the delicious bread from the bakery


Photo: Carles Tomás Martí/Flickr

This island has a unique history, home to what's probably Sweden's oldest iron mine (you can still visit the mining museum and well-preserved miners' dwellings) before being transformed at the start of the 20th century into a fully fledged party island. Wholesaler EM Levin agreed with the islanders that they'd leave their homes so he could transform it into a holiday paradise which hosted Swedish stars including Greta Garbo.

Today there are still plenty of places to eat and drink in style when you're not lazing on one of the gorgeous beaches, and it's also one of the few islands where you can purchase alcohol (other than at a bar or restaurant) – there's a shop by the harbour licensed to do so. For sporty vacationers, there's no shortage of activities either: cycling, kayaking, paddle-boarding, Segways or paintball.

READ ALSO: Nine perfect hiking spots on Stockholm's doorstep

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