Stockholm seems custom-designed for an active summer vacation: one-third city, one-third green space, one-third water, and plenty of ways to explore each. But biking hasn’t traditionally been one of them. Scandinavia is full of bike-friendly destinations (Copenhagen, Malmö, Helsinki), but until recently, Stockholm had been left in the dust — strange for the green center of the most sustainable country on Earth. Now, the capital is finally catching up to the rest of the region, becoming more bikeable by the day. Which is great for the planet, great for residents, and — considering a 10-minute cab ride can cost $40 — great for visitors, too.
Over the past five years, the city has invested a much-needed $110 million in biking infrastructure, repairing and extending 500 miles of bike lanes, overhauling signage, carving out thousands of new bicycle parking spots, and accounting for bike storage and traffic in all new construction. The local government is also subsidizing electric bicycles (up to $1,200 per person) as an eco alternative to taxis for longer treks, and sales are already up 50 percent.
And it’s not just Stockholmers who will benefit from this two-wheeled renaissance. Visitors are seeing the upside, too, like the decade-old City Bikes share program getting the face-lift it so desperately needs. As part of a massive system upgrade this year, the number of stations will double (to 300) and the number of bikes will quadruple (to 5,000); they’ll be outfitted as hybrids, with the option to attach an electric battery for longer rides; and service will remain open 24/7/365 (bikes were previously available only until 10 p.m., April through October). In addition, riders will be able to take out the City Bikes for up to 12 hours at a time, much longer than the previous two-hour max.
With all these improvements (and sunshine until 10 p.m.), there’s never been a better time to get a new perspective on one of Europe’s prettiest capitals. Check out our itinerary for the perfect summer day in Stockholm, all on two wheels.
The first thing that strikes you about the brand-new Downtown Camper by Scandic (doubles from $170) is its sultry departure from all the stark-white IKEA minimalism found elsewhere in Stockholm: think dark woods, moody lighting, exposed pipes, cork and leather accents. The second thing you’ll notice is that this place was designed for fun, meaning amenities like a swish lobby barber shop, an in-house movie theater complete with popcorn machine, an “urban hammock” up under the skylights, and a lifestyle concierge to cater to the hotel’s largely active, adventurous guests. On that note, all the kayaks, skateboards, and bicycles you see hanging on walls and from the ceiling aren’t part of the décor — they’re free for the borrowing. But first, the most important meal of the day.
Eating breakfast at Downtown Camper isn’t a matter of convenience — it’s a matter of the lushest, most complete morning spread anywhere in Stockholm. You’ll find all the (organic) usual suspects: pastries, fruits and veggies, granolas, yogurts, cereals, waffles, pancakes, bacon, sausages, eggs, porridges, custom juice bar. But it’s the Swedish stuff that will lure you back for seconds: smoked salmon and salted cod roe on rye knäckebröd, a glass of sour milk sweetened with rose hips. And keep your phone handy; the tables are styled as if for the pages of Food & Wine, with tiered displays of pickable herbs and mini citrus trees, lanterns and mason jars, all just begging to be Instagrammed. Now grab a bike from the lobby, pop on a helmet, and get ready to roll.
It’s just a two-minute ride down to the harbor, where you’ll glimpse all sorts of important buildings, like the Royal Swedish Opera and the 17th-century Royal Palace. Head for the ample bike path on Strandvägen, a glitzy waterfront boulevard in the posh district of Östermalm, where Swedish royals are often spotted out for lunch and a bit of shopping. Turn right at the bridge for the isle of Djurgården, a former royal hunting ground that’s now Stockholm’s ultimate summer haven. Keep to the bike paths around the perimeter for unbeatable vistas of the city and archipelago beyond, or crisscross through the interior to choose your own adventure. You can ride pretty much anywhere on the island, but look for the cykelväg (“bike path”) signs if you’re unsure.
There are plenty of ways to squeeze in some culture on Djurgården, but the funkiest is probably at the highly interactive ABBA The Museum, where you can sing karaoke, channel your inner Dancing Queen on the dance floor, and even record your own music video. History buffs might rather make a beeline for the Vasa Museum, the most visited one in Scandinavia. The Vasa is a gloriously ornate warship that sank just a few minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628. She lay at the bottom of Stockholm harbor for more than three centuries before a painstaking restoration made her 98-percent complete and more striking than ever.
Double back the way you came and after five minutes you’ll hit Riche, an Östermalm institution since 1893. The airy space looks like a Parisian brasserie with a strong Swedish accent, an aesthetic reflected in the menu. There’s no wrong move here, but fair warning: the classic meatballs with lingonberries and buttery mash will ruin you for any other. You can even order for takeaway and chow down in the waterfront park one block away.
Next, pedal over the bridge to Gamla Stan (“Old Town”), parts of which date back to the 13th century. Most of the stores here sell touristy schlock, but it’s worth stopping in at one of the island’s many pick-and-mix candy shops for some inexpensive souvenirs to bring back stateside (if they last that long). Play it safe with chocolates and gummies, or go nuts with some of the weirder licorices and herb-flavored confections. Navigating the island’s medieval alleyways on two wheels can be frustrating in the high season, so stick to the perimeter bike path on your way out for a smoother ride.
Take the Katarinavägen bridge to cross into Södermalm, an ultra-hip island neighborhood that draws frequent (and not unfounded) comparisons to Brooklyn. If you need some air in your tires, pull in to ATR (short for And The Revolution, after Prince’s '80s rock band), where they handcraft handsome bikes and curate snazzy bikecessories for “smart, design-conscious people” — like you! (All of Downtown Camper’s bikes were built by ATR.)
It’d be easy to lose an entire day browsing Södermalm’s concept boutiques, but in short: Papercut is for irreverent indie mags and artsy-fartsy coffee-table books, Grandpa is for fresh-to-death Nordic clothing labels with an in-house DJ, and Brandstationen is the “toy store for adults,” with quirky home décor ranging from vintage globes to ostrich-feather lamps.
Fika is what Swedes call their afternoon coffee-and-pastry break, and it’s serious business in Stockholm. For the city’s best kanelbullar (knotty, briochey cinnamon rolls topped with rock sugar), try the Södermalm branch of Robin Delselius Bageri, an excellent bakery that also makes killer lattes and organic house-pressed juices in very Swedish flavors like elderflower and rhubarb.
Ride back through Gamla Stan to The Nest, the gorgeous spa on top of Downtown Camper. Rinse off, robe on, and then straight for the sauna, which looks like a giant bird’s nest if that bird were a starchitect: undulating blond woods, spaceship lighting, forest-chirping soundtrack. From there, head to the “experience showers” for an ice-cold misting, then into one of the treatment rooms for a (truly) Swedish massage. Best part: the large roof terrace has a heated pool and some of Stockholm’s loveliest views.
Dinner and Cocktails
Teetotalers could hop back on the bike for one last trek, but after a long day of pedaling, you deserve a few cocktails (and thus a taxi). Tjoget, your destination back in happening Södermalm, is actually three hot spots in one: barber shop, wine bar, and Linje Tio, a lively restaurant and bar that regularly features on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Zesty dishes like tuna confit and spicy grilled lamb go great with cocktail components like sesame syrup, pine tree oil, and caramelized yogurt. (Highly recommended: the East of Paris, a heady blend of gin, sherry, and pomegranate molasses, with a za’atar rim.)
If your legs aren’t on empty yet, Stockholm’s lingering summer dusks are ideal for a leisurely 45-minute stroll back to the hotel. Back through Södermalm, and Gamla Stan, past the harborfront — after today, you’ll have no trouble finding the way.