Upon arriving in Stockholm, a mere 2 days after booking our flights and crashing our friend’s 30th birthday celebrations, everyone we met recommended heading out to Stockholm’s Archipelago.
We thought; ‘Stockholm’s what?’ Neither of us had any clue the archipelago even existed when we arrived – that’s what happens when you don’t have time to do your research. After unanimous backing from all the Swedes at the party, we now had island hopping adventure to look forward to.
The Stockholm Archipelago consists of around 30,000 islands, so where do you start with so much choice? We chose to explore the southern end of the archipelago, with recommendations from friends that this area is less popular with tourists as it’s further away from Stockholm.
To cover ground quickly we decided to go overland from the centre of Stockholm and head south to the coastal town of Dalarö. Dalarö is a great town to base yourself from to explore the southern archipelago as a lot of the ferries stop here, and it’s cheaper staying on the mainland than on one of the islands.
In the summer months, the ferry timetables become more frequent and visit more destinations so keep that in mind. We overlapped with the very start of the summer timetable which is a great time to visit, in early June Dalarö is still a sleepy town just waiting for the summer holiday hordes to arrive.
We took advantage of the quiet to roam streets of pastel coloured houses, test the mini golf course out and sample wares from the fantastic bakery in the main street. Be warned though, the opening hours of shops in these little beach towns are not exactly 24 hours. We were stuck one night with some cup-a-soup and pretzels for dinner as the supermarket closed at 4pm!
With our great, though accidental, trip timing, we arrived on our first island, Fjärdlång, to find it practically deserted. We circumnavigated the entire island and came across only five other people and a small herd of cows and sheep.
The boat ride out is spectacular. We passed numerous coves with red wooden cottages, private jetties and forests of green among the sparkling blue waters. Wooded forests, secluded beaches, calm bays and rocky outcrops are just some of the diverse landscapes you’ll find on the islands of the archipelago.
We walked to the far end of the island and found a secluded cove for our lunch and didn’t see another soul for over an hour. It was so peaceful we found it hard to leave and continue our wanderings. Getting off the islands is an interesting and slightly worrying experience as well. The ferries hypothetically run to a timetable, but if you’re not on the jetty with the semaphore in its vertical position to flag down the boat, it will cruise straight past you. So do not forget the semaphore!
Our next stop was the island of Ornö at the port of Södervikan, where we were hoping for a swim in a shallow cove we spied on the outbound ferry. Walking up the hill and through the forests wasn’t quite enough exercise to prepare us for the Baltic water temperatures though. We waded up to our knees and then had to backtrack fast – our feet and calves having turned numb pretty quickly!
This island is massive and has quite a few ports to choose from, giving you the option of alighting at one port and wandering across the island to another – just be sure to double check your departure ferry timetables, and maybe downloading some maps is also a good idea.
Our second day of exploring took us to Sandhamn on the way back to Stockholm. This sandy island is clearly a very popular destination in summer with beautiful forests and beaches, plus it’s within an easy distance (3hr ferry) of Stockholm. With several gift shops, cafes and tourist services, Sandhamn is a great choice for a day trip if you are short on time.
Again hoping for a refreshing dip, we walked the length of the island to Trouville Sandhamn, a long stretch of pristine sandy beach with rocky outcrops, to find, once again, freezing water! We waded in to cool off then, once we felt sufficiently numb, wandered back through the woods to catch our ferry home.
Vaxholm and the summer steamboats
Every summer a glorious old fleet of steamboats return to service to ferry passengers around Stockholm’s maze of waterways. Venturing out on a sunny morning we managed to catch one out to Vaxholm, a gorgeous archipelago town with many well-preserved pastel-coloured houses.
We packed our picnic lunch and relaxed in the sun with the company of some local ducks before wandering the laneways of the town. If you have time you can visit the imposing old citadel and fortress museum, but we were content to wander the streets and enjoy the views over the water, watching the boats go by.
The journey around the islands closest to the city is a great way to appreciate the famous coloured buildings from the water, and get an unbeatable view of the cities landscape. If it’s quiet enough and you loiter around the door like Tim did, the sailors might even let you down into the engine room to see the old steam engine in action.
We wish we had more time to explore more of the archipelago, it was simply stunning and there are so many islands to choose from, many of which have summer accommodation to prolong your island experience. We would have loved to visit the remote island of Huvudskär, but sadly the ferry here began a week after we left.
The ferry timetable was a bit tricky to work out at first, not everything on the site was translated into English. There’s enough information on the Waxholmsbolaget website to figure it out and we have written a great little guide below to figure it all out.
There are a couple of other companies who run tourist ferries as well but Waxholmsbolaget is the main commuter line and has the vintage steamboat fleet. They have a ticket office down at Stockholm Strömkajen jetty so just wander down when you arrive and speak to the helpers at the ticket office if you have any questions.
For Stockholm city ferries, bus, rail and metro information, visit: https://sl.se/en/
For Waxholmsbolaget and Stockholm Archipelago ticket information, visit: http://www.waxholmsbolaget.se/visitor/archipelago-traffic/tickets-prices/
Or visit Stromma, their Cinderella Boats can also take you to the Archipelago here: https://www.stromma.se/en/stockholm/excursions/the-archipelago-on-your-own/
The quick guide to using the Waxholmsbolaget website
The English part of the Waxholmsbolaget website is not super easy to figure out and it takes a bit of practice to find the right timetable information. Luckily here at Walk Slow Run Wild we have done the hard yards for you and have the exact steps you need to plan your Stockholm Archipelago cruise.
- The first thing you should do is head to their journey planner section to get familiar with some maps. Split into northern, central and southern archipelago sections, the boat network maps are an essential resource when planning your trip. We recommend saving them to your phone and printing them.
- Once you have a general idea of the islands you want to explore, it’s time to see if the timetables work in your favour. Take note of the exact jetty names you are departing from and the boat numbers you need from the maps. Punch them into the timetables page and hit search. You should be shown summer and winter PDF timetables for the applicable lines and from there you can start putting together an itinerary.
- When you are ready to go, the easiest way to buy tickets for all Waxholmsbolaget boats is on board. So just turn up with enough cash or card and jump on. Prices vary based on destination and there are also travelcards available for various periods.
See, simple…sort of. Once you get the hang of it you can plan your own trip easily enough. If in doubt, the staff at the ticket office are more than helpful. The ferries are not breaking any speed records so don’t expect to see a lot of islands in any one day.
If you are going to be there during summer then definitely take note of the Steamboat tour timetables. We are so glad we made the time during our visit to Stockholm for a few days exploring the archipelago, so make sure you at least jump on a steamboat for a half day out to Vaxholm. This was a truly unique experience and well worth lining up early for.
Top Tips for visiting the Stockholm Archipelago
- Plan ahead
Be prepared ahead of time. Write down or download the ferry schedule. Sometimes the ferry only shows up once an hour. We found setting a reminder on our phones helpful so we were sure to be on the jetty ready and waiting.
Don’t forget to signal your ferry with the semaphore, otherwise, they’ll see you there but might cruise straight past.
If you’re on a budget pack your picnic lunch and lots of water, prices on the islands can be expensive and not all islands have services and amenities. Ticket prices also add up if you plan on visiting several islands during your trip.
Be there early so you don’t miss your ferry. It’s better to be early than too late, they do not hang around waiting for you. During summer the steamboats are extremely popular so don’t risk missing out.
- Pack well
Good shoes if you’re walking, and don’t forget your towel and bathers for a swim. Snacks and plenty of water are essential as some of the islands have nothing more than a boat hut on them.
- Take cash
Bring cash just in case you feel like spontaneously hiring a canoe or buying some food or souvenirs.
Do your research – look at which islands are best for swimming, walking, kayaking, staying overnight depending on your preferences.