Boat to Grinda

Day trip to Grinda in the Stockholm archipelago

Boat to Grinda

what a glorious sunny day in the archipelago

If you haven’t been to the Stockholm archipelago, then you haven’t been to Stockholm as far as I’m concerned! A great way to start your exploration is to take a day trip to Grinda. Make sure you take your sunglasses and appropriate equivalent for the children, look at me squinting here despite my glasses!

The reason that Grinda is a good place to start is several fold:

1. It’s one of the closest islands to the centre of Stockholm.

2. It’s real archipelago, not an inland “pretend” archipelago island

3. There are regular boats from various central locations, both new fast ones and slow heritage ones.

4. There’s good facilities on the island, especially in high season. There’s a high class bistro / hotel. There’s several cafes, lots of beaches, a youth hostel, various accommodation and cabins associated with that. There’s even boat hire and a fully serviced guest harbour (if you’ve got your own boat) with its own bar and restaurant.

My personal favourite is to take a walk to the northern beach. It’s only a small island so it takes about 20 minutes from the main harbour on the south. There is in fact a northern harbour, but the boat service is very rare at this end, unless you’re calling a private taxi boat. You pass some interesting parts of the island on the way whilst you’re walking, and you can always stop off for a coffee or to look at the farm animals that you come across. Once you get to the northern beach though, you’re in your own little west facing paradise; you can watch the sailing boats slip in and out of the harbour round the corner of the bay and if you’re there long enough you’ll be surprised by one of the huge ferries from central Stockholm which suddenly appear from behind the horizon and cruise slowly right in front you on their way to Åland or some other Baltic location. You can even swim out to a fantastic little diving island in the middle of the bay, and take part in some excellent diving opportunities.

Just make sure that you check the ferry timetables home back to Stockholm, and that you don’t miss the last ferry of the day! Fortunately the ferry companies never seem to leave anyone behind, and on the one day when there wasn’t room on the last ferry of the day, they sent along a special boat for just me, my friends and about 4 other people, and we cruised back to Stockholm on our own private boat. It doesn’t get that much better than that!

rainbow over a nice family house in Stockholm

Family accommodation in Stockholm

rainbow over a family house in Stockholm

rainbow over a traditional Swedish house in Stockholm

Since I’ve not been living in Sweden full time for the past 18 months, whenever I travel there now, I’m always on the look out for great family accommodation in Stockholm. This great rainbow picture is taken from my house in Sollentuna a few years back, but when you’re travelling on holiday you can’t always get this type of accommodation. Many people will resort to hotels but I think this is a big mistake, especially when travelling with the family. I far prefer to be self catering when I have the children with me and I also like the space and flexibility that holiday rentals normal provide.

In recent years, especially now that tripadvisor have got into the market for holiday rentals, there are more and more opportunities for finding good value and excellent accommodation in the Stockholm area. When I was there 3 months ago I did some searches on trip advisor and I found some OK-ish stuff, but a lot of it was over priced and often targetted at the couples weekend break market. I was looking at their lists again last night, and this was still the focus of their market, but you might find a few interesting family ones as well. In the end I recently rented with Cocoon Stockholm and I can’t recommend them enough. They have a good selection of properties, but more over their booking and customer service was excellent.

The key I think though in finding value is some local knowledge about the areas. I rented a great apartment in Birkastan / Vasastan and it was about 50% cheaper and about 50% bigger than all the equivalent ones on the trendier Södermalm. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Söder, but it’s fairly overpriced, whether you’re rented for a holiday or even if you’re buying property as well (in my opinion at least!).

Cocoon and others also have some amazing family houses in and around Gustavsberg and Värmdö. Now if you’ve got a car these represent amazing value, and you’re only 20-30 minutes drive from the centre of town. Even if you don’t like to drive into town (and I’m of that nature) there are still good quality public transport links from these areas, and if you’re kids are older and not in pushchairs then you can easily hop on the express bus (hey, even if your kids are in pushchairs you’ll be fine as Swedish bus services are very accommodating to young families and I spent innumerable happy trips on these buses with my daughters who just love to travel on buses). The other benefit of these eastern suburbs is that you’re really in the archipelago edges and there will be a lot more space and scenery and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Now I know that some people will have the need to be right in the middle of town, and I don’t dispute that, but personally if I can have a 150 sqm house with space and garden 20 minutes away compared to a 40 sqm 1 bedroom apartment, I know which was I’d go, especially when I’m with the family. So if you’re browsing for family accommodation in Stockholm on the web, don’t just limit yourself to the Stockholm keyword, as when you do so, most often you’re unwittingly filtering out many of the outlying suburbs. For example on tripadvisor, trying using the search word Värmdö and you’ll find a whole other host of opportunities you didn’t realise were there. Once you’ve seen this you can check out other suburbs on the map and search around these as well.

If you’ve any questions about the suitability of specific areas or any such matters, leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.

Children’s activities at Skansen – delivering the post

children's activities at Skansen

I’m ready to deliver the post!

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and as every half decent guidebook will tell you, going to Skansen is a must when you’re in Stockholm and this is especially true if you’re looking for children’s activities. When we lived in Stockholm we had a season ticket to Skansen and you could find us there on many days come rain or shine. This particular post details a favourite day that I remember spending there with Matilda whilst Sarah was at work on a Saturday.

We did some of the standard things, we drove the small cars in the town square, we did face painting (you can just about see Matilda’s painting in the photo here), we went on the road train, and all of these are fantastic things which you should take your children to Skansen and do.

But the activity which was by far the most memorable and so utterly Swedish and Skansen like we discovered by chance at the end of the afternoon. If you go into the post office building which is near the town square you can register to be a postman (or post girl in our case) for the afternoon, which basically means that they give you letters to deliver all around the site to different old buildings. Moreover they give you a traditional post bag (see photo) but even more amazing for the children is that they give you a post horn which you are free to blow to your hearts contents all around the site to announce your arrival! It’s such an absolutely genius idea.

The thing that ties it all together all the more is that all the staff / actors which play their roles in each of the traditional buildings are all completely ready to play their parts in this little background game, so you get given a letter at the post office and told to take it to the so and so buildings, let’s say the bakery for example. When you get there the actors are ready for you, they read the letter you give them, act out the part of the people receiving their post, and then they have letters which they give back to the children, with further instructions to deliver them to other houses on the site. It’s somewhere between a game, a treasure hunt and a museum visit, it’s absolutely amazing, and if you have any doubt about that whatsoever, see the size of Matilda’s smile in this photo. I still treasure my memories from this day.

Väsjöbacken ski slope

Skiing in Stockholm at Väsjöbacken

Many people forget when travelling to the Swedish capital that skiing in Stockholm is entirely possible. It’s never going to be a major resort, because as a region, it’s incredibly flat, but there are a few local ski hills around the city that are great for a day or two’s skiing, especially with children or beginners.

Because I lived in Sollentuna for many years, the slope I frequently most often was Väsjöbacken, as it was just around the the corner from my house.

skiing in Stockholm at Väsjöbacken ski slope

Väsjöbacken from across the lake – photo from http://www.veidekke.se

I haven’t really got any great photos from Väsjöbacken myself, I guess I was always there enjoying myself too much. This one shows the main slope though from the across the other side of the lake that is at the bottom of the slope. One of the great things about Väsjöbacken is that when you’re at the top, you can see for miles and miles all around, looking north over forests and lake and south back to Stockholm.

It’s very much a local hill, in that it won’t keep experienced skiers busy for long at all, but I used to use it for an hour here and an hour there type of skiing. You can just rock up, jump a few lifts and then go home again.

What it does have compared to some local hills is excellent ski hire equipment, so it’s a great place to go if you’ve just popped into town for a few days. There’s small cafe there selling drinks and snacks, but no more than that. It’s all about the skiing really. It also has a prepared cross country track starting at the main entrance (and for the more adventurous, a ski jump as well, that’s the one bit I haven’t tried personally though!)

It’s easiest to drive there in all truth, although like all of Stockholm, there is a reliable bus service, but to get there from town you need to take the commuter train and then change at Sollentuna station to the bus. In the season when the snow is good it’s often open at night as well for floodlit skiing, which is a great way to kill a couple of hours after work, rather than going to the gym!

farm visit at Järvafältet

A farm visit and lunch at Järvafältet nature reserve

For all my years as a Stockholm resident, my favourite family activity every week was to to do a farm visit and then eat lunch at Järvafältet nature reserve in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. The nature  reserve itself is quite large, it takes a few hours to cross it from side to side by foot , but on the eastern border, there’s a small car park, a wonderful cafe and a children’s visiting farm where they can stroke certain animals and get close to them in their pens. I’ve written other posts about activities there, but this is the regular thing that I did with the kids pretty much every week.

You can get there by car easily, it’s about 20 minutes north of central Stockholm, straight up the E4, or you can take the commuter train to Häggvik station which is about 15 minutes from central station. It’s then about a 15 minute walk to the cafe. Here’s a link to a google map of the exact location.

Right next to the car park is the most wonderful cafe. It hasn’t got a huge menu, but as I said above it does the best egg and prawn sandwich in Stockholm in my opinion. It’s opening hours are quite short, normally 9 or 10am to 3pm, and it’s often closed Monday and Tuesday. During the week it also sells classic Swedish “dagens lunch” in addition to its standard sandwich and drinks menu. Mostly its frequented by families coming to visit the farm, or by people doing various outdoor activities in the nature reserve, whether it be running, cycling, cross country skiiing or just walking. It’s got a very easy going vibe, and is the building is a very classic Swedish wooden style. There’s lovely outdoor seating, which is good in both the winter and the summer assuming you’re appropriately dressed.

Here’s a photo of me and Matilda eating ice creams outside in winter on a wonderful sunny day.

cafe at järvafältet nature reserve

eating ice creams outside Helena’s cafe in Järvafältet

As any parent will tell you, it’s never too cold for ice cream! The views from the cafe are across some nice open fields where some Icelandic horses from the farm live and it truly is one of my favourite places in the world.

Just up the main path from the cafe, is the visiting farm where you can take the children (or the adults) to look at the animals. There’s no cost involved it’s just open most days until 4pm and you’re welcome to wander around. It’s used as a teaching resource to local school children as well sometimes. Being Sweden, if it’s winter time, all the animals are inside, but in the summer they’re all out in various pens and fields, some of wish you can go in a stroke the animals.

There are sheep, cows, chickens, horses, rabbits, pigs and goats. Sometimes in the summer they have special days where they do pony rides or horse and cart rides, which are also great for the children. Sometimes you’ll even meet the big friendly farm cat who loves to be stroked. All in all it’s very wholesome and fun.

Check out our other posts about Järvafältet. There’s site about the farm as well and some good pictures of the cafe on their site. (only in Swedish).

Åre ski women slalom 2012

Visiting Åre by train from Stockholm for a weekend of skiing

Stockholm is undoubtedly a great city to visit, but one of the other great things about it is that it’s the travel gateway to the rest of the country. My favourite form of transport is train, and Sweden is a great country to get around by train, with Stockholm unsurprisingly being the hub for most routes.

In March 2012 I was in town doing some work for my good friends at Basefarm AB (who I sometimes blog for as well), and I decided to take a trip up north to ski for a long weekend in Åre. This is Sweden’s largest ski resort, with by far the biggest vertical drop and a large and varied piste and lift system. You can tell that it’s Sweden’s largest resort as this is where all the international competitive skiing is held, when the circuit comes to Sweden. The photo here is taken whilst I was watching the women’s slalom that week.

take the train to Åre to watch the skiiing

Womens slalom at Åre in March 2012

It’s all very well and good being a great ski resort but the thing that makes it truly my favourite ski resort in Sweden is that you can travel there by train, including for real luxury, by sleeper train. When I say you can travel by there by train, I don’t mean to nearby stations that then require a transfer, I mean right into the centre of village, where you’re less than 200 metres from the main square and all the hotels and amenities.

It’s an extraordinary journey, especially the last hour, as the train climbs into the mountains heading west towards the Norwegian border and you see the approaching resort. Being as you can travel by night train it makes it all the more possible to nip up there for a weekend from Stockholm and I can thoroughly recommend the experience. Sometimes I don’t know what I prefer most, the train journey itself or the great skiiing!

You can book train tickets through www.sj.se and you can book lift passes and accomodation and anything else you might need through www.skistar.com/are .

open water swimming at Edsviken

Swimming at Edsviken in Sollentuna

One of the most glorious things about Stockholm in the summer is the near constant possibility to go swimming in open water, either in one of the many lakes or in the sea off one of the many islands of the archipelago.

open water swimming at Edsviken

A glorious view south across Edsviken

This picture is taken at a wonderful lake in Sollentuna which is in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. The lake is called Edsviken and it stretches north south more or less for about 20 km, before it actually reaches the sea. There are numerous individual spots where people can just turn up and have a quick dip, and there’s loads of other activities to be had along its borders, which I’ll detail in other posts. For example, on other occasions I’ve hired a kayak (swedish only site) in town and paddled up to this and other swimming spots. But that’s a bit of a full day commitment and one for another post! The particular spot marked on the map below is one of my favourites as because of the rocks here, meaning that there’s great opportunities to jump in from a few feet up. This is always great fun in my mind, but for the less adventurous, there’s an easy path down to the edge of the water and nice shallow sections where you can just wade in and out if you don’t want to actually swim. Just be careful though, as rocks above tend to mean that there’s rocks below and as with all open swimming you need to be careful as there’s no lifeguards to save you should you get into trouble.

Here’s a map of the actual location. You can walk , drive or get the bus there, it’s fairly accessible (or kayak of course which is the truly stylish way to arrive!). There’s no facilities there though, as it’s just one of many little public spots all along the edge of the lake, so make sure you take some food and drink with you if you’re planning on staying a while, and remember that there are no toilets as well!


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