Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Splendors of Stockholm on a Budget

It is hard not to write about how expensive everything is in Northern Europe. As mentioned in my previous post, we stayed with friends in Finland and thus had minimal expenses; over five days & nights we only spent $250. We had planned to spend more than a week in Sweden, but opted to cut everything but the capital city out of our itinerary in order to save money. Stockholm is a lovely place to visit but it is easy to let the cost of traveling in this part of the world overshadow how enjoyable it is.
crossing the bridge to Reimersholm
We arrived in Stockholm at the pre-dawn hour of 5:45am. By 6:15 we were off the ship and walking to the nearest subway station where we took the T-bana then a bus to our hotel on the small island of Reimersholm. While not exactly in the city center, we had chosen our hotel primarily in regard to budget, as it still cost $120 per night for a private room with shared bath compared to well over $200 per night anywhere else.
the T-bana
Public transportation in Stockholm, while efficient and expansive, is not cheap either; one ride on a bus or subway costs around $5 (compared to New York City, where even after recent fare increases a ride still costs only $2.25). We saved money and gave ourselves more flexibility with a 3-day transit card which covers unlimited local transport for 250SEK (approx. $37 per person). While Gamla Stan, the historic core, is compact and walkable, the modern city and other sights of interest, like the museums on Djurgarden, are spread out amongst the various islands that make up the capital.
Changing of the Guard
We primarily spent our time on foot using our Rick Steves guidebook's self-guided walking tours to explore Gamla Stan, where we enjoyed watching the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace (free), and the modern sights of Norrmalm & Ostermalm. Because entrance to museums and other attractions is hard on the wallet, we chose to visit only one out of dozens of possibilities, and paid 110SEK ($16.50) per person for the privilege of seeing the Vasa, a royal warship which sank in Stockholm's harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628. The well-preserved wreck was salvaged in 1961 and the now-reconstructed vessel is 95% original. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the museum's six floors of exhibits but the most awe-inspiring sight was the ship itself. We ultimately decided the admission fee was reasonable in light of the money they are spending to figure out how to continue preserving the almost 400-year-old wooden ship.
Another way to save money when traveling in Sweden is to eat your main meal at lunch. While this poses a problem if your hotel provides a complimentary buffet breakfast, allowing you to eat enough that you won't be hungry until dinner, we still modified our eating patterns to take advantage of the "dagens ratt" or daily lunch specials. For an average of 85-95SEK (~$13) per person, you usually get an entree, salad, bread, and unlimited drinks (water & coffee or tea). Otherwise, if you wait until after 3pm to eat, prices increase to more than 150SEK per entree (not including anything else).
a Thai version of dagens ratt
By saving money on food, we allowed ourselves more leeway with our drink budget. Sweden has a surprising number of microbreweries, not to mention a large number of bars in Stockholm that feature local beers. However, the average .5 liter of draught beer is 80SEK or $12 (tax is a whopping 25%). Outside of restaurants & bars, any alcohol over 3.5% ABV can only be purchased from Systembolaget, the state-run liquor store. While cheaper than drinking "out", prices are still more than twice as high as you would pay in the U.S.
Despite the cost, we did our best to try as many Swedish microbrews as possible and were impressed with the overall quality & variety. At Akkurat we drank Narke Black Golding starkporter and Sigtuna South Pacific Pale Ale. At Glenfiddich Warehouse #68 we had the Oppigards Starkporter and Gotland Brewery's Wisby Red October, then got free tasters of Nynashamns Brannskar Brown Ale, Wisby Stout and Helsinge Porter. At Monks Porter House we drank the Monks Maddeleine Stout and Monks Dark Lager after tasting Monks Enbars. Note that the total cost of all this liquid gold (equivalent to only six beers total) was $60 and no, we did not drink it all in one day!!!

tasters at Glenfiddich Warehouse
Not wanting to limit our Swedish adventure to the capital city, we took a side trip to Uppsala, a university town about 40 minutes by train from Stockholm. Round-trip tickets cost us $24 per person. The city center is walking distance from the train station and two of its main attractions are free. The Uppsala Cathedral is Scandinavia's largest and tallest church built between 1270-1435. The nearby University Library (Carolina Rediviva) is the oldest in Sweden, founded in 1620, with a small exhibit space displaying the famous 6th century Silver Bible, the Carta Marina by Olaus Magnu (the earliest largely correct map of the Nordic countries) and Mozart's own draft of The Magic Flute, amongst other interesting treasures.
Uppsala Cathedral
Greg & I really enjoyed our time in Stockholm, and not just because of the great beer. However, despite our cost-saving measures, our average cost per person per day in Sweden was still $120. But if you have the time & money, I would highly recommend a visit to Scandinavia's heartland.
Stockholm sunset
The link to all of my Stockholm photos is embedded in this post's title.
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