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My husband’s grandmother is half Swedish, and to our kids this is a big deal. They complain about being “only American” while their friends lay claim to being Irish, Italian, Greek, etc. Having a Swedish great grandmother means they can “be” something, and they have been dying to visit their “homeland” for years. In March 2017 we caved into “kid pressure” and took them on a Scandinavian tour to Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland, and left us wanting to visit Norway and Finland next!
I have a confession to make: I was not that excited about our upcoming trip. Scandinavia had never been on any kind of bucket list of mine. I thought the countries were too westernized to be interesting, I thought it would be too cold, and I thought there wouldn’t be enough to keep us busy. The guide books I pored over didn’t do much to allay my fears. Copenhagen seemed to have enough to do, but outside of that Scandinavia in March seemed to be a dismal and boring place. How would we fill 8 days?
I have now come to the conclusion that there are just really bad guide books for Scandinavia! Or maybe I just read all the wrong ones. In the end, I wished we had been able to split another week between Sweden and Denmark. It ranks up there as one of the best family trips ever and one we can’t wait to repeat. However, 8 days to do two large countries was a stretch, and I would only recommend it if your kids are as good in the car as mine have become. But we love being able to stop in small towns along the way and feel like we are really seeing a country.
Sweden and Denmark were made for kids, and traveling with kids was a real pleasure. Every restaurant we visited had deeply discounted children’s meals. Entrance fees to attractions were also inexpensive for kids. Copenhagen had urban playgrounds around every corner and stroller friendly museums.
Here are the 7 Best Things to see in Sweden:
We saw them at the end of March when very little was blooming and it was still beautiful. I can only imagine it in April and May!
Plan on 1 hour
Fish church (Feskekorka)-
This is not actually a church but a fish market getting its name from its appearance. It is prettily situated along the Göta älv river (pronounced yerta elv). They have more types of fish than I could name! My kids loved looking at the fish, but hated the smell.
Plan on 30 minutes
The Vasa Museum-
The pictures do not do this place justice! The Vasa is a Swedish warship that sunk on its maiden voyage right outside of Stockholm in 1628. She was recovered in Stockholm harbor in the early 1960’s. The highlight of the museum is the Vasa herself. The entire museum has been built around the ship and different levels of the museum allow you to see various details. If you can only do one thing in Stockholm, do this! Everyone in the family was in awe.
The old parts of cities are always my favorites! I love a cobblestone street and a statue or two.
Gamla stan is its own island that dates back to the 13th century. The large square in the middle of the island is Stortorget, and it is a wonderful place to get a drink and people watch. If your kids like to feed (or realistically chase) pigeons, this is the place to stop for a while.
While in Gamla stan you can visit the Nobel Museum, the Stockholm Cathedral, and the 18th century palace for the royal family. None will be very interesting for your younger children, but you could do as we did and have one parent go in a museum while the other took the kids to chase pigeons.
I would plan 2-4 hours to explore the winding streets, grab a bite, and window shop. However, if you plan on visiting any of the museums you will have to plan more time.
A traveling with kids must!
If you don’t know what an open air museum is, don’t fear, neither did I. For those of you in the U.S., I would compare it to a cross between a petting zoo, a small amusement park, and an historic village.
There were many across Scandinavia and not enough time to do them all. All the locals we spoke with insisted the kids would love Skansen and they were right.
My kids enjoyed the animals the most. They saw wolves, bears, seals, monkeys, and more. I loved that I could duck into some historic homes while my husband took them around to see the animals. We also saw primitive Swedish homes, walked through a few gardens, and rode a tram.
The center part of Skansen has picnic tables and food to buy so you don’t have to pack one.
Tips: It’s a short hike from the Vasa Museum or the ABBA museum and is stroller friendly but very hilly.
The family pass was quite cheap in March ($60) but the prices seemed to be much higher later in the summer.
Plan on 4-5 hours with your kids at Skansen
If you still have some fun left in you after Skansen and want your kids to sleep well the next day, head to Grona Lund, an amusement park in the same area of town. To my kids chagrin it was still closed in late March but it looked fabulous for older kids as well as younger kids.
Definitely a strange attraction but a favorite whenever we travel internationally. My kids love to go to the grocery store and try foods new to them. The big hit in Sweden was boxed yogurt in mango or raspberry. (The brand is Arla.) I think the kids each ate/drank a box a day! Other favorite foods were raspberry marmalade and bread, peppered salami, tiny shrimp, and pastries.
We ran into various ruins on our drive from Gothenburg to Stockholm, but our favorite one was right outside Granna (a town famous for candy canes). We pulled right off the freeway just past Granna and explored to our hearts’ content. The kids were sick of the car at that point and it was a great boredom buster.
Due to high food prices in Sweden, we ate out very little. We tended to grab a hot dog or pastry for lunch and eat what my kids call “grocery store dinner” at night. Grocery store dinner is the food that they wanted to try at the grocery store.
We did splurge on one meal in Stockholm at:
This restaurant is located in Gamla stan and is what I would consider a higher priced restaurant in the U.S. but seemed to be mid range in Stockholm. They didn’t have a kid’s menu, but they made my little one plain pasta with Parmesan. The other boys were happy to eat off of the adult menu, and the portions were huge.
The dining highlights were the baked beef ribs (I am still dreaming about these!), the tacos, char, and deep fried cheese.
*The restaurant had highchairs and I saw a number of small children eating here.
Grillska husets brodbod-
This bakery is in Stortorget and is a great place to get coffee and pastries. The kanelbullar (Sweden’s traditional cinnamon snail with large sugar pieces on top) are especially good here. We also got a prinsesstarta to eat at our Airbnb. If you haven’t watched the episode of The Great British Bake Off where they make a princesstarte, watch it before you go!
Tips and preparing for your trip
Is it possible to do Stockholm in one day?
Yes, but not well. We had a day and a half in Stockholm and I wish we had at least one more full day.
We were able to see the highlights but not do nearly enough of anything else. We would have loved to see a few more museums (especially the ABBA museum), gone on a boat ride to other islands, explored non-touristy neighborhoods, and walked along the waterfront to look at all the boats.
How can I afford to go to Sweden?
It is true that Scandinavia is expensive, but if you go in March and April tickets are much less expensive as are accommodations, and you aren’t in darkness and cold. Our tickets were under $300 each from NYC to Copenhagen. We paid around $100 a night for hotels and Airbnbs by staying a little way out of the main cities. Eat out carefully and spend your money on attractions.
Parking in Stockholm-
We were there during the week and found parking to be very easy. Park near the Vasa museum in the morning and refill the meter from time to time and you are close to Skansen, Grona Lund, and the waterfront. Gamla stan was trickier parking but we found something within 20 minutes. Public transportation is supposed to be very good, but because we stayed outside of the city, we would have had to park somewhere anyway.
How to Prepare for your trip-
Read Pippi Longstocking or watch the movie. My kids are always much more invested in a place when they know anything about the country.
Do a little research on how to pronounce Swedish words. They have different vowels than we do, and it’s nice to be able pronounce the towns you are visiting. The rules are simple and just take a little practice.
Take your kids to Ikea and get them to pronounce correctly the names of the products. Sounds weird but it was super fun! Also pick up some meatballs to see if your kids will like something to eat in Sweden. There wasn’t a single restaurant we visited that didn’t have meatballs.
Everyone speaks English. I mean everyone! However, it is still nice to say thank you in Swedish- tack.
If you have time go to the coast even for an hour or two. We did a little detour to a charming canal town -Trosa- and spent a lovely hour walking around and enjoying the small town charm and the rugged coast.