The Stockholm archipelago in summer is nothing sort of dreamy. Step – or rather swim, glide or sail – back into a world seemingly untouched by the hustle and bustle of normal life. Somewhere where things feel timeless, wholesome, beguiling.
The archipelago’s 30,000 islands have a pulse all their own. The two decisions are how you will reach them and what you will do when you’re there. You can either take a ferry from the middle of Stockholm – from Nybroplan, Nybrokäjen or Strandvägen – or Vaxholm or go under your own steam by renting a motorboat, a more costly but really exhilarating option.
How to get there
The quickest and closest place for your first taste of the archipelago is Fjäderholmarna, no more than 20 minutes from Stockholm (from Strandvägen or Slussen) and which encapsulates the characteristics of the islands – lots of fresh fish, glassblowing to watch, artists’ studios and an array of good restaurants and cafés. This is the archipelago in a snapshot. Or you could visit Artipelag on Värmdö, where you can soak up the most ravishing spot for an art gallery surrounded by the archipelago and be revived by cutting edge exhibitions and excellent food.
However, for those who have time to soak up the archipelago at a slower pace and really get away from it all, don’t miss the opportunity to venture further. Vaxholm itself is very small, but has some excellent clothes, lifestyle and sailing shops and serves as the perfect gateway to the treasures of the archipelago. Stop, too, for delicious cakes and sandwiches either near the water, or a few minutes outside at Café Parkvillan near Bogesunds Slott. If you’re in your own boat, this is the place to fill up with fuel and if you’ve driven there, you will find a vast choice of islands to visit by ferry.
What to explore
As you leave Vaxholm, you wend your way past the fort in the water and through a narrow channel passing the first picture postcard archipelago houses in soft pastel tones or Sweden’s signature deep terracotta red. Then the water opens out and the archipelago stretches before you.
If you’re looking for an overnight stay, then Grinda is a good spot, with stuga (wooden cabins) for rent and lots to do. You can walk through lovely meadows, picnic, swim from the beaches or eat in first-rate restaurants. And every time you glimpse the water, there will be an elegant sailing boat or two bobbing gently in the water, summing up understated Swedish style as the water glimmers behind it.
Another personal favourite is Finnhamn, with memories of fishing for perch (abhorre) from warm rocks.
“Theories abounded as to optimal rocks from which to secure a fish, the concentration being lost entirely at one point as the boys took up position on an inflatable doughnut to savour the views approaching Vaxholm at greater speed, but we finally alighted on a series of rocks baking in the sun and focused on fishing in earnest. This was childhood stuff, with worms carefully collected from the Grinda woods and a rudimentary rod. Much waiting, further theorising, a frisson of competitiveness and then shrieks of excitement as Tom hauled (or gently lifted, given its meagre weight) his first perch out of the water.”
(excerpt from So Sweden – Living Differently)
Or Gällnö – take a boat from Strömkajen in Stockholm or by the Grand Hotel and wonder at this fabulous island which really gives you a chance to spread your wings. This is the island for those who want to walk, picnic and explore. There is even a rowing boat provided by the local council at the end of one footpath which you can use to row yourselves over to the adjacent island. It has trees and meadows aplenty and is a veritable haven of space and tranquillity.
What to do
Swimming this far north seems counter-intuitive, but there is an unbridled pleasure in entering the embrace of the brackish (only very slightly salty) water and swimming up sunbeams warming channels of water in the late afternoon. It’s not even cold – really.
The archipelago experience is one of purity and escapism. It is a truly unique ecosystem, where you somehow breathe more deeply and achieve real harmony with your surroundings. From minuscule islands where you will do little more than fish from a rock or gaze at the hypnotic water, to larger islands which will gratify the more active, it really has something for everybody. Keep going back for more!
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