Saving Money in Scandinavia: Stockholm

Stockholm will always be very special to me.

It was my first European city. I was 29. I’d been all the way to Hong Kong, but never to Europe! I fell in love with everything in Stockholm. I wanted to move there ASAP. I wanted a corner apartment with a balcony, and a tiny plot in a neighbourhood of hillside gardens (Södra Tantolundens Koloniträdgårdsområde = South Tantolundens Community Garden).

Stockholm was pure magic. For me, at that time of year/my life, it represented total freedom and relaxation. I’d worked 6-7 days a week at two jobs for 20 straight months to get to Europe, and we were greeted with the most beautiful weather. Spring had arrived. The parks were full every lunch hour of young couples, moms and babies, kindergarten-age kids running into fountains (and getting stern lectures from park security who knew them all by name), people in suits eating out of lunch bags, and university students spending all day studying for exams on the grass.

It was a good time. We jumped into living the park life right away.

In my last post, I mentioned that we were very lucky to have booked our hostel in Stockholm almost a year before arriving.

That’s because, as we found out on the red-eye flight from Iceland to Stockholm, we were arriving the exact week that Eurovision 2016 was taking place in Stockholm. The location of the 2016 competition wasn’t announced until long after we had booked our hostel, so the rates were still reasonable and it wasn’t completely full. If we had waited until arriving in Stockholm… we would have been very lucky to find a place to sleep, and for anything close to a budget rate.

That wasn’t the only luck we had either. Our first or second night at the prison hostel (very cool, by the way, I highly recommend staying on Långholmen island!), we got to meet our roommates, who we immediately got along with. We all went to one of many free Eurovision concert one night, during which Penny and a friend we met in the crowd went on stage representing “all tourists” and were asked to sing a song. Amazingly, one of our hostel roommates, Aniko from Hungary, even came to Halifax in October for work and we got to see each other again! 😀

Like I said, the concerts in the city were free, unless you bought food or drinks. Our hostel rates were very good, due to the timing of our booking (and it included breakfast, which was a HUGE buffet, with gluten-free items clearly marked and uncontaminated. Morning heaven).

We found a great gluten-free restaurant in the middle of Old Town or “Gamla Stan” called “Under Kanstanjen”. The service and information (including family stories!) were much appreciated, and the food was ridiculously good. I got to have traditional Swedish skagen toast, Swedish meatballs (grandma’s recipe) and princess cake! All gluten-free! I couldn’t believe it.

If you haven’t realized it already, most of our excitement in Europe was about food. I took as many photos of food as I did of non-food. So, other dinners included:

At the time, I was dealing with some pretty rough and mysterious food allergies that were plaguing the skin on my hands. Somehow, the Scandinavian diet of primarily meat and potatoes completely healed me in three weeks! I still tend toward this kind of diet, and my hands have never gone back to how bad they were then. More magic.

Our last meal in Stockholm was at a place called “Meatballs for the People.” It was a rainy Sunday evening, and the place was packed, but we managed to get two seats at the bar, where we could watch them plate the food. The meatballs were already cooked and being kept hot, so he worked super fast. I got moose meatballs, and Penny got lamb meatballs. They were both served with potatoes, and lingonberry jam. So good! Then we ran to the bus station to catch our night bus to Oslo.

Moose meatballs? Lingonberry jam? Scallop risotto? At affordable prices? Yes. It was awesome. One of Penny’s favourite meals was from a food shack called Nystekt Strömming (literally “fresh fried herring”) near Slussen station. It was less than $10 for a huge plate of fish and potatoes. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious!

Lesson #1 of affordable meals while travelling: Go where the locals go! Seeing a packed restaurant full of people speaking Swedish was a good sign that the food was good and it wasn’t a tourist trap. Whether it was a food truck with a huge line, or a packed Sunday meatball joint. We left for Oslo with full bellies, and smiles on our faces, even in the rain. 🙂

Overall costs:

  • Hostel: $36.26 per person per night
  • Ferry to Vaxholm: $34.85 each
  • Night bus from Stockholm to Oslo: $81.43 per person (and very comfy, with wifi and outlets!)
  • City bus/train passes: Roughly $50 (I bought one 72-hr pass and one 24-hr pass)
  • Meals: Breakfast was included and enough to fill you up for many hours! Lunches were usually just lattes and treats (we took advantage of both 11am and 3pm fika aka tea time), and dinners were no more than $30 (for me, at least).
  • Vasa Museum entry fee: $19 (though if I recall, we had some sort of discount)
    • Either way, $19 was still a good price. This museum was incredible.

It all worked out to ~$100/day for me. Which, like I said in my Iceland post, is really quite good considering it includes eating, sleeping, sight-seeing and riding the trains, busses, and ferries.

See you again, Stockholm!

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