Stockholm is like no other city in Europe. With its turrets and spires, surrounded by lush forest, it often resembles a Swedish Camelot. It's one of Europe's most beautiful cities, spreading out over 14 islands, each connected by vaulting bridges. On some of the islands, steep cliffs rise from the water, atop which stand historic buildings untouched by the ravages of war for almost 200 years.
Take a trip into the past to Skansen, an open-air museum located on the Djurgarden — which itself is a large island-park. The Swedes have moved more than 150 ancient farmhouses and other buildings that once stood throughout the country to this place in order to preserve and maintain these buildings as a heritage for the nation — a re-creation of what Sweden was like hundreds of years ago. You'll need to spend several hours wandering over its peaceful grounds, riding in the little electric train, gazing into the enclosures without bars where brown bears and wolves reside, and watching demonstrations of glass blowing, cheesemaking, butter churning, and other crafts in a re-created Old World Stockholm. You can even partake of a huge old-fashioned Swedish smorgasbord while listening to a band concert and watching folk dances on the bandstand.
The eeriest and some say the most fascinating place to visit in Stockholm is the Wasa Museum, also on the Djurgarden. Here resides the warship Wasa, which sank 20 minutes into her 1628 maiden voyage when a wind caught the sails and blew her over in Stockholm's harbor. Brought up from the bottom of Stockholm's harbor in 1961 after it had lain there for 333 years, she's now the best-preserved ship in the world, housed in a state-of-the-art, humidity-controlled museum.
You'll also want to visit Stockholm's City Hall, an unusual structure built of eight million bricks. Enter its inner court to gaze up at this uniquely Scandinavian building, then enter its Blue Hall, originally intended to be painted blue but left natural brick red by the architect, followed by the Golden Hall, site of the annual Nobel Prize Dinners, and finally the Room of the Three Crowns, the impressive legislative chamber with a ceiling decorated as in a Viking home. To get an overall view of the city, take the elevator, then walk the rest of the way to the top of the Kaknas Tower, the tallest building in Scandinavia.
You can also see the Military Parade and Changing of the Guard, starting at the Army Museum every day at Noon, then continuing on to the Royal Palace courtyard where the band plays and the guard changes. Every other day, the band parades on horseback.
The stately Royal Palace exterior contains 608 Baroque and Rococo decorated rooms. Steeped in royal history, the palace also houses the Royal Treasury, displaying great crowns, scepters, jeweled robes, and plenty of gold. After viewing the royal treasures, head over to the Royal Armory, the oldest museum in Sweden, with one of the best collections of medieval royal armor in Europe.
Stop by the Kungstradgarden, the King's Garden Square downtown to watch a life-sized game of chess and enjoy a free concert at the bandstand. Then stroll over to Sergels Torg, the heart of modern Stockholm, to browse the bustling underground mall.
The great Swedish sculptor, Carl Milles, who created statues throughout the world, came home to Stockholm in 1906 to spend most of the last years of his life designing and building the Milles Garden on a hill on the island of Lidingo overlooking Stockholm. His works are a sharp departure from traditional sculpture and are extremely moving.
The Nordic Museum, built to look like a Danish palace, offers a look at how the Swedes lived over the last 500 years. Highlights include stunning china and crystal table settings, Nordic folk art, a huge statue by Carl Milles of Gustav Vasa, father of modern Sweden, and a Sami or Lapp exhibit.
Stockholm is Europe's most expensive city, so to avoid straining your travel budget, purchase The Stockholm Card, a free pass to just about everything, including public transit for 24, 48, and 72-hour periods. And two children get to go along free with each adult pass.
Finally, take a cruise through the Archipelago of Stockholm to experience the city from sea level. During the summer, ferries connect Stockholm's two sightseeing districts, sailing from Nybroplan and Slussen to Djurgarden every 20 minutes.