Sustainability, Minimalism & Art Deco Spas: Stockholm Is An Eco Traveler’s Nirvana

June 22, 2017
A version of this article previously appeared on Ecocult

Sustainable Stockholm

Do you like capsule wardrobes, sustainability, minimalism, spa time, and some beautiful people watching? You’re reading this, so I’m going to go with, yes. Then you will be obsessed with a certain Scandinavian city, Stockholm.

Stockholm is everything the modern conscious traveler could want out of a city. In fact, it’s hard to visit and not be sustainable. Stockholm is highest in Europe for consumption of organic foods, recycling of drinks cans and bottles, and share of energy from renewable sources, and is working on ways to become fossil-free by 2040.

In short, this is one of those rare places where treehuggers can relax and really enjoy their vacation, without worrying so much about only patronizing the right businesses. A lot of the work has been done for you! However, I had the opportunity to visit this spring for a few days and wasn’t going to let that pass without ferreting out all the best places to shop for sustainable fashion, restaurants to visit, and even where to get a good smoothie.

The Basics

The four main neighborhoods you’ll want to check out are:

Sustainable Stockholm

Gamla Stan: The old part of town, this island is a bit touristy. Which makes sense–it has the historical, charming, narrow streets, the Royal Palace, and old bars and restaurants. But you can’t deny that it’s nice to walk around in.

Södermalm: A more hipster neighborhood that is South of Gamla Stan, this is the place to go if you love shopping and fresh dining and want to get a sense for what the young Stockolmers are doing.

Norrmalm: A sort of business district or downtown area, this modern part of the city has the train station, businesses, and high-rise hotels. This is where I stayed. I didn’t spend a lot of time in this neighborhood, but it was a convenient hop away from Gamla Stan and only a 20-minute walk to Sodermalm.

Djurgarden: An island that includes must-see attractions Vasamuseet (learn about the Vikings), Nordiskamuseet, Skansen Park (an immersive experience that’s sort of like Colonial Williamsburg, but for Stockholm), Biologisjamuseet, Prins Eugens Waldermarsudde and Rosendahls slott. (By the way, museet means museum in Swedish.)

Getting Around

Sustainable Stockholm

Train: Take the Arlanda Express train from the airport into the city. It’s fast and the most sustainable way to get from the airport to the city. Trains leave every 15 minutes.

Public Transportation: When you arrive in Stockholm, get yourself a Stockholm Pass with Travel for a period of one to five days. This allows you to use public transportation – the metro, buses, trams, and trains – as well as the Royal Canal Tour and admission to more than 60 attractions. I hear that the subway stations are like art galleries and worth a visit themselves. You can use it for the Arlanda Express train from the airport as well, but you’ll have to pay a supplement.

Bikes: Stockholm is beautiful for biking! Get a 3-day pass for the bike share at a Pressbyran (newsstand) or through your hotel.

Walk: This is a pretty compact city. You can get from one site to another in an hour’s walk at the very, very most. So bring your sneakers!

Where to Stay

It’s hard to go wrong, actually, with Stockholm hotels. There are 90 hotels bearing the Nordic Swan Ecolabel (“Svanen”) denoting their compliance with strict environmental and health regulations. (Look them up here.) In fact, Stockholm has the highest number of eco-friendly lodging in the world. But here’s a couple of ideas:

HOBO – Where I stayed, this brand new hotel is almost painfully geared toward millennials. The rooms are just big enough for a bed and bathrooms, and it had the vibe of a hostel. There’s no telephone in the room, for example – they expect you to use your cellphone to call the front desk if you need anything. And everything is extra. But the breakfast that is included is healthy, delicious, and includes some Scandinavian touches. The restaurant/café has an Ace Hotel vibe: young, relaxed, welcoming, laptop-friendly. There are edible plants growing in the lobby and plenty of eco-friendly gifts to buy at the desk.

Scandic – This modern hotel chain is known for their sustainability initiatives.


Sustainable Stockholm

Fotografiska Söder

This museum features rotating exhibitions of some of the best photography in the world and is a must visit. Plan on spending about two hours in the exhibits, then head to the farm-to-table restaurant on the top for a lunch or dinner with a stunning view of the river.

Sustainable Stockholm

An exhibit on modern royal wedding dresses

Royal Palace – Gamla Stan

Take a quick wander around the Royal Palace, which is still used for state events and has an exhibition of old Swedish royal medals and dress. It’s no Versailles but is still worth a look.

Sustainable Stockholm

The downstairs cafe area of Centralbadet

Ecobaren CentralbadetNorrmalm

Do not leave Sweden without trying out a spa! I spent a few hours (and wish I could have spent more) cycling through five different types of female-only and mixed saunas, several pools, and hot and cold showers. The setting, built 1905, is not fancy but has an art deco charm. You can even don a robe and have a light lunch at the cafe inside the spa, or get a healthy, full meal downstairs before or after. With cell phones verboten, it was the most relaxing experience I’ve had in months. I came out feeling like I had collected the cumulative relaxation of 10 yoga classes. Just be aware that you will see some naked bodies. So shelve your puritanical American sensibilities before entering.

Other things to do:

Royal National City Park: A sprawling, 6,700-acre conservation tract, complete with roe deer, owls, and pine martens, right in the center of the city, it includes the island Djurgarden if you want some museum time. Or you can walk, bike, or go horseback riding on the trails, pausing for a picnic in one of the many scenic spots. I didn’t get a chance to go, but it’s at the top of my list for next time!

Canal tour – Great for when the weather is nice.

Nobel Museum (Gamla Stan): All about the Nobel Prize and its creator.

Moderna Museet  (Skeppsholmen): Check to see if there are any exhibits that interest you before you go.

Skogskyrkogården (South of the city): A.K.A. Woodland Cemetery, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a rolling pine forest landscape with memorials designed by two of Sweden’s most important Modernists, Sigurd Lewerentz and Gunnar Asplund, best known for designing the Stockholm Public Library.

Take a Snack Break

Sustainable Stockholm

Fabrique – Soder, Ostermalm

A super cute little place to get a Swedish pastry and coffee, it’s the kind of spot where people are actually reading the paper and talking to each other, rather than working on their laptops.

Sustainable Stockholm

Snickarbacken 7 – Norr

An oversized, railroad café with vaulted ceilings, lit by candlesticks burning in antique bronze holders. It has everything a New Yorker could want: coffee but also avocado toast, matcha lattes, and local art hung on the walls. Oh, and an amazing home and accessories store tucked in the back that is worth a visit in its own right!

Sustainable Stockholm

JuiceverketSoder, Norr 

A juice and smoothie bar with a moody chiaroscuro farmhouse vibe. The menu is in Swedish, but no matter. It gives you an excuse to chat up the handsome guys behind the counter. It has wifi, too!

Read more on Eccocult


Have you been to Stockholm? What are your favorite spots?

See more of Alden’s eco-travel adventures: How To Take A Wildly Enchanting (& Sustainable) Trip To New Orleans

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Here’s How to *Actually* Do Tulum, Mexico Like A Green Traveler

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Photo: Alden Wicker

Alden is the founder of EcoCult--a showcase for all local, sustainable, eco-friendly, handmade, beautiful and interesting things. When not writing for EcoCult, she is dancing until dawn to electronic music, cooking, practicing yoga, wandering the streets of NYC, traveling, refining my photography, and freelance writing for various sites from Refinery29, LearnVest, xoJane, and more.


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