Stockholm is built on a total of 14 islands. Each of these has its own uniqueness, its own routines and manners. Södermalm, the old bohemian clave, has its bespectacled hipsters and retired alcoholics, on Skeppsholmen you’ll find wooden boat builders and art academy students, Gamla Stan is famous for its ceramicists and souvenir sellers, and on exclusive Djurgården, yacht owners and amusement park workers share daily routines. Learn more about the 14 islands of the Swedish capital.
The capital of Sweden is virtually situated on the water, built on 14 islands and on the banks to the archipelago where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. One-third of the city areal consists of water, another of green space and a final third is entrusted to urbanity. In Stockholm, nothing feels concentrated or clustered and fresh air is in abundance.
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Anywhere you go in the historic center of Stockholm, you find yourself at the water’s edge or crossing a bridge from one island to the next. During the two last decades, Stockholm’s global reputation as a city of culture, art, design and fine cuisine has grown enormously. However, at heart it is the same city it has been for over 800 years. Exploring the islands and the unique layout is part of its attraction.
is a small island in central Stockhom connected by the wooden Beckholmen bridge, originally built in 1848-1858 when the first docks were constructed in Stockholm. It is the only remaining wooden bridge on Stockholm still used by heavy vehicles.
Having served the city’s shipping industry for centuries, Beckholmen is now regarded as a historical monument of national interest, and, by its location just south of Djurgården it also forms part of Royal National City Park, and Stockholms Sjögård (literally, “Sea homestead of Stockholm”), an area of the harbor of Stockholm containing maritime environments of historical interest.
The small islet is located north of Stadsholmen, and west of Helgeandsholmen, between the bridges Centralbron, a motorway passing through central Stockholm, and Vasabron. Strömsborg is part of Gamla stan, the old town of Stockholm and is connected to the rest of the world by the bridge Strömsborgsbron leading over to Vasabron.
The island is connected to the mainland via several bridges. Together with the small islands of Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen it forms Gamla stan, the old town of Stockholm. The name Gamla stan can also refer to the island itself, as the name Stadsholmen is rarely used in daily speech.
Stadsholmen is the location of Stockholm Palace, official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarch. The offices of the King, the other members of the Swedish Royal Family, and the offices of the Royal Court of Sweden are located here.
Kungsholmen and Långholmen
Västerbron, a steel structure from 1935, arches mercilessly towards the sky between Kungsholmen and Långholmen. From the top you have a splendid view over the whole city. From there you can meander further through Stockholm passing the north of Söder (Södermalm) to the right and into Gamla Stan.
«The Knights’ Islet” forms part of Gamla Stan and houses a number of private palaces dating back to the 17th century. The main landmark is the church Riddarholmskyrkan, used as Sweden’s royal burial church from the 17th century to 1950, and where a number of earlier Swedish monarchs also lie buried.
The western end of the island gives a magnificent panoramic and photogenic view of the bay Riddarfjärden, often used by TV journalists with Stockholm City Hall in the background. A statue of Birger Jarl, traditionally considered the founder of Stockholm, stands on a pillar in front of the Bonde Palace, north of Riddarholm Church.
Other notable buildings include the Old Parliament Building in the south-eastern corner, the Old National Archive on the eastern shore, and the Norstedt Building, the old printing house of the publisher Norstedts, the tower roof of which is a well-known silhouette on the city’s skyline.
The small island Helgeandsholmen is located north of Stadsholmen, and east of Strömsborg, with which, together with Riddarholmen, it forms Gamla stan, the old town of Stockholm. The island contains the Riksdag Building and the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, and is connected to neighboring islands through three bridges.
The terrace in the eastern end, called Strömparterren (“The Stream Parterr”), is a public park with a restaurant dating from 1832, while the flight of stairs leading down to the water is from 1807–1810. The quay west of the Riksdag Building once surrounded Sweden’s central bank Sveriges Riksbank and was thus named Bankkajen (“The Bank Quay”), while the streets on southern and northern sides are called Norra/Södra Helgeandstrappan (“The Northern/Southern Helgeand Stairs”), all of them named in 1925.
The historical name for Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town) was “The city between the bridges”, a name which is still used for the entire city which spans over numerous islands, islets, and hills. During the course of centuries, the city has seen many bridges relieve each other.
The Old Town is cobbled around the Royal Palace, which is located near Stockholm’s oldest building, Storkyran. The ‘Great Cathedral’ dates to the mid-thirteenth century and features a rich, robust interior with redbrick columns and a whitewashed ceiling.
The traits from the old industrial district on Kungsholmen were swept away in the early 20th century and replaced by housing and public institutions. The residential areas in Fredhäll and Kristineberg were built in the 1930s. The Stockholm metro was drawn through Kungsholmen in the 1950s.
Långholmen can be reached via two bridges, Pålsundbroen in the east and Långholmsbron in the west.
Långholmen is a popular spot for walks, picnics and swimming. The small beaches, located right outside the former prison, are usually crowded in summer.
When leaving Gamla Stan on the way to Södermalm we come to Slussen, a junction of intersecting car and train bridges. When it was constructed in 1935, it was hailed as an infrastructural masterpiece. Now it appears mostly as a monument from an age when traffic was synonymous with increasing prosperity.
Södermalm is connected to its surrounding areas by a number of bridges. It connects to Gamla stan to the north by Slussen and to Långholmen to the northwest by Västerbron.
Södermalm was once known as the “slum” area of Stockholm. However today, Södermalm is known as the home of bohemian, alternative culture and a broad range of cultural amenities. Meanwhile, the growing demand for housing, as well as an increasing gentrification of Stockholm’s central parts, makes apartments in Södermalm more and more difficult or expensive to come by. Thus, what was once a working-class district is now somewhat a district of the privileged.
This small island is lying to the west of Södermalm and to the south of the neighboring Långholmen. Its present name refers to Anders Reimer (1727-1816), a hatter and magistrate whose estate can still be found to the east of the island. A wool manufacturing plant, Stockholms Yllefabrik, was built during the 1860s where prisoners from Långholmen Prison used to work.
Reimersholme was not incorporated into the city of Stockholm until 1913. In the 1980s the remaining southern part of the island, previously a site occupied by the alcohol manufacturer Reymersholms Spritförädlings AB, was transformed into a housing area.
Positioned strategically at the Baltic Sea entrance to Stockholm, Skeppsholen has traditionally been the location of several military buildings. Today, the military presence is low, and several museums can be found there instead, such as the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna museet), the main modern art museum of Stockholm, the architectural museum in the same building, and the East-Asian museum (Östasiatiska Muséet). On the southern shore is the old sailing ship af Chapman which is now used as a youth hostel. Stockholm Jazz Festival is a popular annual summer event held on Skeppsholmen.
It’s pretty easy to walk most of the central part of Stockholm, trams and boats offer trips further afield. How many islands you visit depends on how long you have in the city.
Kastellholmen is connected to adjacent Skeppsholmen through the Kastellholmsbron bridge. On the island there is a small castle, Kastellet, which was built between 1846-1848 and designed by the Swedish officer and architect Fredrik Blom.
Djurgården is home to many historical buildings, monuments, museums, galleries and the amusement park Gröna Lund and the open-air museum Skansen. Today, the ABBA Museum and the Vasa Museum are two of the most visited museums on Djurgården. There are also extensive stretches of forests and meadows and around the small residential area Djurgårdsstaden you’ll find several yacht harbors. Djurgården is one of the Stockholmers’ favorite recreation areas and tourist destinations alike, attracting over 10 million visitors annually, of which 5 million come to visit the museums and the amusement park.
This island is located on Lake Mälaren next to the larger neighboring island Stora Essingen. Both islands (Essingöarna) are mainly residential areas, the smaller densely packed with apartment buildings while the larger is scattered with private houses and, to a lesser extent, apartment buildings. The Essingeleden motorway, part of the European routes E4 and E20, passing over both islands is named after them.
The island is located adjacent to Lilla Essingen on Lake Mälaren. Both Essingen Islands are mainly residential areas. Stora Essingen is scattered with private houses and apartment buildings.
A truly modern metropolis
Today, Stockholm is a world-class city with a wealth of history blended with cutting-edge trends in architecture, art, technology design, fashion and food. Stockholm is a truly modern metropolis with friendly inhabitants that is worth exploration.
The 14 Islands of the Swedish Capital, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): From Stora Essingen. Photo: Wikipedia