Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Skärgården: The Wonderful Archipelago of Stockholm

Stockholm has a long relationship with the sea and the islands that surround it. One thousand years ago, the Vikings used the sea and their (then) advanced long boats to spread out across the Baltic region and beyond. Vikings in Sweden had established trading (and raiding) routes that extended from Stockholm to Istanbul and the Caspian Sea via the Volga River and settlements throughout the Stockholm region. The waterways enabled trade, provided defensible channels to the main cities, and connected farming and fishing communities to the urban populace in Stockholm. Today, the islands serve as a retreat from the city and an idyllic place to have a summer home.

Visitors to Stockholm can connect with the beauty of the thousands of islands via convenient day or overnight trips from Stockholm's inner harbor or from Vaxholm (itself a popular afternoon destination by boat). Two of the biggest companies running boats out into the islands are Waxholmbolaget and Stromma and the most popular area to explore is central skärgården (The blue on the map here). Each island has a different feel and different set of amenities: Some are virtually unpopulated; Some are resort like; Some have only a small shop or restaurant and camping to offer; Some are lush and green, while others are mainly made up of the bald rocks that are part of the people here. In my case, I wanted to get out, spend the full day on the boat, and relax, so I picked Sandhamn as my destination.

During the summer months, the boats are usually pretty full and finding a spot to sit can be difficult. My advice: The best spot is up by the bow. You get the wind in your face, not many people stay up there, and the sloped sides are actually very comfortable to lean against. The back of the boat up top tends to fill up quickly and be fairly noisy. On board, you'll find a basic cafe with drinks and small snacks, plus basic amenities like toilets. Prices for food is a little bit high, so a better idea is to bring a picnic for your destination instead of eating on board.

Getting out to Sandhamn takes a little more than 2 hours. If you are looking for something close, Grinda offers a bit more of the island feel than Vaxholm, but is still doable in an afternoon. For overnight stays, the hostel/camping on Finnhamn offers an excellent experience (complete with the option to rent a sauna). On arrival, you'll find yourself in a small downtown area where the hotel and restaurants are located.

Outside of this, the island is a very Swedish mix of nature and development. This is a community mainly of summer homes and people drawn here by the promise of a beach. The island does, however, have a permanent community and the local government is active in promoting Sandhamn as a year-round destination. The beach itself is a short walk to the other side of the island (Everything on the island can be reached within a 15-20 minute walk). It is a beautiful little beach and immensely popular. No matter where you go, it is hard to go wrong with a trip out to the islands on a summer day.

1 comment:

  1. I am amazed by the colour of that sky! So beautiful!