No, Sweden is not a cheap destination and probably never will be, but at the moment prices are at a level that won’t make you gasp too badly.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts here, you can take advantage of the current strong U.S. dollar in two ways.
1) Go where the cheapest destinations have gotten even cheaper
2) Go to a place you normally couldn’t afford because the destination has gotten less stratospheric
I’m the value-driven guy that would normally take the first option but I got invited to Sweden to speak at a conference and the prices in Stockholm are…not as crazy as I expected.
Hotel Prices in Stockholm
I came in early and got a hotel on my own the first night, which was $72 in a good location for this room.
There’s a shared bathroom inconvenience in this old building, but it was a nice bathroom and the included breakfast was great. There were a couple dozen hotels less than $100 a night on Trivago when I was checking and I just booked a 3-star airport one the last night before an early flight out for $77. (Taxes are always included here, so no additional surprises). A few of the people I met at the conference were staying in a hostel and most were paying $25 to $35 a night. That’s fairly standard for the expensive parts of Europe in a major city.
The 4-star hotels where the conference speakers were staying run $100 to $180 including buffet breakfast, which doesn’t seem bad at all for northern Europe in the summer. They’re hotel brands like Radisson Blu, Hilton, Clarion, and Scandic.
Food and Drink
Summer in Sweden means all the locals are filling outdoor cafes and riding their bikes, enjoying the brief few months of warmth and regular sun. It’s still light out until almost midnight. Expect some sticker shock if you follow their lead, but not as much shock as you would have gotten a few years ago. The price of a glass of wine is similar to what you’d pay in a large U.S. city and happy hour beer prices often come in less than $5 for 40-50CL of the standard local brews. Restaurant meals are higher, but you can also factor in that 10% is considered a respectable gratuity.
That chart above shows how the dollar has fared against the Swedish krona since January of 2011:
Divide by 8 and pull out a credit card
We’ve obviously got a lot more buying power. This is still one very expensive country, however. Here are some sample food and drink prices from Stockholm.
Take-out sandwich – $4.50-10
Simple restaurant meal – $8-15
Nice restaurant meal – $18-50
Beer in a bar – $4-8
Glass of wine – $6-12
Ice cream – $3-7
Fast food combo – $8.50-13
Kilo of fruit/veggies – $2-$8
Cup of coffee – $3-6
Soda/bottled water – $2.50-$6
Tap water – free and good
There’s not much street food around in central Stockholm. The most likely thing you’ll see is an oversized hot dog or corn dog for $3-$4.
Getting Around in Stockholm
It can be reasonable to get around in this city because it’s fairly compact and pedestrian-friendly. I got a transit pass from the conference organizers and haven’t used it yet. If you are going to take the metro regularly, an integrated transit pass card is around $27 for 72 hours and it’s also good for the buses and trams. Individual tickets are $2.50 to $5 for one ride if bought in advance on a card (which costs another $2.50). If you take a ferry out to one of the islands in the archipelago, rides run $9 to $16. The fast and comfortable Arlanda Express train from the airport to Central Station can be anywhere from $19 to $35 depending on how far ahead you purchase it and whether there are two or more of you buying together.
Unfortunately, joining the locals on a bike in this city can really cost you, with rates of $17 or so for two hours or more than $30 for a full day. If you can successfully navigate the City Bikes system though, that’s less than $20 for three days and it’s a drop-off system.
To drive into the gorgeous countryside, renting a car starts at around $40 per day. The car itself is half that, but then they tack on 25% VAT, an airport fee, a “congestion fee,” and a “road fee.”
Most visitors with time for sightseeing pick up a Stockholm Pass so they can hit multiple attractions over two or three days. Even though it looks pricey at $100 for 48 hours and $124 for 72, it’s the best option if you’re the type that wants to hit the ground running and see as much as possible. It gets you into a whole slew of museums and attractions, but even better for this harbor city on the water, it gets you onto lots of boat tours.
Otherwise, expect to pay $10-$25 for most museums and attractions. The Vasa Museum is $16.50, for instance, and the ABBA Museum (not a part of the pass) is around $24.
* One last note: there’s not much use for cash in this advanced country. You can put the equivalent of $2 on a debit or credit card and the cashier won’t blink. If you pay with a big banknote though, she might. Even a woman selling licorice on the street had a wireless card machine. I never even went to an ATM or changed money here. There’s just one place I saw where you’d have to have cash—a pay toilet that needed a 5 kroner coin.