The Stockholm archipelago: a unique place in the world

The Stockholm archipelago is a unique place in the world. It’s made up of almost 30,000 islands, islets, and rocks sprinkled throughout the Baltic Sea!

Tell Stockholmers about the archipelago and you’ll see their eyes light up! It’s where they love to go to recharge their batteries, and where they all have wonderful memories of vacations as children.

If you’re ever in Stockholm, I highly recommend a visit to one of the islands, and even sleeping there for at least one or two nights to feel the magic.

What is the Stockholm Archipelago?

The archipelago is a gigantic string of hundreds of islands and islets stretching west of Stockholm, roughly from Arholma Island in the north to Landsortin Lighthouse in the south.

It’s a unique place in the world, where sea and land meet to create a magnificent landscape.

Stokholm Archipelago

There are three zones:

  • The inland archipelago is partly connected to the mainland and is the most densely populated. These are the most densely wooded islands, with a combination of conifers, alders, and birches.
  • The most remote outer archipelago in the Baltic Sea. The islands are spaced further apart. They are less covered by vegetation and the granite rocks softened by erosion are more visible.
  • L’archipel du milieu is a blend of both appearances.

The photo I took from an airplane, at sunset, gives a good idea of the archipelago’s geography.

Archipelago from the air

The archipelago was born during the last ice age

The Stockholm archipelago is the result of the effects of the last Ice Age, known as the Pleistocene, which lasted 2.6 million years and ended around 11,700 BC.

During this ice age, huge masses of ice accumulated in the region, particularly in Sweden, causing the earth’s crust to sink and creating depressions in the ground.

When the temperature began to rise, causing the ice to melt,the pressure exerted on the earth’s crust decreased.. As a result, some of the land rose, forming the future islands and islets of the archipelago, while the depressions left by the disappearing ice were filled with water.

Since the 19th century, Stockholmers have developed a strong relationship with the archipelago.

For a long time, the archipelago was inhabited by small farmers who fished for their own needs. They lived almost self-sufficiently, with few economic exchanges.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Stockholm’s wealthy bourgeoisie began building beautiful summer homes on the archipelago. The aim was to escape the poor sanitary conditions of the city during the summer and get closer to nature. Because of their poor insulation, these houses were closed in winter. They are mostly seen in the inner archipelago.

Archipelago homes

After the Second World War, access to the archipelago was greatly democratized with the development of paid vacations. Stockholmers started building much simpler cottages without electricity or running water to spend their vacations in. Colonies and vacation centers, such as Grinda, were created.

Local residents also saw it as a complementary source, renting out old barns that had been renovated and adapted for city dwellers. In summer, Stockholmers left the city to enjoy nature in the archipelago.

This golden age of the archipelago took place mainly in the 60s and 70s. Since then, Swedes have discovered cheap trips to the Canaries and Thailand, where sun and warmth are guaranteed, especially in the middle of winter. Despite this, Stockholmers still have a strong emotional attachment to their archipelago.

Today there are around 50,000 cottages or villas.

All coral-colored text indicates an internal or external link, which I invite you to click on.

House on archipelago island

Travelling on the ferries between Stockholm and Helsinki gives you a first glimpse of the archipelago.

The first time I discovered the archipelago, I was on a ferry from Helsinki. The boat had left the previous evening at 5pm. When I opened the curtains in the morning, I had seen this unique landscape of islands and islets through which our big ferry crept cautiously. It was winter and the sea was covered with ice.

It was magnificent, and I spent the last few hours of the trip on the ship deck admiring it. All I wanted to do was come back but in a more leisurely fashion. Back then, in February 2005, I had no idea that, a few years later, I would have the chance to return to Stockholm, but this time to live there.

Since then, I’ve taken the big Silja Line ferries back to Helsinki, but also to Tallinn and Riga. The view of the archipelago from the ferries is spectacular, as the deck of the boats is high up and the view is far-reaching.

It’s a vision that complements the shuttle boats that take you to the islands of the archipelago.

There are two competing companies, but Silja Line is more highly recommended than Viking Line for the comfort of its boats and the atmosphere on board.

Silja line

In addition to the magnificent view of the archipelago, the crossing is a very pleasant experience. The ferries are luxurious with a large indoor shopping mall and tax-free liquor that attracts Swedes and Finns for a mini-cruise!

Archipelago seen from the ferry
Silence archipelago
Helsinki ferry

Choosing which islands to visit in the archipelago is difficult!

There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to choose.

I’ve selected four in the northern archipelago where it’s easy to find accommodation. Each one has a very different personality and gives a good overview of several facets of the archipelago.

  • Vaxholm: the capital of the northern archipelago
  • Grinda: the vacation island
  • Svartsö: the agricultural island
  • Sandhamn: the chic, nautical island

North Stockholm archipelago map

If you have to visit only one, I recommend Grinda.

After that, I think it’s a matter of opportunity. If, by chance, a Stockholmer invites you to visit an island other than those I’ve listed, but recommends it to you, go for it without question. You’re sure to enjoy a truly authentic travel experience.

When to visit the archipelago?

My answer to this question is a bit year-round, as the archipelago changes its face with every season.

Summer, from mid-June to early August, is the best time to enjoy nature and the sea. The sun sets only timidly between 11 pm and 2 am. You won’t be alone, as many Stockholmers head to their country homes to enjoy the great outdoors.

Archipelago in summer

Winter is spectacular, with the sea freezing over and the islands covered in snow. At this time of the year, the archipelago is deserted and mysterious. I enjoyed discovering it at that time.

Archipelago in winter

The archipelago in winter

Autumn is magnificent with its brown, yellow and red colors. It’s still a good time to visit the archipelago.

Grinda in autumn

Whether it’s sunny, rainy or snowy, the archipelago offers an atmosphere that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, whatever the time of year.

The archipelago is also about silence. It’s absolute and relaxing, disturbed only by the passing of a boat or the cheerful cries of Swedes around a barbecue.

Silence archipelago
Archipelago pontoon
Sunset over the archipelago

Vaxholm: the capital of the northern archipelago

Vaxholm is a pretty little town with a population of 6,000. It’s the most visited island of the archipelago by tourists, as it’s easily accessible from Stockholm by numerous boats. Several travel blogs describe it, but it’s not my favorite because I find it too urbanized.


The area around the port is lovely, with its colorful wooden houses. Opposite is Waxholm fortress, accessible by boat.

Port of Vaxholm

Throughout history, Waxholm has acted as a lookout, warning Stockholm of dangers from the sea, particularly with the Danish and Russian invasions.

Vaxholm Fort

A walk around the island allows you to discover a more natural side. I haven’t done it myself, but it’s described in the “lasuedeenkit” blog (in French).


To discover the archipelago, I advise you not to spend too much time at Vaxholm, but to continue on to other, wilder islands. The island, accessible by car, lacks a little charm for my taste, but it’s a lovely gateway to the archipelago.

Ferry and ferryboat

Grinda: the vacation island

Grinda is one of the islands most accessible from Stockholm and visited by foreign tourists. It gives a good idea of the archipelago’s atmosphere. Since 2000, it has been a nature reserve.


It’s a car-free island that’s easy to explore on foot.

At its center is a hotel in the former summer home of Henrik Santesson, the first director of the Nobel Foundation, who bought the island in 1905. In 1944, the city of Stockholm reclaimed the island and turned it into a vacation resort with camping facilities and cottages. Today, the island belongs to the archipelago’s foundation.

The island’s landscape is diverse, with forests, cliffs, beaches, and livestock fields. A farm still exists in the center of the island. Klubbudden, in the southeast, is the island’s highest point, 35 meters above sea level.

Although I strongly recommend an overnight stay, the island can be visited during the day from Stockholm.

Two boat stops serve the island, Södra Grinda and Norra Grinda. Make sure you’re on the right track for your return!

In Grinda, you can stay at the Wärdshuset hotel, in a cottage, or camp.

Grinda wardshuset

In season, two restaurants, one at the hotel and the other at the landing stage, offer lunch or dinner on the island. But don’t forget to take something to eat and drink with you out of season, as everything will be closed!

Finnhamn, another vacation island, is an alternative to Grinda. Because it’s further from Stockholm, it’s less frequented by foreign tourists and requires at least one night’s sleep.

Grinda wardshuset
Cottage Grinda

Svartsö: the agricultural island

Svartsö is an agricultural island with several farms. It’s one of the archipelago’s largest, and I recommend renting a bike to explore it. In the middle of the island, Storträsk and Lillträsk are two inland lakes that can be explored sequentially, much like Russian dolls.


80 people live permanently on the island, and it even has a school in Alsvik. You can drive here, but fortunately, traffic is almost non-existent.

It’s less touristy than Grinda, which makes it, in my opinion, a little more endearing. You can sleep at the Skärgårdshotell & Vandrarhem youth hostel, which also offers hotel rooms. The hostel rents bicycles. This is where I personally slept.

There are two restaurants on the island. Beware: as is often the case in Sweden, they close early, so they’re best visited for lunch.

Alsvik has a small supermarket which also rents bicycles.

The island is served by three boat stops:

  • Norra Svarstö in the north of the island, close to the youth hostel.
  • Skälivik Svarstö and Alsvik Svarstö to the south of the island, served by the same boat.

Depending on the boat’s schedule, you may have to go to one or other of the stops.

Gallno is an agricultural island similar to Svartsö. I discovered it briefly on my return to Stockholm from Svartsö, as I had to make a connection there. It made me want to come back.

House in Vartso
Houses in Svartsö
Fields in Vartsö

Sandhamn: the chic, nautical island

Sandhamn is located in the outer part of the archipelago. Its name means “sandy harbor” and it’s the chic, nautical island with its marina. Every year, the prestigious Gotland Runt yacht race is held, starting and finishing in Sandhamn and then circling the island of Gotland.


The atmosphere remains simple and authentic. Don’t expect luxury boutiques or trendy bars like Capri Island!

Sandhamn is a pretty little village with the largest range of tourist accommodation on the archipelago.

Only around a hundred people live on the island permanently. In summer, the atmosphere changes completely with 3000 summer residents.

The island became famous thanks to Viveca Sten and her crime novels “Murders at Sandhamn”, which recount the adventures of Inspector Thomas Andreasson and lawyer Nora Linde. I warmly recommend reading them, as they immerse you in the very special atmosphere of the Stockholm archipelago. The novels were also the subject of a successful TV series broadcast by Arte, the French-German TV channel.

Viveca knows the island well, as her paternal great-grandfather, Oscar, arrived on the island in 1917. She spent all her vacations there. Her descriptions are very faithful to what you can see if you go to Sandhamn. I can’t resist sharing with you this excerpt from one of her interviews published in the “Courrier international” on May 18, 2013:

I’m often asked when is the best time to visit Sandhman. I think back to the long evenings of early summer when the sun set around 11 pm. In June, the evening light is never black, but deep blue, lilacs fill the air, and elder trees are in bloom. It’s just as beautiful in August when the late summer sun shimmers on the waves, the air is filled with the scent of roses and the opulent yellow August moon rises over the horizon.

In autumn, the foliage is adorned with a rainbow of colors and the air is deliciously clear.

Finally, in winter, the snow is sparkling white and the pontoons are covered with stalactites. Sometimes the sun is so low that the pallid star seems to float on the horizon. Who can resist the archipelago when frost glistens in the treetops and the island is covered in a blanket of ice??

For me, every season rivals in beauty. As soon as I step on the ferry, I’m happy: I’m on my way to my island. When the boat splits the waves and the foam is as blue as the July sky, my heart is at peace. Welcome to my paradise!

Walking around the island is easy and pleasant through pine forests. Trouville beach, with its summer villas scattered through the pine forest, must be visited.

Two hotels are located on the island:

The island even has a website for its tourist office:

It’s a curious meteorological phenomenon that Sandhamn, surrounded by the Baltic Sea on the outskirts of the archipelago, is cooler than Stockholm in June and warmer in September. This is due to the inertia of water, which takes longer than air to change temperature with the seasons.

Sandhamn landscape
House in Sandhamn
Sandhamn Regatta
Ferry arriving at Sandhamn
Villa in Sandhamn

How to get to the archipelago?

Of course, the best way is by boat from downtown Stockholm.

Two companies serve the archipelago: Waxholmsbolaget and Stromma.

Alternatively, you can drive to Vaxholm and take a boat from there to the other islands in the archipelago.

To get to Sandhamn, you can travel by car or bus to Stavsnäs vinterhamn and then by boat.


Waxholmsbolaget is like the archipelago’s RATP, offering a wide range of services all year round. Boats depart from Strömkajen, just opposite the Grand Hotel.

All timetable information is available on the company’s Swedish-language website. It’s not very complicated, just make sure you enter the name of the landing, not the name of the island, in the timetable search engine. I clearly indicate them on the maps illustrating each island in this article.

It should be noted that in some cases, connecting routes are offered.

Boats stop at many islands. On the way back, you’ll notice a semaphore at the end of the pier. You have to put it vertically to ask for the stop! Otherwise, the boat will continue on its way without picking you up.


On board, it’s possible to eat (except in winter) and buy your ticket, which you’ll be asked for when you get off the boat. The atmosphere on board is peaceful, with comfortable seating both inside and out.

On Waxholmbolaget ferries, you can’t buy your ticket in advance: first come, first on board. Unless you’re leaving for the Midsommar weekend, it’s rare not to be able to board. To be on the safe side, I’d still recommend arriving a little early from Stockholm, to be well positioned in the queue, to be sure of boarding, and to be able to choose your seat.


Stromma is the other company serving the archipelago with its only boat, the Cinderella. It’s faster than the Waxholmsbolaget boats but doesn’t leave every day. On the other hand, tickets can be booked in advance.

In Stockholm, the landing stage is located at Strandvägen 14.

Midsommar archipelago

A collection of articles to discover Stockholm

From 2012 to 2013, Air France KLM relocated me to Stockholm as Commercial Director for Northern Europe.

To complement this article on the archipelago, I’ve written one entitled “Stockholm: Discovering the City and the Swedes”, in which I tell you why I love this city and its people, and why I invite you to visit. You’ll also find a section with some practical advice.

I’ve also written two other articles to help you plan your visit to Stockholm:



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