After exploring the beautiful city of Stockholm, we decided to discover its archipelago on a day trip. Our friends from Visit Sweden invited us to a boat ride to the lovely town of Vaxholm. What a trip! The scenery is truly breathtaking.
Closer to the city, elegant palaces dot the coastline. As you move further out, the view changes to modern neighborhoods, wooden cottages, and, finally, lush forests and rocks. The ocean surrounds it all, with Sweden’s unique blue sky above.
Upon arrival to the island, we visited Vaxholm Castle, used as a pirate stronghold in Pippi Longstocking. Later on, we explored its green neighborhoods and fairy tale wooden houses. On our way back, the sky gifted us with an exceptionally colorful sunset. Sweden is all about nature!
What is Vaxholm Like
With some 29,000 islands, the Stockholm archipelago is the fourth largest in the world. Vaxholm is a municipality of 64 islands, islets, and a peninsula in the heart of the Stockholm Archipelago.
Vaxholm City is the municipality’s capital in Vaxön Island, in the center of the archipelago. King Gustav Vasa founded the city in 1558. Originally a quaint fishing town, it soon became a merchant post.
By the late 19th century, it was a popular spa town. Most of the colorful wooden houses still standing today were built at that time. Apparently, only wooden structures were allowed on the island up until 1912. If threatened by an invasion, owners had to burn their houses.
How to Visit Vaxholm
Stockholm to Vaxholm by Ferry
It is easy to reach Vaxholm from Stockholm, especially in summer. All you have to do is to take a public ferry (boat) from Strömkajen pier in front of the Grand Hotel in downtown Stockholm to Vaxholm. These boats arrive in Vaxholm’s city center, next to the Waxholms Hotel.
Another option is to take a boat operated by the private Strömma Kanalbolaget Company. These boats leave from Nybrokajen, in front of the Dramaten Theater in downtown Stockholm. Take note that both public and private boats operate from April to September.
If you are visiting Vaxholm from October to March, you can take a public bus. Bus 670 leaves from Tekniska högskolan metro station a short ride from the center, and stops several times on its way to Vaxholm City.
Vaxholm on a Day Trip
You can visit Vaxholm on a day trip from Stockholm. That said, spending one or more nights in the area is a wonderful idea. However, if you are short of time, a boat trip out of Stockholm to Vaxholm is your best option.
Vaxholm is just 9 miles (15 kilometers) northeast of the Swedish capital and offers tones of things to see and do. Charming architecture, a historic fortress, lush green forests, nice beaches, and the endless sea are just some of Vaxholm’s highlights.
You can explore the city on foot or by bike. Biking allows you to go to the nearby islands of Kullö and Resarö islands, and the Bogesundslandet peninsula. To get to Vaxholm Castle or other islands, you need to take a ferry.
Organized Tours to Vaxholm
If you don’t feel like going on your own to Vaxholm, we recommend this 2-hour RIB speed boat tour of the Archipelago. It includes warm overalls and wind jackets. We’ve taken it and had a blast!
Those of you more adventurous can kayak around the archipelago in winter. This tour takes approximately 3 hours and includes an instructor and all the necessary equipment. You can have your own kayak or share one.
Our final recommendation is a bit longer, half a day. Again, you get an instructor and the proper equipment. Two friends of ours took this one and raved about it. Both include a traditional Fika coffee break!
Spending the Night in Vaxholm
Spending a night or two in the area is a must. Vaxholm offers a fantastic range of hotels and other types of accommodation. Without a doubt, the best option is to stay in the renowned Vaxholm Hotel (Waxholms Hotell), the first building you see upon arrival.
Several important events in Swedish history took place in this historic art nouveau hotel from 1903. For instance, a group of influential Swedish architects wrote here their famous modern architecture manifesto, Acceptera, in 1930. The hotel’s comfortable rooms offer outstanding views of the archipelago and the fortress.
On the other hand, you can stay in a place like no other: the Kastellet Bed & Breakfast. The downside is you have to share the bathroom. That said, you will sleep in an authentic and splendid 16th century castle!
What to Do in Vaxholm
One of the best things to do in Vaxholm is to walk about the city. Long Hamngatan Street starts at the port and is the epicenter of the city. All sorts of shops, offices, bars, and restaurants line this colorful street.
Since some 4000 people live on the island, you can hardly call it a city. However, it is very lively, even in winter. You will see friends, families, couples, and solo travelers hanging out and enjoying nature.
Though you can’t swim in the sea, you can spend time on the beaches. One of our favorite places is Battery Park. There’s a rocky beach beneath the park and loads of space to enjoy the views.
Play Chess on the Main Square
Tiny Rådhustorget Square is a few steps from the street. This is the city’s main square. The unusually looking Rådhus, a former city hall and now the local tourist office, dominates the square.
Cyrillus Johansson, the architect that designed the city hall, is also the author of the nearby Water Tower. You’ll easily recognize it from its round shape, red bricks, and a copper lantern.
There’s a huge chess board in the square, a couple of stores selling local souvenirs, and an ice cream stall. The island’s public library is two blocks away. The cozy little place has a very comfortable sofa!
Visit Vaxholm Castle (Fortress)
Vaxholm’s oldest part is the imposing 16th century Vaxholm Castle and Fortress. Swedish King Gustav Vasa founded the fortress in 1548 to defend Stockholm against attacks from the east.
The fortress defended Stockholm successfully two times: in 1612 from the Danes, and 1719 from the Russians. With the pass of time, a stone structure replaced the original wooden one. The current appearance is mostly from 1833 – 1863.
Fortunately, the castle has lost its military importance and hosts today the Vaxholms Fästnings Museum (Vaxholm Fortress Museum). Some of you may recall the fortress from the popular children’s movie Pippi in the South Seas.
Stroll Along the Batteriparken
Probably the nicest thing about Vaxholm and one could say Sweden too, is how the land and the sea connect. The sea surrounds Vaxholm. All you have to do is to explore the numerous hiking paths and admire the scenery.
One of the nicest paths is the one that begins just off downtown Vaxholm. The cannons under the hills used to defend the city gave Batteriparken its name.
Do not miss this gorgeous park, somewhat hidden behind the wooden houses. The path takes you up and down the island’s small hills and offers the best views in the area. Take your time and enjoy it!
Visit a Local Museum
You cannot leave Vaxholm without paying a visit to at least one of its fantastic local museums and galleries. The Vaxholms Fästnings Museum inside the fortress is a great place to discover Swedish history. The museum’s collection displays all types of defense weapons, including World War II defense artillery.
Galleri Lena Linderholm showcases and sells digital prints, original lithographs, watercolors, and oil paintings made by two local artists.
The Roddarhuset is a small gallery that organizes occasional expositions. You can stop by its café, shop, and visit the open-air art gallery with contemporary sculptures.
Admire Vaxholm Church
The Vaxholms Kyrka or Gustav Adolfs Church is one of the grandest structures in downtown Vaxholm. Architects Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz and Olof Tempelman designed the neoclassical church in 1803.
The church stands on the corner of Kungsgatan and Trädgårdsgatan streets on the spot where a small wooden church used to be. Do not get fooled by its unimpressive size. It took 43 years to complete this fantastic church.
The architects had designed a big stone tower next to the church. Nevertheless, since there weren’t sufficient funds, a temporary wooden tower was built instead. It is the one you can see today north of the church, in the middle of a small cemetery.
Spend Some Time on Vaxholm Beach
We had no clue that Vaxholm had such a beautiful beach. Little did we know that the island of Vaxön has been a popular beach destination for over a century.
Actually, there are two small beaches on the island. The smaller one is east of the Norrhamnen, at the end of the Baterriparken.
The bigger one, Eriksö badplats, is close to the western tip of the island. This is the one we are talking about. Rocks and forests surround this short strip of sand. Locals flock to the area to picnic, relax, rent kayaks, canoes, and water-ski. There is a popular camping site nearby.
Have Coffee and a Cake in an Elegant Café
After done with sightseeing, you should relax and enjoy the island’s quaint atmosphere. We had a lovely walk around the Baterriparken and ended up at the outstanding Vaxholms Hembygdsgårds Café across the little port.
Lunch here is something else. We stuffed ourselves with delicious cakes while enjoying views of the sea. We simply couldn’t resist the quality and quantity of their homemade Swedish cakes.
Fortunately, Vaxholm in summer has perfect weather, so we enjoyed the café’s beautiful terrace. At one point, the waiters came out and raised the Swedish flag on a pole. It can’t get more authentic than this.
Enjoy Swedish Fika
Vaxholm is the perfect place to go into a Fika state of mind. The Swedes have this magical custom of relaxing and enjoying coffee and pastry together. Especially outdoors and in winter.
Get some coffee and pastries, find your perfect spot and enjoy epic views. The boulangerie next to the port is great. Another option is the Roddarhuset Art Gallery and Café, next to the sea.
Though you can sit in a café, the whole point is to be outdoors. You will see locals doing so all around the island. If it’s too cold or windy, avoid the coast and enjoy your coffee in the island’s parks.
Go on a Day Trip to Grinda or Bogesunds Slott
Incredible places surround incredible Vaxholm. The most popular one is Grinda Island, to the east. This majestic island with a beautiful nature reserve is a magnet for hikers and beachgoers.
If you wish to spend the night on the island, book a room at the Grinda Wärdshus, a fantastic hotel close to the beach. If you are looking for something a little bit closer, perhaps you should visit Bogesund. This large peninsula is home to another nature reserve, Bogesundslandets naturreservat, and a very nice castle.
The Bogesunds Slott is an impressive 17th century castle with a neo-gothic appearance. You can spend the night at the Bogesund Slottsvandrarhem Hostel, a former prison next to the castle. Spooky and cool!
Vaxholm in Winter
If you are a winter person, you will love Vaxholm. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it really isn’t that cold. The fjord protects it and creates a lovely environment.
The minimum temperature in Vaxholm in December is 25°F (-4°C), and the maximum is 36°F (2°C). January and February are a bit colder, with a maximum of 32°F (0°C) and a minimum of 20°F (-6°C).
Besides, it doesn’t rain much in Vaxholm, just some 10 days in December and January and 4 in February. It does get dark pretty early though. No complaints! You will see millions of stars above the island.
Tips for Visiting Vaxholm
The key to enjoying Vaxholm is your gear. With the right clothes and shoes, you will be able to be outdoors as much as you want. No need to ever be cold!
Bring a hat and glasses too to protect yourself from the wind. Shoes are essential because it can snow and there’s also ice. Don’t worry if you forget something, there are shops on the island.
Take your time and enjoy the local vibe. People on the island move at a different rhythm than in Stockholm. You will have time to relax, enjoy nature, and mingle with the locals.