Two-Day Escape into the Stunning Stockholm Nature
When I head to a new city I always commit part of my time to exploring its natural areas. Hiking, biking, and boating abroad give me a peek into the global lifestyle options of others who, like me, live in urban centers and want to feed their passion for the outdoors. How do people spend their weekends? What options are there other than the cool nightclubs and fancy restaurants that travel guides seem to always highlight?
During my recent visit to Stockholm, I skipped even the call of their public parks for a two-day boat trip through their vast archipelago. Thousands of islands make up the Stockholm archipelago, providing publicly accessible nature to urban Swedes and, of course, tourists like myself.
Hiking, biking, and boating abroad give me a peek into the global lifestyle options of others who, like me, live in urban centers and want to feed their passion for the outdoors.
My trip began in downtown Stockholm where I was staying with my family as I headed to Stockholm’s central transit hub: T-Centralen. There the early Thursday morning hubbub of commuters created a typical urban scene as people dressed mainly in professional attire moved deliberately through the station.
I boarded a train heading south of the area of Väster Haninge, where about a dozen people exited the train with suitcases or backpacks like me – obviously ready for a weekend getaway. A short walk up a set of stairs from the train platform brought us to the bus, which quickly whisked us the edge of the water. There the line of suitcase-laden travelers grew as a line formed on the small wooden pier that separated the Baltic Sea from the parking lot.
There was a buzz in the air as everyone watched the white ferry approach the shore. Waxholmsbolaget is Stockholm’s transit boat system, and with daily operations (even through bitter Swedish winters), it ensures much of the archipelago is accessible to the public.
After stuffing my backpack in a central luggage rack, I walked up a narrow staircase to the second level of the boat, the open-air option where hard plastic seats allowed me a cliché wind-in-my-hair-sun-on-my-face experience. There were few other boats out early in the morning and we quietly sped by other islands – many of which looked empty save their trees, rocks and sandy shorelines. After a half hour of jetting through open waters, we reached Utö, one of the largest islands in the Southern part of the Stockholm archipelago.
I chose to get off at one of the less trafficked areas, the middle of the island where the homes stood (the north part of the island had hostel and hotel options). The dock here was simple, just a piece of wood sticking out in the water with a broken down truck sitting on the shore in a small clearing.
Less than a dozen people disembarked here, a few loading up a car and the others carrying backpacks and tiny wagons filled with provisions to bring to houses along the dirt road. The houses were perfectly quaint, small and mostly wooden with unlocked bicycles lying in front of all of them ready to be picked up for a summer jaunt on the island’s quiet roads.
I was looking for the full nature experience so I decided that I would spend my night on Utö camping. I walked about a mile north of the boat dock until the houses started to lessen and found an area of dense forest. A foot trail peeked through the grass and I followed it until I was out of sight of the road and had found a good clearing for my tent. It was perfect weather (a rarity for Sweden) so I was able to quickly set up my campsite and set off again in search of the hiking trails scattered throughout the island.
That afternoon and evening I hiked for miles, pausing to feel the calmness around me and watch a sunset.
The majority of the northern section of Utö is protected as a nature reserve of the Archipelago Foundation. There, I found well-marked trails that brought me over rocky trails and flat beaches and offered classically beautiful views of shores, rocks, and seemingly endless water. That afternoon and evening I hiked for miles, pausing to feel the calmness around me and watch a sunset. I continued back to my campsite without having passed a single other hiker.
The next day, I only stayed for the morning but, determined to use it well, I rented a bike and explored the flat dirt roads that connected the ends of the island (and many other adorable houses on the way). Small alcoves offered an opportunity to swim in the still cold water of the Baltic Sea.
Stopping for a coffee before the ferry arrived to take me back to the island, I mused that when I originally planned my trip to Scandinavia, the last thing in my mind was an island vacation. Yet somehow, that was exactly what I found.