STOCKHOLM ARCHIPELAGO, SWEDEN
|Boats lie moored alongside one of the 64 islands that make up the municipality of Vaxholm|
Cruise around Scandinavia's most beautiful capital city, which is surrounded by thousands of islands and waterways. The Stockholm Archipelago (Skirgrden in Swedish) consists of 24,000 islands in the Baltic Sea, ranging from Arholma in the north to Landsort in the south. Touring these waterways by cruise boat is one of Europe's most idyllic vacations, evoking a time when men spent six months of the year at sea while women took care of the land. Within an hour's drive of Stockholm, you can visit islands or travel to the south, where the archipelago meets the open sea.
The sights are both natural and man-made, and they seem to blend into each other as you travel. The coastline is dotted with characteristic red wooder summerhouses, and the vegetation is lusher in the more protected inner archipelago, with long sandy beaches and dense woodlands filled with mushrooms and wild flowers.
You can stop at secluded fishing spots to try your luck at catching salmon, or you might catch a glimpse of a seal or two relaxing on the beach. You'll pass by decorative merchants' houses, historic palaces, and castles along the way, and, of course, the stylish island city of Stockholm will be at the centre of it all.
Clothing that is resistant to water. It is necessary to bring insect repellent and bottled water. On the islands of Finnhamn, Grinda, Rano, Nitara, and UtO, there are basic campsites. Rod fishing is free from the water's edge or from rowing boats. Fall in the archipelago is longer and warmer than on the mainland, with more sunshine hours.
When to Go: From May to September, steamboat cruises run for one to five days.
Planning: The Barluffarkortet is a five-day pass that allows you to hop between islands in the archipelago. It can be purchased at tourist information centres in Stockholm. All of the accommodations are of standard quality. A lunch stop is included in the price of some day trips.
Your small cruise boat chugs through the calm surface ripples, shadowed by soaring cliffs and a dense pine forest that blocks out all light. Waterfalls cascade down vertical rock faces, and picture-postcard villages with distinctive red wooden houses and white church towers perch on the water's edge. The elemental beauty—and sheer size—of the fjords is a humbling experience, blessed with brilliant sunshine in summer and lashed by fierce rain in winter.
To get to the coast, take the Oslo-Bergen line to Myrdal, then transfer to the Flam railway, which features open tunnels that cut through otherwise impassable cliff faces. This one-hour trip is one of the best in the world for waterfall views and sheer drops from the track, which clings precariously to the mountainside.
Standard class seating is available on both the boat and the train. In the town of Flm, there is a chance to stop for lunch or refreshment, and snacks are available on the boat. Summers in Norway can be chilly, so bring a warm jacket or fleece to stay out on the open deck and take in the scenery. If you want to see seals, bring a pair of binoculars with you.
When to Go : The tourist high season is from May to September, and it is often sunny; the long, dark winters, on the other hand, provide a stormy, atmospheric experience.
How long : The length of the trip varies depending on the tour operator. If you want to visit Bergen and ride the Film railway, plan on spending one to three days there.