This was our first visit to Sweden. Everyone we spoke to told us we must visit the Vasa museum, which we did and thoroughly enjoyed on our first day. The next day we toured the Kungliga slottet (Royal Palace) and the streets of Gamla Stan. But by then we had a hankering to see a bit more of Sweden rather than just the sights of Stockholm. We decided on trying to see some of the Stockholm archipelago, and a visit to the tourist info office in the city centre soon pointed us in the direction of taking a ferry trip to the island of Grinda.
Back at the hotel we used the web to figure out the right time and boat; Grinda is not a destination, just one stop on the ferry’s route. The next morning we made for the ferry dock at Strömkajen where our ferry and several others were moored. All these had a common feature – the boats docked with their bow against the shore and passengers boarded via the bow.
Our boat, the
included a crane on the bow deck which had just loaded construction wood and what looked like large furniture boxes. We needed no tickets to board – you buy these onboard and show them when leaving.
We headed out of the city quickly, with great views of the architecture, looking back at the city as we passed between the islands of Skeppsholmen and Djurgården. Straight ahead was the Gabriella, a large ro-ro cruise-ferry of the Viking Line, moored at the Viking Line Terminal at Stadsgården on the island of Södermalm. The Gabriella connects Stockholm and Helsinki.
As we passed the end of Djurgården the water opened out and the shoreline became less urban. But to the north-west in the distance we could see a number of large cruise boats and ferries docked in the distance.
Our boat was powerful and modern. Although it was launched in 2005 it stiil seemed brand-new. (Maybe that is because ferries are so often very old and seem to be held together by a thousand layers of white paint.) After a while it became like a bus service; one or two people would gather near the bow and the boat would approach a small concrete dock or pier, where perhaps there were a couple of people waiting to board with bags, or a lone person sitting on a bench waiting to greet an arriving passenger.
The boat never moored when transferring passengers; the bow would be held firmly against the dock with forward thrust from the boat’s propeller, while the stern of the boat was kept from being turned by the current. As soon as the passengers were clear and the safety barrier in place the boat would go into full-reverse until it was back in the channel and continuing to the next destination.
We stopped at many places like this. This was clearly the way for most people to travel between these small islands, a daily way of life.
We had a longer stop at Vaxholm, a pretty and well populated island that is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Opposite the island across a channel only 200 wide is Vaxholm Fortress, a very solid looking structure on the island of Vaxholmen. The
has an aerial photo that shows the fortress looking so much better than I could manage shooting from the ferry!
Pausing at Vaxholm is very good for ferry watching. First you notice the large, double ended, bright yellow vehicle ferries connecting Vaxholm to the island of Rindö. The two ferries were constantly going back and forth full of trucks, buses and cars all the time we were moored at Vaxholm.
Much smaller is the Kastellet ferry that crosses from Vaxholm to the fortress. This is a passenger-only, electric, cable operated ferry, also painted bright yellow. The electric power is via a cable which is connected to the Vaxholm town dock.
And finally at the bottom of the scale are water taxis which were connecting Vaxholm to the various surrounding small islands. They seemed to be constantly to-ing and fro-ing. We saw these a lot in the waterway further out from Vaxholm.
The Thousand Islands
Past Vaxholm the feel was very similar to travelling in the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence. Medium, small and minute islands, each with a house or two, a dock, a boat house. A rocky lump with a pine tree in it.
This was the area where we made a couple of stops to unload the cargo. First off were the bundles of treated wood, looking like they were for building a cottage deck. The crane on the bow deck did the hard work, but the two crew who controlled and handled things looked quite incompetent at the job—
probably more at home checking tickets!
A couple of stops later it was the turn of the big furniture boxes to be trolleyed off the boat onto the dock. From there it looked like the only way out was to carry them up a long set of steps up the hill. The reality of living in these idyllic places.
About 2½ hours after leaving Stockholm we arrived at Grinda. A concrete dock, somewhat larger than many we had passed, a welcome sign, a bench and a lifebuoy, but nothing much else. Just a handful of people left the boat with us, but it can be a lot more on busy days. Most of Grinda is managed as a nature reserve, but it is popular with campers and day trippers, like us. We spent over three hours wandering the extensive trails on the island and getting some lunch. There are a few bars, cafes and kiosks, and a small hotel, marina, campsite, and cabins. We even had the fun of watching a helicopter depart as we ate our lunch. But the overall impression is a pleasant, unpopulated place – we bumped into one or two people from time to time, rather than being constantly surrounded. Our ferry dropped us at Grinda Södra bryggan and we walked across the island to Grinda Norra bryggan and back – from the south dock to the north dock and back. The island is less than 2
long and criss-crossed with trails. I’m if you spent the whole day you could easily walk every trail.
We arrived back to wait for the ferry in good time. Though it seemed a very pleasant place to get marooned, we had a flight to England to catch early the next day! The ferry arrived on time but confused us a little as it was different from the one we had arrived on – the M/S Skärgården. A shame, because it was a bit smaller, less modern and also far more crowded. Although the day had started grey and miserable in Stockholm it had been beautiful summer sun almost all of our trip. We stopped at some different islands on the way back, sometimes with our boat doing a dance as we waited for another ferry to back away from a dock before we took our turn.
Past Vaxholm we approached the main channel and it seemed like rush-hour for the large Baltic cruise-ferries, as we saw several in turn all heading out to sea, many painted in garish colours and all displaying their enormous stern loading door/ramps as they passed us. I guess there is a standard business plan here – depart Stockholm in the afternoon, spend the night at sea so the captive passengers can spend heavily on food and entertainment, and arrive the other side of the Baltic the next morning.
We had a great day out and experienced a bit of non-urban Sweden, which was our objective. You can get to Grinda in an hour in you go direct, but we took more than twice that long, and that was better because we got to see a lot more as we pulled in at countless little places. There are many, many ferries plying the waters of the archipelago – we just visited one small island and took one ferry along half of its route. There’s plenty more to see if you have a bit more time.
As a last little treat just before re-entering Stockholm harbour we passed a crane on Beckholmen island painted as a giraffe. No, I don't know why!
The Stockholm Archipelago
There 20,000 to 30,000 islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, depending on how you count, and our ferry trip to Grinda took us barely half the way from Stockholm to the open waters of the Baltic. It’s a vast transition zone between the mainland of Sweden and the open sea. During the 20th century there was a conscious effort to develop parts of the archipelago for recreation for the burgeoning population of industrial workers of Stockholm. Today, although there are towns and industries spread around it is mainly an area of weekend homes and water recreation. We had just a small taste of what is available with our day trip to Grinda.