Sailing Stockholm Archipelago

Just a few minutes from Swedish capital lies an enchanted world of 30 000 islands. It’s called Stockholm archipelago, the largest one in Sweden and the second-largest in the Baltic Sea. Anyone who flies to Stockholm from the east inadvertently gets a perfect aerial view of this phenomenon.

Stockholm archipelago
Aerial view of the archipelago

Suddenly, the open sea transforms into an intricate labyrinth of waterways and dots of rocky land. Getting closer to the mainland, islands grow bigger and show hints of civilization. Perhaps, the best, albeit least poetic, way to describe that area is to compare it to the surface of a hearty soup.

At first glance, the archipelago reminded me of eastern Finland. Water, granite rocks, and boulders, forests, more water. As distant cousins, they have some common traits but differ on closer inspection.

Stockholm archipelago
Stockholm archipelago

Archipelago facts and figures

Swedes call it Stockholms skärgård. Archipelago is for foreigners. It sounds Italian for a good reason. The origin goes back to early 16th century: from Italian arcipelago, from Greek arkhi- ‘chief’ + pelagos ‘sea.’ The word was originally used as a proper name (the Archipelago ‘the Aegean Sea’). Since the Aegean Sea is known for its large number of islands, the generalization of meaning led to the current usage as “a group of islands” or “a sea or stretch of water containing many islands.”

The archipelago extends eastward from Stockholm for approximately 80 km. It spreads over a vast area stretching from Arholma in the north to Landsort in the south.

Nobody knows the exact number of islands. According to different sources, it varies from 24 000 to up to 35 000. There is an interesting contributing factor to this mystery. The archipelago landscape has been (and still is) formed and shaped by the post-glacial rebound, i.e., the rise of land masses that were depressed by the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period. The islands are rising about 3 millimeters per year. It might seem like a tiny number, but in hundred years it amounts to 30 centimeters or slightly under a foot. New islands appear out of nowhere. Existing ones constantly grow. If you are looking for a real estate investment, it could be a sweet deal. Get it now and patiently wait for couple hundred years while your property expand. Who knows, with the help of cryonics, it might work.

Stockholm archipelago
Stockholm archipelago

Stockholm archipelago is a fairytale paradise during summer. The islands fall under wizard’s spell: sparkling water, emerald trees, and golden sun. Winter is a different story. The harsh realities of an isolated land shaped a unique way of life. For centuries, the archipelago inhabitants were most commonly farmers and fishermen. Some were employed in shipping and navigation and a few in mining. Perhaps not a thing that immediately comes to mind, Sweden’s first bladesmith’s forge, Wira Bruk, was located there too. It was founded in the 1630s and awarded the exclusive right to manufacture edged weapons for the Swedish Armed Forces in 1646-1775. Later, it switched to producing scythes and axes and ceased operations in 1948.

Stockholm archipelago
Old fortifications are not in use anymore

Earning a living was always hard there. Thus, when Stockholmers started recreationally visiting the archipelago by the end of 19th century, it became a new and welcomed opportunity for the locals to sell crafts and offer services to these early tourists. Today most of the small farms on the islands are closed, and the fishing industry has almost disappeared. In 1719 the archipelago had an estimated population of 2,900. Today, it is a popular holiday destination with some 50,000+ holiday cottages.

Vacation homes of Stockholm archipelago
Vacation homes come in all shapes and sizes: from glamping to award-winning beauties

Many writers and poets have been influenced and fascinated by the Stockholm archipelago. Famous Swedish writer August Strindberg spent summers there during the 1870s. Allegedly, his visits abruptly ended after he published a story that featured ill-disguised local residents who did not appreciate sudden fame. Astrid Lindgren’s Seacrow Island is set in the Stockholm archipelago in the mid-twentieth century. Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA fame wrote most of their songs in an archipelago’s cabin.

Sailing the archipelago

The most popular way to tour the archipelago is by ferries. Routine is simple: hop on a ferry —> hop off on an island —> look around, walk, hike, eat, enjoy yourself —> hop on a ferry… rinse and repeat. There is only one downside to this scenario. During summer months, ferries are overcrowded. We took one to Drottningholm couple weeks earlier and didn’t enjoy it. The boat, built in 1901, was cute, but passengers were squeezed like sardines in a can. Thank you, I’ll pass on that.

Our second option was a cruise. Overnight cruise with Viking Cinderella is 22 hours of entertainment, shopping, and dining according to their advertisement. Frankly, I am not a cruise aficionado, so passed on that too.

Stockholm archipelago
It was a bizarre sight: a huge cruise boat looked out of place between tranquil islands

RIB boat excursion was the third choice. RIB stands for the Rigid inflatable boat. Imagine, racing towards the idyllic Stockholm Archipelago at speeds of up to 45 knots (95 km per hour). Now, guess how much noise it produces. Potentially, it could be fun zooming the waters with this mind-blowing(for a boat) speed. Unfortunately, this noisy beast would look like a bull in a china shop in the peaceful archipelago. Nope. This wouldn’t work either.

Finally, the fourth time was a charm. Sailing! Yes, this is what I was looking for. A beautiful yacht quietly moving across the majestic scenery. Surely, this is the winner.

Our sailing experience

In short, it was fantastic. “Why do you travel?” question comes up quite often. Ultimately, this trip was the perfect answer. Exploring new place – check; meeting and spending the entire day with locals (the owners of the boat) – check; new experience (navigating the yacht for the first time in my life) – check. Adding the cherry on top, the weather decided to be nice too. It was the first really warm day with plenty of sunshine. Luckily, my sunblock lotion held pretty well.

Does it sound too much like an advertisement? You might feel skeptical how genuine my appreciation of this trip is. After all, these days more and more travel bloggers accept some form of financial compensation in exchange for their enthusiasm. Fear not – this is my honest opinion that was not influenced in any way by the tour organizers.

We came to Waxholm by bus way before our scheduled departure. Having so much free time, we had breakfast in picturesque café overlooking the water. How were we going to find our boat? This was our concern when we got to the meeting point, a somewhat crowded ferry pier. Our booking confirmation did not have yacht name or captain’s name on it. Stupidly, it hasn’t occurred to me to clarify this “tiny” detail right away. Sleuthing around a bit, we spotted a yacht coming toward the harbor.

Amortina is arriving to Waxholm

Ten minutes later, we met our hosts.

Amortina owners
Rolf and Lis-Marie, Amortina owners

Lis-Marie and Rolf are proud owners of Amortina, the 48 feet Dufour yacht, they call home during summers. Built by the famous shipyard of La Rochelle, it is clearly their pride and joy. They live on the boat and offer sailing ranging from a day-long to a week or even a couple weeks long trips.

Sailing the archipelago
Skipper Rolf

They enjoy hosting guests from all over the world. Rolf allows his guests to operate the boat. Naturally, he closely watches his “crew,” but still, I was amazed at his generosity and trust. I got a chance to navigate the yacht for roughly an hour. Wow! At first, grasping the concept was challenging. As soon as I “got it,” I loved it.

Sailing the archipelago
My first foray into yachting

It was such an elating feeling of being in command of a beautiful boat gracefully passing between sunlit islands.

Sailing the archipelago
Our lunch
HDMY Dannebrog
While happily sailing Stockholm archipelago, we crossed paths with a striking yacht. This was Her Danish Majesty’s Yacht Dannebrog. I guess we spotted it on the way to Stockholm.
The yacht now serves as the official and private residence for Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and members of the Royal Family when they are on official visits overseas and on summer cruises in Danish waters. When at sea, the Royal Yacht also participates in surveillance and sea rescue services.
Ciao Amortina

If you want to experience Sweden by sailing along its coast, Rolf and Lis-Marie provide charter services. You can contact them at [email protected] or by calling +46 705 714 118 for details.

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Sailing Stockholm Archipelago
Sailing Stockholm Archipelago

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18 thoughts on “Sailing Stockholm Archipelago”

  1. That view of the islands from the plane are absolutely breathtaking…I think comparing it to the surface of a hearty soup is 100 percent accurate. Sailing and lunch on the boat must of been the perfect touch. Awesome!

  2. Sailing around looks so much fun! I’m not sure if it’s an option, but we also kayaked around the various islands around Gothenburg and I would definitely do it again around Stockholm. Of course, you’d only want to do that in summer!

    • Yes, kayaking is available in Stockholm and around the archipelago. Unfortunately, this spring and early summer were not too warm even by local standards. There were a few brave people who dared to kayak around. For me, it was still too cold 🙁

  3. Beautiful! I went to a hotel there last year and loved it – the water was very cold though, even in July so I think sailing is the best way to appreciate it from the water.

    • I agree :). We saw a few swimmers in June, but the color of their skin once they got out of water was… interesting ;).

    • Out of everything we tried in Stockholm, sailing was the best part. Only if water was a bit warmer to add swimming to the mix…

  4. Wow! I had never heard of the Stockholm archipelago before. What an incredible phenomenon. I would love to take a sailing trip between the islands to see the wildlife and scenery. What a cool way to meet and hang out with some locals too!

    • Thank you, Carla :). I loved walking around old Stockholm on a sunny day. The city was friendly and pretty. Once weather changes and sun disappear, Stockholm gets into sourly mood.

  5. I had no idea there were that many islands in the area and that new ones are forming! I want to buy an island now haha (wishful thinking). Reading Ryan’s comment above, I can imagine seeing those 30k+ islands in the sky must have been mesmerizing

  6. Whoa! Looks like some exotic place! Touring in a personal ferry could be a good idea. I wouldn’t want to be in a tight pack of tourists. I felt like stepping on to one of those. Imagine having a property there.

  7. Hi Elena,

    I recall seeing some of those 30,000 island when flying into Stockholm for a layover last summer. Felt like I was in the Pacific or Indian Ocean somewhere, with the beautiful water, endless archipelago, and somewhat tropical feel to the place. At least it felt tropical a few thousand feet up. Although Sweden is warmer during that time of year. What a fabulous post and collection of brilliant images.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


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