Think of Stockholm and it's often the city's cutting-edge modernity, classical architecture and eclectic neighbourhoods that first spring to mind. But if you cast your eye to the east — just over 20 miles from Stockholm's centre — you'll find a little-known, natural nirvana of 30,000-odd islands spilling from the mainland and extending 40 miles into the Baltic Sea.
While island-hopping by ferry is a popular option for exploring, forging your own route by kayak is the best way to truly taste the archipelago’s boundless wilderness. Tranquil sea conditions allow you to easily wind your way between thousands of islands, islets and skerries, with just seabirds for company. Here, three of the area’s expert kayak guides discuss what makes the area so special and reveal their own favourite spots.
Co-founder and CEO, The Kayak Trail
What makes the Stockholm archipelago so special?
There’s no other place where you have so many islands so densely packed, and where you also have the right to wild camp anywhere you like. We have no underwater currents and no big swell or tidal waters, so kayaking here is very safe. Anyone can do it.
Is wild camping legal?
Yes, so long as you respect people and nature. Sustainability is an integrated part of outdoor culture in Sweden. If you’re respectful, you're allowed to have immense freedom.
Tell us about your favourite kayaking spots.
I love the Bullerö Nature Reserve, just east of Nämdö. There are three cottages there that visitors can rent, all heritage buildings that have been kept in traditional style. There's no electricity so it's a real off-grid experience.
When’s the best time to visit?
We call it the magic season — the time from the end of August and beginning of September. You’ll get solitude as well as water that’s still warm. It’s a totally underrated time to visit the archipelago, and Stockholm too, as most visitors arrive in July and leave mid-August.
What kind of wildlife can you expect to see?
As well as roe deer and moose, which are often spotted swimming between islands, you can expect plenty of sea birds. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of a sea eagle — the largest bird in Scandinavia.
Aside from kayaking, what are your favourite ways to explore the area?
Hiking on the larger islands is a great way to experience the way of the Swedes. One of my favourite islands is Möja, where there’s everything from Viking-era history to cosy cafe culture.
Astrid Landgren Patterson
Sea kayak instructor, Kayak & Uteliv
What do you love most about kayaking here?
On my daily paddle, I’ll pass 20 different islands. That’s so unique. There’s journey diversity too — you can visit the lush, green inner isles, or head to the outer archipelago for total wilderness. It's easy to plan a roundtrip without visiting the same place more than once.
Best time of year to visit?
I love June, when it’s light almost 24/7. You can have beautiful evening paddles at midnight without even needing a head torch. I'd say late summer into early autumn has a really special charm too though.
What are your favourite spots?
In the northern archipelago there are fewer boats, fewer people and less infrastructure, so there’s more nature. I love the journey from our base in Gräddö to the islands Vattungarna and Håkansskär in the outer archipelago. If I can, I'll add an overnight stay — the flat rocks there make camping easy.
Aside from kayaking, what's your favourite way to explore your area?
I'm really into swim-running [swimming to islands and running over them before swimming to the next]. It’s a really interesting and challenging way to discover new parts of the archipelago. I’m currently training my six-year-old daughter so we can do it together.
Founder, Stockholm Adventures
What drew you to the Stockholm archipelago?
It’s a landscape like no other. In the summer you’re out kayaking across 30,000 islands and in the winter you’re doing ice-skating tours on the frozen water. There's so much contrast here — one moment you're wild camping deep in nature, the next you're having dinner in a high-end restaurant. There's something for all types of person.
Where are your favourite kayaking spots?
South or east of Dalarö is a personal highlight — the pristine wilderness out there is unforgettable.
Best time of year to visit?
I’d say late August and September. There are fewer people on the archipelago and the water stays warm — until October even. Being centrally located in Stockholm though, we’re able to run tours easily out of season, even if we have only one solo traveller.
Any close encounters with wildlife lately?
While teaching a kayaking course last week, a beaver came to watch, just a couple of metres from our kayaks. That was pretty cool.
Aside from kayaking, what's your favourite way to explore the archipelago?
I'm an avid cyclist and though you might not think it, there’s excellent mountain biking here. I’m really living my dream.
Direct flights to Stockholm are available from multiple UK cities. From Stockholm, regular boat services and tour operators travel to the larger islands of the archipelago. Multi-day packages including travel and guided kayaking tours can be booked with Kajak Uteliv, Stockholm Adventures and The Kayak Trail. For more information, visit stockholmarchipelago.se