Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm’s Unbeatable Family Summers

Skip the crowded sand and head to the Swedish archipelago for perfect summer days and up to 18 hours of sunlight.

by Niklas Arnegren
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Only the birds and I are awake at 4 in the morning to watch the sun rise, though in July in Stockholm’s archipelago, there’s enough ambient light by 3 a.m. for the bumblebees to be busily humming around, with dew glistening on reeds, oaks, and birches in the crisp air. Red clover, bluebells, and yellow buttercups brighten the rocky hillside. Swallows dart in and out from under the eaves, and seagulls squawk down by the water.

My family is still asleep in their beds, windows open and curtains flapping in the fresh breeze of the Baltic Sea. One by one, they begin to stir, ambling into the simple kitchen to pour big cups of coffee, settling on the veranda with bowls of yogurt, fresh strawberries (in abundance at every market in summer), warm buns from the local island bakery, thick slices of rye bread with butter, cheese, and sliced cucumbers.

Life in the Stockholm archipelago is simple, just the way Swedes like it. The closer to nature and the elements, the better.

More than half of all Swedes own or have access to a country house through family or friends. For the people of Stockholm, the archipelago is an instant dose of serenity and wilderness, always within reach. In summer, everyone gravitates toward the sea and open vistas. The archipelago has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, from childhood sailing trips, midsummer parties, and family reunions.

There are nearly 30,000 islands in the archipelago, scattered across some 650 miles. Some are large swaths of woodland, several miles across, with mossy forests, bright meadows, dusty roads, old farmhouses, and small fishing cottages nestled among the coves. Others are mere rocks in the sea, shaped and rounded by glacial ice thousands of years ago.

Ferries crisscross between the islands, making regular stops at various docks to drop off summer residents and visitors alike. (There are many ways to access and stay on the islands, from proper hotels to small bed-and-breakfasts, simple cottages, and campsites.) Sailboats and day cruisers anchor in secluded coves and leeward bays, tying up alongside each other directly on the rocks. Families light charcoal grills and children in bright life jackets crowd into dinghies, running along the shallows with nets and pails to catch tiny prawns and jellyfish.

From our house, on an inlet, sheltered from neighbors but with sweeping views of a nature reserve, we can see down the hill to the glittering water and the wooden dock, with its swim ladder and small boats. The kids head off first, scampering barefoot down the grassy path to dive headfirst into the cool brackish water, which is fresh enough to bathe in and just salty enough to tickle your lips. The water is generally no more than 68°F (20°C) even in high summer, but the morning swim is an essential ritual, regardless of the weather; a refreshing and cleansing start to each day.

In the afternoon, we might hop in our small motorboat and head off for lunch at the local rökeri, a country store and smokehouse serving fresh and smoked fish, farm eggs, local fruits, and vegetables. The guest dock is bustling with small boats coming and going. After the meal, the kids eagerly line up for ice cream, licking vanilla cones and raspberry popsicles as they melt in the sun. We opt for the long way home and skirt the coastline along the far side of the island. We pass by windsurfers, stone beaches, and an old lighthouse from the 1600s, still standing guard on a bluff overlooking the sea.

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Back at the house, we turn on the dockside sauna, scooping water on the hot rocks to steam up the air, and take turns dashing into the sea to cool off. The kids squeal and splash in the water, then catch their breath on warm towels on the sunny dock.

The sun is still high in the sky as we have dinner on the veranda; salty crayfish with toasted bread and nutty Västerbotten cheese, with a tiny shot of ice-cold fennel-infused aquavit, and a main course of smoked salmon, dill, and fresh potatoes. The evening light changes ever so slowly, from velvety blues to steely grays, pinks, and purples. By 10 p.m., the kids are asleep and the sky is still awash with a luminous sheen, glowing-like embers behind the treetops.