Wednesday 16 March 2011

Stockholm 5 Islands Running Route

Click here for route map 
Length: 6.5 km (4 miles), terrain flat

Note: I forgot to take my cell phone on this trip, so I had to run with my laptop to take the pictures! That's why you see my ear in half the pictures.

Stockholm running routes:
Stockholm 5 Islands route
Stockholm Djurgarden island park route
Kungsholmen Island loop route
For other running routes, see Route List

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time in this great town!
Stockholm ("Stick Island") sits scattered amidst a network of fjords and islands. Water and land seem to crash into each other everywhere you look. Like most coastal areas of Scandinavia, there is never a definite coastline, just a fascinating, gradually shifting mixture of land and water, with more land as you move inland.

Stockholm's fjord looks a bit like Sydney Harbour, with side-coves everywhere, but without the palm trees. What better way to discover it than to run the 5 islands that form its historic core? Even though we'll cover 5 islands, the run is fairly short, and it brings us to sights like the old town ("Gamla Stan"), the parliament, the royal palace, the original castle, the old navy headquarters island, and another castle island.

We'll start the run at the spot where the city center meets the first island, Helgeandsholmen, a tiny island occupied solely by the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag. Drottninggatan (Queen Street) runs south from the downtown to the Riksdag and goes over a pedestrian bridge to the island, splitting the parliament into two halves. Run south through the parliament, and on the other side of the building you cross the next bridge to the old town, Gamla Stan, on its own island. You'll see the huge royal palace rising above on the left.
Parliament, the pedestrian street goes through the arch behind the tree
But before we discover the maze of narrow old-town streets, turn right after the first building (the old mint), on Myntgatan, and head to the third island, Riddarholmen. You'll pass the old Riddarhuset palace building on the right. Then cross the busy street to run onto the next little island. Riddarholmen was the original administrative seat of the city, and there is a statue to the city's post-Viking founder, Birger Jarl.
The way up on Riddarholmen
The island is covered by a collection of various houses, buildings, fort-towers and the impressive church. The church is Stockholm's oldest building. Run uphill around the right side of the main (white) palace-building in front of you, and you'll come out on a terrace overlooking the fjord towards the west, where you can take in a great view. Now turn right down the alleyway and follow it past the round tower. It ends by sloping down to the waterfront path, where you turn left and run along the waterside below the terrace, with the city hall across the bay.
Riddarholmen: view from the terrace towards the city hall
Head back up the steps to the main square on the island and back out over the bridge to Gamla Stan again. We'll now do a loop through the old town. Gamla Stan is an intact and lively ensemble of old buildings. Only the northeast corner of the island was cleared out to build the gigantic royal palace. Everything else is still as it has been for centuries.

Run past the Riddarhuset palace again and now take the street that goes uphill diagonally to the right between the 2 Italian restaurants, Storkyrkobrinken. At the next crossing, Västerlanggatan, turn right and run down this pedestrian street with its shops and restaurants.
Gamla Stan, Västerlanggatan
At the end of the street, at the big public water well, follow the street as it curves to the left.

NOTE: I heartily recommend O'Leary's sports bar on the corner for a good meal and a good time. Even though it's a chain, you don't notice it in its character: Friendly staff, great burgers, a selection of wonderful beers, good barbeque sauces, it can't be beat. You can eat right at the bar, and watch a game at the same time. The Swedish founder had lived in Boston, and he has covered the walls with Boston team memorabilia.

Rising above you on the left is the heart of the old town. We'll go up and take a look. Across from the Gyldene Freden restaurant, follow the side street that goes uphill to the left. Follow the narrow Prästgatan (Prieststreet) alley as it takes you through the heart of the neighborhood. You'll soon pass the German church on the right, St. Gertrude.

Like most northern cities, Stockholm has it's traditional German Hansa quarter, where the merchants had their houses and warehouses. St. Gertrude sits atop the center of the island, with a motto hanging over the quiet churchyard entrance, "Fürchtet Gott! Ehret den König!" ("Fear God! Honor the King!").
St. Gertrude's
Follow Prästgatan one more block, then turn right and run the one block to Stortorget (Great Square). There are some cool restaurants and pubs in the old houses here, and a massive old drinking water well. It's also bordered on the north side by the Swedish Academy of Sciences in the old exchange building. This is where the Nobel Prizes are handed out.
Swedish Academy of Sciences at Stortorget
Run out past the academy on the left side and in a block you'll pass the cathedral (Storkyrkan, or "Great Church") on the right. Notice the antique Swedish telephone booth on the right, too. Amazing!

Just past the church, run straight into the royal palace compound, and turn right into the yard bounded by the curving arcades. The palace guards with their white fur hats look like the guard at the Wizard of Oz's castle. They just happened to be changing the guard when I ran by. Run past the row of cannons, right towards the guard in his sentry house at the front door, then turn right, leave the courtyard, and run downhill to the left to the water.
Royal palace: changing of the guard
You'll definitely need to come back to Gamla Stan in the evenings and wander the rest of the little streets.

Run the one block on Slottsbacken to the water. Cross the busy street (Skeppsbron) at the waterside to run along the water itself, towards the left. Here you can see the windjammer across the fjord at Skeppsholmen, where we will now run to. The ship is used as a youth hostel. What a great idea!
Youth hostel windjammer with Skeppsholmen island
Run north along the water and you can view the royal palace from the other side, rising up on the left. They were holding a cross-country ski race around palace on my first day there.

Keep going across the bridge to the mainland. The tidal-water rips right through a rapids in this spot. Turn right at the end of the bridge, keeping the water on your right. The shore curves to the right, passing the Grand Hotel, then the National Museum. Now an old metal bridge leads you to island number four, Skeppsholmen (Ship Island).

Stay along the water, running past the youth hostel windjammer. Skeppsholmen is covered with old admiralty buildings, the traditional naval headquarters of this old seafaring land. In a couple of minutes you'll come to the bridge to island number five, tiny Kastellholmen (Castle Island). Head across the bridge and up the little hill to the castle-like building at the top, with its great view over the fjord.
Bridge to Kastellholmen
Now you turn around and head back towards the parliament again, but stay with the water to your right, continuing to round the island counter-clockwise.
View of Gröna Lund amusement park from Kastellholmen
Just past the ferry landing, the waterfront becomes a marina and workshop dedicated to restoring boats. This is one of the things that I love about Stockholm, and every Scandinavian town, for that matter. Every ship that ever caught the fancy of a Stockholmer (and that's lots of them) has ended up here as somebody's restoration project: windjammers, fishing boats, old ferries, mine layers, steamboats, rowboats, you name it. Some rotten old wrecks were adopted just before they sank of their own initiative, and it probably would have been better that way. They have mutated into black holes of endless labor and expense for their new owners/lovers/slaves. Nevertheless, piles of timber are continually sawed-up on site waiting for the next projects to begin. I would love to just give a hand.

Just before coming back to the bridge back to the mainland, you'll see a few bunkers dug into the rock along your left side, left over from some past wartime zeal.

Now, retrace your steps, following your way along the shore, with the water on your left side. But at the first bridge back to Gamla Stan just keep running straight. This will take you back to the starting point, there at the foot of Drottninggatan at the Riksdag. You'll pass the center's main square, Kungstradgarden, then the opera house, running along the rapids towards the Riksdag on the left side.


  1. Very useful - planning to try this out when I visit Gamla Stan

  2. really enjoyed running this, especially to the little tower on Kastellholmen and round past the piles of wood on Skeppsholmen.

    My next trip takes me to Craiova, Romania, do you have any routes for there?

  3. Glad that you enjoyed it, too, Anna. Hmmm, Craiova is a bit exotic for me. I do have a route for Bucharest, my only Romanian route: I hope to do more routes in that interesting country in the future!

  4. Hi there! I see the route map is missing. Is there any way by which you could fix it? I am travelling to the Nordics in about a month and I'd love to do some running.

  5. Hi Juana, the map link is corrected now. It looks like MapMyRun changed the links for the old routes... Enjoy Stockholm!