A truly modern metropolis filled with historic architecture and a reputation for tolerance, Stockholm gives its residents an amazingly high quality of living.

Stockholm is built across 14 islands in the Baltic Sea and blue Lake Mälaren, with two-thirds of the city comprised of water and green space. The actual urban sectors are some of the most beautiful in Europe and the cleanest in the world. A truly modern metropolis filled with historic architecture and a reputation for tolerance, Stockholm gives its residents an amazingly high quality of living and safety — regardless of what certain writers of Swedish crime novels conjure up — in a forward-thinking city.

What is it known for?
Stockholm’s skyline may be low-profile, with church spires and the Stadshuset (City Hall) tower exclusively dominating the traditional red, yellow and terracotta buildings and the baroque gems of Gamla stan (Old Town). But the city is the power centre of Sweden, from politics to technology to design. The headquarters of many banks and businesses are also here, as well as 100 museums including the comprehensive Modern Art Museum and the living history museum Skansen, home to traditional Swedish buildings and craftspeople.

Locals take full advantage of the seasons. In winter, when the sun is only an occasional visitor, the town squares are strung with lights and ice skating rinks are full. In summer, locals flock to take a fika (coffee break), along with the ever-important kanelbulle (cinnamon bun), in the cobblestoned Stortorget square in Gamla stan or a hip café on the island of Södermalm. The sun never really sets then and the skies only fade to twilight.

Stockholm abounds in Scandinavian design, food and fashion – and not just with flat pack furniture and H&M apparel — as well as capital improvements such as new light rail lines, cycle lanes and other green initiatives. Great restaurants and small cafes serve fresh local seafood, reindeer and elk meat, cloudberries and mushrooms, as well as many different ethnic cuisines. Declared the European Green Capital in 2010, Stockholm is investing in new construction like the City Line tunnel, which will put commuter rail lines underground and double the number of trains able to move through the city.

Where do you want to live?
Central Stockholm, not surprisingly, is the most popular place to live, on islands and districts close to the Old Town. One of the most popular is Södermalm, once a working class district that is now incredibly hip and trendy. Especially desirable are the areas north of Mariatorget where terraced houses climb Mariaberget, a high hill with views of the lake and downtown, and SoFo (South of Folkungagatan), home to media types, designers and artists who frequent the bars, boutiques and bohemian art galleries. To the west and east of Gamla stan, quiet Kungholmen and the wealthy Östermalm neighbourhoods are very popular places to live. Farther out from the city centre, Djursholm is one of the most expensive districts, with large villas and gardens.

People looking to find value for their money often search in the Solna suburbs, according to Alexander Kjellström, estate agent and managing partner of Bostadsagenten realtors. Surburban Solna is divided into eight districts and is home to many corporations’ headquarters, including Skanska, the construction company, and NextJet, a Swedish regional airline. All the districts have excellent transport links to Old Town and other parts of Stockholm’s centre.

Side trips
Stockholmers sail on day trips or make longer trips to the islands of the Stockholm archipelago (there are 24,000 of them), or even the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Many head to a classic red board stuga (cottage) to swim, fish and live the outdoor life, while in winter, they head for the Swedish resorts of Romme Alpin, Falun and Kungsberget to ski. There are fast trains to Malmo (and Copenhagen just across the Oresund Bridge from Malmo) and Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city. The town of Uppsala, home to the Uppsala Cathedral and Castle and the oldest university in Sweden, is only 40 minutes away. There are frequent ferries to Helsinki, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia.

The Arlanda Express fast train whisks passengers to the airport in just 20 minutes from the centre of Stockholm. Oslo is just a one-hour flight away and cities like Paris and London are under two hours.

Practical info
The majority of Swedes own their homes or flats: 65% of properties are owner occupied, while only 35% are rentals. Buying is the preferred option, because rentals take so long to come up in the Swedish system. “Unless you happen to be number one in the municipal rental queue, the waiting period is about 35 years,” said Kjellström.

House prices in greater Stockholm have fallen from their peak in the first quarter of 2010. In 2011, prices fell 4.4% to an average of 409,000 euro. “However, the market is now slightly up, after having been considerably down for a year and a half,” said Kjellström. The properties available are mainly condos and apartments, and a typical two-bedroom flat costs around 500,000 euro. A few single-family houses come to market at 500,000 to one million euro, and rarely, a townhouse that can cost anywhere from 2.5 to five million euro.

Further information
The Local: English-language news, features, blogs and op-eds
Stockholm Street Style: gorgeous Swedes and their get-ups
Plaza Magazine: for your Scando interiors and Swedish design fix