Dating back to the 13th century, Gamla Stan is the original Stockholm. Grand baroque architecture, winding cobblestone streets, a former royal residence, a cathedral, and some tremendous waterfront views make this small area a don't-miss sightseeing zone.
It's also fairly convenient, as Gamla Stan bridges bustling Norrmalm to the north and hip Södermalm south. Staying in perfectly preserved Gamla Stan isn't easy. There are a limited number of hotels, which are either very upscale or backpacker-oriented.
The bulk of Gamla Stan is on the island Stadsholmen, Riddarholmen, the tiny island just to the west, is usually seen as part of Gamla Stan.
Busy and hectic, Norrmalm is characterized by the lively Drottninggatan, Stockholm's Central Station, and a veritable slew of cultural facilities. Kulturhuset, St. Jacobs Church, the Royal Opera, Sweden House, and several appealing parks crowd into Norrmalm.
The neighborhood's very modern heart is crowded with all sorts of retail shops, Stockholm's big department stores, and, to the south on a detached island, the national Parliament. While tourists are an unavoidable part of the Norrmalm picture, the vast majority of the crowds surrounding you here are residents. Norrmalm is the beating heart of today's Stockholm.
Like Vasastaden, Östermalm revolves in part around its greenery. The magnificent Humlegården, which encircles the Royal Library, is a brilliant swath of green. The lovely Karlavägen boulevard and cute Karlaplan circle are the heart of Östermalm.
Karlavägen is spotted with more lovely shops (do you sense a theme here in Stockholm?), buttressed on both sides by sleepy residential neighborhoods and stately apartment blocks.
Hands down, Södermalm is one of our favorite neighborhoods. As its name implies, the island forms the southern part of central Stockholm. Once known as a working-class neighborhood, a hipster revolution has turned this area into a hot-spot known for edgy shops, trendy bars, and funky restaurants.
Accommodation here tends to be more affordable than in other parts of the city center. So what more could you ask for? Staying in Söder, as the locals have it, puts you a little out of the way from the major sights and museums. But historic Gamla Stan and Norrmalm are just across the water.
As you head south in Söder, things become much more residential, with wide streets, tall apartment buildings, and less glamorous stores addressing, um, everyday needs.
North of Norrmalm and the Central Station lies Vasastaden, an alternately sleepy and upscale hood. Featuring glorious Vasaparken, Observatorielunden, Vanadislunden, and the cute Tegnerlunden park square, Vasastaden does not hurt for greenery, a fact that makes the neighborhood perfect for summer strolling.
Cafés along Odengatan are polished, home to the well-coiffed and neatly-attired swank set. Sveavägen is a bit hipper, in part due to the media-rich area just to the east of Sveavägen. Studios, IT offices, and other offices focusing on media concerns can be found here.