A maze, and a garden of green islands
The Stockholm Archipelago (Swedish skärgården = “skerry garden”, “garden of rocky islets”) consists of some 24,000 mostly wooded granite-based islands and islets. There are other archipelagoes with similar characteristics in the Baltic Sea, e.g. in Finland (Åbo / Turku archipelago, Åland / Ahvenamaa archipelago) and in some other locations along the Swedish coast. However, the Stockholm Archipelago has the by far largest number of islands, and is the most extensive, streching about 150 km from North to South, with a depth of approximately 70 km. The ships on the regular Stockholm-Helsinki and Stockholm-Tallinn routes have to spend several hours navigating through the maze of islands in order to get to the open sea.
What distinguishes the Stockholm Archipelago from great archipelagoes in other parts of the world (e.g. Greece, Indonesia, Oceania) is the closeness of the islands (the inter-island distances are often in the order of 100 meters) and the preponderance of quite small, wooded islands (just a few 100’s of meters or less across). The smallest islands are most often uninhabited and will remain so, because recent Swedish legislation proscribes building of new houses closer than 300 m from the shoreline.
Robinson Crusoe, by Right of public access
All of this makes the Stockholm Archipelago a dreamland for boating people (or very strong swimmers) who want to play Robinson Crusoe and find their “very own” secluded island. Such a “conquest” is perfectly legal, because irrespective of the ownership of the island, the Swedish Right of Public Access, “allemansrätten”, gives anybody the right to go ashore on any island in the Archipelago, put up a tent and stay there for a period of time.
Geologically tailor-made for sun-bathers
The morphological origin of the entire Fennoscandian area is a collision between two tectonic plates some 1900 million years ago, forming a tall mountain range, the Fennoscandian orogenesis. During the last million years at least 5 glacial periods have since eroded this mountain range down to its very roots, exposing geologically very old bedrock. The last glacial period (= ice age) was only about 10 000 years ago. It covered the area by a several kilometers thick layer of ice, which pushed down the land surface. With the melting of the ice the pressure ceased and the land started rebounding. In the Stockholm Archipelago the land is still raising at a rate of about 0.4 cm/year, gradually adding more islands to the archipelago and enlarging the existing ones.
For the recreationally inclined visitor the effect of glacial polishing is probably the most pleasantly tangible geological feature of the Stockholm Archipelago. The ice has ground down the bedrock to smooth shapes, often in a way that fits the back or belly of a human sun-bather very nicely. If you choose an ice-polished “rock-bed” on the sunny side of your island, you will feel the warmth of the rock during most of the night.
A fresh-water archipelago in Lake Mälaren
The city of Stockholm consists largely of islands. The eastern, salt-water half of the Stockholm city islands belongs to the Baltic Sea Archipelago, while the western half is part of the Lake Mälaren (fresh-water) archipelago (Mälaröarna in Swedish). The many islands in the Lake Mälaren are similar to the islands in the Baltic Sea archipelago, but exhibit certain characteristics of their fresh-water environment, e.g. a greater preponderance of deciduous trees, different species of grasses, etc. The most notable islands in the Lake Mälaren are Drottningholm (the site of the Drottningholm Royal Palace, Sweden’s 17th century answer to Versailles in France) and Birka, an old Viking town and stronghold.
A linguistic digression
Eskimos, who live in a land of snow, have several words for “snow”. Coastal Swedes, who live among islands, have several words for “island”:
- ö – general word for island
- holme, holm – a smallish island
- skär – a skerry, a rock island
- kobbe – an unwooded rock islet
The Stockholm Archipelago is commonly divided into the Inner, Middle and Outer archipelago. As a rule of thumb, if you sail at a leisurly pace by sailing yacht (sailing by day only), then it will take you ½-1 days to reach the farther limits of the Inner archipelago, 1-2 days to reach the outer limits of the Middle archipelago and 2-3 days to reach the outermost islands of the Outer archipelago.
The larger islands are mostly situated in the Inner and Middle archipelago. The outermost islands in the Outer archipelago are of a somewhat different character than the rest. They are for the most part small and have less vegetation, due to their exposure to the fury of the open sea.
Below is a list of the larger islands in the Stockholm Archipelago. Some of these, particularly the ones that are accessible via bridges, are rather densely populated towns and are seen as suburbs to Stockholm. The larger islands without bridge connection were originally fishing villages, but function now mainly as recreational areas with summer-houses. Don’t forget – the islands listed below are merely 29 out of a total of 24,000 islands!
Some larger islands, connected by bridges (accessible by car):
Dalarö, Djurö, Ingarö, Lidingö, Vaxholm, Väddö, Värmdö, Vätö
Some larger archipelago islands, accessible by boat only:
Arholma, Blidö, Fejan, Fjäderholmarna, Harö, Högmarsö, Ingmarsö, Kymmendö, Östra Lagnö, Ljusterö, Möja, Nämdö, Ornö, Rindö, Runmarö, Sandhamn, Tjockö, Tynningö, Utö, Yxlan, Öja
The largest shipping line to the Stockholm Archipelago islands is called Waxholmsbolaget. They have regular boat traffic to most of the inhabited islands in the archipelago, phone (from Stockholm): 679 58 30. There are several competing shipping lines as well and also shipping companies that specialize in archipelago cruises (e.g. Cinderella Lines, local phone 587 140 50).