Sweden’s Las Vegas on the Baltic Sea

Did you know that Sweden was once a great political power? The Swedish Empire exercised control over the Baltic region for over 100 years. The beginning of the Empire is usually taken as the reign of King Gustav Adolf in 1611, and the end as the loss of territories in 1721 following the Great Northern War. Sweden had control of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Norway and parts of Germany. It is rumoured in Swedish history that King Gustav Adolf had an ambition to make the Baltic Sea a large lake inside Sweden.

This was all a very long time ago, and today things don’t look quite the same for Sweden. Today, the most common boats that travel over the Baltic Sea are ferries and cruise ships. These huge ships traffic, amongst other destinations, Stockholm, Helsinki, Åbo, Åland, Visby, Riga, Gdansk, Rostock and Tallinn. Today, they are not for invading Swedes but mostly for multinational tax-free shopping, city breaks, partying, cruising, transporting goods and touristing.

The specific party boats between Sweden and Finland are a Swedish classic. They are also a special case – they are a kind of ‘booze cruise’ and are an interesting study in how many varying levels of intoxication there are. It’s hard to say who wins the competition in being most drunk and going berserk – the Swedes or the Finns – but both nations give it a good attempt. These boats are notorious locations for partying and, like Las Vegas, what happens on the ferry stays on the ferry. It’s a fascinating sight to witness.

The boats have various well-used bars, nightclubs, cabaret lounges with tacky stage performances, a mix of good to production-line restaurants, basic and luxury cabins, spa, poker tables, slot machines, karaoke, bingo and tax free shopping. Everything is ambitiously designed to give passengers a fun night or two at sea.

You don’t have to party like crazy to travel these boats however. Lots of families, couples and calm groups of friends use the boats as transportation or as cruises and mini breaks. With an upgrade, you can experience nicer restaurants and better cabins. The view out of the window is also very pretty as the boats glide gently through the thousands of islands in the archipelago and out into the open sea.

So, whether you’re looking for beautiful scenery, a sociological study of the Swedes and the Finns, or wanting a wet party night, then jump on a cruise ship from Stockholm and venture out onto the Baltic Sea.

Stockholm A-Z: Ferries

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Considering Stockholm is a city built on many small islands, it’s not surprising that a favorite mode of transport is the ferry. In the city, there are several ferries used both by commuters and by pleasure trippers. The Djurgårds ferry takes people from Slussen on Södermalm to the museum and activity island of Djurgården. It’s a cute little boat that looks like a toy that a giant has flicked with his finger and thumb as it catapults over the waterway to the other side. This ferry also carries visitors to Östermalm and to Skeppsholmen, an Island located in the middle of the harbour, and is very well patronized by the city’s inhabitants.

Three other ferries in Stockholm are the ones taking well-heeled dwellers from the docklands development of Hammarby Sjöstad to Södermalm, and from Hammarby Sjöstad into the city, and the ferry that shuttles passengers from the Old Town to the suburb of Nacka and the islands of Fjäderholmarna.

But perhaps the most noticeable ferries are the giant liners positioned in Stockholm’s harbour that take passengers and vehicles to the Baltic Island of Åland and to Finland. These ferries satisfy various needs for Stockholmers. Some use them as a mode of transportation between Sweden’s capital and the Finnish cities of Helsinki and Åbo, maybe to work or to deliver goods or visit family. Others use the ferries as pleasure cruises, an opportunity for a trip out to sea, to eat well and maybe watch a show. Others use them as a way of buying cheaper duty free alcohol as the ferry bobs around in international waters. And other Swedes use them in a way that has gained these ferries notoriety – as a booze cruise. A popular weekend pastime is to embark the ferry on a Friday, drink, dance and party, and disembark, somewhat frazzled, when it returns to Stockholm 48 hours later.

Whatever the reason for taking one of Stockholm’s many ferries, this mode of transport is an undeniable part of the waterscape of this city and it certainly does contribute to Stockholm’s description as ‘the Venice of the North’.