A city so expensive, even Aussies will be shocked

Beautiful but costly: Stockholm makes other cities seem pleasantly cheap.
Beautiful but costly: Stockholm makes other cities seem pleasantly cheap. Photo: iStock

I dig my hand into my pocket, scrambling around for change, feeling the weight of a couple of silver Swedish coins. Surely 10 or 20 krona will do it. That's about $3 - I won't have to pay more than that for a single ride on the metro.

I walk up to the counter and give the guy a smile. "A single-trip ticket please."

He smiles back. "OK, that's 44 krona."

Forty-four krona! That's ... Hang on. That's nearly eight bucks! Eight bucks for one ride on the subway, to go four stops. I might as well get a cab if I'm going to pay that much. (Although that's not true, because a cab would cost me about 250 krona, or $40.)

Grumbling to myself, I grab my wallet and draw out a note, a 100 Swedish krona bill, one of those lovely bits of paper that seem to have been making their way out of my pocket like passengers fleeing the Titanic ever since I arrived in Stockholm.

Those who've visited Scandinavia will know what I'm talking about. You realise the financial hit as soon as you arrive, when you consider indulging in a taxi from the airport into town but then discover it will cost almost $100 Australian. And what about a nice welcoming beer at the hotel bar? That's another $12 down the gurgler.

This is not the sort of place you want to be attempting to scrimp. Being on a budget in Scandinavia is like being on a diet in the US. You're fighting a losing battle.

A nice meal costs $60 or $70. Each entry into a museum or art gallery costs $20. Tickets to a show go for $45. Even a cup of coffee is about $6. And all of those expenses rapidly multiply, piling up into little mountains of cash as you work your way around the city.

The problem, of course, is not so much that Scandinavia is expensive, but that Australians are spoiled. In the past few years we've begun to get used to the power of our now-mighty dollar. We've become accustomed to travelling on the cheap.

Think about it: you can go to the USA right now and shop up a storm. You can travel to London and not really feel the pinch. If you're from Australia, you're used to the cost of living being sky-high - overseas cities seem pleasantly cheap.

Stockholm, however, isn't one of those cities. It's a crash back down to financial Earth. It's a bump into hard reality.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go, or that you can't. This is, after all, one beautiful part of the world, a place unlike any other. It just means you have to be a little smarter in your plan.

For example: the metro, or T-bana as it's called in Stockholm. You could, as I've just done, buy your tickets one by one and pay squillions of krona. Or you could actually do some research and realise three-day travel passes are available for about $40. Take five rides and it's paid for itself.

Better yet, you could discover the Stockholm Card, which allows unlimited travel on public transport, plus free entry into about 80 of the city's museums and galleries. That'll set you back $85.

There are other ways of making the stay affordable, too - most of which I'm making up on the fly as my stay in Stockholm becomes an almost military exercise in scrimping.

OK, no more eating in restaurants - supermarkets are my friend. I'm stocking up on fresh produce from the grocers, I'm buying bread from the baker, I'm feasting on the free samples of food that are given out by the vendors in Stockholm's beautiful covered markets.

And then there's the breakfast buffet at the hotel each morning. Time to fill the pockets! Fruit, bread, cold meats, plates of eggs benedict - all of them go into my backpack. (OK, not the eggs. Pity.)

I'm not even taking the T-bana most of the time, but riding a share-bike or walking. I'm checking out free attractions like Stockholm's old town, or watching the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace.

I'm noticing, too, that even Swedes don't drink too much at bars and restaurants. And I know why: they find it prohibitively expensive too. Instead they do their boozing in the comfort of their own homes before making their way into town. I'm prepared to give this a bash as well, although sitting alone in a hotel room knocking back tins of Jamtlands feels just a little too sad for me to really do the strategy justice.

Still, my plan works: before long I've got a whole pocket jingling with spare krona. So much so, in fact, that I could almost afford a ride on the T-bana.

The writer's accommodation was paid for by Visit Stockholm.

Have you 'scrimped' your way through an expensive city? What places aren't worth scrimping on?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater


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