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The morning sun is starting to make my room uncomfortably warm, which means it’s time to get up and out of here.

Luckily, the last item on my to-do list (getting out of here) is easier than it would have been 100 years ago. I’m staying in a cell at Långholmen’s, a former prison in the heart of Stockholm that has been converted into a hostel. Though the guards and guns are long gone, the bunk beds, heavy iron doors and whitewash walls remain, placing Långholmen’s Hostel among the most eye-catching (and affordable) accommodation the Swedish capital has to offer.

A taxi waits outside to whisk my friends and I to Sörmlands, the province that stretches from the southeast of the capital to the north and the Baltic. Here, we’ll pile into a fleet of two-person kayaks in which we’ll navigate Sweden’s largest archipelago (the second-largest in the Baltic Sea). 

Well, perhaps not all of it – the archipelago consists of around 30,000 islands, which fan out 80km from the city. In days of yore, the area’s inhabitants consisted predominantly of Viking-like fishermen, whereas now there are an estimated 50,000 holiday homes and chalets dotting the scenery.

It’s no wonder the area is so popular with well-heeled Swedes: the urban vibe of Stockholm feels as if it’s a world away, yet our journey from the city centre takes little over 30 minutes. Herein lies the attraction of the archipelago – we’ve been transported into a Norse fairytale setting, yet our isolation is not intimidating in the slightest, since the slick sophistication of Stockholm (and all the home comforts that come with it) are a short distance away. 

“Welcome!” exclaims John, from outdoor specialists Nature Travels. After a few pleasantries, John puts us to work – dragging our kayaks from the boathouse and packing them – before giving us a quick but detailed safety brief. John is also our guide. More adventurous tourists can hire kayaks and explore by themselves, but as we only plan to be here for the weekend, we figure it’s best to have an expert lead us through the extensive island network rather than risk finding ourselves in Russian waters come Monday.

After wobbling into our dual kayaks, we paddle into the mirror-like expanse, following John’s lead. Either side of us, small lush islands are punctuated with the picturesque holiday homes of Stockholm’s elite. The water is calm, but a day’s paddling still proves a tough workout.

Luckily, the scenery is enough to distract us from our aching limbs, as is the occasional conversation with curious locals, who lean from the verandahs of their colourful wooden cabins to ask us where we’re from and how we’re enjoying Stockholm. 

The wider waterways of the archipelago accommodate shipping lanes which can, at times, prove frightening to cross. John tells us when to wait and when to paddle, ensuring none of the kayaks have an undue tête-à-tête with an oncoming ferry or cruiseliner. 

After five hours on the water, John guides us to a nondescript island that will be our resting place for the night. As many local tour companies do, Nature Travels rents the island from local authorities on behalf of wannabe explorer tourists such as ourselves.


Short break to Stockholm: Kayaking, boozing and a night in a prison - now that' a weekend
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