Last June, whilst scrolling through Facebook, I came across a 2-for-1 offer on Stena Line cruises from Gdynia to Karlskrona. As we started playing around with their fare finder, we discovered it was one of those deals that you simply can’t pass up. Since we didn’t have any plans for the following weekend, we hit that ‘Checkout’ button faster than you can say ‘fika time’.
Now, I know Sweden might not be the first choice for an affordable European weekend getaway. However, I had done the exact same cruise with my university roommate 7 years prior, and it turned out to be more budget-friendly than we’d expected. I was curious to see if things had changed or if I would perceive it differently now that I no longer had a student budget holding me back.
Turns out, it was exactly the same as I remembered, and there are still plenty of things you can do for free in Karlskrona. So, I decided to put together this little guide for you, in case you’ve always thought that exploring Sweden on a budget was impossible or if you’ve never even considered visiting the charming town of Karlskrona before. Here’s how to make the most out of your day in Karlskrona without breaking the bank!
Getting from Gdynia to Karlskrona
The cruise schedule is incredibly convenient for travellers. The ship sets sail from the Gdynia terminal at 9 PM and arrives in Karlskrona between 7 and 7:30 AM, depending on the day. The departure and arrival times are the same for the return trip. On certain days, there are late afternoon or midnight departures available.
Alternatively, you can opt for a 24-hour cruise without disembarking, which can be a fantastic idea for a work integration party or simply to enjoy the onboard SPA facilities.
Occasionally, they also organize kids cruises and special cycling cruises that allow you to explore the stunning Swedish nature at your own pace. You can find all the special offers on the Stena Line website. It’s also worth checking for promo deals, such as the one we found, as they seem to have them regularly. For reference, our weekend cruise only cost 225 PLN (around £41) per person, which included a cabin upgrade – an absolute steal!
Onboard a Stena Line cruise ship
One of my main concerns before boarding a Stena Line cruise ship was that we would become bored quickly. Fortunately, I’m happy to report that there are numerous onboard facilities to keep you entertained during the evening!
On warmer days, you can enjoy a drink on the sun deck while watching waves crashing all around you. Below deck, there’s also a shop where you can choose from a variety of beauty products, sweets, and other goodies. However, I felt like the real bargain hunters on board were the Swedish grandpas who, I’m pretty sure, book this cruise just to stock up on cheap alcohol 😉 Seriously, the amount they are able to carry at once is impressive!
You can also indulge in the evening buffet or select from a range of à la carte dishes in one of their restaurants, try your hand at FIFA in one of the game zones, or book a time slot at the Nordic SPA for a refreshing break before a busy day of exploring Sweden.
For those seeking a bit more adventure, there are a couple of casino games where you can try your luck and potentially multiply your spending money. We wagered a couple of quid for the experience (I’d never been to a proper casino before), but personally, I wouldn’t recommend getting too involved in gambling.
During weekend cruises, you can dance the night away to a selection of catchy tunes, including, you guessed it, ABBA! Stena Line’s newest cruise ship, in operation since September 2022, is the Stena Estelle, which also boasts its own movie lounge. I’d love to check it out next time!
Getting from the ferry terminal to Karlskrona city centre
The journey between the Stena Line ferry port and Karlskrona city centre is covered by bus number 6. The ride takes approximately 30 minutes. My personal recommendation would be to download the Blekingetrafiken app. Not only will it save you a lot of time queuing at the ticket machine, but there’s also a great discount if you purchase one or more tickets through the app!
What to see in Karlskrona
One thing you may not be aware of is that Karlskrona is home to the largest naval base of the Swedish Navy. One option for visitors to Karlskrona is to explore the Kungsholm Fort, an old naval fortress situated on Tjurkö Island, around 5 kilometres south of Karlskrona.
However, it’s important to note that all tours must be booked at least 24 hours in advance by emailing the Karlskrona Tourist Centre at [email protected]. Since the fortress is still an active part of Sweden’s defense system, they require participants’ details (name, nationality, and passport number) to be sent to the naval base ahead of time. In June 2022, these tours started at 9:50 AM and concluded at 2 PM, with a cost of 280 SEK (around £22) for adults.
Since a tour of the fortress would take up most of our day, we opted for a walking tour instead and planned to visit the fortress on a future occasion. If you’re interested in doing the same, I highly recommend following the route I took both times.
To save some money on breakfast, we brought our own pastries. After a mandatory coffee break at Café Gelato, we were all fuelled up and ready to go. Our walking tour began at Stortorget, Karlskrona’s central square. There, you can admire the flower market or visit the Fredrik Church or the Pantheon-inspired Church of the Holy Trinity.
Admiralty Bell Tower
The Admiralty Bell Tower, once used to signal the time for shipyard workers, now serves as a church tower. Although you can’t go inside, there’s another fascinating aspect of this place. As you leave Stortorget and head towards the bell tower, you’ll notice remnants of the railway tunnel that used to connect the city with the naval dockyard. While its primary purpose was to transport goods to the shipyard, it was occasionally used for passenger transportation as well.
The tunnel ran beneath the bell tower from the late 19th century until the early 1990s when it gradually fell out of use. It has since been reclaimed by nature, but you can venture down to see the remarkable construction under the tower up close. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it!
Karlskrona Admiralty Church
Also known as Ulrica Pia, this wooden church forms part of the Karlskrona naval base and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. My favourite part, though, is the life-size Rosenbom statue that welcomes visitors in front of the main entrance.
According to local folklore, Rosenbom was a man who worked at Karlskrona’s shipyard but was fired after contracting malaria and fell into poverty. As he went from house to house begging for help, he received quite a lot of alcohol along the way. When he stooped down to thank Captain Lagerbielke for the spirit, he accidentally dropped his hat. The captain found it amusing and jokingly remarked, “If one wants a thank you from Rosenbom, one must lift his hat”.
Rosenbom enjoyed this saying so much that he repeated it at the next door. However, it didn’t amuse the famous sculptor, Kolbe, who resided there. He hit Rosenbom and threw him out into the snow. The following day, consumed by guilt, he went to look for Rosenbom, only to find him frozen to death, leaning against the wall of the church with one hand outstretched.
Shortly after, Kolbe made a wooden sculpture of Rosenbom. Apparently, if you lift his hat, you can actually insert a coin for the poor. We only found that out after we left, so we didn’t actually check if it’s true, though!
Our next destination was the place that captured my heart during my previous visit to Karlskrona. Björkholmen, Karlskrona’s oldest district, dates back to the 18th century. It’s where the first shipyard workers built their houses using sturdy oak wood.
This quaint and cosy neighbourhood easily takes the crown for being the most Instagrammable spot in the entire town. Picture yourself strolling along narrow streets lined with rows of vibrant cottages that seem straight out of a fairytale. And here’s a fun fact: all the streets are named after various ship types and admirals.
During my last visit, we saw a lovely Swedish grandpa fixing his bike right in front of his house. This time, we were accompanied by the most purrfect guide—a local kitty. The cat happily tagged along as we snapped photos in front of the most picturesque houses, and it even struck a pose of its own, truly stealing the show. Sadly, we didn’t have any treatos on hand to reward the feline for its exceptional travel guiding skills. I suppose this means we simply have to come back, doesn’t it?
What if I told you there’s a little uninhabited island in Karlskrona? It may be connected to the main island by a wooden footbridge, but it’s still a seriously cool place to explore!
From a distance, it resembles a giant rock emerging from the water. Once you reach the top, you’ll spot some remnants of military structures, although they don’t serve any purpose anymore. These days, it’s mostly a popular spot for picnics, offering an awesome view of the city of Karlskrona. Apart from the remnants and a few benches where you can take a breather after a bit of an uphill walk, there’s not much else going on.
Once you make your way back to the waterfront, you’ll find yourself at Fisktorget, the old fish market square. During the summer, you can hop on an archipelago tour or enjoy some food and music. We wanted to grab some street food, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see any prices – and let’s just say, we both agreed that Sweden might not be the best place for spontaneous spending 😉
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if a museum wasn’t your top choice for grabbing a bite to eat, but hear me out… It might just be the best place to have lunch on a budget in Karlskrona!
Inside their Skeppsgossen restaurant, they offer an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet that costs 125 SEK (around £10) per person from Tuesday to Friday, and 145 SEK (around £11.50) on Saturday and Sunday. You can sample a variety of Swedish specialties, including fried herring, potato dumplings, and different types of cake, all while enjoying the waterfront view.
Unfortunately, what we didn’t know is that lunch is only served between 11:30 and 15, so we arrived just in time to watch the servers pack everything away. However, there’s still plenty inside the museum to satisfy your appetite for knowledge 😉
The best part about the Naval Museum in Karlskrona is that it’s completely free to visit. Inside, you can delve into the history of the Swedish Navy. But, if there’s one place you absolutely MUST see, it’s the Submarine Hall. You can step inside an actual submarine that was in operation until 1998 and played a key role during the Cold War. It was definitely a highlight of our visit and had an eerie Stranger Things vibe. There’s also a shipwreck tunnel where you can watch the remains of an 18th-century ship through the windows.
I didn’t get a chance to explore this museum during my previous visit, so I was glad to make up for it on this trip. Even if you’re not a sea enthusiast (which I’m not), it’s still an absolutely captivating experience!
Coffee stop at Choco Mania
With some time to spare before heading to the ferry terminal, you can bet I discovered the most Instagrammable café in Karlskrona. It was just around the corner from where our bus dropped us off in the morning, and it immediately caught my eye.
This chain happens to be the first molten chocolate shop in Sweden, offering a selection of signature waffles, crêpes, and other handmade desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. Combine that with an Insta-friendly interior decked out with faux pink flowers and giant teddy bears, and I’m in.
We opted for a Nutella frappe each, topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate. Surprisingly, finding a good spot wasn’t too difficult – maybe there aren’t as many Instagrammers in Karlskrona? At 69 SEK (around £5) for a single coffee, I found the prices quite reasonable. Whether you’re looking for a perfect photo opportunity or a place to satisfy your cravings, this spot is worth considering.
Now, if you’re wondering, “Wait, but you haven’t had lunch yet”, don’t worry. I assure you, I didn’t survive on sunlight alone – otherwise, I might have starved in Sweden 😉 Once we were back on the ship, we paid 230 SEK (around £18) each for an all-you-can-eat evening buffet – complete with unlimited wine! With a wide range of appetisers and main courses, including an abundance of fresh seafood (perhaps even a bit too much for my taste), you get incredible value for your money. “Should I have white or red next?” is definitely a good dilemma to have, and a fantastic start to a long journey home!
And that’s a wrap…
So, that concludes my little guide to Karlskrona! I hope I’ve successfully debunked the myth that exploring Sweden on a budget is impossible. With our total expenses for this trip coming in at under £100, including food, transportation, and accommodation, we will certainly consider Karlskrona again when we’re in need of weekend getaway ideas!
Now I’d love to hear from you… What’s your take on cruises? Would you opt for one, or would you rather take a plane over a ship any day? And did any of these places in Karlskrona catch your eye enough to consider a visit?