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5 free things to do in Stockholm, where nature is never far away

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STOCKHOLM - There's no shortage of ways to spend your money in Stockholm, one of Europe's most expensive cities.

A dinner or even just a drink can set you back more than you expected.

Luckily, the Swedish capital is an outdoorsy place, meaning there's also a lot of stuff you can do for free.

THE OLD TOWN

A stroll along the narrow alleys winding through Stockholm's Old Town offers a glimpse into the city's past. Or rather, a cleaned-up version of its past, without the foul stench of waste that filled the medieval core before modern-day plumbing. Old Town today is so tidily picturesque it almost has a Disneyland feel. Buildings from the 17th century stand askew, worn by time but meticulously repaired and repainted in soft shades of yellow and rose. Unless you're looking for a plastic Viking helmet, turn off the main street and its gift shops and discover a plethora of small boutiques, art galleries and fashionable cafes. Pause at the idyllic Stortorget square and spare a thought for the 80 Swedish nobles who in 1520 lost their heads here in a mass execution known as the Stockholm bloodbath. Then watch the changing of the guards at the nearby Royal Palace and ponder why one of the world's most egalitarian countries still has a king.

SUBWAY ART

If you're riding the subway anyway ($5 for a single fare or $15 for a day pass), you can enjoy what Stockholm tourism officials call the "world's longest art exhibition" for free. Nearly all of the 100 stations on Stockholm's three subway lines are decorated with murals, mosaics, sculptures or art installations. Highlights include the historic artefacts at Kungstradgarden (Blue line) and Siri Derkert's feminist wall paintings at Ostermalmstorg (Red line). If you have a valid subway ticket you can join a free guided tour in English of Stockholm's underground art, departing at 3 p.m. from the T-Centralen station every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from June through August.

DOWNTOWN SWIMMING

In Stockholm, a city spread out over more than a dozen islands at the intersection of Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, some locals will tell you the water is clean enough to drink. That may be a stretch. You never see anyone cupping their hand for a refreshing swig from the city's many canals and waterways. However, in warm weather you do see people go for a swim just about everywhere there's access to water. There are more than 30 public bathing spots in Stockholm — from the rocks at Fredhall to the small sandy beach at Langholmen. Don't be surprised to find daring youths jump into the waters right in front of City Hall.

MONTELIUSVAGEN

There are places in the world where even an unskilled photographer can easily take a picture worthy of being framed and admired. Monteliusvagen is one of those places. This walking path on the cliffs over the northern shore of the Sodermalm district offers a breathtaking view of Stockholm's skyline. The Riddarfjarden bay acts like a mirror, reflecting the elegant facades of Old Town's waterfront palaces and the massive bell tower of the castle-like City Hall, home of the annual Nobel Prize banquet. Come here at sunset or sunrise to maximize the wow factor.

WOODLAND CEMETERY

OK, so going to a cemetery may not be on the top of your list when visiting a new city. This one, though, is truly original. Skogskyrkogarden, a woodland cemetery on the southern edge of Stockholm, was created between 1917 and 1920 and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Here the departed rest in natural surroundings, modest headstones marking their graves in imperfect rows amid the pine trees. The idea behind the cemetery, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, was to blend architecture with nature, altering the landscape as little as possible. The cemetery is always open and entry is free, though you'll have to pay about $15 for a guided tour. Visitors are asked to respect those who come here to mourn — more than 2,000 funerals are held yearly in the cemetery's five chapels.

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