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Despite its reputation as a budget-breaker, Stockholm can be done on a shoestring, writes Belinda Jackson.

We love Stockholm for its great design ethos, bottle blondes, midnight sun and for giving the world ABBA's Benny Andersson, but many skip this hip Scandinavian city because of its price tag. With a few tricks you can prune your pocket for a more affordable break in the Swedish capital.

Eating

The cheapest way to get a hot daily meal is to do as the locals do and embrace dagens ratt, which translates as "daily special". At midday Swedes down tools and pack the country's cafes and restaurants for the dagens ratt.

Expect to pay between SEK65-75 ($11-$13) for a plate that often features fish and potatoes or meat and potatoes, with a salad bar, bread and brewed coffee thrown in.

The salad bars range from a few limp leaves to celebrations that give vegetarians hope for a meat-free holiday, such as the excellent Grillska Husets cafe at Stortorget 3, in the heart of touristy Gamla Stan, which also serves soup and the salad bar for SEK70. Most cafes advertise their special on blackboards outside the front door. Come early or miss out. You can also fill up on the local version of McDonald's, Max, which is often conveniently located opposite their American rivals. Cheeseburgers cost SEK10. Otherwise, drop into the subterranean food hall at Hotorgshallen (near T-bana Hotorget) for cheap, healthy Mediterranean sandwiches from SEK35 or stock up on picnic packs and takeaway sushi.

Drinking

Drinking is the curse of the budget traveller in Scandinavia, with Stockholm's hip bars charging abpout SEK95 ($17.50) for spirits and cocktails. Does it make you feel any better that the locals feel the same way?

That's why they charge up at home before going out and you can often spot a few party-goers knocking back their off-licence gains outside clubs. When inside, sticking to beer is a better option, though you're still likely to pay about SEK50 for a half litre. Use your duty-free allowance on the way in - your hosts will love you for it - and get familiar with the Systembolaget, the state-controlled bottle shops. Note that you have to be over 20 to buy alcohol.

Opening hours have relaxed in recent years but they close at 3pm on Saturdays and are shut on Sundays, so a little forward planning is required. An interesting side note: in a country that will happily charge $20 for a bottle of Jacob's Creek wine, cask wine is not sniffed at.

Sightseeing

The Stockholm Card starts from SEK330 ($60) for a one-day card and gets you into 75 of the city's museums and sights, and includes free public transport. From January last year, many museums that were free, such as the Moderna Museet, charge up to SEK80 for an adult (free if you are under 18), so the card is now even better value.

It also gives you free tours on the Stockholm Sightseeing Boat, a free English guidebook and discounts on the Royal Canal Tour, which leaves from Stromkajen, and the Historic Canal Tour from Stadshusbron, which is a great way to see this island city from the water.

Shopping

Stockholm's high streets are paeans to Scandinavian design, and although we love it, it's not exactly the place for cheap cruising. Happily, Sweden loves a good op shop and many of the big clothing labels are hanging from the racks of their truly awesome second-hand shops at great prices.

Snap up a pair of Bjorn Borg boots for $20 or Versace jeans for $30. Retro ceramics are easy to come by and the designer clothing sections are often marked for easy finds.

Funds raised from the Stockholm Stadsmission go to helping the city's homeless. See http://www.stadsmissionen.se for locations of their six shops. Otherwise, the strip on Upplandsgaten near Odenplan (T-bana Odenplan) is fertile ground for second-hand shops, as is the funky, retro-loving SoFo (south of Folkungagatan), and the Renstiernas Gata end of Bondegarten, both on the city island of Sodermalm. "Street", as the name implies, is a street market held every second weekend during summer, with plenty of handmade jewellery, small fashion labels and interesting junk at reasonable prices on Hornstulls Strand 4. See http://www.streetinstockholm.se.

Staying in touch

If you've got your laptop with you, you can tap into free wi-fi in Kungstradgrden, while internet cafes charge from $3.50 per hour.

Getting there

SAS does cheap flights from London once you're within Europe - you can snap up a London-Stockholm flight for about $100. The website lets you book and pay in your local currency, so there are no nasty shocks when you read your credit card bill back at home. See http://www.flysas.com.

Public transport

A single trip on Stockholm's super-efficient subway, the Tunnelbana (stations are marked by a T at street level), costs a whopping SEK80. Far better are the strips available at the stations or Pressbyrans (convenience booths), for SEK160 - ask for a remsa, which will give you eight trips in and around the city on the T-bana and buses.

Otherwise the Stockholm Card, a sightseeing card, includes free public transport.

If you really want to get into the Swedish lifestyle, you can hire a bike for three hours for SEK25 during summer from 6am-6pm and cruise the streets like a local.

Remember that Swedes drive and ride on the right side of the road. You can grab a bike at about 70 locations across the city. See http://www.stockholmcitybikes.se for more information.

Accommodation

Weekend getaways are a welcome bonus for budget travellers, as hotel rooms are much cheaper on Saturday and Sunday nights.

TRIP NOTES

Getting there: Scandinavian Airlines flies daily to Stockholm from Australia with selected partners, phone 1300 727 707, see http://www.flysas.com.au.

Currency and visas: Sweden uses the krona. $1 = SEK5.43 approximately. Australian tourists don't need a visa to visit Sweden.

Getting around: For the latest on what's happening in Stockholm, see http://www.stockholmtown.com. MyPlanet Australia runs independent and escorted tours and cruises, activity tours and sightseeing in Stockholm, phone (02) 9020 5800, see http://www.myplanetaustralia.com.

Guidebooks: Lonely Planet's Encounter series for Stockholm is a handy, budget friendly, pocket-sized guide ($13.99) while Wallpaper's equally petite Stockholm city guide lets you peer into the best windows ($12.95).