Sweden’s climate is by no means tropical, but winter in Sweden doesn’t have to be as bad as you think. Swedish winters can be downright enjoyable and magical, granted you pack the appropriate winter clothing. Stockholm’s average winter temperature hovers right around freezing, but in Northern Sweden, you’ll see more extremes, ranging from freezing to -30 C! Even with the cold weather, there’s still so many things to do in Stockholm, so just pack warm and enjoy the beauty of the city without the summer crowds. With preparation and the right mindset, Sweden in winter is absolutely lovely — read on to learn why!
1.The obvious — the Northern lights are the most amazing thing you’ll ever see
The Northern lights are only visible from September to the end of March. In Abisko, which is considered by many scientists to be the best place in the world to see the Northern lights, we saw the lights 3 out of 3 nights. Granted, 2 of the 3 nights were rather cloudy, so we saw a few green streaks of aurora that quickly got covered by the clouds. However, our final night we had a cloudless night, and the lights were even more vibrant, magical, and amazing than I could have imagined. Sverige is also a fantastic place for Northern lights hunting. Seeing the Northern lights is completely free once you get there. Just walk as far away as you can from the light pollution and stare up at the sky. Don’t think you have to spend hundreds of dollars at the Aurora Sky Station or on a photography tour. With the proper weather conditions, you should be able to see the lights as soon as you walk outside and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. I do recommend using the Sky Station’s live camera and running outside as soon as you see a flash of green. I thought that February was the perfect time to go, as you’re not subject to the “Polar Night,” where the sun does not fully rise for 28 straight days, right around the winter solstice. When I went in mid-February, the sun rose just before 8 and set a little before 4, almost a solid 8 hours of sunlight.
2. Flying to Sweden in winter is cheap. Really cheap.
Flying from New York? On Norwegian, you can find cheap flights as low as $315 roundtrip to Stockholm, regular price – no error fares needed. From Oakland or LA, as low as $342. Flights also leave Baltimore, Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando, but you won’t get quite as cheap of a price. With flights that cheap, I didn’t even bother using my airline miles from travel hacking.
Another cheap winter destination? There are often cheap flights to Reykjavik, Iceland, and there are so many excellent wintery things to do in Iceland! I haven’t been yet, but I’d love to road trip along the Ring Road in a campervan one day!
3. It’s not as cold as you think
Stockholm’s average high in February is about 30F, or -1C. On average, it’s a bit colder than other popular winter destinations, like New York or Paris, but not quite as cold as Montreal or Vermont, some popular North American destinations. Up north, however, it can be a totally different story. We were lucky and it was about 25F (-4C) during the day, and as low as 9F (-13C) at night. However, it can easily get down to -22F (-30C) at some points during the winter.
Luckily, if you’re staying in Abisko, many hostels and hotels offer warm clothing rentals, which are often free if you book an activity with them. When I did dogsledding, I borrowed a super warm waterproof jumpsuit from the tour company, but I was fine in my regular layers all other times, even at night. The key to staying warm? Three words: FLEECE. LINED. LEGGINGS. These saved my California pansy ass many a time in NYC and will stand up even to Swedish winters.
4. Sweden really knows how to do winter activities
Dog-sledding through Abisko is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Although it was a bit pricy (my two-hour tour through abisko.net was 1200 SEK, about $144 USD, and included snowsuit, snowshoes, and cross-country ski rental), I highly recommend it if you can make room in your budget for it —it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even if you don’t do a dog-sledding tour, you can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis from most hotels and hostels for a very reasonable fee. For the more adventurous, there are also numerous ski resorts — Björkliden is another famous one, just a few kilometers away from Abisko — where you can ski or snowboard. You can even ski just outside of Stockholm at Hammarbybacken. If you’re up North, ice-climbing and snowmobiling are two other popular winter sports, but you’re going to have to pony up quite a bit of cash to partake.
5. A traditional Swedish sauna is an amazing reward for a day braving the cold
Many hotels and hostels in Northern Sweden, and even some in Stockholm, have free sauna access included — Winterday Hostel has a sauna and STF Turiststation does as well. It’s especially fun to run from the sauna into the cold night air — splash a bit of snow on yourself or dive in if you’re brave. Even more amazing? When you run from the sauna into the snow and look up to see the Northern lights undulating above you.
6. Stockholm, Sweden in winter is beautiful – even to this jaded, snow-hating New Yorker
In Stockholm, they don’t salt the living hell out of their sidewalks the way we do in the overly litigious United States. New Yorkers will rejoice to know that there are no giant slush puddles lurking at every corner! The snow is packed down well, so it isn’t really that difficult to walk on, but do be careful as it can get a bit icy from time to time. Added bonus: when Stockholm’s famous waterways freeze over partially, they create beautiful reflective surfaces that look almost otherworldly.
7. …. But snowy days in Abisko National Park are even more magical
With snow-covered mountains everywhere, the landscape almost looks like a black and white photograph. Black trees jut up from the snow — and that’s pretty much it, except for a wink of blue sky from time to time. The Kingsleden is a beautiful hike, but we loved walking to the frozen waterfall about 2 kilometers away from STF Abisko Turiststation even more.
8. Fika is amazing, but it’s even better when it’s cold outside
Fika is the Swedish institution of dropping everything to sit with a friend and socialize for an afternoon coffee and pastry. There was nothing more satisfying than warming up our cold bodies in a coffee shop with a delicious espresso drink and a kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon bun), chokladboll (cocoa pastry ball coated in coconut) or prinsesstårta (Swedish “ princess cake” composed of marzipan, sponge cake, pastry cream, and jam).If you go between New Years and Easter, you’ll find semla, which are soft spiced buns filled with marzipan and whipped cream.
9. You’ll miss the crowds if you travel to Sweden in winter
Stockholm was so quiet during our time there that it was hard to believe almost 2 million people live in and around the city. It wasn’t uncommon for us to walk for miles without encountering a crowd, even on the weekends. Even Gamla Stan, the touristy heart of the Old City, was quiet and peaceful, and the Royal Palace was nearly empty.
10. More “golden hour” for beautiful pictures
Skilled photographers eagerly seek out the “golden hours” — the hours right before sunset and right after sunrise — when the sun low on the horizon casts a beautiful, magical glow on your pictures. In the winter, the sun never rises that high in the sky for long, meaning that you have even more time during the day to capture the magic of “ golden hour.” Also, it’s easy to catch the sunrise without having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn — something that my lazy self enjoys.
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Want more winter travel inspiration? Check out these beautiful winter destinations in Europe!
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