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Sweden

10 Reasons to Travel to Sweden in Winter

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 — a definite must-add to your Sweden winter itinerary.

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.

sweden in winter

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.

I recommend staying somewhere in Abisko where you can easily get away from light pollution – STF Turiststation is where I stayed and highly recommend it. Abisko Mountain Lodge also comes highly recommended!

2. Flying to Sweden in winter is cheap. Really cheap.

Sweden winter vacations are actually surprisingly affordable. 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.

Once you arrive in Sweden, accommodations can be pricy, but if you make some smart moves like buying a Stockholm Pass for museums and transit you can save quite a bit of money.

a lovely winter day in Sweden

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. The cold is no reason not to visit Sweden in winter!

Hotels in Stockholm are super cozy and many even have their own saunas to warm you up in the winter. In fact, even some hostels (like City Backpackers!) have their own private saunas!

Northern Sweden’s winter, however, 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, one of the best places to visit in Sweden in winter, many hostels and hotels offer warm clothing rentals. These 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 winter in Sweden. Also, don’t underestimate the power of some woolly socks and an ultra-thin down jacket for layering under your standard winter jacket – the second layer really helps.


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.

dogsledding in sweden in winter

Dogsledding is a Swedish winter activity that simply shouldn’t be missed. Photo credit Hassan at Abisko.net

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 the 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 – you can even take a winter boat cruise through the waterways.

stockholm sweden in winter with frozen canals

You don’t get views like this in summer

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.

frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park

Frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park – must be seen to be believed

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. As a bonus, hotel prices are much lower (with the exception of the period right around Christmas), meaning you can get some insanely good deals if you book ahead.

Plus, the markets are adorable! If you’re wondering what to do in Sweden in December or even late November, I recommend doing a Christmas market walking tour.

Gamla Stan in winter

Even the touristy heart of Gamla Stan is quiet in the winter!

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 Sweden during 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.

Kiruna Church Sweden

The beautiful Kiruna Church illuminated by the “golden hour”

 

kiruna church in sweden

Golden hour in Kiruna

Recommended Reading: Lonely Planet Sweden
Useful Tips: Be sure to have travel insurance when traveling in Sweden in winter, especially if you’re doing any outdoor sports. I use and recommend World Nomads – they’ll cover you if you fall and hurt yourself, get unexpectedly sick, lose luggage, or hurt yourself during a wintry activity.
While Sweden is not as popular in winter as it is in summer, Abisko still books up quickly, so be sure to book well in advance. Be sure to book all Abisko lodgings well in advance – use a booking service with free cancellation like Booking.com to ensure your holiday runs smoothly, as places tend to book up weeks in advance.

Want more winter travel inspiration?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you.

Sweden in winter is absolutely amazing. Here are ten reasons why you should skip the beach getaway, embrace the cold, and make Sweden your winter trip!

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Valeriia
    October 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Scandinavian countries MUST be visited in winter! Last year in February we spent two weeks in Finland, and it was one of the best trips ever. So agree with every word of yours 😉

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 11, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      Oh wow that sounds amazing – I would love to visit Finland in the winter! Scandinavian winters are truly magical, especially if you get to see the Northern lights!

  • Reply
    Melissa Giroux
    December 16, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Wow! I wasn’t sure about Sweden during the winter, but I have to say; you sold it very well! 🙂 Thanks for the great inspiration!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks Melissa 🙂 It really is a magical place, as long as you’re dressed warm enough to enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Katie Featherstone
    December 16, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Beautiful photos.

  • Reply
    Sue
    January 28, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Hi Allison,
    Your picture was beautiful. I was doing my research of Sweden, Norway and Finland, as we, with 2 teenage girls going to visit this Scandinavian for first time and ofcoz as an Asia we do not have snow. Heard about best place to have all the snow activities in this 3 countries. Since you had been in Sweden, you been to ABISKO, is that place with those activities, dog sledding., snowmobile? How far Abisko from Stockholm?
    From airport we need to took plane there?
    Yes Airbnb are very reasonable so far as i been using.
    Any guide and advise from you.
    Your travel there really inspiration
    Thanks
    Sue

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      February 2, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Sue, thank you so much! That sounds like an amazing adventure for you and your girls. Yes, Abisko has all of those activities, including dog sledding and snowmobiles. It is very far from Stockholm – 17 hours by train or 2 by plane. You can fly to Kiruna via Stockholm on SAS or Norwegian Airlines. My roundtrip tickets were about $120 USD. From Kiruna, you can book a shuttle to Abisko at about $40 or $45 per person.

  • Reply
    Kate
    October 12, 2017 at 12:38 am

    HI Allison,

    tks a lot for the great blog. i am planning to go in Early December to Sweden. could u recommend a few cities with different styles that is worth visiting in this month?

    tks a lot

    Kate

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Kate! That sounds amazing 🙂 I only visited Stockholm, Kiruna, and Abisko (up north where you can see the Northern lights) and I recommend all of them. Don’t have any firsthand experience anywhere else, unfortunately.

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