Spread out across 14 islands with over 30,000 more in its archipelago, Sweden’s photogenic capital Stockholm offers up a mix of laid-back urban vibe with outdoor living close to nature. After all, one third of the city is covered by lush greenery and one third by waterways, lakes, and the Baltic Sea.
While summertime is when Stockholm truly comes alive, traveling during winter in Stockholm can show you a more personal side of the city and get you closer into everyday Swedish lifestyles. Winter in Stockholm usually starts from the end of November up and runs through the end of March or early April, with the coldest months being January and February.
While you usually won’t get to see the Northern Lights this far south of the Arctic Circle, do keep your eyes peeled. They can occasionally turn up if the conditions are right – clear skies with frigid temperatures coupled with a powerful solar flare.
Before You Go, Here’s What to Pack
“There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes” is a very popular Swedish proverb which has been passed down through generations. Living here in the Nordics means being prepared for any sudden change in weather. During winter in Stockholm, temperatures usually hover between zero degrees Celsius (freezing point) to about five degrees below. Occasional dips into double digits do occur so you want to be prepared.
Winter jackets, warm gloves or mittens, and knit hats are the very basic items you should be packing. You should also invest in thick cotton socks, and long wool or cotton underwear called “long johns” which can be worn beneath trousers, jeans, and pants to wick away moisture and sweat. Long sleeve cotton shirts as well as a fleece or sweater are also needed because temperatures can change instantly, and you will be frequently stepping into frigid temperatures and back into the inviting warmth indoors, so layers you can easily take off is important.
You want to also wear low sturdy boots and avoid high heels. You might want to opt for flat-heeled boots with friction tracks or grooves in them. Sidewalks and paths are guaranteed to be very slippery during winter, so try to lower your chances of an unnecessary injury.
Now, with the proper clothes packed and donned to go discovering Stockholm, here are some activities to explore while in town during winter.
Experience a Swedish Smörgåsbord
One of the quintessential winter experiences in Stockholm is to dig into lavish buffets called julbord (Christmas table) which are served by many restaurants. The julbord is built up from base items such as pickled herring, cured salmon and meatballs, and includes specific dishes such as Jansson’s Temptation (potato-anchovy casserole), risgrynsgrot (rice porridge), and julskinka (Christmas ham), amongst a bevy of vegetables and other cold and hot dishes.
If you arrive to Stockholm well past Christmas, fear not. You can still experience a smörgåsbord brunch onboard a 20th century steamboat run by Stromma, which takes you cruising around Stockholm’s archipelago as you tuck into classic Swedish food. The website Julbordsguiden can also show you which restaurants are still offering julbords while you’re in town.
Get Cozy with Fika
There’s no better time of the year to truly appreciate the revered Swedish tradition of fika – which means taking several breaks over coffee and pastries to unwind and relax before rushing through the rigors of the day. Pronounced “fee-ka”, it literally means “to drink coffee,” though the tradition is a lot more nuanced than that. Cinnamon buns are the most popular baked goods often consumed during fika, though many locals go for cardamom buns instead.
If you find yourself in Stockholm in February right before the Lenten season, bakery displays will be filled with oval-shaped buns stuffed with almond paste and full of whipped cream known as semlor – designed to fatten you up before observing lent. For chocolate lovers, Kladdkaka is similar to a chocolate brownie, but a lot richer and thicker, and it is usually served with whipped cream.
All over Stockholm, you’ll find cozy coffee shops, cafes, and bakeries where you can duck inside to toast up before heading back into frigid temperatures again. Recommended cafés include Vete-Katten, Drop Coffee, Green Rabbit, Café Saturnus, Johan & Nyström, and Café Rival, amongst a variety of fabulous fika spots dotting town.
Go Ice Skating
With so many free rinks all over the city, ice skating is one of the fun ways of spending winter in Stockholm. In addition to gliding under beautiful lights against the dark winter sky, it’s an excellent way to get some exercise and get your body moving after digging into smorgasbords and fika. The most popular ice rink is at Kungsträdgården and you can also rent skates once there. Other rinks include Vasaparken, Zinkensdamm, and Medborgarplatsen, to name a few. But with these options, you’ll have to bring your own skates with you.
If you’re brave enough, you can go skating on Stockholm’s frozen lakes and waterways. Twenty minutes south of town is Hellasgården, where you can skate on a frozen lake. You can take guided ice tours with company ICEGuide, which take you on expert-led runs around Stockholm’s canals and waterways, including onto the Baltic Sea if it’s frozen hard enough.
Grab Your Camera and Head Up High
Did I already mention that Stockholm is a physically stunning city and arguably the most picturesque capital city in the Nordics? Because Stockholm sprawls across 14 islands with a labyrinth of waterways, to truly appreciate its geographical beauty, you have to get to a higher position to view its different islands. And if you happen to be in town when fresh white snow coats the landscape, you’ll be guaranteed some Instagram-friendly winter wonderland shots.
Head up to Stockholm’s best vantage points such as Monteliusvägen on Södermalm with marvelous views of Lake Mälaren, Gamla stan, Riddarholmen and the City Hall on Kungsholmen; Fåfangan with views towards Gamla stan and Djurgården; and Skinnarviksberget with panoramic views of Riddarfjärden and Kungsholmen.
Challenge Yourself by Running a Winter Race
Avid runners and enthusiasts alike can participate in several winter races. In many, you’ll weave around the city while braving chilly temperatures, though some are indoors. Just to name a few races: In mid-January, the Stadion Marathon offers a 10k, half marathon and full marathon. In late January, the GORE-TEX Winter Run takes you on a scenic 5K or 10K run through the world’s oldest open-air museum Skansen. February brings the Arena Run, which is touted as Scandinavia’s largest indoor race with a 5km course with 23 obstacles along it, spread across six floors in Stockholm’s Friends Arena.
Indulge in Stockholm Krogveckan
Eating out in Stockholm can quickly dent your wallet and one of the cool initiatives locals have been indulging in for several years is called “Krogveckan” or pub week. This means various higher-end restaurants offer up their dishes at affordable “pub” prices during a two-week period in the winter. For travelers looking to save some money, this means that for two weeks, you can get two-to-three course meals at deep discounts. It’s an opportunity to not only save a ton of money while dining out, but to also discover new restaurants around Stockholm too.
Go Museum Hopping
There are tons of world-class museums worth exploring during the winter when everyone heads indoors to cozy up anyways. These include the newly renovated and reopened National Museum and Skansen which opened as the world’s oldest open-air museum in 1891 and spotlights pre-industrial era Swedish lifestyle. From the National History Museum and Moderna Museet to several galleries, you can spend days cocooned indoors. For example, over 50 years since its discovery at the bottom of Stockholm’s harbour, the Vasa Museum is home to a 17th century warship “Vasa” which sank in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961 in its entirety. Fotografiska is a contemporary photography museum located in a 1906 red-brick art nouveau-style industrial building and it shows some of the best contemporary photography exhibits in the world.
Try Skiing at Nearby Resorts
A very visible Stockholm landmark, 100-meter-high manmade Hammarbybacken is an easy downhill slope located right in town. It offers four relatively easy downhill slopes, a park for snowboarders, ski school, and ski equipment rentals. Other ski resort areas close to Stockholm include Flottsbro with five slopes and the highest ski area in the region, family-friendly Ekholmsnäsbacken located on the island of Lidingö, and Ekebyhovsbacken which runs a great ski school for kids of all ages. An hour’s drive southwest of Stockholm brings you to Ragnhildsborgsbacken which is also a small family-friendly slope.
Check Out Some Winter Festivals
There are many interesting events going on during winter in Stockholm to help chase away the winter blues and make those long dark nights more bearable. For example, Second Edition is a festival for experimental music, and it is held at interesting locations such as the site of Sweden’s first nuclear reactor 25 meters underground. Lovers of Nordic design will enjoy Stockholm Design Week in early February, which is dedicated to Scandinavian design trends and showcases exhibitions of new and established designers all over town. Also held in February, more than 30 international wine producers assemble at the Food and Wine Festival and offer tastings of over 150 different wines.
More Insider Tips while Navigating Winter in Stockholm
While there are a lot of activities to keep you occupied when exploring Stockholm during winter, here are a few more insider tips to help make your experience more memorable.
- Many restaurants and shops close for weeks, starting from around Christmas to the first or second week in January, so always check websites for the latest information about the places you’d like to visit during winter in Stockholm.
- It’s best to avoid rental cars. Stockholm’s public transportation is punctual and extensive so renting a car is unnecessary. Plus, due to unforeseen changes in weather, the last place you want to be is stranded in a snowstorm trying to navigate Swedish weather conditions you’re not used to driving in.
- Winter in Stockholm means only four to six hours of daylight so, plan your sightseeing hours accordingly. Once covered in snow, Stockholm is stunning and picture-perfect but with only a maximum of four hours of daylight at the height of winter, be sure to use your available light for either taking photos or navigating the city outdoors, before ducking indoors for fika once it gets dark.
- Try to get your shopping done earlier in the day too. Many stores have modified winter hours and can close as early as 4pm with very few going past 6pm, unless they are sprawling department stores and malls. So, make sure you plan your shopping for earlier in the day to avoid disappointment.