You’re in for a treat if you’re visiting Stockholm in December because the countdown to Christmas means there’s more to see, taste and do than any other time of year.
Stockholm’s Christmas markets are waiting to be traversed, a million Christmas lights adorn the streets and the chill air is warm with festive cheer. And that’s just a small tasty portion of what’s on offer in Sweden’s charming capital this season.
If you’re wondering exactly what to put on your itinerary, what to expect from the weather, which food and drink to try, and any cultural customs to be aware of, well that’s where we come in.
Relax friend and take a Fika (Swedish coffee break) while we break down everything you need to know in our guide to Christmas in Stockholm.
How is Christmas celebrated in Stockholm?
If you’re visiting Stockholm at Christmas, you’ll do well to know all their special holiday traditions and customs. Especially if you want to be part of an authentic Swedish Christmas!
Let’s take a closer look:
In December the countdown is well and truly on
In Sweden, the month of December trembles with anticipation for Christmas to arrive. To get through it, they have a few different ways of celebrating the countdown and spreading festive cheer.
Children (and some lucky adults!) are often gifted with an advent calendar, which can contain sweets or little gifts. There is one to be opened for each day until the 24th.
Starting on the first Sunday of December, the advent candles also come out. There are four candles and they are lit successively every Sunday. Starting with just one candle in that first week, you add one each week until on the fourth Sunday all four candles cast their beautiful light together.
Around this time, you’ll also see the advent star (usually made of paper, straw or metal) hung in windows alongside candles for all to see. These traditional Swedish Christmas decorations may also be hung on Christmas trees or around the home.
December 13th is a particularly significant day for the Swedes as it pays homage to St Lucia, a third-century martyr. Since the 1700s, the Swedes have used this day to commemorate her deeds. It’s usually celebrated with a procession of people dressed in white and carrying candles.
Christmas Eve — the biggest date in the Swedish Christmas calendar
Depending on where you’re from, you might be used to celebrating Christmas on December 25th, but in Sweden the highlight of the season is Christmas Eve.
There is much feasting because the Swedes sure know how to do Christmas dinner. The smörgåsbord usually consists of delicious dishes of ham, pork sausage, gubbröra, pickled herring, lutfisk and more.
If you’ve got impatient kids (who doesn’t?), they’ll also be happy to know that presents are opened on Christmas Eve in Sweden.
Traveller’s tip — Be aware that many shops and some eateries will close early in the day on Christmas Eve. If you’re looking to eat out that night, you might find some hotel restaurants still operating.
With all the excitement of the night before, Christmas Day in Sweden is the perfect opportunity to sleep in or just enjoy the good vibes left over from the Christmas festivities. More feasting and gathering of loved ones may continue, but it’s more of an after-thought to Christmas Eve.
Stockholm between Christmas and New Year
While the hype and countdown are over after Christmas Eve, the festive season in Sweden isn’t technically considered over until January 13th, which is known as St Knut’s Day. This is when most Swedes will take down their Christmas Tree.
Quick tip if you’re staying for New Year’s Eve — unless you’re eating dinner out at a fast food joint, you should know that most restaurants will only serve something called a ‘nyårssupé’ — it’s a multiple-course dinner and most people book their tables early so you’ll need to plan ahead.
10 things to do in Stockholm at Christmas
Need some tips and inspiration for what to see and do in Stockholm in December? It’s Christmas in one of the coolest cities in the world so you’re truly spoiled for choice.
In no particular order of importance, here are some tips:
1. Get dressed up for the Stockholm Santa Run
Whether you want to join in the fun or just enjoy the spectacle from the sidelines, the annual Stockholm Santa Run is worth a look. Held annually since 2013, it’s a charity event where people put on Santa costumes and do a three-kilometre run/walk together. Because, why not?
Don’t worry, it’s not competitive at all — it’s just a little bit of silliness and fun, and the ultimate show of community spirit. It’s great for all ages and fitness levels, and hundreds of people turn up, so it’s a great way to get amongst the locals and make some new Swedish friends!
2. Enjoy a Fika with traditional Swedish Christmas treats and drinks
If you’re asked to a Fika in Stockholm, we recommend you enthusiastically say yes!
It’s basically the Swedish version of a coffee break, and if it’s Christmas, it’s a great opportunity to try out some traditional festive food and drink.
If you’re really lucky, you might even get invited to something called an Adventskaffe (advent coffee) which is pretty much a Fika with a Christmas twist. It’s usually held on the first Sunday of Advent to coincide with the lighting of the first advent candle.
Of course there will be coffee, but there’s also yummy Swedish treats like Pepparkakor or Saffransbullar, and best of all you’ll get to try some Swedish Glögg.
3. Feel the community spirit at the processions of St Lucia
St Lucia Day is a big deal in Sweden, so if you’re around Stockholm on December 13th you’ll be sure to witness some beautiful community spirit.
The day is dedicated to St Lucia, a third-century martyr who according to legend brought food to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs. The stories say she wore candles in a wreath on her head to light the way.
As a result, the commemorations in Sweden have become a sort of festival of light, which is made even more meaningful by the impending darkness of the Swedish winter.
In most Swedish towns and cities, including Stockholm, there are processions of young people dressed in white and carrying candles, led by a young girl wearing a crown of candles. There is much singing involved in the celebrations, making for quite the spectacle.
And of course, in Scandinavia there’s always a treat tied to an occasion. On St Lucia Day, they typically bake and serve Lussekatter (Lucia buns) made with saffron.
4. Visit one of the famous Stockholm Christmas markets
You can’t visit Stockholm without taking a stroll through one of their festive Christmas markets. There you’ll find some beautiful handcrafted goods, traditional treats and great stocking fillers.
While there are quite a few to choose from, one of the most popular among visitors is the one in Gamla Stan at Stortorget Square (which isn’t far from the Royal Palace). It’s usually open daily in the lead up to Christmas so you can’t miss it.
The cool thing is this particular Christmas market has been going since 1837 (except for a few years between 1907 and 1914) so it’s officially the oldest one of its kind in Sweden.
5. Marvel at one of the world’s largest Christmas trees
With or without kids, this is worth a look.
Last we checked, the Christmas tree on the Skeppsbron waterfront in Gamla Stan is the largest ‘real’ Christmas tree in the world. Standing 38 metres high, it’s a feast for the eyes. There are roughly 5,000 lights decorating it and the four-metre star that adorns the top is just magnificent.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Stockholm Christmas photo opportunity, this is it.
6. Leave room in your belly for a real Swedish Julbord
If you’re looking for an authentic taste of a Swedish Christmas, a Julbord is the way to go. You might be invited to one by a friend or you can always try one at a Stockholm restaurant.
Julbord translates to ‘Christmas table’ and offers a buffet or smörgåsbord of traditional Swedish foods. It usually includes a selection of both hot and cold dishes, including popular delicacies like herring, meatballs, cured ham and gravlax.
Make sure you build up an appetite before attending a Julbord because it really is the king of all feasts and can sometimes go for hours. But don’t worry — with all the selection and never-ending deliciousness, you certainly won’t be bored.
Julbords are available at most major restaurants and hotels in Stockholm. Or if you’re looking for something a little different, some boats on the archipelago hold them, as well as some Swedish castles (if you’re willing to travel a bit to get there).
Stroll the city and you might be enchanted to see Christmas light displays in the shape of moose, cones, deer, spruces, reindeer, angels and even a giant elf mistletoe.
A map of all the Christmas lights is usually made available. Ask around at tourist offices and hotels, and someone should be able to point you in the direction to find out.
Alternatively, you can join one of the guided light tours, which are usually held on weekends in December. They’re a great way to see all the festive decorations while also learning more about Stockholm’s history.
Registration is required, so booking early isn’t a bad idea. You’ll also be happy to know that children’s tickets are usually free.
Of course, these aren’t the only Christmas displays worth seeking out. Stockholm’s many businesses, restaurants and storefronts are also known to get it on the theme.
For example, you might want to take a stroll to Nordiska Kompaniet, which is fondly known as just NK to the locals.
This huge and luxurious department store is on Hamngatan, not far from Kungsträdgården, and it’s been around since 1915. Every year they set up a great Christmas display in their windows, which are magical enough for children but beautiful enough for all ages to enjoy.
Afterwards you could even pop in for some sneaky shopping!
9. Check out Christmas at Skansen
Skansen is the world’s oldest open-air museum and it’s located on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm.
Built across 75-acres, it features a huge array of historical exhibitions showcasing the history of Sweden in such a way that you feel like you’ve stepped right into the past. There’s even a zoo!
Usually around late November it brings out the Christmas displays, hosts a lively Christmas market, and holds magical Christmas concerts in the old Seglora church.
You might even want to get involved with their decoration-making workshops or dance your way around the Christmas tree at the Bollnäs Square.
If you’ve got kids, this family-friendly day out is the perfect Christmas outing. You might even want to bring in the New Year here.
10. Hit some good old-fashioned Stockholm tourist hotspots
Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to miss all the usual Stockholm favourites. In fact, the beautiful Christmas vibe around the city might make for an even more pleasant trip to the city’s historical landmarks and places of interest.
So, depending on what you’re into, you might want to leave a bit of time to see sites like:
The Royal Palace: This is the official residence of the King and it’s well worth a look for a glimpse into Sweden’s rich royal heritage. There are five museums to check out and the changing of the guard is pretty cool.
Storkyrkan (The Royal Cathedral of Sweden): This classic piece of architecture dates back to the 13th Century, and you don’t need to be religious to find it interesting. Inside you can see Bernt Notke’s gothic masterpiece known as ‘St. George and the Dragon’.
Stortorget: It’s the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town) and people like to wander around the fountain and admire the colourful buildings. It’s a great spot to truly feel the history of Stockholm, as the square has been an enduring meeting place for over 800 years.
Globe Skyview: Ride a gondola to the top of the world’s largest spherical building and catch an eye-opening look at Stockholm from above. Not recommended if you’re afraid of heights!
Swedish food and drink you need to try in Stockholm
Visiting Stockholm is about seeing the sights and enjoying some great Swedish company, but no trip is complete without tasting some traditional culinary delights.
Here are a few suggestions for dishes, drinks and treats to try while you’re spending Christmas in Stockholm:
Glögg: This is a Swedish mulled wine. Traditionally it’s alcoholic, but these days you can usually find non-alcoholic versions too. It’s packed full of the flavours of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, made on a base of wine and mixed with raisins.
Gravlax: A common dish with Christmas dinner, this is dill-cured salmon served with a mustard sauce.
Pickled herring: No Swedish Christmas smörgåsbord is complete without this iconic Swedish dish. It goes right back through history, so they’ve well and truly mastered the recipe.
Aquavit: A popular spirit all over Scandinavia, it’s often called simply ‘Snaps’ and served in a small glass.
Lutfisk: It’s a stockfish brined in lye, which is often served with potatoes. It’s a common dish on the Julbord and has been popular in Sweden for over 500 years.
Lussekatter: Swedish Saffron buns are typically served on St Lucia Day. You’ll know them by their distinct shape, which looks a bit like a cat’s tail or the letter S.
Pepparkakor: These traditional Swedish ginger biscuits are absolutely delightful. They’re usually cut into fun shapes like stars or hearts.
Risgrynsgröt: It’s a tasty rice porridge that is traditionally served as a Christmas dessert. It’s topped off with cinnamon and a whole almond is often hidden in the meal, with the game of seeing who gets it.
What is the weather like in Sweden in December?
If you’re planning a Christmas in Sweden, it’s important to know that it’s going to be cold. But hey, you’re going for that magical winter wonderland, right?
In the south of the country around Stockholm, you can expect daytime temperatures to hover around 1°C and then obviously it dips below freezing after dark. So, dress appropriately.
You’ll only get around six hours of daylight, so get out and do your daytime sightseeing as soon as the sun comes up.
Although if you’re just visiting for Christmas, this shouldn’t bother you too much, because after dark is when places like Stockholm light up with their stunning Swedish Christmas lights, markets and festive cheer.
If you’ve come to see the snow, you’ll be very excited to see blankets of it all around the northern regions of Sweden.
But be warned, it’s partly within the Arctic Circle so it’s going to be very dark and cold. Average temperatures barely make it above –10°C and they often fall even lower to around –20°C.
3 fun facts about Christmas in Sweden
Children in Sweden know Santa as ‘Jultomten’ or sometimes it’s just shortened to ‘Tomten’. While modern-day Jultomten is starting to resemble Santa Claus more and more, traditionally he looked more like a little gnome.
Every year on Christmas Eve, families gather around the television to watch old Disney cartoons. No, seriously, this is a thing! They’ve been doing it since 1959 and the tradition is still going strong in many Swedish households.
The modern-day Christian version of Christmas is believed to have merged at some point with the pagan midwinter celebrations (known as ‘Yule’) that would take place around December. For the pagans this was a time of feasting and drinking, and this custom has well and truly stuck around for the Swedish Christmas we all know and love.
Other ideas for Christmas escapes in Sweden
Stockholm is obviously a great choice if you’re spending Christmas in Sweden, because it has so much history, sightseeing and Christmas events in the one place. But if you’re looking for something a little different, you could always check out some of the other cities and towns.
For example, Gothenburg is another popular Swedish destination at Christmas time. Located on the west coast of Sweden, it’s the second largest city after Stockholm, and is home to the renowned Liseberg Amusement Park — it’s a great place to take the kids at Christmas.
On a completely different note, if you like skiing, you might be inclined to visit the popular ski village of Åre, which is in central Sweden. It’s the perfect place for a snowy Christmas.
Or if you’re keen to see the Northern Lights, you might want to travel up to northern Sweden, which offers the best visibility. This majestic natural wonder can only be seen from October to March, so if you’re in Sweden for Christmas, it’s a good opportunity.
And if you’re willing to travel to the furthest northern part of Sweden, you’ll find yourself in Lapland. If you can brave the cold (as in, the potential –40°C type of cold) you’ll be rewarded with some of the most stunningly raw and untouched wilderness.
If you’ve got little ones, you might even like to take them to see some reindeer, which would be particularly special around Christmas.
Merry Christmas or as they say in Swedish: God Jul
There’s no doubt that every trip to Stockholm during Christmas will be different depending on your interests. And the beautiful thing is this charming city caters to it all, so you won’t be disappointed.
But one thing is for sure — your experience of the Swedish Christmas won’t be forgotten.
There is something simply magical about the winter wonders of Scandinavia that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Perhaps it’s the buoyant energy and community spirit ingrained in a culture that has pushed through the winters for thousands of years, keeping each other warm until the days begin to grow longer.
Whatever it is, that magical ingredient, a Christmas in Sweden is well worth experiencing for yourself.
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