A Guide to Visiting Stockholm, Sweden in December
Sweden is one of those countries not many Americans travel to. It could be because Scandinavia seems farther to travel to, or the associated costs and exchange rate that come with the location that make it seem out of reach. One way to perfectly curb the associated cost worry when it comes to a trip to Sweden is to visit during the off-season: Winter. It may surprise you that the winter won’t be all that bad if you visit Stockholm in December – and you’ll get all of the holiday traditions to go along with it!
These are all things to keep in mind when choosing to visit Scandinavia but they should not deter you from experiencing the metropolitan crown jewel of Stockholm. Germany gets a lot of recognition for its holiday celebrations, but I’m here to tell you the Swedes are right up there with the Germans when it comes to experiencing the most wonderful time of the year.
Winter may not the first thought that comes to people's minds when it comes to ideal travel seasons, but it may just become your favorite season in Scandinavia – and the beginning of December is the perfect time to visit a country that should go to the top of your bucket list!
THE BEST WAY TO GET TO STOCKHOLM: FLY
From the East Coast you can find great non-stop flight bargains to Stockholm. One of my favorite airlines is Norwegian, a budget airline that's still comfortable, and they can have flights under $400 RT to Stockholm in the winter months!
KEY THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT NORWEGIAN AIRLINES
• You will need to pay extra for a meal (so eat at the airport before you leave)
• On LowFare flights your hand luggage (including a personal item) cannot weight more than 10kg
• If you feel like you're going to need more clothing than what fits in your hand luggage, purchase your checked bag in advance online! Otherwise you could pay up to twice as much at the airport.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A WINTER TRIP TO STOCKHOLM
The weather in Stockholm can really vary in the winter (similarity to many Northeastern and Midwest cities) so make sure you check the forecast within a week before you leave – this is going to determine how and what you should pack for your winter trip.
I was fortunate enough that when I visited at the beginning of December the weather was about the same temperature as it was in NYC (mid to low 50s Fahrenheit without any rain or snow).
The key thing to visiting Stockholm, or really anything northern city in Europe, the States or in Canada, is to come prepared with layers! Most likely you are not going to need to bring a large down coat and snow boots with you, unless you are also planning a trip to Lapland.
When you do visit Sweden, or Denmark, or any other Scandinavian country this time of year, if you pack a simple warm winter coat (i.e. a pea coat or other wool coat), boots (they can be booties or mid-height boots but make sure they are flat), a couple sweaters, a vest, scarf, hat and mittens (I prefer mittens over gloves for optimal warmth) you will be perfect. I was able to pack everything I needed for my weeklong trip into a European sized (they are smaller than American sized) carry-on!
PACKING TIPS FOR A STOCKHOLM WINTER TRIP:
Make sure you wear your biggest items of clothes on the plane! This is how you can avoid baggage fees and give yourself a little extra room for souvenirs on your return trip home. The wool coat I brought along with me doubled as the perfect blanket on my overnight flight!
HOW TO GET INTO STOCKHOLM FROM THE AIRPORT
There are a couple methods of getting into the city center from the airport, and it’s all going to be determined by your budget for the trip.
The Stockholm-Arlanda Airport is located about 25 miles north of the actual city of Stockholm, so there is going to be some travel involved to get to the city center, where you’re staying, and the activities you will be doing throughout your trip. This is very important to know so that you allot the proper time when arriving and departing on either end of your trip.
THE MOST INEXPENSIVE (AND MORE TIME CONSUMING) TRANSPORTATION OPTION:
If you are really trying to stick to a strict budget during your trip you are going to want to opt for the most inexpensive option: the bus. The thing with taking the budget option is you may have to sacrifice some of your time for the money saved. In this case it will take over an hour for you to travel into the city center from the airport by bus.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE (BUT FASTER) TRANSPORTATION OPTION:
The more expensive option, and the option that I thought was worth shelling out a few extra dollars for (540 SEK, round trip) was the Arlanda Express. This is the high speed train which will get you into the city center in just 20 minutes!
The platform is easily accessible as it’s right underneath the arrival terminals, and they have a departure every 15 minutes (throughout most of the day).
BUDGET TIP TO NOTE:
To keep up with the growing theme you’ll see across my site, if you do decide to take the Arlanda Express and want to save a little money, make sure you bring your student ID! Showing your ID will cut your RT fare for the train in half to 280 SEK.
But if you decide to do this you MUST make your ticket purchase at the airport.
WHERE TO STAY IN STOCKHOLM
It's no secret that Scandinavia is one of the most expensive areas of the world, and Stockholm is no exception. This could be a major turn off when people are thinking about where they want to travel to, no matter how high Sweden is on their bucket list. If you are a budget traveler, like I tend to be most of the time, Stockholm is not out of reach! The best way to go about staying in this part of the world in my opinion, if you want more of your budget to go to food, drink and experiences, is to stay in a hostel (private or shared room), stay in an Airbnb, or do a combination of the two during your trip.
On my trip to Stockholm I did a combination of the two – staying in an Airbnb a majority of the time I was in the city, and a private room in a hostel for my last night. Because I am someone who is over 30 I don’t like to stay in shared rooms in hostels – just like I don’t like to have a roommate in the apartment I am living in, in my home city. But if you don’t mind sharing a room, staying in a dorm style room will save you even more money when visiting Stockholm!
MY ACCOMMODATIONS IN STOCKHOLM:
Unfortunately my Airbnb host's apartment is no longer listed but there are SO MANY affordable options within the city limits you can easily find accommodations through Airbnb that come out to less than $80/night per person, in many cases you can be at $50/night or less per person when staying in an Airbnb!
The hostel I stayed in, Castanea in Old Town, is placed in probably one of the best spots in my opinion. It’s right in the middle of Old Town (the Gamla Stan) which is where you will probably be spending a good amount of your time anyways due to the shops, the restaurants and the Christmas market! Castanea also makes it easy to get in and out of town as it’s walking distance from where the fast trip will take you to and from the airport.
HOW TO GET AROUND STOCKHOLM
I am a big fan of walking everywhere when it comes to new cities. You're able to get a real flavor for what it's like living somewhere, you see things you may missed while on public transportation, and you can get some amazing photos just being on the streets.
Because you're going in the winter there are going to be less hours of daylight. When I went at the end of November/beginning of December sunset happened around 3-4pm. Knowing this you’ll just have to slightly adjust your schedule to allow for enough time to see everything you want to see/take photos of in the daylight.
Don’t let the shorter hours of daylight deter you though! Stockholm is absolutely beautiful as the daylight fades to dark in the evening this time of year. This is when all of the holiday decorations really come alive.
In addition to walking Stockholm's public transportation is a well-oiled machine, that also doubles as an art exhibit! So even if you plan to walk a majority of the time you are visiting, make sure you do pop into a metro station or two to see the unique art and architecture each station provides – it will take your breath away. New York, Boston, DC (and every other major American city with rail systems) could definitely learn a thing or two!
ALL THE FOOD YOU MUST EAT WHILE IN STOCKHOLM
A great thing about the food in Sweden is that you won't leave feeling like you packed on extra pounds while you were there. There's an abundance of fish (raw, smoked and cooked), vegetables and meatballs (don't even think about comparing them to the ones in IKEA!).
When I went to Stockholm it was around American Thanksgiving. Even though I didn't get to experience the classic turkey dinner I had the Swedish version in the form of a Smorgasbord at The Grand Hotel. A bonus of going to Sweden during the winter is you can experience the holiday version of Smorgasbord, Julebord, and there is a great one at the Elite Plaza Hotel.
Wherever you decide to go (it doesn't have to be at The Grand Hotel), I highly recommend just trying a Smorgasbord, as you will get exposed to numerous Swedish foods all in one sitting! If you do decide to go to a nicer hotel know that you'll splurge (about $100 USD), but you'll get 5 courses and a sampling of Aquavit (a flavored spirit that is a must when you are there).
In addition to these classic buffet meals, the Swedes also know how to make a great pastry! There is nothing better than warming up with a pastry fresh out of the oven while people watching. Stop into a local bakery and try a saffransbullar (saffron bun), kanelbullar (cinnamon bun), and my personal favorite prinsesstårta (princess cake). I won't judge you if you get all three.
Foodies will also love the covered food market Saluhall in the Östermalm neighborhood. Even though it's cold, you'll be bundled up, so pick up a few items and head to one of the many parks in Östermalm, or down to the waterfront for a winter picnic.
Definitely make sure you get a sampling of reindeer at any of the Christmas markets in the city!
Two holiday treats you will also see everywhere are marzipan pigs and pepparkakor (gingersnap cookies). They are a holiday tradition and although the pigs may be a tad pricey you must take one home for yourself!
What are the holidays without a beverage or two to warm you up? Another holiday/winter tradition is glögg (alcoholic and non-alcoholic Scandinavian mulled wine). Do as the Swedes do...head to a liquor store, pick up the non-alcoholic version and add your hard liquor of choice back at your Airbnb. You can also find it at all of the Christmas markets (non-alcoholic as it's illegal to drink on the streets in Stockholm), or at the bars and hotels. A great place to have a glass, while also checking out some holiday decorations, is at the Berns Hotel - which also turns into a nightclub.
And last but not least you need to try traditional Swedish cuisine, which typically includes smoked fish, meatballs, potatoes, reindeer and lingonberries. A fantastic restaurant that has all of the above, and has been around since the early 1700s, is Pelikan.
VISITING THE NEIGHBORHOODS WITHIN STOCKHOLM
There is a reason Stockholm is referred to as the "Venice of the North". Fourteen islands make up the city, and are connected by 50 different bridges. Don't let that discourage you! Stockholm isn't as big as you may think, and there are only 7 boroughs within the main city, 6 of which you definitely should visit.
Wherever you go in the city there are going to be decorations and markets - I suggest stopping to just admire things (it gets you into the holiday spirit) and checking out every Julmarknad you walk by. You never know what the locals will be selling.
• GAMLA STAN:
The Old Town dating back to the 13th century. It's an easy place to make your home base for your stay, has those classic colored buildings you've seen in pictures, is the site of the most famous Christmas market (Julmarknad), the Nobel Museum (celebrating Alfred Nobel and yes, the Nobel Prize), and has plenty of mom-and-pop shops carrying the finest handmade goods.
The city center, across the bridge from the Gamla Stan. This is where you can immerse yourself in true city life, visit the square, walk down the pedestrian shopping street Drottninggatan, and shop in the Bloomingdale's of Sweden, NK.
Hipster's rejoice, Södermalm is the neighborhood for you. It also happened to be where I stayed the first half of my visit in Stockholm. There are funky shops, bars, restaurants, cafes, music venues and Medborgarplatsen Square.
• DJURGÅRDEN (Animal Park):
The favorite recreational area of locals. Here you can visit the world's first open-air museum Skansen, see the oldest preserved Viking warship the Vasa, and the Nordic museum. Trust me if you do nothing else in Djurgården, you HAVE to see the Vasa.
This is the more residential area of the city. The main attraction here is Stockholm’s City Hall which is a sight in itself. It is the most famous building in Stockholm, and is a true testament to how much the country values it's citizens and their opinions. This is also where the annual Nobel banquet is held honoring the new Nobel Prize winners.
This is the most exclusive area of Stockholm. Even if you can’t afford to stay in this neighborhood it’s worth a walk through to “window shop” the high-end shops and gorgeous apartment buildings. You could get lost for hours taking it all in and marveling at the classically gorgeous Scandinavian architecture. The Östermalm neighborhood focuses on its outdoor spaces and parks and is is also where the famous Saluhall food hall is located. Saluhall alone will make your visit to this neighborhood last all afternoon as you spend your time sampling all of the tradition items inside.
WHAT TO DO OFF THE BEATEN PATH WHILE IN STOCKHOLM
Located in the suburb of Herserud the Millesgården was one of the most beautiful places I saw on my trip. Celebrating the life and work of artist Carl Milles, you can experience a sculpture park with unreal views of the archipelago, indoor gallery and antique filled villa.
Directions: T13 to the Ropsten station, and transfer to the 201 bus towards Lidingö. Once you arrive at Lidingö Torsvikstorg you'll have about a 10 minute walk to the entrance.
A ride to the top of the world's largest spherical building will provide you with unparalleled views of the city. Many of the city's events are held in the globe and is the national arena for the city's hockey team.
Directions: The globe is located in the Hammarby Sjöstad district. Coming from the central point of the Gamla Stan you can reach the globe by taking the T19 to the Globen station. From there it's about a 3 minute walk.
AN EXTRA STOCKHOLM HOLIDAY EXPERIENCE TO HAVE:
The Fun Christmas Legend of the Tomtar
Wherever you go in Stockholm in the winter you are bound to see a funny little character in the shops or in people's apartment windows. These guys are called Tomtars (or Tomte). I brought one home for myself and my sister and he sits in my room watching over me.
According to legend, Tomtars are small creatures that live in and around the sheds on Swedish farms. If you are wise and show the Tomtar respect he will protect the household from accidents and disasters. But be careful not to annoy him! It was custom to leave a bowl of porridge out at Christmas time for the Tomtar, and if the bowl was empty the next morning all was well for another year.
Now that you have a ton of information, I hope you take the chance to experience the holidays in Stockholm!