8 Reasons to Take Your Kids to Stockholm in the Winter

Locals would probably get as far as reading this title and laugh, convinced it’s a joke. And they wouldn’t be alone, as most travel guides will tell you to plan any trip to the Swedish capital during the summer months, when the days are gloriously long, and Scandinavia is at its celebratory best.

So indeed, it does require some explanation, because I won’t lie: in the fall and winter, Stockholm is cold, the skies are often grey, and it does gets dark really, really early. But believe it or not, there is a beauty in that darkness – in fact, this scarcity of natural light makes it a precious commodity, setting the stage for a city that revels in illumination. And in addition to the beauty of it, I’d also argue that many aspects of the culture are actually best experienced in the winter months. After all, what better way to experience a place authentically like a local, than to travel in the off-season?

1. Swedes are the masters of getting cozy

visit stockholm in winter
Christmas on Skeppsbron. Photo: Henrik Trygg

The pursuit of and appreciation of “coziness” is a national pastime. Even the act of staying in on a Friday night with your loved ones with a big bowl of candy in front of the TV—known as fredagsmys—is a cultural institution, literally a tradition that not only has an official name, but is held near and dear by all. And in the fall and winter, this embrace of closeness, warmth, and intimate social interaction is all the more relevant—the dark nights giving way to windows aglow with candlelight, inviting spaces designed specifically for the purpose of creating coziness. Which means the entire city is brimming with ambience—cafés, restaurants, bars, and hotels will beckon you to come in, and stay in.

Where to stay:

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2. You will be rewarded with butter and sugar

visit stockholm in winter
Cinammon and cardamom buns. Phoot: Emelie Cheng Pollard

Hand in hand with the notion of “coziness” is undoubtedly, fika. With no direct translation to English, in the broadest sense it means having a break with something to eat and drink, together with friends. What you eat for fika could be savory or sweet, and what you drink would typically be coffee or tea—but perhaps most importantly, it’s the social aspect which is the key part of daily life in Sweden.

And so of course, a custom as important as this requires a culinary counterpart which can live up to that significance. Like coziness, the Swedes have mastered the art of baked goods to a level of sweet, comforting perfection that is unrivaled in any other culture. Cinammon buns (kanelbullar) and cardamom buns (kardemummabullar) are among the most common fika pastries – rich, buttery, delicately spiced concoctions that are especially delectable on a wintry day, with a strong coffee and some good company.

And being in Sweden during the period from November till March might be cold and dark, but one significant compensation for light and heat is the fact that there are seasonally unique pastries to be had, which the summer tourists can definitely not tick off their bucket lists.

There’s lussekatter, the mildly sweet, saffron-flavoured bun decorated with currants and twisted into a hallmark “S” shape—golden in color, soft, flavorful, and just as good for breakfast as for an afternoon snack. And of course pepparkakor, or gingersnap biscuits—though available at any time of year, they’re in their true glory during the holiday season, especially when enjoyed alongside glögg, a warm spiced mulled wine.

But if you happen to travel in the post-Christmas period, never fear, because it’s not over yet. Shortly after New Year’s, out comes semla, a cardamom-spiced wheat bun filled with almond paste and crowned with a generous amount of whipped cream, then dusted with powdered sugar. Traditionally it was eaten on Shrove Tuesday, as the last festive food before Lent. But nowadays, semlor usually appear in shops and cafes in January, and are available up until around Easter, which is the just the thing to fill the void after the lussekatter disappear. And did I mention that all of the above are very popular among the little ones?

Where to fika:

3. Swedish Christmas traditions are straight out of a storybook

visit stockholm in winter
Christmas holiday fair at the Big Square Stortorget in the Old Town Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: scanrail

But there’s actually more to the Swedish holiday season than baked goods! It’s also an incredibly picturesque and culturally rich time of year. And while the commercial aspects of Christmas are no doubt alive and well in Sweden, the holidays are also genuinely very much about tradition and togetherness. The Lucia celebration of light on the Winter Solstice is celebrated in all schools and churches, and being audience to a Lucia concert is both a visually and spiritually stunning experience. Colorful Christmas markets spring up all over the city, where you can sip glögg while browsing for handicrafts. Or have a taste of classic Scandinavian specialities like smoked sausages, elk and reindeer meat. And trying julbord, the traditional Christmas table, is the quintessentially Swedish experience—an opportunity to sample pretty much all the traditional foods in one sitting—pickled herring, cured salmon, ham, meatballs, and sausages—along with other more unique fare like lutfisk (lye fish), Janssons frestelse, and herring salad. Julbord is served at many restaurants and hotels, in both traditional and more avant garde renditions – but either way, it’s an essential for any foodie interested in the culinary roots of Sweden.

What to do:

4. Old cities are even more photogenic in the snow

visit stockholm in winter
Winter wonderland in Humlegården park. Photo: Emelie Cheng Pollard

Gamla Stan, the historical centre of Stockholm, is on every tourist’s map for its major landmarks such as the Royal Palace, the Stockholm Cathedral, and Stortorget, the oldest public square in the city—but many would agree that perhaps the greatest joy of the Old Town is getting lost in the poetic medieval alleys winding all over the island. It’s lovely in the summer, but magical in the winter. Imagine buildings colored like rust, butter, and saffron, glowing with candlelight and advent stars hanging in every window. Thirteenth-century stone churches adorned with a fresh frosting of snow. The cobblestone pathways, totally crowded and overrun by tourists in the summer—are now mercifully calm and quiet, the epitome of romance. Warm up in a vaulted cellar café, browse the numerous well-curated shops for high quality traditional handicrafts as well as contemporary design objects—and enjoy some of the best fine dining in the city.

Where to dine:

5. The kids will never be bored

visit stockholm in winter
Kids playing at Junibacken, a children’s museum in Stockholm. Photo: Junibacken

Affordable childcare, free education, and universal healthcare makes Stockholm one of the most family-friendly cities in the world to live in, which also makes it an ideal choice for travel with kids. If you get a crisp and sunny day, an outdoor destination like the open-air museum Skansen is a perfect introduction to Swedish history, culture, wildlife, presented in an authentically beautiful setting, in a way that’s enjoyable for all ages. The inner city generally has a really high proportion of green space, with parks, nature paths, and playgrounds easily accessible in every neighborhood.

But if the weather’s bad—you’re still in luck, because the fact that Swedish parents have a good 6 months of winter to fill with activities means there are plenty of indoor options that cater to children. In fact, some of the most unique and impressive destinations for families happen to be indoors, so what better time to take advantage of them than during the colder season? And on top of that, by law, all public areas are stroller-friendly, public transit is widespread throughout the city, and going by bus is even free for anyone with a stroller, making it especially easy to visit car-free, year-round.

Where to go:

6. You don’t have to feel guilty about spending all your time in the shops

visit stockholm in winter
Swedish design classics. Photo: Amanda Westerbom

Exploring and shopping Swedish design is a reason in itself to visit Stockholm. From fashion and interior design objects, to housewares, handicrafts, and art—it’s a paradise for the style-savvy traveler. Unsurprisingly, Stockholm caters equally well for small fashionistas, with an excellent selection of high quality Scandinavian kids’ brands, especially for parents who appreciate a modern, unisex approach to children’s wear. And last but not least, there are many unique edible treats to try and also take home as souvenirs—salt licorice, handmade toffees, jams and preserves made from Nordic berries, kaviar in tubes—and whether you think they’re wonderful or weird, you can be sure they’ll come in really nice packaging.

Where to shop for fashion:

Where to shop for food:

Where to shop for kids:

7. Meatballs taste so much better when it’s cold out

visit stockholm in winter
Swedish meatballs. Photo: Peter Erlandsson

Let’s face it, you’re not going to visit Sweden without having some meatballs. And rightly so. Mind you, I’m not talking about those tiny little things that everyone can get at their local Ikea. What I’m talking about are real, handmade, juicy, nearly baseball-sized meatballs that can best be experienced at one of several old Stockholm institutions that specialize in the Swedish classics. Traditionally eaten with potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberries—this is cold weather comfort food at its absolute best.

Where to eat meatballs:

8. You won’t risk disappointment about the weather

visit stockholm in winter
Stockholm in winter time. Photo: Julia Rudenskaya

So the fall and winter might be cold and grey, but at least you can count on that, and pack accordingly. What many travel guides leave out is the fact that Swedish summers are notoriously unreliable. In a good year, it will be sunny and warm and perfectly glorious—and indeed, that’s an incredibly special experience. But it is not at all uncommon that summer can be quite anticlimactic—rather rainy and chilly and not rising much above 15 degrees Celsius. This is the dread of every Swede, many of whom plan July vacations to sunny destinations in southern Europe as “insurance” in the event that the long-awaited summer does not deliver.

So as a visitor, even coming to Stockholm at the “best” time of year is actually risky business! And to be adequately prepared, you’ve still got to literally pack everything from your swimsuit to your fleece. But winter in Stockholm? So much easier! It’s going be cold, guaranteed. So just grab your warmest, driest gear and you’re good to go. It requires a little courage to brave Sweden in the winter, but like all memorable adventures, it’ll be so worth it.

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About Emelie Cheng Pollard

Emelie Cheng PollardEmelie Cheng Pollard is an art director, graphic designer, and travel enthusiast. Born in Canada but raised by expat parents traveling the globe, she is now mother to a 5-year old of her own in Stockholm, Sweden, which she has called home for the last 10 years. Becoming a parent has only fueled her passion for travel even more, with the view that exploring the world is the best education she can possibly provide. Through writing, documenting and sharing travel stories and tips, she hopes to inspire other families to embrace adventure and go abroad without fear. Follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

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