Stockholm, Sweden, is one of the world’s prettiest cities all year round. This Nordic capital rests on 14 islands in the Baltic Sea on Sweden’s east coast. Connected by tons of picturesque bridges, the city sprawls out from its historic center and boasts plenty of interesting attractions for visitors. Unfortunately, this beautiful spot is also one of Europe’s most expensive cities. That’s why a visit that avoids the high season of June through August can be a great way to experience Scandinavia at a slightly lower price point.
I visited Stockholm during the off-season month of November, and it was simply wonderful. Here’s how to spend a perfect winter day in snow-kissed Stockholm, an all-time favorite city of mine.
Check Out Stockholm’s Museums
It makes sense to visit a city’s museums during colder weather. After all, the ones on this list are enclosed, warm, and cozy during every month of the year.
The quirkiest and best-known option is ABBA The Museum, which has an entrance fee of roughly $25 for adults. Located on Stockholm’s Djurgarden island, this spot celebrates and explores the fascinating career of Sweden’s most famous musical group. Visitors can follow in the band’s footsteps, from their humble roots to their meteoric rise following the 1974 Eurovision contest; ABBA won with its “Waterloo” and was immediately launched into the international spotlight.
Visitors can virtually perform with holograms of ABBA’s members, Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid. There’s also a display of their outrageous costumes, gold records, and even exhibits devoted to both the movie and Broadway play Mamma Mia! A gift shop and cafe round out the offerings at this delightful museum. It shouldn’t be missed on any visit, but it’s an especially great choice during the wintertime.
Another cool museum is the Nobel Prize Museum in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town. This spot explores the background of the world’s most famous prize in medicine, peace, physics, chemistry, literature, and economics. Exhibits showcase the personal belongings of some of the 900 prizewinners; as a proud Minnesota native, I particularly enjoyed seeing that Bob Dylan and researchers from the Mayo Clinic had been honored with these awards. There is also a helpful video about the prize’s founder and namesake, Alfred Nobel. Those 18 and under can enter free of charge, while adults must pay $12 to access the institution.
Another cold-weather museum option is Fotografiska, the photography museum of Sweden, which features numerous large and small rotating exhibits. Fotografiska also has outposts in Tallinn, Estonia, and New York City. The Vasa Museum, Scandinavia’s most-visited museum, features a 17th-century shipwreck. Finally, art lovers should consider a stop at the city’s modern art museum, Moderna Museet.
Embrace The Swedish Tradition Of Fika
Fika roughly translates to “a coffee break” or “a coffee and cake break,” but this comforting notion means so much more.
The book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break explains, “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.”
Nothing is more Swedish than a fika experience during a wintry Stockholm day. Travelers should embrace this local custom and take the time to slow down at least once during a cold-weather visit.
Explore The Old Town Of Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s cobblestoned Old Town is known as Gamla Stan. Besides charming architecture, souvenir shops, and restaurants, the area is home to both the Royal Palace and the Stockholm Cathedral. Gamla Stan is where the city of Stockholm was founded in 1252, and it’s one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. Today, it’s a popular tourist stop.
Even though the weather might be a bit chilly, walking around the Old Town during off-season means you’ll have better photo opportunities and no crowds to battle. Be sure to wear comfortable footwear or boots so that you won’t slip on the slick streets.
Visit The Local Markets
Stockholm is home to a number of Christmas markets. Opening dates for the markets vary, but they generally fall between late November and early December; the markets can be one-day pop-ups or can remain open for weeks until just before the holiday.
On my recent adventure, I was able to visit the most popular of the Stockholm Christmas markets, the Old Town iteration in Stortorget square. Imagine cute red stalls offering traditional goods and tasty treats like glogg (warm, spiced Swedish wine). It was a totally enchanting way to spend time in Stockholm in winter and is one of the only things that happens exclusively in the off-season.
Another Christmastime option in Stockholm is the traditional holiday buffet known as julbord, which translates to “the Christmas table.” This is a multicourse extravaganza and a very unique cultural experience.
Generally, Swedes begin with a fish course, usually pickled Baltic herring. (On my recent trip, I actually tried herring three ways!) Cured salmon, potatoes, and crisp bread are other early-course options. Then the julbord continues with cold meats and cheeses; be sure to try the famous Christmas ham and liver pate if they’re offered. Next up is the warm and heavy course, which is likely to consist of meatballs, sausages, and casseroles. A dessert of rice pudding, coffee, and additional baked sweets and cheeses follows.
Aquavit, which is like a Nordic herby chilled vodka, is a great option for those who want to try a local drink; if you’re lucky, the chef or server might join you for a shot and sing a traditional Swedish drinking song. Glogg and Swedish Christmas soda are other appropriate choices for julbord drinks.
Numerous eateries in Stockholm offer julbord dinners, and the season for this dining experience begins in November.
Appreciate The Art In Stockholm’s Metro Stations
One of the coolest discoveries from my recent trip was the artwork adorning Stockholm’s metro stations. Of the more than 100 stations, more than 90 have been decorated; the metro system is sometimes called “the world’s longest art gallery.” The stations were covered with mosaics or paintings by hundreds of artists over the last 50 years or so.
Taking a tour of the stations is a perfect winter activity, since it helps keep costs down by using public transit and provides some respite from the weather in the underground stations.
Ferry To The Islands
Finally, even though winter may not seem like an ideal time to be out on the water, visitors should check out the Stockholm archipelago. If appropriately bundled, you can enjoy the islands on a boat tour. I took the Stromma tour with lunch, which cost about $40; there is a cheaper option without the meal for about $30. There are spots both inside and outside on the boat, and guests can expect their expedition to last up to 3 hours.
There are plenty of other ways to see the water, including public ferries and boat-tour companies, so just do some research if my experience is not what you had in mind.