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Scandinavia in Winter: What to Do & Where to Go

By: Camila
Last Updated: 08/06/2022

Imagine the festive lights of a Christmas market, glittering fjords, high mountains and valleys dusted in snow. Tour Denmark, Norway and Sweden during the stunning Scandinavian winter and you could experience all of this.

If you’re wondering where to go during winter in Scandinavia, we've got you covered. Read on to discover the best things to do and places to visit on your upcoming trip.

What to know about the Scandinavian winter

First things first, the winter months in this region are between October and April. This is when the temperatures start dropping, snow starts falling, and the nights get longer.

The Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, make up a vast portion of Northern Europe. For that reason, the weather and daylight hours can vary a lot depending on where you visit.

Weather in Scandinavia

In the middle of winter, in January, the average temperature in Oslo is around -4°C (25°F). Meanwhile, the west coast experiences slightly milder weather thanks to the Gulf Stream. That means that in Bergen you can expect temperatures to hover above freezing.

When you head inland, to locations like Kiruna in Swedish Lapland, the temperatures tend to be lower. For instance, the average temperature here is about -10°C (14°F) throughout the winter.

In many of the Nordic countries, you'll hear the saying "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing". Keeping that in mind, we recommend checking the usual weather conditions of your chosen destination in more detail. This way you’ll know what to expect and what to pack for your winter adventure. 



Daylight hours

Expect short daylight hours if you are visiting Scandinavia in winter. This is especially true the closer you are to the winter solstice, 21 December, which marks the shortest day of the year.

But, again, the location of your trip can tell you more. In the middle of winter, if you're visiting Scandinavia's capital cities, found to the south, you’ll generally enjoy daylight between 9:30AM and 3:30 PM.

If you’re heading into the Arctic Circle, to destinations such as Tromsø or the region of Lapland, you can expect a polar night. This is a phenomenon whereby the sun does not rise above the horizon all day.

The sun on the horizon in Swedish Lapland

Things to do in Scandinavia in winter

Now onto what you really want to know. What are the best things to do during the Scandinavian winter? The beauty of this vast and diverse region is that there is truly something for everyone.

You could sip mulled wine at a Christmas market on a city break, sail along frosty fjords, relax in a sauna, or take in the spectacular snowy wilderness.

1. Meet the huskies for dog sledding

Dog sledding is one of the greatest activities of the region. Especially for those who love dogs! These kinds of excursions usually allow you to meet the huskies who will enthusiastically drive you through the landscape.

You may even try your hand at mushing, the term for leading the sled. Or you may prefer to sit back, relax and enjoy the view of the tranquil snow cover. Some excursions take place at night so you can chase the northern lights at the same time!



dogs leading a sled in snow

2. Get into the festive spirit at Christmas markets

Villages, towns and cities across Northern Europe host Christmas markets every winter. Usually beginning in November and ending in mid- to late December, this is the perfect way to get into the festive spirit.

At larger events, you could try ice skating, enjoy warming hot chocolate, or hopping aboard a Ferris wheel to admire the spectacle from above.



3. Keep an eye out for the northern lights

Many visitors choose Scandinavia to see this phenomenon. And you may be intrigued as well. Indeed, there's good reason to be!

The northern lights, also called aurora borealis, are a stunning natural light display. They look like magic and, when witnessed in person, can feel even more special.

The northernmost part of Scandinavia falls within the “northern lights belt” a region that sees a lot of solar activity. And winter's dark skies mean that travelling at this time of year will give you the best chance of seeing them for yourself. 



northern lights over town and mountains

4. Visit or stay in an ice hotel

For a truly remarkable winter vacation, why not go all the way in with the snowy theme? One of the most unique experiences this region offers is to stay the night in a room carved from ice in an ice hotel.

There a few scattered across Scandinavia and Finland, including the Arctic SnowHotel and the world's first ICE HOTEL. Usually they're rebuilt from scratch every winter, which means you can experience something different each year.

You’ll find that most are also home to ice restaurants, ice bars, saunas to warm up in and sdazzling ice sculptures. If you’re worried about staying the night, don’t be! You’ll sleep inside warm sleeping bags and atop reindeer furs.

Or, if you prefer, you could pop in to admire the icy architecture and stay elsewhere.



5. Try a fun wintry excursion

Are you looking for adventurous activities? You’re in for a treat!

Northern Scandinavia is a treasure trove of fun excursions designed so you can experience winter at its best. We’ve already mentioned dog sledding, but you could also glide alongs snowy paths on a reindeer sled.

You could also try your hand at ice fishing and explore striking snowscapes at the helm of a snowmobile. Or maybe you’d like to admire the landscape while cross-country skiing?

In Norway, Sweden and Finland you'll also find a few different ski resorts, ideal if you'd like to take to the downhill slopes. 

snowmobile on snowy landscape

6. Go on a frosty cruise

Another way to see Scandinavia from a different angle is on a cruise. You don’t have to join a multi-day trip either – it's possible to cruise the Norwegian fjords on a day tour. Or, you could sail between Finland and Sweden, taking in the Baltic Sea along the journey.

You can experience Scandinavia from the sea via a variety of expert-curated itineraries. This is a wonderful way to travel between destinations while soaking up your surroundings in peace.

Norway’s dramatic west coast stretches for mile upon mile, making it a top destination for a longer cruise. The Hurtigruten offers a hop-on, hop-off type of tour where you can pick which section of the coast you want to see. Or you could do the whole epic journey!

cruise ship sailing

Where to go in Scandinavia in winter

What you want to do and visit may influence where you’ll vacation in Scandinavia. We break it down so you can pick the best destination for your next holiday.

1. Swedish Lapland

The northern reaches of Sweden are known as Swedish Lapland (or Laponian Sweden). This region is actually inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its wilderness landscapes and cultural significance to the native Sámi people.

These are some of things you can do if you head to Swedish Lapland:

  • Explore beautiful snow-blanketed countryside
  • Try dog sledding, snowmobiling or skiing
  • Stay in the world's first ICE HOTEL 
  • Chase the northern lights

Plus, you could learn more about the region's Sámi culture if you visit a local camp or reindeer farm. You'll hear first-hand about their traditional way of life.



houses under snow

2. Northern Norway

Norway is a breathtaking destination all year long, but the country's north is particularly striking in winter.

Visit the Lofoten Islands or Tromsø, within the Arctic Circle, and you'll see for yourself. Their position in the "northern lights belt" makes them a popular choice for hunting the aurora borealis. 

Kirkenes is another must-visit place, if you want to experience Northern Norway. This remote town is located near the Russian and Finnish borders. Its wilderness location means you don't need to venture far from the town to immerse yourself in natural beauty. 

Stay at the Snow Hotel or try excursions at Camp Tamok, where you can learn about the local Sámi culture and spot wildlife.

Another bonus point for Norway? You could combine a tour of the southern cities, including Bergen and Oslo, with a cruise to the Arctic Circle. 



city of tromso in winter

3. The Scandinavian capitals

Come summer or winter, you could cruise and take the train between Scandinavia's capital cities. A popular way of doing this would be to travel from Stockholm, to Copenhagen, before travelling onto Oslo. And you can choose the pace at which you'd like to explore these captivating cities. 

Why not add the capitals of Estonia and Finland to the beginning of your tour for an even deeper exploration of Northern Europe? This way you can sail along the Baltic Sea, ticking more countries off your wish list.

Once you arrive in Oslo you'll be ideally placed for seeing more of Norway. For instance, you could take the Norway in a Nutshell® route. This involves sailing through beautiful fjords and taking the train up steep mountainsides for unrivalled views. Or visit Bergen, and from here head to Northern Norway.

In winter, you can still experience the Scandinavian capitals draped in twinkling festive lights and dusted in snow. Not to mention the unmissable Christmas markets, views of snow-capped mountains, and the possibility of seeing northern lights. 



old town of Stockholm under snow

4. Finnish Lapland

Although not technically part of Scandinavia, its neighbour Finland is a great destination summer or winter alike. In winter, the Laponian region is a must see not only for its charming, snowy landscape but its amazing activities.

Here you could stay in a glass igloo to keep an eye on the sky for the northern lights. You could experience a night in a snow or ice carved hotel.

For children and adults alike, a big draw to the Rovaniemi region is the Santa Claus village. Get in the festive spirit by visiting his official home near the North Pole. You, or your little ones, could even meet him and ask him what you wish for this Christmas.



santa and reindeer walking in the snow
©Visit Rovaniemi

5. Svalbard

Between February and March, we recommend heading as north as you can to visit the remote Svalbard. Have you ever heard of it?

This archipelago, located deep inside the Arctic Circle, is actually part of Norway. There are few settlements here, the largest of which is Longyearbyen. To visit Svalbard is to get bragging rights for having travelled to a place few get to see.

The highlight of a winter visit to Svalbard are the excursions out onto the frozen wilderness. This region is known for having a larger population of polar bears than humans, so maybe you would even get a look at this elusive animal.



polar bear on ice

6. Iceland

Although not part of Scandinavia, we couldn’t leave it off the list. Iceland is a top destination for your winter getaway!

You could try your hand at many winter activities, such as ice caving and snowmobiling. Or experience the glaciers in Iceland. You could also take a road trip and soak up the stunning scenery. Marvel at impressive waterfalls, glittering icebergs, and glacier-topped volcanoes.

And, after days of exploration, you could relax in a geothermal pool or hot spring in Iceland

If you’re already decided on a tour to Scandinavia, it’s good to know you can add Iceland to your itinerary. Imagine checking off so many countries in one go – this really would be the ultimate Nordic escape!



skogafoss waterfall under snow

Hopefully this has inspired you to add a winter Scandinavia trip to your travel wish list. Thrilling adventures in the snow and festive delights await you! 

So when you’re ready to start planning, contact our Stockholm-based travel consultants and they'll make your dream Scandinavian winter getaway a reality!

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Post by: Camila

 Camila grew up between the French Canadian and Chilean cultures, before moving to Scotland in 2012. When she’s not travelling or writing about travels, Camila loves to read, run, and puzzle. Her favourite destinations have been Reykjavík, Copenhagen, Estonia and Cape Town. 

Find Camila on LinkedIn.

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Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.