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10 reasons to spend winter in Sweden

While Sweden seems to be at its most captivating during the warm summer months of June to August, here’s an insider tip – the country is just as beautiful during the height of winter. Here are 10 reasons to visit Sweden during winter.

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Åre. Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

#1 Ski in one of 200 resorts

Did you know that there are about 200 ski resorts in Sweden? From resorts around the popular ski village of Åre in central Sweden to ski facilities in the provinces of Dalarna, Jämtland, Härjedalen and Swedish Lapland, there are hundreds of places where you can hit the slopes.

The most popular downhill skiing slopes can be found around Åre, which is 1.5 hours by plane from the capital of Stockholm (660 km). Åre provides myriad courses, from off-piste slopes to easier downhill slopes and family-orientated bunny runs.

#2 Track reindeer and moose on safari

Safaris aren’t limited to tracking the ‘Big Five’ in Africa. During winter, you can enjoy several safaris that take you through Lapland’s wilderness, forests and tundra regions to find Sweden’s own ‘Big Six’: moose, wolverines, wolves, brown bears, lynxes and musk oxen.

Tour companies offer safaris near Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. On tour, you may get to travel along the frozen Kalix River, keeping your eyes open for hoof prints and animal droppings while in search of various Arctic wildlife.

Sweden’s Icehotel has helped put Jukkasjärvi (pronounced ‘you-kas-yayr-vi’) on the map.

Photo: Paulina Holmgren/ICEHOTEL

#3 Sleep in hotels and igloos made of ice

For a long weekend, you can head up to Jukkasjärvi, close to Kiruna, to bed down in the world’s first ice hotel. Opened in 1990, the Icehotel is rebuilt every year based on designs from various artists, using ice blocks made from water collected from the Torne River.

Sip chilled vodka (or fruit juice if you prefer) from frozen ice glasses served in the Absolut Ice Bar, take in elaborate sculptures carved from ice, or even get married in the Ice Chapel. The hotel also offers winter activities you can enjoy in the surrounding area.

If you want to sleep closer to nature, try the natural igloo carved by the frozen waters of Sweden’s strongest waterfall, Tännforsen. When the waterfall freezes, it forms a natural labyrinth of caves and ice formations, and the igloo is built from this. Located along the edge of Lake Skabram just outside of Jokkmokk, you could also learn to build as well as sleep in your own igloo.

#4 See the northern lights

For those willing to brave the cold on clear crisp winter nights, you may be rewarded with one of nature’s most spectacular displays – the Aurora Borealis (also known as the northern lights). These light curtains of green, red and purple often dance across the sky from October to March and, depending on weather conditions, can be viewed from anywhere in northern Sweden.

But the best location for viewing the northern lights is the Abisko National Park north of Kiruna. This is due to the presence of a famous ‘blue hole’, which is a patch of sky over a lake in Abisko that usually remains clear despite overcast weather in surrounding areas.

Picture perfect northern lights above tents at the Reindeer Lodge in Jukkasjärvi.

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/
imagebank.sweden.se

#5 Experience Sami culture

With roughly 20,000 indigenous Sami living in Sweden, enjoy one-on-one cultural experiences by learning about one of the oldest cultures (at least 10,000 years) on Earth.

Spend a few days in the village of Jokkmokk during early February when the more than 400-year-old Jokkmokk market is in full swing; it involves everything from reindeer races and traditional fashion shows to sampling reindeer, moose and other dishes as well as watching the reindeer caravan procession led by Sami elder Per Kuhmunen.

In addition to the market, you’ll find the Ájtte Sami museum, Sámi Duodji, which is a co-operation of local artists and an exhibition of various Sami artisan works, the Sami education centre (Samernas Utbildningscentrum), and Restaurang Samernas, where you can sample and learn to cook traditional recipes like dried reindeer soup. At visitsapmi.com you can find more ways of experiencing Sami culture.

#6 Drive your own dog sled

Dog sledding is one of many exciting winter activities around Swedish Lapland, the spectacular mountain regions of Padjelanta and the Sarek National Park in Lapland.

Many companies run dog sledding tours, from daytrips to multi-day expeditions with Siberian Huskies. Dog sledding through the wilderness gets you closer to Sweden’s natural beauty and you may just spot wildlife as well as the elusive northern lights while on an expedition.

#7 Try snowshoeing through the wilderness

Snowshoeing is like hiking, except you have to wear special shoes for trudging through tonnes of compact snow. You can go snowshoeing along the Kebnekaise mountain range and foothills of Mount Kebne in Swedish Lapland, or along Kungsleden (‘King’s Trail’) located 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. There are several mountain cabins to stay in between the treks, which can be as long as 10 to 20 kilometres each.

For the more adventurous travellers, you can go hiking in the Sarek National Park where trails are more demanding and you’ll need to put your igloo-building and winter camping skills to the test.

#8 Catch fish from frozen lakes

If you’ve never gone fishing before, now might be the time to drill a hole through a frozen lake to catch fish such as Arctic char, trout, salmon, pike, perch, grayling and whitefish.

There are thousands of lakes and rivers all over the country – from the provinces of Skåne and Bohuslän to Dalarna, Västerbotten and Lapland – where you can try your hand at ice-fishing.

Traditionally, once you drill a hole in the ice large enough for your bait, you then lie on reindeer skin placed on the ice and look through the hole at often crystal clear waters to see your bait and unsuspecting fish swimming by.

#9 Go snowmobiling across frozen rivers

Get off the well-worn road and try an invigorating ride across the frozen Kalix River, Lule River or Torneträsk in Swedish Lapland.

Snowmobiles are quite easy to navigate and don’t require the level of endurance that skiing or snowshoeing demand, making them ideal for families who want to explore the wilderness and tundra of Lapland. You can fly into Luleå and spend a few days on a snowmobile expedition that takes you through forests, across frozen lakes and rivers and up mountains.

Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity in many places in northern Sweden. Here near Vemdalen in the  province of Härjedalen.

Photo: Mikko Nikkinen/
imagebank.sweden.se

#10 Shop at traditional markets

If you’d rather stick to bustling city life, be sure to check out some of Sweden’s classic Christmas markets in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla stan) comes alive during winter with the sweet smell of warm glögg (mulled wine) and pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) wafting through the air, and rows of stalls filled with handicrafts, toys, Christmas decorations and seasonal food items like smoked meats, jams and sweets. You can also try your hand at traditional candle making as well as check out the market at Skansen, the world’s oldest open air museum.

In Gothenburg, you can enjoy the largest Christmas party lit up by 5,000,000 (yes, five million!) lights at the Liseberg amusement park.

And in the far south of Sweden, Malmö hosts a few different types of Christmas market as well. You can count on sparkling lights, decorations, vibrant bursts of colour and everything else that creates that special Christmas holiday feeling.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC and CNN among others. She's the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm, contributes as a photojournalist to the Swedish Red Cross and has also been Sweden.se’s photoblogger.