As the cold, dark weather of December sets in, Swedes do not let it dampen their spirits. The lively events of this month's Christmas build-up, like bustling markets through brilliant light shows, are worth braving the bad weather. Winter sports and seeing the northern lights are other major reasons to visit this month. As a result of all this action, be ready to expect crowds in key cities and ski resorts.


Daylight is in short supply as winter tightens its grip across the country: the sun never even rises in the Arctic north, while in the south, there is just one hour of daily sunshine. There's another significant temperature drop this month, to averages of around freezing in Stockholm and just 15°F (-10°C) in the Arctic. The snow also continues to fall in earnest, ushering in winter sports enthusiasts to the big ski resorts in the center and north.

One major bonus of the weather in December is the northern lights, which streak across the sky, especially in the Arctic, in bands of bright color.

Crowds & Costs

Not to be deterred by the chill, quite a few places in Sweden experience a mini-high season in December, with visitors attracted by city Christmas markets, other abundant seasonal festivities, and great skiing possibilities. The midwinter spike in visitor numbers means that accommodation often fills up quickly, and it's challenging to find deals. Christmas markets such as Gothenburg's and Stockholm's and ski resorts like Åre are where you'll encounter the crowds.

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Where to Go

Stockholm and Gothenburg are great destinations this month in the run-up to Christmas Eve, with atmospheric markets full of traditional handicrafts and food and drink stalls attracting locals and visitors. While Gothenburg has the biggest single Christmas market, Stockholm edges its rival for celebrations because it additionally has the Nobel Week festivities. Another long-running Christmas market is in Sweden's oldest and prettiest town, Sigtuna, near Stockholm. Southern Sweden's traditional spas are relaxing refuges from the cold, like Sätra Brunn near Stockholm.

Other top places to go in December are to the big ski centers north of Stockholm, where world-class skiing and snow sports await at Central Sweden's Åre and Sälen resorts. If you want to view the northern lights, anywhere above the Arctic Circle can yield sightings, but the spot with the best facilities for this and with the most consistent aurora action is the village of Abisko.

What to Do

The best thing you can do in the big cities this month is to attend a Christmas market: these are certainly some of the most lively events of the year and are brilliant opportunities to discover Swedish handicrafts and experience traditional Swedish cuisine. The cold, dark weather inclines visitors toward indoor activities, like visiting museums that offer a window into Sweden's culture, such as Stockholm's Nordic Museum or Gothenburg's Konstmuseum, which houses one of the most impressive art collections in Europe. 

If you like snow sports, you will love Sweden in December. The nation's biggest downhill skiing resort is Åre, but there is a great choice of ski centers across the country. You can try other winter sports at many of them, such as cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Dog sledding is also an option at some resorts. For skating, perhaps the best option is Stockholm's Scandinavian Ice Adventure, Sweden's largest ice-skating park. 

In the far north, the most popular activity besides winter sports is gazing at the spectacular natural show of the northern lights, best seen in Abisko but visible across the Arctic. You could even combine northern lights viewing with atmospheric wintry accommodation. Perhaps staying at the world's first and largest hotel made only from ice and snow, Ice Hotel Jukkasjärvi near Kiruna, all this month. Alternatively, try a stay in aurora domes, geodesic dome accommodation often overlooking Lapland's frozen lakes, which open up a far-larger expanse of the night sky for northern lights observation. 

Events in December

Christmas Markets, nationwide. Christmas markets full of festive stalls and hearty warming food brighten many towns and cities from late November until Christmas. Among the most famous are. Gothenburg's Liseburg Christmas Market and Stockholm's markets at Skansen Museum, Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Kungstradgården park.

Nobel Week, Stockholm. This week of events culminates in Nobel Prize Day on December 10 and includes a lights show that enlivens Stockholm in dazzling color and celebrates previous Nobel Prize winners.

St Lucia Day, nationwide. On December 13, in remembrance of the Christian martyr St Lucia, communities across Sweden elect their own St Lucia. Boys and girls in candlelit procession sing traditional songs and eat lussekatts, saffron-flavored buns.

Christmas Day, nationwide. This is mainly a family occasion in Sweden, with the main exchange of gifts on December 24.

New Year's Eve, nationwide. New Year's Eve is celebrated by Swedes mostly with friends, and festivities often begin with a big dinner. New Year itself is usually announced with fireworks, as elsewhere in the world.

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