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With just a few hours of sunlight during deepest winter (when the sun peeks over the horizon then swiftly scurries back out of sight), trying to survive Stockholm in winter can challenge even the hardiest among us. But don’t despair — the trick here is to embrace the often fierce weather, understand that everyone looks better by candlelight, and that this is the perfect opportunity to get cosy in myriad ways.
Obviously, the most important thing is to dress for the weather. But while Stockholmers may have to bundle up to stave off the cold, they don’t skimp on style. Trendy scarves and hats and sturdy boots are all worn with flair, as well as thermal underwear — thermal underwear is most definitely required for day-to-day running around the city.
Once you’ve bundled up, the next thing to do is find a place to go where you can shed all those many layers of clothing you’ve put on. By mid-morning you’ll want to stop in one of Stockholm’s cozy cafés and have a nice long fika, which means grabbing some friends and have a nice long chinwag over a cup of coffee and a bit of pastry. It’s the quintessential thing to do on a frigid Stockholm afternoon and the more traditional, the better. Try the legendary Ritorno on Vasastan or Vetekatten in the heart of the city. If close to Fat Tuesday, grab some semlor, that creamy, delicious pastry that everyone eats just before Lent.
No matter what time of year and no matter what the weather, Stockholmers get out and walk, so hit the pavement and head over to Djurgården, where you’ll find plenty of museums to poke into as well as the world-famous open-air museum Skansen. Here you’ll see all the animals native to Sweden, such as reindeer and moose, doing their winter thing, which is basically freezing and posing while you snap a few pictures before moving to keep the body heat up. This is where you’ll be beyond grateful for that thermal underwear you weren’t sure you should wear.
Cold winter afternoons are perfect for shopping, so head over to trendy Sofo and browse your way through the thrift shops and independent boutiques before popping into one of the many galleries tucked away on tiny side streets.
Skating at Kungsträdgården is a great way to while away an hour or two. You can rent skates here and if you get tired, you can grab a warm drink and a snack at one of the wooden huts at the south end of the rink before heading back out onto the ice. The rink covers a large section in the middle of the park and attracts everyone from novices to wannabe hockey players to practicing figure skaters.
In winter, one of Stockholm’s most glamorous shopping streets, Biblioteksgatan, rolls out the red carpet. Literally. There is a red carpet running the length of this street, which is lined with designer shops, French patisseries, and exclusive restaurants. But just wander through. This isn’t where you want to eat on a cold winter day. Instead, you want to head to Gamla Stan and tuck yourself into one of the incredibly romantic candlelit restaurants that ply their trade in the cellars and vaults below street level. Try Fem Små Hus, where you can try traditional Swedish fare such as herring, reindeer, or Arctic char.
Stockholm is a music town so many winter evenings are spent in smaller clubs enjoying live music, whether that’s rock at Debaser or jazz at Fasching. The one important thing to remember is that most places take bookings for more popular acts so if you don’t have a ticket, head to places like Engelen on Gamla Stan, where Blue Mondays are free, or the Glenn Miller Café, where you can rub shoulders with the elite of Stockholm’s jazz world in one of the coziest spots in the city.
If music isn’t your thing but you want to continue the cozy winter feel, head to a pub. Two great options are the very traditional Tennstopet on Vasastan, where old-style service will keep you there for hours, and the Tudor Arms on Östermalm, which has been named the best British pub outside the UK. Warm, welcoming, and offering great pints, these spots will provide you with a home away from home.
Swedes love nature no matter what time of year so take a winter cruise into the archipelago, where you’ll be given a tour of the inner islands while enjoying a light meal and as much drink as you can handle. The ferry leaves from the center of town and once you’re back on terra firma, just walk the city and enjoy the lights as they flicker in the early darkness.
Another way to enjoy the outdoors is to walk on the ice between the islands. If the weather has been cold enough, Lake Mälaren will freeze over, allowing you to walk from City Hall on Kungsholmen to Södermalm. This is not for the faint-hearted, though, as the distance is much longer than you realize. When you’re out on the middle of the ice, the creaking and groaning can rattle even the most brave among us.
The best advice on how to survive winter in Stockholm? Embrace the cold and enjoy the stark beauty of ice on the waters before ducking into a cozy café or restaurant to share laughs with friends and make some new acquaintances. Many say Stockholm is at its most beautiful during the colder months and that they would visit at no other time.