Sweden does a very good job when days are getting shorter, rooftops are covered by snow, candles are flickering and the warm smell of freshly baked gingerbread is getting people into the Christmas spirit.
It’s time to cozy up and start looking ahead to the festive season, and for a truly unforgettable festive period visit one of the world’s most naturally awe-inspiring destinations.
If you visit the country any time between late November and New Year’s Eve, locals are welcoming Christmas (Jul) with open arms. They do so to brighten op the dark days of winter with some seriously festive celebrations with experiences to cater for all tastes.
Christmas markets are popping up all over Sweden, including opportunities to witness the northern lights.
But let’s start in the Old Town (Gamla Stan) in Stockholm. The annual Christmas market there dates back to 1837 and is the oldest in Sweden, inspired by the old medieval winter markets. The market takes place at Stortorget Square where you can enjoy Swedish Christmas sweets, smoked reindeer, elk meat, as well as a range of Swedish handicrafts.
Europe’s biggest outdoor museum, Skansen in Stockholm, also organizes its own Christmas market, and has done so since 1903. Young and old can participate in the dancing games around the Christmas tree, have a cup of steaming mulled wine and make Christmas decorations in the Christmas workshop in the Forestry Centre.
Also the World Heritage site Drottningholm Castle in Stockholm offers a Christmas market every year. On the second weekend in Advent, 9-1p December, you’ll find all kinds of Christmassy delicacies and traditional handicrafts there.
Be aware that the southern part of Sweden could remain snow-free until January or February, so if you want at least some of the white stuff, you should head further north, for instance to the breathtaking Ice Hotel, which has the perfect Christmas-card scenery.
Located by Lake Siljan (around 300 km northwest of Stockholm), little and big kids will get a kick out of visiting Fairytale Santa Claus Land in Mora (Sagolandet Tomteland). Before Christmas, the park is transformed into a winter wonderland, with snowy red cabins surrounded by forests and frozen streams.
But let’s first head for the Wapnö farm and castle in Halmstad in southwestern Sweden, where you can taste the Christmas feeling with a traditional jule market, buy handmade candles, taste smoked eel and locally sourced honey. This is the biggest Christmas market on the west coast.
However, you should expect Sweden to be very cold during Christmas time. Temperatures in the south hover around freezing point. A good down jacket and warm, waterproof boots are essential. It’s also wise to bring a hat, gloves and a thermal under layer. Wrapped up warm, the atmosphere couldn’t be better.
In one of the big cities in southern Sweden, Gothenburg you should visit its attraction, the amusement park Liseberg. Every Christmas it lights up with millions of candles, offering everything from carol singing to ice skating. Homemade sweets and roasted almonds together with gleaming Christmas decorations make you feel extra Christmassy.
From mid-November onwards, in a large part of the city center of Gothenburg, including Avenyn, the city’s main thoroughfare, the festive imagery is festooned with twinkling fairy light. Festive imagery is also projected onto the huge brick façade of the city’s main art gallery.
At Sweden’s leading Arts and Crafts property, Tjolöholm Castle, 40 minutes south of Gothenburg, over 100 craftsmen and small-scale food producers are gathering every year before Christmas. Children can bring their Christmas wish lists to Santa and join in fun Christmas activities with Santa’s elves.
The open-air museum Fredriksdal in Helsingborg, in south-west Sweden, offers a Christmas market where thousands of lights, candles and fires are spread all over the park. Enjoy farmers market, handicraft, music, traditional Christmas songs & dance around the Christmas tree!
While southern part of Sweden still get a good few hours of daylight during December, northern reaches of Sweden are dark almost right around the clock. Let’s stay down south and suggest the Kalmar Castle Christmas celebration in the south-eastern region. It is filled with over 110 exhibitors selling a variety of beautiful products made from pottery, straw, wood and textiles – as well as delicious Christmas treats.
“Christmas fair at Kalmar Castle is one of the most atmospheric fairs and also one of the largest in Sweden. A visit to Kalmar Castle to shop local cheese, mulled wine and craft has become a tradition for many visitors,” it claims on its website.
Sweden’s third biggest city, Malmö, organizes a market of art, culture, food and fashion. It takes place at the trendy and multicultural area Möllevången, where a small town is made of wooden huts. And all visitors are invited to see and live Christmas with a Swedish touch.
The other option for a Christmas trip to Sweden is to head into the countryside. This is where you’ll get the true winter wonderland experience, with the chance to go dog sledding and visit the unspoiled wilderness.
In the childhood home of one of Sweden’s most internationally famous children’s authors and the creator of Pippi Longstockings, Astrid Lindgren, in the southern region Småland, the annual Christmas market is a melting pot of arts and crafts.
Even if you don’t feel for visiting one of the Christmas markets it’s good to know that museums and galleries all stay open in the days before Christmas, and you’ll find plenty of stuff to do. For one thing, eating and drinking at all the cozy, candlelit restaurants and cafés never seems to get boring.
If you want to see Sweden at its wildest and most magical, head to the far north. A weekend in Swedish Lapland gives you enough time to see herds of wild reindeer, northern lights and go snowshoeing through snow bent trees in the forests. The Abisko National Park is widely regarded as one of the best places to see the northern lights. Take the chair lift to the Aurora Sky Station.
Our festive collection in Sweden also recommends a break in the stunning Gammelstads Church Town in Luleå, far north in Sweden. The Gammelstad Church Town is the country’s largest and best preserved church town, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is over 400 years old, and comprises of 405 cottages, six stables and a privy sprawling around a large medieval stone church.
The Christmas market there is always on the second weekend of Advent. Christmas candles can be seen thru the church cottages windows, the old medieval stone church comes to life and the sellers at the market are ready to greet all visitors.
If time allows, take a break on the stunning Lulea Archipelago. The Luleå archipelago is a world of its own. 1,312 ever-changing islands, shaped by weather and wind, ice frozen and cold midwinter, but northern lights combined with Christmas traditions, do make it worth a visit.
Jokkmok is an important place for the Sami people. It’s famous for its winter market, which has been an unbroken tradition since 1605. It takes place in Fabruary. However, the newly-established authentic Christmas market, celebrates the winter solstice. There you’ll also find traditional Sami handicrafts, called duodji.
Jukkasjärvi is probably the most Christmassy little village in Lapland. There’s where you’ll find the famous Ice Hotel. If you want a guaranteed White Christmas this year, enjoy these snow covered landscapes. It is a truly special festive break.
If you don’t fancy traveling all the way to Swedish Lapland, Sälen is worth a shot. This relaxed, family friendly ski resort has a good mix of different runs and some cozy cabins available for rent. Avoid the stress at home and take the family along with you to the mountains over Christmas.
Whichever of these breaks suits you best, you’re guaranteed a Christmassy feeling.
Christmassy Sweden, written by Tor Kjolberg
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Merry Christmas 2014