Landscapes blanketed with ice and snow. Glittering stars and shimmering Aurora Borealis. A crackling fireplace and a hot drink. Spending Christmas in the Nordic countries is a truly magical experience. It’s a time for feasting, socializing, gift-giving and spending time with loved ones. Each of the Nordic countries has its own unique twist on Christmas traditions, but they are all fascinating places to spend the season.
Here are some of the best Nordic winter destinations for a cozy and charming Christmas getaway that will fill you with childlike wonder.
You can visit Sweden at any point from late November to early January and catch the locals in full Christmas spirit – this is one of the best times of the year to visit Sweden.
The season is known as jul and the festive celebrations really brighten up the long, dark nights. There is plenty to see and do in Stockholm, but you’ll also want to plan a trip to Gothenburg, which is known as Sweden’s “Christmas City.” It comes to life during the winter months with open-air markets, sparkling lights and choir singers.
During the short daylight hours, head out to the countryside where you can experience dog-sledding and snowshoeing – and maybe even spot herds of reindeer wandering through the forest. But the real highlight of Sweden in the wintertime is the delicious, comforting and plentiful food. A typical Swedish Christmas dinner features a smorgasbord, which is a huge buffet laden with meats, cheeses, fish and a variety of sweets.
The best thing to do in Norway at Christmastime is to leave the city behind and head to a cozy cabin in the mountains. You’ll be surrounded by sparkling snow and you can explore the pristine forests on your cross-country skis. If you’re invited to a Christmas dinner with a local family in Norway, you can expect to be served Arctic cod (in the North), dried mutton ribs (in the West) and crisp pork ribs (in the East and mid-regions).
Oh, and strangely enough you’ll probably also watch “Dinner for One.” It’s an odd Norwegian tradition to watch this British comedy sketch every Christmas – so if you’re invited to spend Christmas with a Norwegian family it will probably be on at some point in the evening.
Iceland is a winter wonderland at Christmas time and if you’re lucky you might even spot the Northern Lights – or a wild reindeer. During the month of December, Ingólfstorg Square in Reykjavik is transformed into a skating rink – so you can glide along under the twinkling lights and then warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.
One of the best Christmas markets in Iceland is Hafnarfjörður, which is about a 20 minute drive from Reykjavik city center. It’s packed with unique local artisan crafts and delicious treats, making it a great place to do your Christmas shopping.
(Keep in mind – Christmas is a very popular time to visit Iceland, so you’ll want to book your accommodation well in advance.)
There’s more to Christmas in Finland than just the Jolly Old Elf, though. You can shop at the Old Market Hall in Helsinki and find all sorts of traditional treats, including herring, salmon, reindeer kebabs and bear fat soap. Or, you can even visit Rovaniemi – a charming village known as Santa’s hometown.
Holiday celebrations are focused on food and the traditional dish is a pork roast, often served with fish, casseroles and salad. Many Finnish families will also visit the cemetery at Christmas Time, so that they can take a moment to remember their lost loved ones. Plus, Finns will typically warm up on a cold winter’s night with a traditional sauna – a great way to relax and recharge.
The Danish word “hygge” describes a certain kind of warm, comfortable coziness that is in abundance during the Christmas season in Denmark. In Copenhagen, you’ll find countless candle-lit restaurants and welcoming cafes, serving up delicious feasts and indulgent sweets. If you are traveling with little ones, you’ll want to take them to Tivoli Gardens, where they can meet Santa himself on the Open Air Stage and take photos with his sleigh.
You can also head to Nyborg, a medieval town just a one-hour train ride outside of Copenhagen. It features one of the largest and most authentic Christmas markets in Denmark – a great place to get in the holiday spirit.
Unlike many other places, the Danish celebrate Christmas with the traditional meal and festivities on the 24th of December. So, by the 25th everyone is free to simply relax. Children play with their new toys and the adults lounge, chat and enjoy the leftovers.
The small Baltic country of Estonia has become a popular tourist spot – highlighted by Lonely Planet as 2018’s best value destination. It’s capital of Tallinn is one of the oldest in Northern Europe – and features one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in the world.
Christmas in Estonia is charming and steeped in tradition. You can visit the Estonian Open Air Museum and experience the Christmas Village exhibit, where you can witness bread baking, wood chopping and artisanal crafting.
The Tallinn Christmas Market is also a must-see. It takes over the entire Town Hall Square, with a towering Christmas tree in the center – a tradition that dates back to 1441. Also, you may want to plan your trip so that you can take part in the Christmas Jazz Festival, a multi-week program of concerts that take place in intimate venues throughout the city.