Experiencing winter in Scandinavia has been on the bucket list for some time. When talking with my Norwegian family, they boast that winter is a great season to visit — perhaps even a little more spectacular than summer. And it’s not hard to understand why. Despite the grueling cold, the region’s crisp air, snow-covered wildernesses, dramatic coastlines, and colorful villages make Scandinavia a great option for a winter vacation. From frozen scenes on the outflung inlets of northern Norway’s archipelagos to the holiday-ready, vibrant streets of Stockholm’s Old Town, here’s a collection of Nordic photos that are guaranteed to give you chills.
1. Aurora borealis over Skagsanden Beach in Flakstadoya, Norway
Small streams flow over the sand carving beautiful patterns on Skagsanden Beach in northern Norway, making it one of the most photographed views in the region. Skagsanden sits on the coast above the Arctic Circle on Flakstadoya (Flakstad Island), one of Norway’s famed Lofoten Islands. While these isles are well known for their stunning summer hiking opportunities, they’re also getting more attention for their wintertime offerings. From cold water surfing to chasing the aurora borealis, the Lofotens are becoming a much-sought winter destination. And when you do get to the islands during the darker months, make your way to Skagsanden Beach. It’s one of the better places on the archipelago to see the northern lights, given its north-facing position and lack of light pollution.
2. Christmas in Stortorget square in Stockholm, Sweden
Christmas in Stockholm’s historic Gamla Stan, Old Town, couldn’t be more idyllic. Stortorget, the market square in Gamla Stan, hosts a traditional Christmas market that is the oldest in Sweden, dating back to 1837. Stalls selling handmade crafts, wooden toys, and local produce have the charming backdrop of orange, red, green, and other buildings — some of which are nearly 400 years old. Stockholm and the surrounding area have quite a few Christmas markets to choose from and the city is draped in thousands of lights and decorations. It’s truly a wonderful place to visit during the holiday season.
3. Nordic skiing or snowshoeing in Finnish Lapland
Finland’s Lapland is a great landscape to explore in snowshoes. There are over 20 listed snowshoe trails in Finnish Lapland and many of these traverse Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, the third-largest park in the country. The national park is divided into two sections, Pallastunturi in the north and Ounastunturi to the south. You’re more than 100 miles above the Arctic Circle here, and while you may spot a slice of the sun from the top of the Pallas peak, you won’t see if from ground level for a few weeks around the winter solstice. But even then, all the bright snow, which coats the ground and the trees, will reflect the light from the sun hidden just behind the horizon. Along that same horizon you’ll observe hours of sunrise/sunset tones: pinks, oranges, and purples. Whichever section of Pallas-Yllastunturi park you choose, you’ll be rewarded with unforgettable cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.
4. Colorful buildings of Bryggen on the edge of Vagen harbor in Bergen, Norway
Another place that celebrates colorful architecture is Bergen, with its variously hued houses on Bryggen (the dock) of Vagen harbor. A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 1979, Bryggen consists of an old wharf and timber-clad buildings. The buildings originate from the Middle Ages and are some of the most famous remains of this kind of architecture in Norway. When visiting today, this historic part of Bryggen delights visitors not only with its rich history but also with lovely cafes, craft shops, and small galleries.
5. Lone red cottage looking over the archipelago in Stockholm, Sweden
A red house or cottage with a white trim is what many people picture when they think of Scandinavian architecture. The color, known as Falu red, is even more vibrant with a backdrop of snow. This house sits on the Stockholm archipelago, itself part of the larger archipelago between Sweden and Finland, which has tens of thousands of islands. The islands are made of granite, and were carved by glaciers that receded at the close of the last Ice Age. Some islands have entire towns and villages, while many are uninhabited — but their presence, along with the existence of shoals just below the surface throughout the archipelago, make boat passage here a tricky endeavor. Copious buoys and maps ease the way.
6. The sun near the horizon at Haukland Beach in Vestvagoy, Norway
Haukland Beach, located on Vestvagoy, one of the Lofoten Islands, is commonly referred to as one of the most beautiful beaches in Norway. Its Arctic white sand and turquoise blue waters make it popular in the warm summer months. But the moody coastline also lends itself to winter and is arguably more photogenic in subzero temperatures. Closeby Uttakliev beach is also stunning and is connected with Haukland Beach by a trail that curves around the coast and mountainside.
7. Frozen views over Trolltunga, Norway
Another of the country’s most famous vista points, Trolltunga is a brave place to pose for a photo even without a slippery snow-covered surface. Tourists flock here during summer to snap that iconic shot, but it is considerably quieter during winter. The rock formation sits at about 3,600 feet above sea level and the view requires a 17-mile round-trip trek that takes between eight to 12 hours. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but you’ll be rewarded at the top with stunning views over Lake Ringedalsvatnet below.
8. A sunny winter day at Lyngvig Lighthouse, Denmark
Lyngvig Lighthouse is located on the west coast of Jutland and looks out over the Danish North Sea. It was built in 1907 after a steamship called Avona was stranded, killing 24 sailors. To be rewarded with stunning views of the coast you have to climb 228 steps to reach the observation deck at the top. It is worth planning a day trip here as, after descending, the beach, sweeping dunes, and a local cafe offer a perfect place to set up camp and relax.
9. The first sunset after two months of no sun in Vesteralen, Norway
During winter in Vesteralen in northern Norway, the sun does not rise above the horizon. This makes the season a test of endurance, and seeing the sun rise for the first time in spring is a sign of new beginnings and the coming warmer months. Vesteralen is often overshadowed by the neighboring Lofoten Islands, but it is just as beautiful and has a lot less foot traffic from tourists on its multiple hiking, cycling, and climbing routes. Although this is a very remote place to visit, especially in winter, it can be done with planning and promises a vacation you’ll likely never forget.
10. Northern lights over Tromso, Norway
The northern lights can be seen over Tromso from mid-September until mid-April, but the best time to visit for a guaranteed show is during the darker months of mid-November to mid-January. Tromso is located in the middle of the Northern Lights Oval, an imaginary ring circling the top of the planet that indicates the best latitudes at which to view nature’s famous light show. Outside of town, Lake Kattfjordvatnet on Kvaloya (Whale Island) is one of the better locations to go hunting for the aurora borealis. It can be reached easily by car or with a planned excursion, of which there are many during winter.