Northern lights, Sweden

The best time to visit Sweden is generally between May and September when the temperature is pretty similar to that of southern Britain - though with more hours of sunshine and rain. Having said that, it depends what you want from your visit, so read on to discover the best time to travel to Sweden to suit your needs - and desired backdrop. Whether you want a balmy lakeside setting with sunlit midnights, or are looking to be enchanted by the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, there’s a Swedish time and place for you.

Sweden’s seasons and psyche

Sweden’s weather and seasons run to extremes, depending on the time of year and where you are. In essence, though, spring runs from March/April to May, summer from June to August, autumn from September to October/November and winter from November/ December to March/February.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the long, dark winters have a tangible effect on the Swedish psyche. During the winter months, you’ll find people are generally quieter and protect themselves from the cold and dark by socializing indoors, often lighting candles throughout the home to create cosiness. You’ll also see candles brightening public buildings and shops.

Once spring arrives, there’s a notable bounce in people’s step, and the Summer Swede begins to emerge from months of hibernation. Festivals come thick and fast, and outdoor life is lived to the full - picnics under the midnight sun, beach parties, and an exodus to the countryside.

Colourful beach huts, Falserbo, Sweden © shutterstock

Sweden’s seasons and regions

Geographically, it’s handy to think of Sweden as having three main zones - Götaland in the south, Svealand in the centre, and Norrland (you’ve guessed it) in the north.

In Götaland, winters are shorter and milder than in its northerly sisters, with summer temperatures ranging from 15-25 degrees Celsius. Snow is rare on the southern coast, the southeast of which boasts Sweden’s largest Baltic islands with beautifully preserved medieval towns and fairytale landscapes, while the southwest is renowned for its rolling landscapes and attractive coastal towns. In contrast, snowfall is more common in Svealand and the region’s north-westerly area has several ski resorts.

Scarcely populated, Norrland winter’s sub-zero temperatures last for several months. In fact, you’re likely to encounter snow here until well into May and temperatures can fall to -30C, though Norrland ‘s summer months are typically a comfortable 15 degrees. 

When to go to Sweden in spring

Visiting Sweden in March - May

While you won’t want to ditch your overcoat just yet, spring is arguably the best time to visit Sweden to explore its natural wonders and enjoy outdoor activities.

If you’re based in Stockholm, there are plenty of spring day trip options, including catching a boat to gorgeous Gällnö. Covered with thick pine forest, home to just thirty people, and a designated nature reserve, Gällnö island showcases the Stockholm archipelago at its best. Or, if you’d prefer to stay snug inside, you could check-out the city’s celebrated Vasa Museum. Try this excellent guided skip-the-line tour to enjoy a fascinating journey through more than 500 years of Swedish history, art and architecture in grand surroundings.

Bright buildings in Stockholm © shutterstock

If you’re looking to stay somewhere in grand style too, hotels don’t come more stylish than Scandic Grand Central. Set in an 1880s building, it’s both grand and central (appropriately enough), with elegant rooms and a winning location near the train station.

Heading to Malmö? You could plan a trip to Skanör, a medieval town 30km south of the city. While the town itself is blessed with pretty timbered houses and pleasant streets to stroll, its beaches aren’t half bad either - ribbons of white sand bordering an extensive bird and nature reserve. In spring, you might get to see Flommen reserve’s wetland meadows carpeted with beautiful blue butterfly iris. If you’re lucky enough to be saying in scenic Skanör, Hotell Gässlingen is well worth considering as a base - it offers an elegant, ecologically-minded taste of luxury close to nature.

If you happen to be in Sweden at the end of April, you’re in for a treat. 30th April is Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Night). Heralding the beginning of spring with bonfires and songs, this is one of the country’s most important festivals. All of which means, if you're wondering when is the best time to visit Sweden for a culture fix, April might be your month.

When to visit Sweden in summer

Visiting Sweden in June-August

Swedish midsummer solstice celebrations marking the longest day of the year are something else, making it the best time to go to Sweden to take-in local customs - think maypole dancing, flower headdresses, and a party that begins at lunchtime and lasts well into the small hours.

The best place to join the solstice celebrations is the picturesque region of Dalarna, where festivities are focussed around Lake Siljan. Another top spot is around Gothenburg and the Bohuslan coast, an archipelago of around 3000 islands that experience midnight sun. It’s a day of smorgasbord feasting (including eating a whole lot of herring and the first strawberries and potatoes of the season), plus plenty of drinking and making merry, often rounded-off with a sunlit midnight dip and high-spirited sing-alongs.

For seemingly endless balmy evenings and to experience the magical eeriness of the midnight sun, July is the best month to visit Sweden, especially when staying in a lakeside cabin, or camping in one of the country’s outstanding nature reserves. With over 300 km of hiking trails, and options to rent cabins and canoes, Nature Reserve Glaskogen is a paradise for active adventurers.

Crazy for crustaceans? August means country-wide crayfish parties, which are held in the moonlight to say a fond farewell to the short Swedish summer. It’s also when Malmö bursts into life for the annual Malmöfestivalen - eight days of fun, free music and entertainment. For music-lovers, August might just be the best month to travel to Sweden.

Midnight sun in Sweden © shutterstock

August also offers opportunities to sample surströmming, a somewhat stinky Baltic herring which is something of an acquired taste - though a quintessentially Swedish dining experience. Talking of grub, gastronomes based in Stockholm would do well to check-out this cool and cultured culinary tour. From game meat and meatballs, to beer and fine cheese, you’ll get to sample Sweden’s culinary delights while taking in some of the city’s most stunning sights – essentially two tours in one.

Swedish smorgasbord © shutterstock

When to go to Sweden in autumn

Visiting Sweden in September - November

In the north, leaves begin to shift colour by late August, night frosts aren’t uncommon, and the first snows fall in September.

Even in Stockholm, snow can fall in October and by November the city is usually carpeted in snow, making it one of the best months to travel to Sweden for an atmospheric city break. With keeping warm likely to be a priority, you could take a bike tour to do just that while seeing Stockholm’s highlights, among them the Old Town and Royal Palace, the National City Park and some of the city’s islands.

Visby, Sweden © shutterstock

Located 100 km above the Arctic Circle, riverside Pajala village is worth visiting in September for its Römpäviiko (“romp week”) cultural festival, featuring live music and street stalls selling food and handicrafts. It also comes alive the second weekend after midsummer when up to forty thousand people flood into town for the market, one of the biggest in northern Sweden, selling everything from chorizos to reindeer antlers.

When to visit Sweden in winter

Visiting Sweden in December - February

Viewing the spectacular northern lights is hands down the best reason to visit Sweden in winter. Also known by their Latin name, aurora borealis, the northern lights are visible all across northern Sweden during the dark months of winter.

The displays are generally more impressive the closer you get to the poles. Gällivare and Kiruna, both well inside the Arctic Circle, are arguably the best places in Sweden to catch a glimpse of the aurora, particularly during the coldest winter months from December to February. 

Northern lights in Swedish Lapland © Shutterstock

One way to see the awe-inspiring spectacle is to take this amazing Arctic wilderness tour from Kiruna. After a hearty BBQ dinner in a traditional Sami tent, you’ll be guided to a great site (locations vary depending on conditions) with a guide on hand to explain regional history and legends, alongside sharing northern lights knowledge.

Alternatively, if you’re in Stockholm in winter and fancy seeing the city’s sights in more unusual style, this expert-guided winter kayaking tour (with lunch) is sure to float your boat. Or, if you’re in Malmö, this enchanting Christmas tour is sure to get you in a festive frame of mind. Taking in the city and Christmas market on foot in the company of a guide who'll share stories of local legends, it’s a magical way to experience Malmö’s charms.

Finally, for a post-Christmas pick-me-up, Jokkmokk’s Great Winter Market comes highly recommended. Held from the first Thursday to Sunday of February, this famous 400-year-old winter market sees thirty thousand folk flock to Jokkmokk to buy and sell their wares. Held on the frozen Talvatissjön lake, the market’s reindeer races are quite a thing to behold.

If you’re feeling inspired to visit Sweden, or interested in exploring more options, take a look at our tailor-made trips. They take the pain out of planning, and can be fully personalised to your needs - much like choosing the best time to visit Sweden to suit you.

Festivals and holidays in Sweden by month

Swedish festivals are for the most part organized around the seasons. Most celebrations are lively events, as Swedes are great party people – once the beer begins to flow. The highlight of the year is the midsummer festival, when the whole country gets involved, and wild parties last well into the early hours. The date of Midsummer’s Day varies from year to year but is the Saturday closest to the actual summer solstice.

February

  • Great Winter Market, Jokkmokk (first Thursday to Sunday of February). Thirty thousand people flock to Jokkmokk for its famous 400-year-old winter market (wjokkmokksmarknad.se).

April and May

  • Valborgsmässoafton (April 30). Walpurgis Night. One of the most important festivals in Sweden, heralding the beginning of spring with bonfires and songs.
  • Labour Day (May 1). A none-too-thrilling marching day for the workers’ parties.

June

  • Swedish National Day (June 6). In existence since 1983, though a bit of a damp squib even though it’s now a public holiday; worthy speeches are delivered in the evening and the king often puts in an appearance at Skansen in Stockholm.
  • Midsummer (the Fri & Sat between June 20 and June 26). The biggest and best celebration anywhere in Sweden, with festivities centred around the maypole, an old fertility symbol, which is erected at popular gatherings across the country. The maypole is raised in June because it’s often still snowing in northern Sweden in May. There’s much dancing and drinking into the night – and severe hangovers the next morning. The most famous celebrations are those held in Dalarna.

July

  • Pajala market (second weekend after midsummer). Forty thousand people make their way to Pajala in northern Sweden for this annual market.
  • Musik vid Dellen, Hudiksvall (beginning of July). Ten-day cultural festival, featuring folk music and more (wmusikviddellen.se).
  • Årets Näck, Hackås (second Thursday in July). Male fiddle players strip naked to play their instruments in the local river at this annual competition (hackas.se).
  • Ystad Opera Festival (most of July).
  • Åre Bike Festival (July). Four-day mountain bike competition (arebikefestival.com).
  • Gotland chamber music festival (end of July). Week-long music festival held at the church of St Nicolaus in Visby (gotlandchamber.se).

August

  • Crayfish parties (throughout Aug). Held in the August moonlight across the country to say a wistful farewell to the short Swedish summer. Competitions are often held to establish the season’s best and tastiest crayfish.
  • Malmöfestivalen, Malmö (Aug). Eight days of free music and entertainment (malmofestivalen.se).
  • Medieval Week, Visby (second week of August). Re-enactment of the Danish conquest of Gotland, featuring music, medieval food and jousting.
  • Surströmming (late Aug). In coastal areas of northern Sweden, particularly along the High Coast, parties are held at which people eat surströmming, a foul-smelling fermented Baltic herring which is something of an acquired taste – though a quintessentially Swedish experience.

September

  • Römpäviiko, Pajala (last week of Sept). The “romp week” cultural festival features live music and street stalls

December

  • Nobel Prize Day (Dec 10). Official ceremonies are held in Stockholm as the winners of the annual Nobel prizes are awarded.
  • St Lucia’s Day (Dec 13). Led by a girl with a crown of candles, this is a procession of children who sing songs as they bring light into the darkest month. For many Swedes, this is a welcome highlight during the ever-shortening days of December and a chance to look forward to Christmas.

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Header image of the northern lights in Swedish Lapland © Shutterstock

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 5/17/2021
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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