We’ll never get tired of saying it: Off-season travel is always a good idea. Sure, it’s the time to travel for lower prices and fewer crowds, especially in Scandinavia. But, there are so many other reasons to put “experience winter in Scandinavia” on your bucket list.
We caught up with travelers Caroline and Vera, who uncovered the beauty of winter in Scandinavia on their Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour in February of 2020. Read on to see what they loved about all the frosty scenery and cities they encountered—and to find a few more of our top reasons to visit Scandinavia in the winter!
Traveler Caroline sailing through the wintery fjords
No Scandinavia tour is complete without a boat ride through the famed fjords, which are narrow waterways bounded by soaring cliffs in Norway. If that sounds pretty to you, you’re right on the money—it’s a stunning site. While cruising through the fjords is a must no matter when you visit Norway, winter in Scandinavia really kicks the beauty up a notch.
“Had we not been there at that time, we wouldn’t have seen the best of the fjords,” said traveler Vera. “The fjords are all about the winter months, and what the ice age had done to the landscape. It was just great. You can’t see it unless you see it at its best!”
Traveler Caroline agreed—seeing the frosty waterways was right up there with her favorite moments from her winter trip. “The fjords in winter are awesome,” she said. “I would never want to go back to Norway other than in the winter months. The snow, all the people who were getting off the train with their skis—it was an exciting moment to see all that.”
If you think cascading waterfalls are lovely (and they are), just wait until you’ve seen soaring falls stopped in midair, frozen by the Scandinavian winter weather. It’s an otherworldly sight, and one that you’ll only see on an off-season trip to Scandinavia when the temps drop.
“Before I’d ever even considered going to the Scandinavian countries, I’d always pictured in my mind a winter wonderland, a winter vacation,” said traveler Caroline. “Waterfalls everywhere were frozen. One of the brochures showed a summer picture when a famous waterfall was flowing beautifully. What I saw was a solid sheet of ice! Just like it was zapped and frozen in time. The beauty was just amazing.”
Traveler Vera’s photo of a snowy day outside the Flåm Railway Museum
Scandinavian winter temperatures can dip down to 18°F, depending on where you are. You know what that means: snow, and lots of it. But, we’d suggest grabbing a warm jacket and braving the chilly air—the beauty is worth it! “I’m not a heat person,” said traveler Vera. “That’s one of the reasons Caroline and I decided to do the Scandinavia trip in the winter. We both don’t like the heat. We couldn’t have planned it better.”
“There was snow, but not as much snow in Bergen,” said traveler Caroline. “When we got to the fjords and started up into the mountains, that’s where all the snow was. … The snow in the mountains was up to the windows outside some of those big, two-story houses.”
Traveler Vera was wowed by it all, too. “The trip to Flåm through the fjords was astounding,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in the summertime. It was so nice to have done it during the wintertime because by the time we got to Flåm and took the train ride up, it was just breathtaking. The houses were covered in snow. You couldn’t have gotten that in the summer months. It might have been pretty with the flowers in the fields, but you couldn’t have gotten the majestic experience that it was. This [snow] is what shaped the hillsides!”
One nice thing to know before you go to Scandinavia? The locals are as friendly and happy as it gets, and will be out and about enjoying seasonal activities like skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months. “You saw people happy, and I really liked that part,” said traveler Vera. “… The atmosphere was exciting. People were living life to the fullest. … I was really, really humbled by the fact that these are average people, and there’s no class distinction. They seem to thrive in their land, they love their land. Wouldn’t it be great for everybody to be content like this in the world?”
If you’d like to get in step with the locals, Bergen, Norway, is one of the best Scandinavian cities to visit in winter. The city’s famed, UNESCO-listed wharf is even more dazzling when it’s not chock-full of summer crowds—but there will still be locals enjoying the great outdoors. “The wharf was bustling even though it was winter,” said traveler Caroline. “There seemed to be a lot of people out going places. I would say most people were probably local, or from close countries, but you could tell they were vacationing. Everybody was just looking to have a good time.”
Copenhagen, Denmark, is another one of the best winter destinations in Scandinavia. The city’s festive Nyhavn district is full of colorful row homes, cafes, and pubs, which means you’ll never have a hard time finding a warm spot to sit and mingle with the locals, beer in hand.
The Scandinavian landscape has the last ice age to thank for all the mountains, fjords, and lakes that mark the region. All those ice sheets and glaciers from millennia ago really did a number, didn’t they? Visiting the Nordic countries in the winter gives you the chance to see all the snow and ice firsthand, which will give you a deeper understanding of how the shape of Sweden, Noway, Denmark, and Finland came to be. Your expert Tour Director will be able to give you all the historical and geographical background, so you’ll be free to just soak it all in.
“It is just wonderful to know that there’s history in every place that you go to,” said traveler Vera. “It’s so important for us to have a broader understanding of mankind, and the different areas that they live, and appreciate the landscape that they’re having to survive in. That’s exciting, because you don’t know until you’re there what brought them to that point in history. Understanding history is really great.”
Winter is the season when Nordic skies light up in a dazzling display of green, purple, and blue lights—yep, we’re talking about the famed aurora borealis! While there are countless things to do in Scandinavia during the summer, too, your chances of catching the northern lights during the warmer months aren’t as good. The winter months are darker, which gives you a better shot at seeing those ethereal colors in the sky. Seeking out this natural phenomenon is one of the best things to do in Scandinavia, so if the northern lights are on your bucket list, then a winter trip to Scandinavia should be, too.
Travelers Vera (back, right) and Caroline (back, left) enjoying the company of their group on an overnight cruise
If cozy contentment is up your alley, then Scandinavian winters have it in spades. During the colder months, Scandinavians embrace the concept of hygge. Its roots trace back to Denmark, but it’s caught on in the rest of the Scandinavian countries, too. Hygge is all about the comfort and contentment that comes from being with friends and family in a warm space, feeling a sense of togetherness—and crackling fires, candles, plush blankets, and hot chocolate are often thrown in there, too! Embracing hygge is one the best Scandinavia winter traditions, and you’ll find moments galore to experience this sense of togetherness on tour.