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Colourful houses on Stortorget square in Stockholm's Old Town / Image: Adobe Stock

Scandinavia practically screams ‘winter wonderland’ even in the height of summer – so when the seasons turn and the nights draw in there’s no better place to get that fuzzy festive feeling than Stockholm. Over the Christmas period, the Swedish capital recalibrates as a heartwarming (and fingertips-freezing) hub of hot booze, charming markets and genteel snow sports. Wrap up and take in our top tips on how best to do northern Europe’s pre-eminent urban archipelago this winter.

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A concert celebrating St Lucia / Image: Henrik Trygg

Are there any winter festivals? If you’re in Stockholm on 13 December, you’ll likely see hordes of youth, clad in white: the girls in wreaths of candles; the boys in conical hats. Worry not, you haven’t wandered into a winter version of Midsommar – this is the annual celebration of St Lucia, a central part of the local Christmas tradition. There are a few notable concerts around town, but – Covid depending, of course – the one at the city’s Storkyrkan cathedral is one of the best. Expect hallowed processions, saintly choirs and piles of saffron buns.

Niklas Ekstedt raises the heat at his eponymous resturant / Image:David Loftus

What to eat: “Winter (or December) is the season for hunting deer and elk. In the north of Sweden it’s all anyone wants to do around this time,” explains local super chef Niklas Ekstedt. “The most traditional way we eat this is either as a steak or in a stew. At my restaurant Ekstedt, we cook this directly on the embers in order to infuse it with flavour.”

Warming mugs of glögg – the Scandinavian version of mulled wine / Image: Adobe Stock

What to drink: Similar to other northern European countries, we do our own version of mulled drinks for the winter. Our mulled apple cider is made with fresh apple cider – we heat this and infuse it with gin, birch and other wintry spices,” says Ekstedt. “Alternatively glögg is our version of mulled wine with port, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. We tend to drink this before dinner at our Christmas table.”

Hestra's tanned leather gloves are a Scandi winter staple

What to wear: Winter in Stockholm can be brisk, with average highs of 1°C and lows of around -3°C. To combat the chill you’re going to need some mitts for your mitts – and some of Sweden’s finest are produced by the family company Hestra. Head to its concept store at Norrlandsgatan 12 and channel your inner woodsman by slipping into a pair of tanned yellow elk or deerskin gloves from their timeless ‘sport classic’ ranges. 

Ark Des's architectural gingerbread contest is a delicious Christmas tradition

What to see: Ark Des is Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design – which is all well and good, but the real draw this time of year is the annual gingerbread house competition, which has been running since 1990. The comfortingly fragrant event is open to children, architects and amateurs alike, and this year’s theme is ‘distance’ – just don’t eat a crumb until the winning bake-builders are announced on the 13th of December.

The Old Town market is as atmospheric as Christmas gets in Stockholm / Image: Adobe Stock

Is there a Christmas market? Scandi Christmas fetes don’t come much more vibey than the annual market in Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s medieval old town. Its dinky red shacks, decked out with twinkly lights and an inevitable blanketing of seasonal snow, sell crafty souvenirs, Swedish Christmas sweets, plates of reindeer and elk meat and, of course, gallons of woozily warming glögg. Skål to that (but do check for confirmation closer to the time, in line with Covid restrictions). 

Swimmers prepare for an icy dip in Hellasgarden

Insider's tip: “Hellasgarden is a great place for the family,” says Ekstedt. “It has a great restaurant, an open sauna, ice skating, ample grounds for bike riding and even a hole in the ice where you can go for a dip – the perfect winter outdoor activity. It’s only 40 minutes from the centre of Stockholm and you can take the bus.”

A view of the city from Hammarbybacken ski park / Image: Alamy

What do the locals like to do? Definitely skiing,” says Ekstedt. “There’s a ski field right next to the city called Hammarbybacken – I used to live just five minutes away and head over there all the time. My son now competes for the Swedish national ski team and I guess this might have something to do with it!”

Niklas Ekstedt's new book Ekstedt: The Nordic Art of Analogue Cooking will be published by Bloomsbury Absolute this autumn

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