There are two main misconceptions about the climate in Sweden: that it is always dark, and that it is always cold!
While there are certainly times when it is both dark and cold, the weather in Sweden is as varied as its landscape, as varied as the possibilities it offers for outdoor activities at any time of year.
Overall, Sweden has a very temperate climate given its northerly location. The North Atlantic Current warms air which is brought up from the southwest by low pressure winds in the Atlantic. From the east, high pressure zones bring bright, warm summer days and clear, crisp and cold winters, while the high mountains of Norway and the plateaux along the western edge of Sweden provide shelter from the mild, wet winds blowing in from the west. Levels of precipitation in Sweden are relatively low – the wettest period is in late summer and early autumn, while across large tracts of the country much of the winter precipitation falls as snow.
From late in May until mid-July north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets. About 15% of Sweden lies within the Arctic Circle – the Land of the Midnight Sun. Summer in the far north of Sweden is a magical time, with the long days making the possibilities for activities out of doors literally endless, plus the extra daylight means that somehow sleep feels almost unnecessary. You may be surprised to find that you are still fully energized for a hike in the mountains even in the early hours of the morning!
But you do not need to travel to the far north to experience many of the advantages of the long Swedish summer days. Even in Stockholm (only about 1/3 of the way up this vast country), there are only a few hours of semi-darkness during the summer months.
Summer in the north of Sweden is a short but beautiful period, and people make the most of the long days and milder temperatures. In the northeast, there are usually more days of sunshine and less cloud compared to the mountainous regions near to the Norwegian border in the west. In the far north, average temperatures in July are likely to be around 15 degrees C, though the long hours of daylight can lift temperatures surprisingly high. In the centre and south of the country, bright, warm summer days are common and the lakes and coastal waters offer the chance for idyllic bathing. In general, summers in the Stockholm area have similar temperatures to the south of England, but more days of sunshine. Out among the 24,000 islands of the Stockholm archipelago, it is commonly clear and sunny even when it may be cloudy just a few miles away in the heart of the capital.
Sweden is a very long country (around 2000km from north to south), and this, coupled with the higher altitudes of the mountainous regions to the north, makes for a great deal of variation in winter climate. Northern areas may experience snowfall for eight months a year, with temperatures that can drop to -40 degrees C and around 184 days a year with an average temperature of below zero, compared to 120 days in Stockholm and just 71 in the south.
In the depths of winter, the Stockholm area has only around five and a half daylight hours, while in the north of Lapland, the sun peeks above the horizon to give just 4 hours of twilight and almost 20 hours of complete darkness.
But the darkness is short-lived. Towards February/March the light returns, bringing with it an uplifting combination of the majesty of winter with the warm glow of early spring sunshine and longer hours of daylight. This “spring winter” is a wonderful time to be in the Swedish mountains. Even in deepest winter, the darkness is offset by the glow of the thick blanket of snow which covers the land throughout the winter months. Not only does this make the landscape brighter than one might expect, but it creates a cosy and welcoming atmosphere and a real feeling of winter. What’s more, the winter landscape in the far north is regularly illuminated with the spectacular displays of the Northern Lights (see our recent blog article here) in the night sky.
In the southern part of the country, winters are milder and less predictable. In southern Sweden, average temperatures in January may be just around freezing, and it is less common for the sea waters around the coast to freeze.
On the east coast of Sweden, the coastal waters of the Baltic Sea, which contained between Sweden on its western edge and Finland to the east, regularly freeze. The sea ice, as well as the thousands of lakes dispersed throughout the interior of the country, offer excellent opportunities for ice skating. Ice skating on natural ice, or “trip skating”, is a hugely popular pastime for all ages in Sweden and offers a truly unique way to experience the winter landscape.
An outdoor paradise in any season
One of the great advantages of the country as a holiday destination is that travelling to Sweden is a totally different experience depending on the season you visit, with enormous variations in climate and landscape as the seasons change. The Sami, the indigenous people of the vast northern mountain plains of Lapland, divide the year into eight seasons, not four:
- spring winter, when the pregnant reindeer females cause the herd to leave the forests and head for the mountains
- spring, when the snow melts and the reindeer give birth to their calves in the foothills
- pre-summer, when Sami livestock graze on the fresh growth carpeting the mountains
- summer, with its endless daylight hours, the time to mark the new-born calves
- pre-autumn, when the autumn colours begin to spread through the landscape and the reindeer bulls are slaughtered
- autumn, a season for fishing for the Sami and mating for reindeer
- pre-winter, when the reindeer herds are brought down from the mountains to more sheltered grazing in the marshlands
- winter, when the herds are moved into the protection of the forests to ride out the harsh winter until spring-winter arrives once more
Whenever you choose to visit, Sweden has something to offer in all its seasonal guises, from the deep snows of winter, through the meadows carpeted with flowers in spring, to the long lazy days of summer, and finally into the blazing glory of autumn as the forests turn and prepare for winter once again. Browse our full range of outdoor holidays in Sweden on our website!
The Nature Travels Team