No more so than in their marvellous Christmas markets, where sometimes surprising, and always beguiling, deep-rooted festive traditions are embraced with gusto during the December holiday period.
Here is your guide to some of the best Scandinavian Christmas markets, guaranteed to give you a warm and welcoming hug in those crisp and cold northerly climes:
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Christmas Market with carousel in the Liseberg park © Mikhail Markovskiy / Shutterstock.com
Gothenburg Christmas markets
The great Swedish city of Gothenburg teems with tempting cafes and boasts a serious food culture, which acts as a big draw for gastronomes in the know.
Gothenburg takes its Christmas seriously, too, but in a fun-filled way that taps in to all the wonderful traditions of the season, to delight visitors of all ages.
The focal point for much of Gothenburg’s festivities is the Liseberg Christmas market, at a place which in the summer is a major amusement park.
The emphasis at Liseberg is unabashed, old-fashioned Christmas magic.
The emphasis at Liseberg is unabashed, old-fashioned Christmas magic, with streets bedecked in decorations, carol singers, and mulled wine (also known as glog or glogg) a go-go. Then there are food stalls betraying traditional festive scents that act as an enticing lure for seasonal strollers, jaw-dropping rides to keep the young and young-at-heart amused, and a stunning Christmas tree at the market’s heart.
For the energetic, there’s an ice rink where you can either cling gingerly to the sides or bust a few triple salchows, depending on your skill level and sense of adventure. Or perhaps you’d prefer to partake in chowing down on some fabulous festive fare (don’t miss out on the smoked sausages) in one of Liseberg market’s restaurants, such as Stjarnornas Krog, where you can feast heartily on a traditional Swedish Christmas buffet.
Did someone say ‘buffet’? Thought as much. Well, that’s certainly won us over. These buffet board delights focus on things fishy, with moreish specialities including marinated herring, cured and smoked salmon, plus lots of pickled things to wash down with beer, wine or that old firewater, schnapps.
The entertainment at Liseberg doesn’t stop there, however. This is Sweden’s biggest Christmas market, after all, so fully expect to run in to people dressed as snowmen and sundry wintry woodland creatures, lap up the live music events, and load up with festive pressies from the numerous seasonal gift stalls.
Although Liseberg takes the biscuit (and yes, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of those by indulging in Gothenburg’s ‘fika’/snack café culture) for seasonal sparkle, there is plenty more festive cheer around the city you’d be remiss to miss.
Those hunting for original and fashiony Swedish gifts should make a beeline for the shops around Kungstorget square and the Magasinsgatan area.
Gothenburg’s central boulevard district is another magnet for Christmas gift buyers, while Kronhuset is an imposing 17th-century building which transforms itself from late November into – you’ve guessed it – a traditional Christmas market.
Here you can rack up plenty of stocking fillers, such as sweets, arty-crafty things and our old friend, the ubiquitous tinsel-time grog, mulled wine.
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The carousel and Christmas illuminations in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen © Mikhail Markovskiy / Shutterstock.com
Copenhagen Christmas markets
You are guaranteed to be dazzled – if not overcome – with festive cheer on an end-of-year visit to Copenhagen. In fact, if it had thought about it first, Denmark’s delightful capital really should have trademarked Christmas as its own.
Top among wonderful Copenhagen’s tinselly treats for tourists and locals are the 19th-century Tivoli Gardens. At Christmas, this famous space is reimagined as a winter wonderland, as if cast, written, designed and directed by Santa Claus himself.
You’ll find many common threads among Scandinavian countries’ Christmas traditions as they celebrate Jul – Norway, Sweden and Denmark’s word for just that: Christmas. And from the third week in November through to New Year’s Eve, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens turn on the holiday season style with the Danish take on Jul.
The Danes’ fabled storyteller Hans Christian Andersen is never far from the surface.
This being Denmark at Christmas, the Danes’ fabled storyteller Hans Christian Andersen is never far from the surface, and the scribe even has a festive market within the Tivoli expanse named after him. A clever bit of franchising by the fairytale fella.
Here, the sleighbells are tinkered with and retuned up to 11, in a suitably fairytale setting bathed in a warm, wintry glow of nostalgia and the Danes’ much-mulled-over concept of hygge cosiness and wellbeing.
Give in to a sensory overload wrapped in the compliments of the season at the Hans Christian Andersen market, where Christmas lights, gift stalls, festive food and drink immerse you in that full hygge feeling.
Within the full Tivoli Christmas market the traditional Nordic festive feel abounds. There are decorated Christmas trees as far as the eye can see, wooden houses pimped to the max with seasonal cheer, reindeer, the great man Santa himself, fairground rides, plus tons of gift stalls and souvenir shops.
Plus, there’s plenty of perfect, snacky Scandinavian winter market fuel to graze on as you wander, such as traditional cakes, doughnuts and pork sandwiches (or all the above if you wish). And washed down with mulled wine, it goes without saying.
Stomachs rumbling? You bet. Can we also suggest, then, trying some of Denmark’s liver pates with mushrooms and bacon, for a taste of savoury heaven and another burst of that old feeling of wellbeing on your Christmas market visit.
Tivoli Gardens might be the festive epicentre in Copenhagen. But this entrancing city has some delightful yuletide alternatives you’d also do well to see on your stay.
Lovely Nyhavn transforms into a little harbourside Christmas market, where you can pick out traditional gifts and enjoy the food and entertainment.
Central Copenhagen also boasts a Christmas market at Kongens Nytorv, a welcoming place to stock up on presents and bits and pieces for the tree back home.
Christmas market, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden © Shutterstock.com
Stockholm Christmas markets
Christmas market lovers are spoilt for choice in Sweden’s capital city, with several superb seasonal set-ups vying for your festive attention.
Dating back to 1903, you’ll find the famous Christmas market at Skansen on the island of Djurgarden. The setting is outstanding in the world’s oldest open-air museum, while the market itself oozes holiday cheer.
The Old Town (Gamla Stan) market trumps Skansen for longevity, going way back to 1837. This market in its old town location echoes medieval traditions, and it only takes a small leap of imagination to capture the essence of centuries past.
One popular modern take on the festive season is Stockholm Old Town market’s ‘Living Advent Calendar’.
Leap forward to the here and now, and one popular modern take on the festive season is Stockholm Old Town market’s ‘Living Advent Calendar’. This entails live entertainment, as the name suggests, with people popping their heads out of various houses’ windows and, well, entertaining for the delight and edification of winter revellers.
And for something a little bit special as well as out of the ordinary, why not take a little trip half an hour or so from Stockholm to visit Sigtuna Christmas market.
Sigtuna is reputed to be the oldest recorded town in Sweden, dating back to 980. Looks-wise, this characterful town is an absolute gem, with a medieval centre just made for strolling, sprinkled with little shops, cafes and restaurants.
Sigtuna’s atmospheric little Christmas market is held on four Sundays in the run-up to Christmas, with traditional Swedish specialities and handicrafts available for you to buy and browse.
Skating at Spikersuppa in Oslo © Shutterstock.com
Oslo Christmas markets
Held over a couple of weekends in early December, one of the Norwegian capital’s most noteworthy and cherished traditions is the annual Christmas Fair.
The Norwegian Folk Museum hosts the fair, which combines everything you’d expect from a Christmas market, such as craft and food stalls, with a strong nod to Norway’s distinct Christmas folk traditions.
When in Oslo at Christmas, make sure you also head for the Julemarked in the brightly-lit Youngstorget Square, a cosy festive market which usually includes around 50 stalls and a floodlit skating rink for those who fancy a twirl on the ice.
Spikersuppa is a dazzling outdoor cornucopia of festive fun.
Unmissable, too – as well it should be – is Oslo’s main festive jamboree, known as Spikersuppa Christmas market.
Slapbang in the city centre, Spikersuppa is a dazzling outdoor cornucopia of festive fun, jampacked with stalls proffering tempting bites to eat and stuff to buy. And of course, as this is a festive market in Norway, the ice-skating rink in the middle comes as standard.
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Shopping in Strøget in Aarhus © Photopop / VisitAarhus
Aarhus Christmas markets
The proud city of Aarhus on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula is abuzz with fun, frivolity and – yes – food at Christmas.
From mid-November through to December 23 the open-air museum which is Aarhus’ Den Gamle By old town area takes a transformative trip back into its own history, with old-fashioned shops and stalls selling traditional Danish wares, including sweets and gifts.
Godsbanen is a lively Christmas market and food market rolled into one.
Foodies lured in the inexorable rise of Scandinavian fare should grab the chance to visit Godsbanen in early December, which is a lively Christmas market and food market rolled into one. What’s not to like?
Aarhus’ central food market also benefits from an annual Christmas makeover, with festive events plus edible and quaffable winter warmers much to the fore.
Unusual handmade gifts are very much part and well-wrapped parcel of the Christmas market experience. And the lovely Christmas market which pops up every year near Aarhus Cathedral is a terrific place to purchase some unique treats for those back home. Time it right and you might even get to enjoy a Christmas concert in the cathedral itself.
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