Scandinavia in January: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Winter sunset Stockholm skyline

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If Scandinavia has always been on your list of places to visit, January might be the perfect time to go. The holiday madness has subsided, the snow in some places makes for postcard-worthy scenery, and because there are fewer crowds, the prices for airfare, hotels, and activities go down.

Travel prices for almost any destination reach their lowest of the entire year after the holiday season. In Scandinavia, the winter weather that plagues other places just adds to its charm. Norway is a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts and offers something for every taste, even if it's just sledding. You'll enjoy poking your head out the hotel window at night and being treated to the northern lights as well.

Scandinavia Weather in January

January is the coldest month for almost any place in the Northern Hemisphere; however, Scandinavian countries take cold to a whole new level. You can count on the climate being chilly throughout, but it varies greatly by region. In the northern parts of Norway and Sweden, it's normal to experience 22 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees to 1 degree Celsius). This is where you will find lots of snow. Nights in Sweden's far north can easily drop as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). The average temperatures for Scandinavia's most popular cities are:

  • Copenhagen: Highs of 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius); lows of 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius)
  • Stockholm: Highs of 33 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius); lows of 27 degrees Fahrenheit (--3 degrees Celsius)
  • Oslo: Highs of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius); lows of 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius)
  • Bergen: Highs of 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius); lows of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius)
  • Trondheim: Highs of 33 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius); lows of 26 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius)

There won't be much snow in Denmark, as the weather is too mild and humid, and the sea surrounds the country, discouraging snow conditions from forming. During this winter month, Scandinavia gets only six or seven hours of daylight, and if you go far enough to the north, including northern Sweden, this number can decrease rapidly. In certain areas of the Arctic Circle, there is no sun at all for a period of time. This phenomenon is called a polar night (the opposite of the midnight sun).

What to Pack

If you're headed to the Arctic Circle, bring sturdy boots for walking on the snow and ice, waterproof layers and lots of down to keep you warm and dry, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. Long underwear is essential as well. If you'll be visiting the cities, bring a warm coat. For winter sports activities, bring your insulated skiing gear. It's better to have a heavy suitcase than to be freezing for a week. No matter what your destination is, winter layers and accessories are the bare minimum.

January Events and Holidays

The holiday season in Scandinavia doesn't officially end until January, leaving plenty of events, festivals, and other attractions for post-Christmas travelers to enjoy.

  • New Year's Day: Expect many restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions to be closed on January 1. Make like a Swede and spend the holiday at home (i.e. your hotel) eating kebab pizza and watching the annual lunchtime TV showing of Sir Walter Scott’s "Ivanhoe."
  • Epiphany: Commonly called Three Kings Day, Epiphany celebrates the three wise men's visit to baby Jesus. It takes place on January 6 in Finland, Sweden, and Iceland.
  • Hilarymas (St Knut's Day): Christmas festivities don't officially come to a close until this day, January 13. The occasion is typically marked with food and dancing.
  • Thorrablot Midwinter Feast: While Iceland is technically considered a Nordic country, it still has many close ties with its Scandinavian neighbors. Thorrablot was traditionally a sacrificial midwinter feast to Pagan gods, but now locals use the day (celebrated the Friday after January 19) to enjoy Icelandic culinary delicacies, like rotten shark’s meat, hákarl, or boiled sheep’s head, svið.

January Travel Tips

  • Scandinavia is generally very safe and poses few risks, health-related or otherwise, to travelers. Exercise caution during winter, though, as the roads can be slippery and traffic accidents from elk crossing the roads are common.
  • The aurora borealis (northern lights) are best seen on the Arctic Circle in very clear and dark winter nights. They can be seen in southern Scandinavia sometimes, but it is very important that you seek them on a dark and clear night, away from any city lights.
  • Some major attractions have shortened hours during January and other winter months, so it's always wise to double-check before visiting. 
  • If you plan to rent a car, confirm that the cost includes winter tires. These are compulsory in many countries from December through March and are not always included in the cost of the rental.