Christmas in Stockho-ho-holm: Five wintry must-dos in the city

It’s not quite Lapland, but Stockholm is among the most magical places in the world at Christmas. There’s often a sprinkling of snow, a clutter of Christmas markets and just enough Julmys (Christmas cosiness) to really get you in the festive spirit.

Christmas in Stockho-ho-holm: Five wintry must-dos in the city
Photo: mikdam/deposit photos

There’s no denying it, Swedes are good at Christmas. In fact, Santa Claus himself might even be Swedish; he certainly has a typically Swedish attitude to travel. What could be more sustainable than a reindeer-driven sleigh?

The second most sustainable way to travel is by Arlanda Express, the eco-friendly express train that gets you from Arlanda Airport to central Stockholm in just 20 minutes. And with Arlanda Express’s Early Bird offer you can save 30 percent on your train ticket when you book seven days before travelling – great news when Christmas is just around the corner. 

Click here to save 30 percent on your train ticket to Stockholm

From the moment you touchdown in Stockholm, you have one mission and one mission only…

Start feeling Christmassy

First on the agenda is to fill yourself to the brim with Christmas spirit (we’re talking metaphorically here, although we’ll get to Glögg later…).

Kick back in your train seat, a perfect example of functional but comfortable Scandinavian design, and get a glimpse of the scenic Swedish countryside as you speed towards Stockholm. If you’re seeking a traditional white Christmas, you may be in luck – it’s not unlikely to see snow this time of year.

Photo: Ulf Lundin/

Take advantage of the on-board wifi to research Christmas markets in Stockholm and download a transit app like Citymapper so you can easily hop around the city.

Nothing quite gets you in the Yuletide mood like some Christmas jingles so while you’re surfing the web for free, listen to some Swedish Christmas classics on our Arlanda Express x The Local Christmas Spotify playlist.

Go on a lantern-lit stroll

Gamla stan, Stockholm’s Old Town, is a magical place any time of year. But the narrow cobbled streets, gold-hued buildings and cosy, candle-lit cafes are practically made for Christmas.

Take a walking tour of Gamla stan by lantern light to experience the medieval city centre at its most twinkly. Learn about the local area and wind your way up to the Christmas market in Stortorget, the main square in the Old Town. Soak it all in and wash it all down with a glass of Glögg, a Scandinavian mulled wine made with brandy, almonds, raisins and spices. And don’t forget the pepparkaka, a gingersnap biscuit popular in Sweden this time of year.

Seek out Swedish Christmas decorations

Photo: Ulf Lundin/

Swedes love design; they’re famous for it and it’s evident everywhere from the thoughtful design of Arlanda Express trains to the multitude of shops (many selling typically Scandinavian brands) dotted around the city.

Stockholm’s biggest department stores should be a pitstop on any winter city break. The window display at Nordiska Kompaniet, a swish department store in the city centre, is always nothing short of a masterpiece. Likewise, ubiquitous department store Åhlens always pulls out all the stops with its Christmas window decor.

Take a little piece of Sweden home with you. A julbock – or Yule-goat – is a must-have under any Swedish Christmas tree, and it wouldn’t be Jul (the Swedish word for Christmas) without a wooden Tomte figure. The Scandinavian mythological character is a mischievous sprite traditionally responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead (and almost definitely a distant cousin of Santa. The evidence is mounting that he is, in fact, a Swede).

Strap on your skates

Photo: Helena Wahlman/

One of the most special things about Stockholm at Christmas is that there’s a frozen lake around nearly every corner. Hard to believe that in a capital city there could be so much nature, but there is an abundance of water and much of it totally freezes over in winter.

Click here to save 30 percent on your train ticket to Stockholm

If you own a pair of skates, make sure to pack them; there is nothing quite as thrilling (or authentically Christmassy) as skating on natural ice. However, it’s important to know the risks so always make sure ice is safe before venturing out onto it. There are guided ice skating tours in the Stockholm region or a number of manmade rinks such as the ice rink in Kungsträdgården which is just a stone’s throw from Central Station. The ice rink is free to use – you just have to pay for skate rental if you don’t have your own – and open until 9pm every night of the week.

Treat yourself to a Julbord

Photo: Carolina Romare/

No Christmas trip to Stockholm is complete without a Julbord, an honest-to-goodness Scandinavian smörgåsbord. The traditional Swedish Christmas table is a huge buffet that includes several staple dishes like pickled herring, meatballs, beetroot salad, cheeses, sausages and salmon. Many restaurants in Stockholm serve a Julbord from the end of November; there are even a couple – like Herman’s with its spectacular view of Stockholm – serving entirely vegetarian spreads.

But if you really want to take the boat out you should literally take the boat out. Hop on the ferry out to Fjäderholmarnas Krog, an award-winning restaurant on the city’s nearest archipelago island. Even the grinches among you won’t fail to be blown away by the postcard-perfect Swedish setting. Make sure to book ahead! You’ll get a four-hour slot which, trust us, you’ll need.

Make the most of Christmas in Stockholm. Get to the city centre as fast and easily as possible by booking your airport transfer with Arlanda Express, the quickest route between Arlanda Airport and downtown.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Arlanda Express.


IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images