I get asked all the time about what winter is like in Stockholm. Here, in no particular order, are a few truisms:
• It typically starts snowing in October and it continues up until May. Often, snow stays on the ground from November through April. I’ve known it to snow at the beginning of May, but it doesn’t usually stick around at that time of year.
• The sun stays low in the sky, not getting higher than about 30 degrees above the horizon and thus creating a very soft and muted light. Daylight hours are short. Yes, it does get dark at 2.30 in the afternoon in mid winter. And the sun doesn’t come up until 9. But the days are getting longer as we speak. Thankfully.
• In spite of the cold, people tend to get out. It’s not unusual to see Stockholmers enjoying the sun or having a coffee outside on even the coldest days. At cafes, a few tables are often left out and people will bundle up in blankets and have a coffee. On weekends, you see a lot of people carrying their cross country skies on the subway.
• Sidewalks aren’t typically shoveled. Instead, gravel is put down for traction. That resulting mix of sand and snow looks like a beach. Really. Because the snow isn’t shoveled, there tends to be a point in the winter where the walks become a treacherously icy and bumpy nightmare. City workers get out to literally jackhammer off the stuff to make the paths navigatable. And even though I like the look of the snow/sand mix on the sidewalks, that gritty crud tends to make my boots grimey. While I live Swedish style and take my shoes off at the door, that gravel slop still tends to migrate all over my front hall and makes an annoying mess.
• On a related note, signs will be put on sidewalks warning people to watch out for falling ice and snow from the rooftops. Every year, people are injured and killed by said falling ice and snow. Workers get up on the rooftops to shovel off the snow regularly to try to eliminate the avalanches.
In spite of all this, I still have to say that Stockholm in winter is very pretty. Especially when there is snow on the ground. That said, I would be most grateful if someone sent me a ticket to a warm and sunny place in February. That short month tends to be my longest month.