Hi, all. There are lots of posts on this forum about spring and summer OSD itineraries. When we were researching the forums, there was a real paucity of recent discussion about winter itineraries so I was a little worried about our decision to go in the middle of February. But we had a fantastic time and I thought I would share some some of the activities we found worthwhile, in case others were also contemplating a winter delivery.
One impetus for travel to Sweden in winter was a chance to see the Northern Lights so after a layover through Stockholm we went directly to Kiruna, Sweden. We planned for 3 nights in Lapland and I was worried we would get bored with nothing to do when we were not hunting Northern Lights but it turned out that there are plenty of things to keep you busy. We stayed at the IceHotel which was probably 15-20 min away from most of the shops in Kiruna but was in a beautiful woodland setting. If you choose to stay there, definitely take them up on their offer to borrow outerwear (included with the stay). We thought we were prepared for the cold with our cold weather gear (e.g. Northface jackets, thermal under layers, snow pants, Mukluk boots) but if you are just standing still shooting photos of the Northern lights for a couple hours you're going to get cold. The ice hotel offered winter overalls that go on top of everything else (that is over your winter coat and over your snow pants). Doubling up on our wool socks and using toe warmers also seemed to help. The Ice Hotel also had some heavy duty gloves that my wife used instead of her normal winter gloves. These gloves went all the way to the elbows! We only stayed in the warm rooms of the hotel and did not regret it but others did enjoy staying in the cold rooms one night.
We booked 3 excursions with chances to see the Northern lights on consecutive nights: a night time photo tour (where they provide you with digital SLRs and tripods and coaching on how to optimize camera settings), a trip to Abisko National Park where you take a chair lift to the top of a mountain where they have a restaurant and observation station in an area that supposedly has clear skies much of the time, and a nighttime snowmobile photo adventure. All were fantastic excursions. We only saw the Northern lights the first night we were there and they were pretty faint that night. Much of the time to the naked eye they just looked like clouds with a faint greenish tinge. But the photos still turned out well! We had periodically checked in on the Abisko webcam in December and the images were amazing each night we checked. Then there seemed to be a huge drop off in solar activity toward the end of January that continued into the time that we were there. Also during the 2nd and 3rd nights we were there it was always extremely cloudy or snowing. But the excursions were so fun we weren't too bothered by it.
To get to our Abisko excursion we had to rent a car (no buses traveling during the time we needed to be there and taxi prices were outrageous). We had no issues at all driving, even though the road didn't appear clear (we are so used to heavily salted highways in the midwest US that are always kept pretty clear).
Dogsledding through Abisko National Park was fun, educational, and quite scenic. The dinner at the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko was quite good and had communal seating which was good for encouraging conversations with other travelers. The snowmobile adventure was fantastic and definitely worth doing if you hadn't done it before. I would suggest bringing ski goggles for snowmobile or dogsledding trips. Some places provide helmets with the visor/faceshield and others just had regular helmets. We also really enjoyed the art exhibits at the IceHotel and an excursion where you get to interact with reindeer and learn about traditions of the Sami people who are living in that area.
We ended up booking a spa appointment at Camp Ripan which is the other major lodging site in town. We enjoyed their indoor and outdoor pools. I believe they had nighttime appointments available for the spa for guests who stay at that property which offered a chance to see the Northern lights while soaking in a hot tub which sounded neat.
All in all, weather was not too bad in Kiruna (highs in the 20s) but they did note that it was unseasonably warm for them.
After that, we traveled on to Stockholm. As we only had 2 days budgeted for Stockholm, we booked an all day excursion where the tour guides drive you around to different sights. It was a great way to cover a lot of ground and not too much time was spent actually sitting in the van. Weather in Stockholm in February was in the 40s (but again, was reportedly unseasonably warm for that time of year). We then traveled to Gothenburg and spent one night there before delivery of our Volvo. The delivery experience was great. We bought some fun accessories there (include a motorized toy car that my kids absolutely loved). We had arranged a 2 day layover in Copenhagen on our way back to the U.S. Again, weather in Copenhagen was not too bad and, like Stockholm, had plenty of sites to visit during the winter (we visited 3 castles in those two days).
In summary, you can't count on seeing the Northern lights on any trip (we had heard of visitors who made 3 trips and still hadn't seen them), but there are certainly enough other activities in the winter to make a winter visit memorable.