5 Things I Learned From My First Full Scandinavian Winter

Photo of Christianshavn in Copenhagen

Right – so this year, I experienced my first full winter living in Scandinavia. Let’s just say that doing so amid a lockdown was an interesting experience, to say the least.

When I first moved to Copenhagen, I expected winters to be similar to the UK. And in some ways, it was – but on a whole other level. For almost all of November, thick grey clouds hid the sun. And as for the wind?

But yeah, let’s stop babbling. Here are the five biggest lessons I learned from my first winter in Scandinavia.

What is Winter in Copenhagen Like?

Sunrise on 21st December (the Winter Solstice): 08:37

Sunset on 21st December: 15:38 (Seven hours and one minute of daylight)

*Source: timeanddate.com

Average highs and lows for December: 4.1ºC/-0.5ºC

Average highs and lows for January: 2.5ºC/-1.7ºC

Average highs and lows for February: 2.8ºC/-1.9ºC

*Source: weather-atlas.com

After the Winter Solstice, the sun still doesn’t rise before 08:30 until the middle of January.

In the winter of 2020/2021, Copenhagen’s weather sank well below the averages. In the middle of February, subzero temperatures submerged the city for over a week. On some nights, the thermometer dropped to -10ºC.

So, what did I learn from all of this?

The True Difference Between Visiting Somewhere and Living There

I’ve visited the Nordic countries various times in the winter, so the darkness and cold isn’t anything new. When I lived in Stockholm, the sun went down before 15:00 in the winter. On a December visit to Iceland, the sun didn’t rise until 10:50. And I have also spent a week in Tromsø, Norway, during the Polar Night.

Having also been to Copenhagen during the colder months, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect here. 

Living somewhere, though, is always different to visiting. Though I’ve always preferred winter to summer, I was yearning for sunlight and semi-stable temperatures on quite a few occasions. It’s pretty obvious why many Scandinavians take trips to Southern Europe and Southeast Asia during the winter months. 

Möllers Tran Is Your Best Friend

“Have you taken your vitamin D?” was one of the most common questions asked in every conversation I had. And by mid-November, I understood why.

When living in London, I never really thought too much about the sun and vitamin D. Very quickly in Copenhagen, however, I realised that taking supplements and altering my diet were essential.

Enter Möllers Tran. Which, in short, is fish oil in a fancy bottle. Signed with the Norwegian flag’s seal of approval, this stuff became part of my morning routine. And boy, did it make a difference.

If you live anywhere in Northern Europe or anywhere in the north of the US and Canada, getting vitamin D is essential during the winter months. And if like me, you have a darker skin tone, you’ll probably need to bump things a little higher.

As mentioned by the NHS, you can get vitamin d from the following sources:
Vitamin D tablets;

  • Eggs;
  • Oily fish;
  • Red meat;
  • Some fortified foods.

This handy article on Your Danish Life goes into more depth about the topic.

The Importance of Adapting to the Seasons

If you live somewhere with warm, bright summers and cold, dark winters, you’ll know just how much you change with the seasons. My first whole winter in Scandinavia taught me the significance of adapting my lifestyle accordingly, too.

Although much of the West has adopted the cancer known as hustle culture, the truth is that much of the winter months should be about rest and recuperation. If you keep things ticking along at work, that should be enough. 

Autumn and winter are, ultimately, the death of what was. They are also when you should prepare for when things start to blossom again the following year.

Layering Up

The more I’ve visited Scandinavia during the winter, the more obvious the need to layer up is. This became particularly evident when the temperatures in Copenhagen stayed below freezing. 

In London, a wool jumper or turtleneck – with something that would be considered an autumn jacket in Denmark – was often enough. But on some days in Copenhagen, I would wear an Icelandic sweater, wool turtleneck and a base layer – along with the scarf and puffy jacket. 

You might look like the Michelin Man, but you sure as hell aren’t freezing to death. 

Ultimately, Winter Is What You Make of It

If I’m truthful with you, I feel like we as a society make winter worse for ourselves. We’ve collectively agreed that it is bad, while summer is good. The truth, however, is that neither are good or bad. 

Winter is a magical season. The dark mornings are peaceful, the cold air is refreshing, and the landscapes are beautiful. Scandinavians understand this, for the most part – hence why they still go outdoors during the colder months. 

And even if you don’t want to stay outside for long, think about how you can make things pleasant indoors. Read your favourite book, wear your favourite fluffy socks and make a cup of tea. You know, hygge. 

Published by Danny Maiorca

Danny is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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