I tried to make my way to Sweden for the Midsummer holiday this year, thinking that warm weather and round-the-clock sunshine would be the best way to experience my first taste of Scandinavia. But the calendar filled, summer faded away, and I wound up meeting my Mom in Stockholm in late October instead. It was very dark and very cold, but also very cozy.
To combat the winter blues that are an inevitable part of northern living, the Swedes have adopted a number of rituals and mindsets to pull them through to spring. One such habit is the caffeinated, sugar-fueled social break of “fika”, which I thoroughly endorse. The other is the dedicated cultivation of cozy vibes, known as “mysig”. Mysig has no direct English translation but can generally be described as the feeling you get when drinking a steaming mug of something tasty in a heap of blankets on an overstuffed couch in front of a roaring fire while sweater-clad puppies nap at your feet.
And it seems to work. Between the fika breaks and mysig cafes, the people in Stockholm seem genuinely happy…not to mention ridiculously nice. Despite the icy wind and dwindling daylight, families are always out and about, snacking on cardamom buns, riding the ferries and romping through the parks.
The more we wandered the city’s cluster of islands, the more obvious it became that the Swedes are masters at turning the grey and gloom into something altogether charming. They lunch amongst flowers and candlelight in the greenhouse at Rosendals Tradgard,
they chat with strangers over famous fried herring at Nystekt Stromming,
they see the cold as an opportunity to tuck into the ultimate comfort food,
and they even turn Halloween into a mysig affair by gathering in the cemetery to light thousands of candles on the graves of loved ones.
For someone who narrowly survives each winter by drinking gallons of coffee in the glow of a Happy Light, I was thrilled to learn a few strategies from the masters of winter darkness themselves. Bring on that 3:45 sunset, England…I’ve got my fuzzy socks on and enough cinnamon-y pastries to last till May.
If you make your way to Stockholm, be sure to schedule frequent fika breaks and enjoy these truly mysig restaurants:
Rosendals Tradgard – Hop on a ferry then stroll down a path in the woods to get to this complex of gardens and greenhouses. Dine on simple local fare surrounded by flowers and dripping candles. Absolutely charming.
Oaxen Slip: The best restaurant in Stockholm, featuring small dishes of modern Swedish food…which means lots of fish, pickled things, smoked meats, and crisp bread with butter.
Meatballs for the People: If you’re gonna get ’em, this is the spot.
Pelikan: An old school Swedish beer hall. Start off with a bang by ordering the herring platter and iced aquavit.
Nystekt Strömming (AKA “The Herring Wagon”) – All manner of herring be it on potatoes, in a burger or as a sandwich. An institution and still a local favorite.