Top Events

Midsummer, June

Sled safaris & skiing, March

Roskilde Festival, June & July

Aurora watching, November

Christmas, December

January

It's cold. Very cold and very dark. But this is the beginning of the active winter; there's enough snow for ice hotels, and winter sports are reliable.

Skábmagovat, Finland

In the third week of January, this film festival with an indigenous theme is held in the Finnish Sámi village of Inari. Associated cultural events also happen here throughout the winter.

Kiruna Snöfestivalen, Sweden

This Lapland snow festival, based around a snow-sculpting competition that draws artists from all over, is held in the last week of January. There's also a husky dog competition and a handicrafts fair.

February

There's enough light now for it to be prime skiing season in northern Scandinavia. Local holidays mean it gets very busy (and pricey) on the slopes mid-February.

Þorrablót, Iceland

Held all across the country, nominally in honour of the god Thor, this midwinter festival's centrepiece is a feast for the fearless that includes delicacies such as fermented shark.

Rørosmartnan, Norway

An old-fashioned and traditional winter fair livens the streets of the historic Norwegian town of Røros.

Jokkmokk Winter Market, Sweden

The biggest Sámi market of the year with all manner of crafts for sale, preceded by celebrations of all things Sámi and featuring reindeer races on the frozen lake.

March

As the hours of light dramatically increase and temperatures begin to rise again, this is an excellent time to take advantage of the hefty snow cover and indulge in some winter fun.

Vasaloppet, Sweden

Held on the first Sunday in March, this ski race (www.vasaloppet.se) salutes Gustav Vasa's history-making flight on skis in 1521. It has grown into a week-long ski fest and celebration with different races – short, gruelling or just for fun.

Sled Safaris & Skiing, Northern Norway, Sweden & Finland

Whizzing across the snow pulled by a team of huskies or reindeer is a pretty spectacular way to see the northern wildernesses. Add snowmobiling or skiing to the mix and it's a top time to be at high latitude.

Reindeer Racing, Finland

Held over the last weekend of March or first of April, the King's Cup is the grand finale of Finnish Lapland's reindeer-racing season and a great spectacle.

April

Easter is celebrated in a traditional fashion across the region. Spring is underway in Denmark and the southern parts, but there's still solid snow cover in the northern reaches.

Sámi Easter Festival, Norway

Thousands of Sámi participate in reindeer racing, theatre and cultural events in the Finnmark towns of Karasjok and Kautokeino (www.samieasterfestival.com). The highlight is the Sámi Grand Prix, a singing and yoiking (traditional Sámi form of song) contest attended by artists from across Lapland.

Jazzkaar, Tallinn

Late April sees jazz greats from all around the world converge on Estonia's picturesque capital for this series of performances (www.jazzkaar.ee).

Valborgsmässoafton, Sweden

This public holiday (Walpurgis Night) on 30 April is a pagan hold-over that's partly to welcome the arrival of spring. Celebrated across the country, it involves lighting huge bonfires, singing songs and forming parades.

May

A transitional month up north, with snow beginning to disappear and signs of life emerging after the long winter. Down south, spring is in full flow. A rewarding time to visit the southern capitals.

Aalborg Carnival, Denmark

In late May, Aalborg kicks up its heels hosting the biggest Carnival celebrations in northern Europe, when up to 100,000 participants and spectators shake their maracas and paint the town red.

Bergen International Festival, Norway

One of the biggest events on Norway's cultural calendar, this two-week festival, beginning in late May, showcases dance, music and folklore presentations, some international, some focusing on traditional local culture.

Reykjavík Arts Festival, Iceland

Running for two weeks from late May to June in even-numbered years, this wide-ranging festival sees Iceland's capital taken over by theatre performances, films, lectures and music.

June

Midsummer is celebrated with gusto, but it's typically a family event; unless you've local friends it's not necessarily the best time to visit. Lapland's muddy, but the rest of the region is warm and welcoming.

Old Town Days, Tallinn

This week-long Estonian festival (www.vanalinnapaevad.ee) in early June features dancing, concerts, costumed performers and plenty of medieval merrymaking in the heart of Tallinn's stunning historic centre.

Stockholm Jazz Festival, Sweden

Held on the island of Skeppsholmen in the centre of Stockholm, this well-known jazz fest brings artists from all over, including big international names.

Independence Day, Iceland

Held on 17 June, this is the largest nationwide festival in the country. It commemorates the founding of the Republic of Iceland in 1944 with big parades and general celebration.

Midsummer, Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Finland

The year's biggest event in continental Nordic Europe sees fun family feasts, joyous celebrations of the summer, heady bonfires and copious drinking, often at normally peaceful lakeside summer cottages. It takes place on the weekend that falls between 19 and 26 June.

Extreme Sports Festival, Norway

Adventure junkies from across the world converge on Voss in late June for a week of skydiving, paragliding, parasailing and base jumping; music acts keep the energy flowing.

Frederikssund Vikingespil, Denmark

Held in Frederikssund over a three-week period from late June to early July, this Viking festival (www.vikingespil.dk) includes a costumed open-air drama followed by a banquet with Viking food and entertainment.

July

Peak season sees long, long days and sunshine. This is when the region really comes to life, with many festivals, boat trips, activities, cheaper hotels and a celebratory feel. Insects in Lapland are a nuisance.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Denmark

This is the biggest entertainment event of the year in the capital, with 10 days of music at the beginning of July. The festival features a range of Danish and international jazz, blues and fusion music, with more than 500 indoor and outdoor concerts.

Skagen Festival, Denmark

Held on the first weekend of July, this festival at Denmark's picturesque northern tip features folk and world music performed by Danish and international artists.

Roskilde Festival, Denmark

Northern Europe's largest music festival rocks Roskilde each summer. It takes place in early July, but advance ticket sales are on offer around October and the festival usually sells out.

Ruisrock, Finland

Finland's oldest and possibly best rock festival takes place in early July on an island just outside the southwestern city of Turku. Top Finnish and international acts take part.

Wife-Carrying World Championships, Finland

The world's premier wife-carrying event is held in the village of Sonkajärvi in early July. Winning couples (marriage not required) win the woman's weight in beer as well as significant kudos.

Moldejazz, Norway

Norway has a fine portfolio of jazz festivals, but Molde's version in mid-July is the most prestigious. With 100,000 spectators, world-class performers and a reputation for consistently high-quality music, it's easily one of Norway's most popular festivals.

Ólavsøka, Faroe Islands

The largest and most exciting traditional festival in the Faroes celebrates the 10th-century Norwegian king Olav the Holy, who spread Christian faith on the isles. The big days are 28 and 29 July.

Savonlinna Opera Festival, Finland

A month of excellent performances in the romantic location of one of Europe's most picturesquely situated castles makes this Finland's biggest summer drawcard for casual and devoted lovers of opera.

August

Most Scandinavians are back at work, so it's quieter than in July but there's still decent weather across most of the region. A great time for Lapland hiking, biking the islands or cruising the archipelagos.

Medieval Week, Sweden

Find yourself an actual knight in shining armour at Medieval Week, an immensely popular annual Swedish fest in Visby, Gotland's medieval jewel. It takes place over a week in early August.

Þjóðhátíð, Iceland

Held over the first weekend in August, this festival on the Vestmannaeyjar islands is Iceland's biggest piss-up, with three days of music, fireworks and frivolity. It's a big thing for young Icelanders: an enormous bonfire is a focal point.

Menningarnótt, Iceland

On a Saturday in mid-August, this 'cultural night' rocks Reykjavík, when the whole city seems to be out on the streets for quality Icelandic bands on a variety of stages.

Smukfest, Denmark

This midmonth music marvel in Skanderborg bills itself as Denmark’s most beautiful festival, and is second only to Roskilde in terms of scale. It takes place in lush parkland in the scenic Lake District and attracts up to 40,000 music fans.

Aarhus Festival, Denmark

The 10-day Aarhus Festival starts in late August and features scores of musical performances, theatre, ballet, modern dance, opera, films and sports events at indoor and outdoor venues across Denmark's second-largest city.

Air Guitar World Championships, Finland

Tune your imaginary instrument and get involved in this crazy rockstravaganza held in Oulu in late August. This surfeit of cheesy guitar classics and seemingly endless beer is all in the name of world peace.

Copenhagen Cooking & Food Festival, Denmark

Scandinavia's largest food festival focuses on the gourmet. It's a busy event that lets you see presentations from top chefs, go on food-oriented tours of the city and taste produce.

Copenhagen Pride, Denmark

Six days of revelry in the August sunshine sees Copenhagen turn rainbow-hued. There are lots of events throughout, but the big bash is the parade on the Saturday.

September

Winter is fast approaching: pack something warm for those chilly nights. Autumn colours are spectacular in northern forests, making it another great month for hiking. Many attractions and activities close or go onto winter time.

Reykjavík International Film Festival, Iceland

This annual event right at the end of September sees blockbusters make way for international art films in cinemas across the city, as well as talks from film directors from home and abroad.

Ruska Hiking, Finland & Sweden

Ruska is the Finnish word for the autumn colours, and there's a mini high season in Finnish and Swedish Lapland as hikers take to the trails to enjoy nature's brief artistic flourish.

October

Snow is already beginning to carpet the region's north. It's generally a quiet time, as locals face the realities of yet another long winter approaching.

Hem & Villa, Sweden

Held across Sweden's two largest cities, this major interior design fair (www.hemochvilla.se) highlights upcoming trends. You'll be years ahead of your Ikea-going friends.

November

Once the clocks change in late October, there's no denying winter. November's bad for winter sports as there's little light and not enough snow. It can be a good month to see the aurora borealis, though.

Aurora Watching, Iceland, Norway, Sweden & Finland

Whether you are blessed with seeing the aurora borealis is largely a matter of luck, but the further north you are, the better the chances. Dark, cloudless nights, patience and a viewing spot away from city lights are other key factors.

Stockholm International Film Festival, Sweden

Screenings of new international and independent films, director talks and discussion panels draw cinephiles to this important annual festival. Tickets go fast; book early.

Iceland Airwaves, Iceland

This five-day event in Reykjavík is one of the world's most cutting-edge music festivals: don't expect to sleep. It focuses on new musical trends rather than mainstream acts.

December

The Christmas period is celebrated enthusiastically across the region, with cinnamon, mulled drinks, romantic lights and festive traditions putting the meaning back into the event.

Christmas, Region-wide

Whether visiting Santa and his reindeer in Finnish Lapland, admiring the magic of Copenhagen's Tivoli at night or sampling home-baked delicacies, Christmas – especially if you know a friendly local family to spend it with – is a heart-warming time to be here.