Fall in Love with Winter Again!
Arctic Scandinavia is truly a place for the traveller who seeks ‘something different.’ Due to its latitude, there are extreme differences between summer and winter. This article concerns the winter face of Arctic Sweden and Norway, and what a face this is!
In the dark winter months from mid-December to late January the sun will never rise. Only the glowing blue twilight of the polar night will illuminate the white rolling mountains by day, and by night the shining moon and more stars than you ever knew could possibly exist (and maybe the Northern Lights). To illustrate the remoteness, imagine the distance from London to Edinburgh in the UK, and how many towns and cities there are between the two. Travelling the same distance in Arctic Scandinavia may have you coming across an array of tiny fishing villages, a vast, remote national park, and a local town. Or just nothing…
Our journey in this fantastical winter wonderland begins in a place called Kiruna - Sweden’s northernmost city. It is a place with an abundance of snow, ice, and Nordic forests, possessing a great many opportunities for weird and wonderful winter activities. The rich Sami culture is great for learning about Arctic living and to experience close encounters with reindeer for a more typical Christmas time experience. In addition to this, the distinct possibility of sighting the simply magnificent Northern Lights is an experience like no other.
Kiruna is a small unassuming town and it is mainly the surroundings which draw the attention of the traveller. A memorable excursion is a dogsledding trip with Kirunanature.com. This can be a pre-booked half-day tour – just perfect for a taster of dogsledding, or a number of days camping, staying in Sami huts, and travelling the area by sled.
“The friendly and knowledgeable guide picked us up from our hotel and took us to the dog kennels. The first thing I can recall is hearing the dogs’ almighty din! They, like us, were excited to get going on a winter adventure. Once zipped into our warm arctic suits, with furry hats and gloves, (provided) we climbed aboard the sled (usually no more than 4 people per sled). Immediately the dogs fell silent as the sled was yanked forward… After sliding along through this fantasy winter wonderland for just under an hour, the dogs guiding us through the forest and over frozen lakes, we stopped at a traditional Lapp tent to eat snacks around a fire, then travel back through the snow, hardly daring to believe it’s real…”
Husky trips and tours like this run at approximately 900 SEK per adult and abut 600 SEK per child. Students always get discounts on trips and excursions. There is a massive choice of excursions including overnight excursions, mixed activity excursions, and night northern lights searching excursions. See below for useful websites with more information.
|ICEBAR at ICEHOTEL!|
The best idea is to book excursions before you go to avoid disappointment. Most trip organisers only require payment on the day, however if booking through the Icehotel pre-payment is usually necessary.
For more information on Kiruna and activities visit:
www.icehotel.com and http://www.kirunalapland.se/en/Home/
HotelThe 3 star rustic but charming Ditt Hotell Jarnvagshotellet is situated at the Kiruna rail station. In fact the hotel is practically on the platform! The owner was very kind and friendly, and the hotel has a personal feel. Rooms are comfortable, clean, warm and very reasonably priced. A basic but substantial breakfast was included. There was also a sauna, as you will find in many hotels in this part of the world.
Staying at ICEHOTEL provides a few different options including the exquisite ice sculpture rooms - completed by local and international artists, with ice furniture, and a different dramatic theme for each room. There also more basic ice rooms with ice furniture, 'snow' rooms - like an igloo, and 'dry' (indoor) accommodation. It is a constant -5 degrees in the Icehotel, and you sleep in Swedish army sleeping bags, on top of surprisingly comfortable Reindeer hides!
The ICEBAR at the Icehotel is fantastic to visit, and although drinks are expensive, it is a wonderful place to drink and have a dance. Make sure to drink soft drinks within half an hour or they will freeze solid!
Abisko National Park
From Kiruna we move on to the Abisko National Park, about an hour’s drive away. This is often referred to as ‘Europe’s last wilderness’ and this is not far from the truth. In fact, the whole of Northern Scandinavia is an unspoilt and rural land.
During mid-daytime hours the twilight and an ever-lasting sunset is great for viewing the otherworldly, almost lunar scenery. Stick on a warm windproof coat, some thermals, winter boots, hats, gloves, and, not looking too dissimilar to the Michelin man, a walk in this area is not entirely impossible. In fact, once you have gotten over the initial hurdle of covering every inch of flesh from exposure to the biting arctic wind, a walk in this area is truly sensational. Being outdoors in such cold conditions is a rewarding and thrilling experience in itself and the Abisko National park is as good a place as any to soak up some incredible remote and rugged beauty. If you're lucky a beautiful arctic sunset will enhance this experience even further.By night, Abisko National Park is a perfect place to attempt a sighting of the Northern Lights, as it lies in a natural ‘rain shadow’ and rarely has much cloud cover. There is tourist station which runs a beautiful chairlift ride up the mountainside in the night to a mountain station at about 500m with a café and a simply wonderful view once your eyes get used to the dark. The silence, darkness, stars and possible Northern Lights make for an extremely mysterious and poignant experience. The cost of the trip to the mountain station is approximately 700 SEK per adult.
For information about the Northern Lights and the best times to see them, see my Iceland article and Northen Lights blog post.
For information about Abisko you can visit:
For information about Abisko you can visit:
A few minutes’ drive on from Abisko takes us to Bjorkliden, which has a ski resort with ski school and tourist area with restaurant and varied accommodation including apartments, hotels, and very large apartments for groups of 8 or more, each complete with hot tub. At this time of year, although extremely cold, with the right gear the skiing can be great for beginners due to the lack of busy crowds and queues at ski lifts. Visit the Bjorkliden website at:
Moving on from the Abisko area, we come across Riksgransen just before the Norwegian border, this is another ski resort and spa but the hotel closes in winter. Travelling into Norway takes us into a beautifully mountainous area on the way to the magnificent Northern Fjords. About two hours from Abisko is the Norwegian coastal town of Narvik. Situated at the beginning of a fjord, Narvik affords beautiful views of the surrounding area, especially from the Narvik ski resort, which has pistes running down the mountainside facing the sublime views of the Narvik Fjord. Narvik is a good base for exploring the nearby Fjords and islands, especially the coastal fishing villages and dramatic mountains of the rural Lofoten Islands. Narvik does lack accommodation and hotels, and it would be wise to book well in advance as many hotels close for the winter.
The drive from Narvik to Tromso consists of some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery of the journey from Kiruna. Since Kiruna, the scenery has morphed from flatter plains, sprawling forests and smooth mountains into deep frozen fjords, sharply sloping Norwegian fir forests, and a landscape of dense snowy mountains.
Snowman Ski Resort and Bardufoss Area(also featured in skiing section)
A great place to stop is the Malselv Resort near Bardufoss (Malselv fjellandsby). This ski resort is tucked away up the side of a mountain. The view down into the valleys below faces West and when the sky is clear the array of colours is magnificent. In the daytime hours the sun creeps upwards behind the mountains in the distance, and sinks ever so slowly again after midday, never reaching the horizon.
Skiing: The ski hire is reasonable and runs at about 800 NOK for half a day for an adult, including a ski lift pass. My experience at this ski resort was in the late afternoon and at this time it was dark. The slopes were well lit and very near to the warm sanctuary of the café, which has a lovely warm fire – much appreciated after getting so cold out on the -20 slopes!
Hotel & Accommodation Suggestions
The Snowman resort has a good choice of accommodation, including fantastic clean and modern apartments with exquisite mountain views. If you are travelling as a group this can work out very economically (for Scandinavia). This accommodation is not on most major hotel booking sites. Visit Snowman resort website at:
The 3 hour drive from Snowman resort affords dramatic fjord scenery. After the wilds of the rural Arctic, Tromso, whilst surrounded by stunning scenery, seems a buzzing metropolis with a wealth of shopping, accommodation and eateries. Indeed, it has all that, and is comparable in size to any moderate UK city. There is fantastic modern Arctic cathedral and a polar museum (Polarmuseet).
Hotel and Food Suggestions
3-star Viking Hotell Tromso, is a great hotel with very friendly staff. Clean and tidy, with a lovely varied breakfast. Contact details: Grønnegata 18, 9008 Tromsø, Norge - 77 64 77 30
For excellent budget pizza try Dolly Dimple's. This Norwegian chain restaurant can be found in three locations in Tromso. For specific locations and maps visit:
It is advisable to hire a car if you are travelling around, especially in winter when public services operate less. Train travel is possible from Kiruna to Narvik (last stop). A bus service runs to Tromso. Driving on the roads is easy enough. Be prepared for road closures and moose, elk or reindeer in the road. Car hire in Sweden is cheaper than Norway.
Carry emergency food supplies and have the correct windproof and thermal clothing. Arctic winter temperatures can reach as low as -40 degrees, although it's more likely to be between -10 and -20.
Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved