The best winter travel ideas for Swedish Lapland
For many first-time visitors, it's the draw of the Northern Lights, Arctic adventure or nature-inspired design accommodation that inspire a winter trip to Swedish Lapland. Upon closer inspection, the potential of the region’s glacier-carved hills (fjalls), island-dotted sea ice, and tales from UNESCO-renowned heritage towns reveal a much more immersive, and often unexpected experience. Having explored the region's quirks on many visits, we've compiled a collection of adventures and experiences fast and slow that put a unique, and well-balanced spin on a visit to the region.
Swedish Lapland's regions
Swedish Lapland’s range of travel experiences are shaped by its diverse landscapes think frozen oceans, forested coastal mainland and mountainous north.
The ice and islands
Swedish Lapland frames the westerly top of the Bothnian Sea. Perhaps uniquely, the frozen sea offers a wealth of outdoor experiences. Think ocean ice rinks, fat biking on ice or swimming experiences on an icebreaker. Generally speaking, January to March is the best time to join outdoor adventures at sea.
The coastal mainland beckons with access to sea and cultural experiences from transport hubs like Lulea. Delve into Sweden’s history or travel further inland to reach off the beaten track lodges, villas, and design accommodation. Some of Sweden’s most pioneering architectural projects call these forested hills, and river-laced landscapes home.
The far North is home to Scandinavia’s oldest mountains, unique design stays like the ICEHOTEL, cosy skiing lodges and Sami culture can be experienced from Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost town.
The ice and islands
A thick layer of ice and winter island hideaways are a compelling reason to explore. From quirky to romantic here’s how to experience the best of Lapland’s archipelago.
Some things that are only appreciated when experienced and an icebreaker cruise experience definitely one of them. Depart from a small harbour outside of Pitea and venture out to the frozen Bothnian Sea on a bright orange icebreaker. Dressed in equally fluorescent drysuits, cruisers can cannonball into an ice pool and body slide on the ice- both experiences that are guaranteed to cause childlike giggles. The post-swim buzz of this offbeat experience will last for days while the hilarity of the moonwalk meets Teletubby drysuit pictures has no expiry date.
Join the locals and explore a 13km long, maintained natural ice rink. The path starts from Lulea city center, is easy to follow and can be explored either independently or as part of a guided tour. If a stay in Lulea is in the cards during January and March gliding out to sea is a must-do experience that provides a glimpse into local outdoor enthusiasm.
Embark on an island-hopping adventure of the canine variety and pace with a pack of excitable huskies across the 40cm thick ice sheet. Pace across the breathtaking desert-like terrain and return with a confident smile only learning a new skill can crack up.
Up the adventure level of your island hideaway transfer on a guided fatbike tour. Depart from Lulea and travel via the snow-covered ice sheet to the Jopikgarden boutique villas. Alternatively, combine culture and adventure on a guided fatbiking adventure from Lulea to Gammelstad.
The river-laced, and forest-carpeted mainland beckons with a mix of adventure, culture, foodie experiences. Here are some of the most exciting experiences which can be accessed from Lulea.
400 years young UNESCO-heritage town, Gammelstad is one of the region’s most well-preserved and incredibly pituresque church towns. With several centuries to look back on a wealth of stories and quirks are waiting to be uncovered by culture and history buffs.
The impressive Gothic church and red timber cottage collection stand testimony to the time Christianity swept into the unchartered North. The introduction of a Sunday service means that a visit to church became a mandatory event, and weekend cottages were erected to make it to church on time, (or to perhaps more importantly to socialise with other farmers). On a guided tour, travelers will learn about Nordic society, quirky traditions like the youth weekends, a bi-weekly, pre-digital matchmaking event and Sweden's welcoming cottage culture.
Put a taste on the landscape and join a culinary class to learn about celebrated Nordic cooking techniques, and the rewards of sourcing local ingredients. Join a Masterchef on his seasonal meal prep at Arctic Retreat, a river-facing boutique lodge, or a self-taught regional food aficionado at Jossegarden. Located in a whimsically decorated 500-year-old farmhouse restaurant a flavour of rural tradition-steeped recipes blends into each meal.
Foodies who are less about the making and all about the tasting can join Arctic Dining experiences. Surrounded by spectacular wilderness and atop a frozen water body a private dinner is served to couples who look for a top-notch Arcitc dining experience.
At the Treehotel, an iconic treetop hotel near Harads, guests enjoy a private candlelight dinner on a frozen river. At Brandon Lodge, the dining experience take place in a red timber cabin which is pulled by snowcat out to a Northern Lights-friendly spot at sea. It is also good to know that food is of a high standard across the entire region. Hotels like the Kust Hotell are part of the White Guide, the Arctic Gourmet Cabin near Kiruna is an award-winning micro restaurant, and family-friendly chalets like Camp Ripan offer outstanding menus.
Relaxation and slow travel
The Nordic Countries foster a gentle relationship with the outdoors year-round. Guided activities and outdoor spa facilities are the best way to experience and nourish this relationship. Step into Sweden's ancient sauna ritual in wilderness lodges or opt for an outstanding immersion in Nordic wellbeing culture a stay at the Arctic Bath, a floating spa bath. The spa complex sits on top of the Hedavan River and features three saunas, a private spa complex, and Sami-run restaurant. Daring souls can stretch their comfort zones on an invigorating plunge into its open water core. An equally spectacular indoor experience, a stay at Grano Beckasin offers a glass cube overlooking the surrounding coniferous forest.
Unless experienced first-hand, it is hard to fathom just how easy it is to access the outdoors. Lodges like Sorbyn are often nestled in remote locations, ideal for Northern Lights Hunts and wildlife experiences. Perhaps unexpectedly, animal footprints from snow hares, mice and birdlife, and edible herbs can be found on a few minutes walk from the lodge. With a savvy guide at hand, a snowshoeing expedition quickly helps Northern Lights-chasers put a smell, taste and feel on the forest-carpeted landscape. Expeditions are about introducing the outdoors and with nature observation at heart, and therefore suited to a wide range of fitness levels.
Mountains combine the awe of far-reaching views with Arctic wilderness adventures. Starting from adventure hub Kiruna the ICEHOTEL, lush skiing lodges, and relaxing chalets create a mix of adventure and chill. ICEHOTEL Not far from Kiruna the iconic ICEHOTEL casts its icy spell over couples seeking a mix of cosiness and thrill. Surrounded intricately designed snow and ice sculptures guests find a night the ice room often surprisingly invigorating.
Reach new heights and chase Lapland’s frozen waterfalls on a winter mountaineering experience. With the help of a guide this unique climbing experience becomes accessible to beginners, and ice climbing first-timers.
Santa may live in Finnish Lapland, but during his downtime he is rumoured to head to journey to Sweden’s mountains with is wife and elves in tow. In a remote skiing lodge not far from Bjorkliden he is still open to visits and sends his elves out teach children how to ski.
Europe’s only indegenous people, the semi-nomadic Sami, have a rich heritage of reindeer herding, Arctic foraging, and nature-inspired crafting. Those have seen Frozen 2 may see the similarities to Northtulda people who take their advice from nature, and their trusty reindeer herds. Learn more about the local herds on a reindeer feeding, and storytelling experience not far from the ICEHOTEL.
Far from Europe’s busy alpine skiing resorts, sublime spring time skiing opportunities await. Hit Sweden’s northernmost slopes exploring its complex network of cross-country and downhill skiing slopes. Watch out for waffles served in remote mountain lodges which can be reached on skis or Hop over to Norway Watch fjalls turn into fjords on a train bound for Northern Norway. The train whisks past vertigo inducing mountain passes quaint red timber train stops and finally halts in Narvik, a harbour town that links to the spikey peaks of the Lofoten Islands. The rail journey is one of Scandinavia’s most scenic trips.