Wrap up warm and let northern Sweden work its magic on you this winter. Here are nine incredible experiences to get you started.
Built from blocks of ice from the Torne River, the award-winning Icehotel (www.icehotel.com) opens its doors from December–March. Its ice rooms, furniture and ice sculptures are individually carved each year by international artists and guests sleep in thermal sleeping bags, reviving in the morning in the sauna with a cup of hot lingonberry juice.
Make it happen: Icehotel is located in Jukkasjärvi, 15km from the town of Kiruna. Overnight stay in an ice double from SEK2350 per person.
The eerie celestial spectacle of yellowish-green, violet, white and red streaks, swirls and waves sweeping across the polar night sky has captivated travellers and the people of the north for centuries. The aurora borealis is caused by the collision of energy-charged sun particles with atoms in the Earth’s magnetic field.
Make it happen: the northern lights are most commonly seen between the months of October and March, but the light show doesn’t appear every night. The mountain-top Aurora Sky Station (www.auroraskystation.com) near Abisko makes a great (and warm) observation point (SEK595 for a night visit).
Jokkmokk Winter Market
Taking place on the first weekend in February, the market (www.jokkmokksmarknad.se) attracts around 30,000 people, including Sámi artisans from all over northern Sweden who gather to sell their unique duodji (handicrafts), gossip and watch the reindeer races on frozen Lake Talvatissjön. The market is preceded by several days of folk music, food tasting sessions, plays, parades, and photography and art exhibitions.
Northern Sweden’s largely flat, snow-covered expanses are just crying out for exploration. And racing in the Arctic twilight, your sled pulled along by a team of baying huskies, is an exhilarating way to go. No prior experience is necessary to drive your own sled; you will be introduced to your dog team and learn basic commands.
Make it happen: Abisko Fjällturer (www.abisko.net) in Abisko and Kiruna Sleddog Tours (sleddog.se) near Kiruna are both established operators, offering anything from two-hour jaunts to overnight tours. Half-day dog-sledding starts at around SEK1100.
Arctic Swedish cuisine is governed by seasonal ingredients found in the wild, such as reindeer, elk, ptarmigan, Arctic char, wild mushrooms and berries. Fäviken (favikenmagasinet.se) serves elaborate 14-course tasting menus, the principal ingredients caught by the chef; Sånninggården (www.sanninggarden.com) tantalises with the likes of cognac-cured deer carpaccio and reindeer-blood pancakes; while at the gourmet Icehotel Restaurant (www.icehotel.com) delicate offerings are presented on plates made of Torne river ice.
Make it happen: to reach Fäviken, take a train to Åre and book a transfer with the restaurant. Sånninggården is reachable by car along the Norway-bound E12, while the Icehotel restaurant is easily accessible from Kiruna. Reservations essential.
Arctic Sweden is part of Sápmi – the land inhabited by Sámi people that stretches across northern Scandinavia. The reindeer herders manage to combine traditional livelihood with modern life and visitors can stay with Sámi families at their winter grazing to learn about their culture or else take part in reindeer sledding expeditions.
Make it happen: Visit Sápmi (www.visitsapmi.com) is an invaluable resource that can put you in touch with specific Sámi communities. Nutti Sámi Siida (www.nutti.se) organises multi-day reindeer sled expeditions led by a Sámi herder and overnight stays in traditional dwellings. A four-day reindeer sled tour costs SEK12,800.
During the winter months, northern Sweden is criss-crossed with designated snowmobile tracks marked with red ‘x’ signs. The more adventurous runs include parts of the 600km-Kungsleden (the King’s Trail), as well as trails in the mountains by the Norwegian border.
Make it happen: reliable operators such as Snowmobile Lapland (www.snowmobilelapland.com) in Vilhelmina and Super Safari (www.supersafari.info; Swedish only) in Arvidsjaur offer safaris ranging from two hours to four days. Drive your own snowmobile or ride pillion behind an experienced driver. Thermal underwear is a must. Two-hour safaris start at SEK1200.
Every year in February, professional drivers descend on Arvidsjaur to put the latest Porsches and Mercedes through their paces on the frozen lakes surrounding the town. You can also learn to take control of your vehicle along slippery tracks on Lake Baksjön and Lake Åre.
Make it happen: Arctic Driving (www.arcticdriving.com) in Vilhelmina and Ice Driving Sweden (www.icedrivingsweden.se) in Åre both offer weekend courses that involve around eight hours’ ice driving with an instructor. February is the best month to go. An ice-driving weekend will set you back around SEK6000.
From November to April, the Gulf of Bothnia freezes over and the entire Luleå Archipelago – more than 1700 islands – becomes an immense playground for ice skaters. On your own two legs you can whiz along the designated ice roads to the islands of Hindersön, Stor-Brändön and Långön.
Make it happen: Luleå is reachable by overnight train from Stockholm. The tourist office (www.visitlulea.se) can put you in touch with Luleå Långfärdsskridskoklubb who organise skating tours for beginners and advanced skaters. Day tours start at around SEK500.