While Sweden and Finland seem to be places to avoid in winter the country is just as beautiful if not better during winter. In addition to avoiding larger crowds and getting to enjoy unique outdoor activities that are native to the Subarctic and Arctic regions of Scandinavia such as dog sledding, moose and reindeer safaris, searching for the Northern Lights, and learning about indigenous Sámi history, during winter, you can enjoy several safaris that take you through Lapland’s wilderness, forests, and tundra regions to find Sweden’s own “Big Six” — moose, wolverines, wolves, brown bears, lynxes, and musk oxen. We headed up to Jukkasjärvi, close to Kiruna, to visit the world’s first ice hotel. Opened in 1990, the Icehotel is rebuilt every year based on designs from various artists, using ice blocks made from water collected from the Torne River. Sip chilled vodka (or fruit juice if you prefer) from frozen ice glasses served in the Absolut Ice Bar, take in elaborate sculptures carved from ice, or even get married in the Ice Chapel. We spend a few days in the village of Jokkmokk during early February when the 400+ year old Jokkmokk Sami market is in full swing; from reindeer races and traditional fashion shows to sampling reindeer, moose, and other dishes as well as watching the reindeer caravan procession led by Sámi elder Per Kuhmunen. An unforgettable experience. Dog sledding is one of the high energy and exciting winter activities around Swedish Lapland and the Arctic Circle as well as the spectacular mountain regions of Padjelanta and Sarek National Parks in Laponia. catch fish from frozen lakes. If you’ve never gone fishing before, now might be the time to drill a hole through a frozen lake to catch fish such as Arctic char, trout, salmon, pike, perch, grayling, and whitefish. We braved the cold on clear crisp winter nights and were rewarded with one of nature’s most spectacular displays — the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights). These light curtains of green, red, and purple often dance across the sky from October to March and, depending on weather conditions, can be viewed from anywhere in northern Sweden, Finland and Russia. Go snowmobiling across frozen rivers, explore the large snow-covered forests, get off the well-worn road and try an invigorating ride across a frozen lake.
Stockholm the capital city of Sweden, is built on 14 islands and is over 800 years old. Despite the cold weather, we went on a harbor cruise and visited the old town of Gamla Stan. Our truck was parked less than 2km from the city centre at an area specially designed for campers. Metro, train and bus services were excellent and were arriving every few minutes. Communicating in Sweden is easy as most people speak 3 or 4 languages. Travelling further north, the days are now getting shorter. By 3pm at the latest, it is time to find a camp spot. It didn’t take long before we encountered more snow and the snow ploughs came out to clear the roads. In Gronklitt we camped at a perfect spot on the edge of a frozen lake. Next was the start of our encounters with snow mobiles, moose and elk crossing the road. In Jamtland, on the border with Lapland, we had our first experience with huskies and participated in a dog sledding tour through the mountains. Our plan was to make 2 visits in this area, but we enjoyed our stay at Jarvsand camp so much that we stayed for a few more days and enjoyed the Swedish hospitality. We had perfect weather except for one day of heavy snow and blizzard conditions, but it was not too cold. (Or perhaps we are getting used to the climate). The campsite was also home to 76 huskies and some reindeer. We camped right on the Gulf of Bothnia, which was completely frozen. This is where we really came to understand what cold weather was all about. The temperature never rose above minus 13 Degrees and during the night it went down to minus 31 Degrees. But the next day it was worse again and although there were blue skies, the temperature was down to minus 19 Degrees when we crossed the Arctic Circle. It came down to minus 36 Degrees that night. As the weather was bitterly cold and the air clear we were hoping to get our first glimpse of the Northern Lights. But that didn’t happen.
In jokkmott we also visited the Ajtte Sami Museum and the Sami handicraft foundation. We are now in Lapland, the land of the Sami people who have been living here for thousands of years, most herding reindeer. The Sami people have their own flag and their own language (Sampi) and anthem. In the Lapland towns there are more snow mobiles than cars. Swedish Lapland in winter is a landscape of enormous change, mountains, frozen lakes, small villages, frozen rivers, and many things you may never have experienced before, like the deafening sound of snowflakes falling slowly to the ground and the sun glowing like a fire over the mountain. The town of Jukkasjarvi boasts the first original ice hotel in Europe. Building starts in November using Ice from the frozen Tomealven River. The hotel melts away in April/May. It is also the birthplace of the Absolute Vodka Ice-bars. From here it was only a short drive to Kiruna. From here we crossed into Norway and the the first town we encountered was Kautokeino, population 3,000 and 100,000 reindeer.