Fresh snow, pristine nature and a sense of true wilderness – northern Sweden really is one area of Scandinavia that’s well worth the effort.
When we think of Sweden, it’s normally the colourful houses and impossibly well-dressed denizens of Stockholm that most of us may think of first. But look further north and you’ll find one of Europe’s true last wildernesses. With a population density of less than 10 people per km², it’s the place to be if you want to switch off from busy day-to-day life and really get back to nature.
This region, called Norrland in Swedish, is known for its contrasting seasons – summers are warm and the sun may never set, whereas winters bring metres of snow and a sun that might not even rise! The contrasts are what makes Norrland so magical – and when you add to that some of the most pristine, typically Scandinavian landscapes, you truly have a winning combination on your hands!
Let’s face it – when people mention Lapland we think of snow, snow and more snow. Maybe a bit of ice thrown in for good measure too! But to think of lush, green countryside with lots of idyllic lakes and villages? Well, you might be surprised to know that in Kiruna, the most northerly town in Sweden, temperatures can settle at around the 15 – 20°C mark during the summer – and if you’re extremely lucky you might even see the thermometer hitting 30°C!
The warm weather ensures wonderfully green landscapes that are just begging to be explored. Whether by boat, kayat or foot, you’ve got countless opportunities for adventures, trekking and camping. How about trekking along the High Coast trail (Höga Kusten) or trekking to the top of Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain? The north of Sweden is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers!
Breathtaking natural beauty
Once summer is over, colder temperatures start creeping in as thermometers go below zero even in in autumn, meaning that things get frosty very quickly. Temperatures of up to -40°C are not unheard of here. And that’s another thing: winters are long. You might not see temperatures start to rise above zero until May. But it’s not all doom and gloom during the winter. Months of frost and metres of snowfall create wonderful wintry landscapes and the perfect skiing conditions – see for yourself…
Sweden’s wonderful lakes
Love to be beside water? Then you don’t necessarily have to head down to the coast to do so. In fact there are more lakes in Sweden than you can shake a stick at – over 10,000 lakes to be precise! But they’re not just a focal point in summer. While it might be a little bit too cold to go swimming, sailing, fishing or angling, lakes can sometimes freeze so deeply that might be able to take your ice skates for a little spin!
Polar night and polar day
Since we live a bit further south we’re used to having a pretty regular day and night cycle. Sure, the sun sets a little earlier during the winter, but it’s nothing too drastic. However, Norrland’s proximity to the North Pole means that polar night and polar day are part of life here. Kiruna is a great place to observe this thanks to it’s location within the Arctic Circle.
What happens during polar night?
Between mid-December and mid-January, there’s no more normal daylight to be had – the sun doesn’t rise completely above the horizon, meaning that there’s no real day or night. Instead everything will be bathed in that famous ‘blue light’, almost as if dusk has come to stay for good! In fact the further far north you go, the darker and longer the polar night becomes. In the Swedish town of Kiruna for example, polar night lasts for almost a whole month! However since it’s just around one degree north of the Arctic Circle’s boundary, the polar nights still are light enough that it just feels like a very, very long twilight.
What happens in summer?
The exact opposite happens in summer. This is the time of the famous ‘white nights’ and midnight sun – the sun will shine for 24 hours! You’re just too far north for the sun to set completely. Apart from a little bit of dusk creeping in from time to time, it remains bright both day and night.
This is a really mind-blowing phenomenon that I think everyone has to try at least once. Obviously it starts being really difficult to stick to your usual sleep routine, but that’s hardly a bad thing. If you really can’t get to sleep at night, then you’ll be surprised to know that there’ll be plenty of things to keep you busy even in the small hours of the night (or… should that be day!). The Björkliden Arctic Golf Course is one of the most northerly golf courses in the world, and it’s open 24 hours a day as long as its bright enough. Or how about a bit of river rafting in the midnight sun and enjoying the complete silence and mystical atmosphere? The possibilities are pretty much endless and you’re bound to have some unforgettable moments along the way.
Watching the Northern Lights in North Sweden
The Aurora Borealis – otherwise known as the Northern Lights – are a common sight in Swedish Lapland, especially from September to the end of March. This otherworldly phenomenon is cause by charged particles from the sun’s rays hitting the atmosphere and reacting with oxygen and nitrogen particles in the atmosphere. Depending on the strength of the sun’s radiation and the altitude in which it triggers reactions from the atmosphere, you’ll find all sorts of colours, ranging from green (the most common) to blue and even red (if you’re especially lucky!). You’re best heading to somewhere away from light pollution to help maximise your chances.
Gurutip: For more advice on watching the Northern Lights, then click here to discover the best locations for watching it!
Once you’ve check the polar forecasts and you’ve found a nice cosy spot in the middle of nowhere, you should have the best views of the spectacle. One place that I can recommend watching it is the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park. There’s a chair lift that will take you up to a station where you’ll find an exhibition about the Northern Lights, a café and even a viewing platform where you can watch the lights. The park will be completely dark, so it’s a great spot to go if you want to try and maximise your chances.
The Swedish national parks
When it comes to looking after and preserving flora and fauna, Sweden is one of the leading countries in the world. The oldest national park in Sweden was founded in 1909 and is the first national park to exist in Europe. It’s called the Sarek National Park, situated in Swedish Lapland, and contains over 100 glaciers and areas of almost impassable terrain. The perfect place for experienced and hardy hikers and adventurers.
But if you prefer forests and beaches more than wild, rugged terrain, you’ll also get your money’s worth in Sweden too. Parks all over Sweden capture that essence of what nature truly is like once left alone by human developments. Just bring a rucksack, pack your hiking gear and set out into Sweden’s marvellous forests of thick pines, swaying birches and beautiful wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for rare animals such as lynxes, brown bars and even elks! And of course, it wouldn’t be Scandinavia without spotting a few reindeer along the way….
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