For many people, winter is a magical time for holidays, ski trips, and the whole “winter wonderland” thing. I am not one of those people! I have never enjoyed the frigid winter temperatures, snow, or ice (especially if I have to drive in it!). It's safe to say that I will never be your typical snow bunny. Despite avoiding the cold weather as much as possible, I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone and take the “polar” plunge, so to speak. To do so, I took off to the Heart of Lapland, the very northeastern section of Lapland Sweden, known by many as the Arctic Region! The area shares 297 kilometers of river with the Finland border, and while Finland may be the more popular tourist destination for those looking to visit Lapland – for now – I encourage you to check out its neighbor in the Heart of Lapland region for a more authentic experience, as I can honestly say that Heart of Lapland stole my heart.
Lapland Sweden has beautiful sunsets!
Heart of Lapland prides itself on being family owned and family run. The area is a breath of fresh air – literally! Rather than finding yourself in overly touristy and impersonal locations, visiting Heart of Lapland will make you feel like you’re taking a step back in time. Prepare to embrace “the slow life” and immerse yourself in the beautiful vistas and fascinating cultures in the region. Read on to discover why you should visit Lapland Sweden during the winter…
All photos in this article were taken by David Rocaberti Photography during our trip prior to the Coronavirus pandemic. We do not encourage travel at this time, but bookmark this article for later! This page contains affiliate links, meaning that The Five Foot Traveler may receive a small commission when you purchase any flights or accommodations using the links in this article at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your continued support!
Where is Lapland? [How to get to Lapland]
Swedish Lapland is Sweden’s northernmost region. In fact, it takes up about a quarter of the entirety of Sweden! But despite being so remote, it is certainly an easily visited destination. When you think of the Arctic Region, most people tend to think that it’s only accessible via cruise when, in reality, it’s quite the opposite. There are two main ways to access Heart of Lapland:
1. Fly to Lulea or Kiruna, the two main airports near Heart of Lapland. While there’s usually a layover in Stockholm, starting December 2020 there will be direct flights from London to Lulea. These flights will be flown by a plane using 15%-20% less fuel than the industry standard. For the time being though, the two main carriers are Norwegian Air and SAS. I’d recommend flying into Lulea if you can, as it’s closer to the region. Book your flight here.
2. Fly to Stockholm and board the Swedish Railways overnight train to Lulea. This was the option that I chose, with the reason being twofold – I didn’t want to take a third flight, and I wanted to support their green initiatives. We chose a first class private cabin with two beds and a private bathroom/shower and it was about the same price as the flight would have been. Book your train here.
Where is Lapland? By the Arctic Circle, of course!
Driving in Sweden
I didn’t know what to expect when visiting Lapland in the winter. I knew that there’d be a lot of snow, but I wasn’t sure what the road conditions would be like. Being a Volvo owner, all I knew was that I had a preference for Swedish cars! After spending four full days in Swedish Lapland, I can honestly say that driving in Sweden is quite easy, and having a car is absolutely necessary — unless, of course, you book a group trip or organize all transportation through a tour operator or hotel. When considering which car to rent, know that you should have a proper 4 wheel drive car, as the roads will certainly be snowy if you visit during the winter season.
Driving in Sweden wasn't as difficult as it looks!
Renting a car to visit Lapland couldn’t have been easier! We picked up the keys to our rental car at the Lulea Train Station and dropped them off at the Kiruna Train Station (as we began in Lulea and ended in Kiruna). The process probably took all of 2 minutes and was the easiest car rental process I’ve ever had! I cannot speak to the pick up/drop off process from the regional airports, but I presume they’re quite efficient. You can secure the best rates for your rental car in Sweden here.
The road conditions in Lapland Sweden are surprisingly very drivable!
As for driving itself, fear not! Lapland Sweden is so used to the Arctic climate that the roads are quite drivable, even though they look snowy and icy. As with all things, take your time, drive slowly, and take your turns carefully. We drove in a snowstorm twice and had no problems.
Lapland Weather [Lapland Winter Temperatures]
I will admit: I was really worried about Lapland weather and had no idea how to pack for the Arctic. I mean, Lapland winter temperatures seemed like no joke and I had expected to feel cold like I’d never felt before…and yet, during our visit it was no chillier than a cold winter day in New York or skiing in the Swiss Alps. That said, it can get incredibly cold, so make sure you pack plenty of layers!
Packing for Lapland weather? No problem! Lapland Winter Temperatures aren't are bad as you think…
An Authentic Experience
Before I get into all of the amazing winter activities that you can do when you visit Lapland, I first want to touch on not only how incredible the experiences were as a whole, but how wonderful the people are. One of the things that’s very special about Heart of Lapland is that – as I mentioned earlier – everything is family owned and family run. You will certainly engage with locals who aren’t trying to impress you, but rather just want to share their lifestyle. In all of my travels, never have I experienced this level of authentic hospitality, and for that I’m truly grateful.
Bundled, but we so loved getting to know the locals!
Now without further ado, here are thirteen fun things to do when you visit Lapland Sweden!
13 Fun Things To Do In Heart of Lapland
Sleep in an Igloo: When I think of Lapland, I immediately imagine snow covered igloos. So, when we discovered the Ice & Light Village in Kalix, we knew that we just had to sleep in a glass igloo! The owner, Maarit, is as sweet as could be and she certainly put a lot of thought into the decor of each igloo. These luxury igloos are located right along the Kalix river and made of glass, so if you’re lucky enough to see the Northern Lights appear, they’ll dance overhead. The Ice & Light Village is also entirely sustainable, which is obviously great for the environment!
Ice & Light Village in Kalix, Sweden
Take out a Snowmobile: When we visited Heart of Lapland, the ice on the river was close to 70cm — thick enough to carry the weight of a truck! We were taken out on a snowmobile safari by Orjan from Filipsborg Mansion and it was an absolute blast! This was a 3 hour, 12.5km snowmobile ride on the ice that really showcased the expanse of the region. The wind rushed through our hair as we sped along, taking in our first Arctic views.
Snowmobiling in Heart of Lapland
Board the Icebreaker: The Polar Explorer Icebreaker is a three hour cruise in which the vessel literally breaks the ice in the ocean as it “sails” along. There are guided tours from the engine rooms to the Captain’s Bridge. The main draw of the Icebreaker, other than witnessing its power, is to put on a survival suit and take a dip in the icy Arctic oceans. While I didn’t go swimming myself, people say that it’s an enjoyable experience!
Polar Icebreaker cutting through the icy ocean
Float in the Icy Ocean: With that said, I did get into the water! Rather than joining a group of people, we tested out the brand new floatation pools at Nordic Lapland. They’re individual-sized pools made for two people, and it’s a more personalized experience. They have their own survival suits on hand to keep you warm and, once you’re all geared up, you will be taken to your own personal ice pool. Floating is a very therapeutic experience, and you will have access to the sauna to warm up afterwards!
Enjoying an icy pools, thanks to our survival suits!
Enjoy a Delicious Meal: Frevis by the Sea (or ice, in this case) was an absolutely delicious culinary experience. It’s located just ten minutes from the Polar Explorer Icebreaker and open for lunch and dinner. Chef David is incredibly talented and did an excellent job of creating Arctic fusion dishes – meals that are inspired by the Arctic, with a twist of international flair! Most of the ingredients are locally sourced and, most certainly, beautifully presented. Unfortunately, I devoured the food before I could take a photo!
Ride on a Kickbike: I have a confession to make: I can’t ride a bike well. I’ve mastered the spin bike, but that’s about it. When we stopped by Mieko Basecamp though, we decided to try out a Kickbike; it was similar to a scooter, but with thicker tires. We kickbiked down the street and over onto the frozen lake, which was simply beautiful! Be warned though… kickbiking is quite tiring on the legs. Warm up after a snowy ride back at the Basecamp with some of Johanna’s mouth-watering pumpkin soup, if you’re lucky!
Kickbiking for the first time in Lapland Sweden!
Hop on a Dog Sled: I’ve always associated dogsledding with Alaska, but it’s a big part of the culture in the Arctic countries, with plenty of people still participating in dog sled races. Before booking a dog sled tour, it’s important to choose a tour operator that genuinely cares about their dogs versus exploiting them for the sake of tourism. It was clear from the moment that we met the dogs at Mieko Basecamp that they were incredibly well taken care of, well trained, and very loved! The dog sled experience was both beautiful and memorable. We were cozy and relaxed as we zoomed through the countryside at sunset.
A dogsled ride at Mieko Basecamp
Try out Snowshoeing: I had the opportunity to snowshoe twice while in Heart of Lapland, and I was definitely better at it the second time around (pro tip: don’t try walking backwards in snowshoes, unless you want your butt in the snow!). When we arrived in Jockfall, Robin showed us around via snowshoe and took us down to the beautiful Jockfall Waterfall! The area surrounding Jockfall is incredibly peaceful, and we could have easily walked around for hours. Be sure to snuggle the puppies for me when you visit!
Snowshoeing in Jockfall
Pet a Reindeer: Up until recently, when I thought of Reindeer, I’m guilty of going straight to Rudolph…like most people. But they are so much more lovely than the “red-nosed reindeer!” We had the opportunity to get up close and personal with reindeer with Anna-Lena Kaati. They were incredibly gentle, albeit a bit shy. I must say though, it was pretty surreal being so close to reindeer in Lapland Sweden; even though it wasn’t Christmas, it certainly reinforced that “Winter Wonderland” feel!
Can I adopt this reindeer from Heart of Lapland?
Find Wild Moose: We spent a while driving around Overkalix and were lucky enough to spot four wild moose in the span of about an hour! My success rate was much better in Heart of Lapland than it was in Yellowstone National Park. The area is also a fantastic place to watch one of those epic Lapland sunsets!
We never expected to find a moose in the wild!
Have a Traditional Sauna Experience: The Sauna appears to be a way of life in Sweden; just about every local we met mentioned that they go in the sauna daily. While we don’t have a sauna culture in the States, I was all for it! Jockfall offers a Sauna and Jacuzzi experience paired with a snack tray full of local Lapland treats. We so enjoyed our time in the sauna and jacuzzi that we didn’t break out the camera (sometimes it’s important to live in the moment), but we did take out the camera when this happened…
One of the most fun moments on our trip to Lapland!
I may have been urged to go from the jacuzzi to the sauna to the snow! After making the sauna hot enough to the point where it was unbearable, we ran outside, jumped in the snow, and made snow angels! There were so many laughs and smiles, and we had an absolute blast! That said, I don’t recommend this for everyone and be sure to ask a local about it beforehand.
Moving on from Heart of Lapland, I suggest:
Sleep on a Bed of Ice: Who knew the world’s first ice hotel was in Sweden?! Every winter the Icehotel is built using snow and ice, and every year the spring melts away the snowy suites. The Icehotel has fifteen different art suites that are hand-carved and unique, by artists from all around the world; no two suites are alike. Our room was kept at -5 C / 23 F and we slept on a bed of ice with reindeer hides in our expedition-style sleeping bags. It was an experience to say the least!
Sleeping in an ice room if a must when you visit Lapland!
Go up into the Mountains: Mattarahkka Northern Lights Lodge in Lapland Sweden offers a fantastic snowmobile safari to the highlands. Mikko will lead you through an excellent multi-hour tour that offers spectacular views. The views are unlike those in Heart of Lapland, as it takes you up into the mountains! Upon finishing up your excursion, I highly recommend sticking around for a meal; we had a delicious, home-cooked stew!
A beautiful day for a snowmobile on our visit to Lapland!
Hotels in Lapland
We had the opportunity to stay at numerous hotels in Lapland. As you plan your visit to Lapland, I recommend checking out the following:
While we visited Lapland in the winter, we are eager to get back to experience all of the other seasons as well! During our trip, we learned that it’s not just a winter destination as we are typically lead to believe; rather, there are some incredible warm-weather experiences to have as well!
Imagine a view like this beside your hotel? Jockfall, Sweden
Where is Lapland? [Lapland Map]
I know that I just listed many activities to do in Swedish Lapland, so I decided to create this Lapland Map for you with pins to each destination and excursion so that you could visualize it. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Ice & Light Village
Polar Explorer Ice Breaker
Frevis by the Sea
Mattarahkka Northern Lights Lodge
Know Before You Visit Lapland
Packing for Lapland Sweden
Now that you have a map of Lapland on hand and have read about all of the amazing activities that you can do when you visit Lapland, make sure you’re prepared! While you definitely need the right gear and layers, I highly recommend Hestra Gloves, Floa Baselayers, LOWA Boots, and Burton Snow Pants. All of the gear I linked to, I own and recommend personally. Of course, there are many more things that I recommend packing for your trip though, and I highly recommend that you check out my “137 Travel Essentials” to pack for Lapland Sweden.
I really wanted to find an igloo in Lapland Sweden, and I did!
The Best Travel Card for your Visit to Lapland
Before you leave for your next trip, I highly recommend opening a free Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. I know that might sound a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry, you don’t need to be an investor to open an account! This provides you with your own Schwab Bank Visa Platinum Debit Card, which offers a ton of benefits both at home and overseas. I’ve been using a Charles Schwab Debit Card since 2011, and it’s honestly the best free travel card out there. Why is that so? Well, you can withdraw from any ATM around the world, and Charles Schwab will reimburse you any ATM fees! They also don’t charge foreign transaction fees either, which is, of course, important when you travel. It’s also worth noting that there is no minimum balance requirement and that they offer free online transfers between accounts (so it’s totally fine if you have another credit card, debit card, or bank account with another company) Open your Charles Schwab account today – FOR FREE – by following this link.
Purchase Travel Insurance for your Trip to Lapland Sweden
I hope you don’t embark without travel insurance! If you do, you better think again. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas) for a trip like this. I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered. I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you travelers. You can get a free quote here. Do note: I learned on this trip that Travel Insurance does not cover pandemics and I do not recommend traveling during the currently COVID-19 outbreak.