Sweden’s Arctic Playground

The remote, vast landscapes of Lapland offer a multitude of cold-weather adventures.

By Frank Vizard
In winter, trains and planes to Sweden’s northernmost province of Lapland are packed with passengers looking for fun in this seriously cold region on the Arctic Circle. The remote, vast landscapes are accessed from Stockholm by overnight rail or direct flight into the Luleå or Kiruna airport. From September to March, the Northern Lights paint the night skies green and purple. The short-lived days fill quickly with these unique Arctic experiences—everything from dog-sledding to ice hotels to joy rides on frozen seas.
Bunk in a Designer Tree House
Seven surreal hotel rooms created by leading Scandinavian architects are suspended in the trees. The designs range from a mirrored cube that reflects the surrounding forest to a bird’s nest, a disc-shaped UFO, and a cabin that appears to be floating in midair. Take a 25-minute helicopter ride or 70-minute car ride from Luleå to reach Treehotel, a wonderland of winter activities, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow-biking, moose-spotting, and outdoor dining under the Northern Lights. An on-site restaurant provides farm-to-table meals.

Taste the Arctic
Lapland’s indigenous Sámi people consider bears to be sacred animals. Thus, a bear dinner organized by the Treehotel includes the local customs, songs, and dress of these native Laplanders. Other options include a visit to Hemmagastronomi, a gastropub in Luleå with a wide range of artfully prepared local delicacies served in a waterfront setting.,
Get a Ride From the Airport by Sled Dogs
Upon arrival at the airport in Kiruna, 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Icehotel guests can be picked up on arrival by a dog sled team. During the thrilling 75-minute journey, the dogs follow a narrow, snow-covered track through the forest until they reach a wide expanse of the Torne River.
Drive on a Frozen Sea
Luleå, lying at the northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea, is the gateway to Lapland, and in winter the salt water freezes. Volvo, the national car brand of Sweden, makes the swanky 2020 V60 Cross Country mid-sized wagon capable of navigating the ice roads that connect to numerous islands surrounding the city. The regularly groomed routes are well marked with tall poles, plus the V60 Cross Country includes a camera/radar system designed to detect local moose and elk that may be lurking by the side of the road out of sight and automatically apply the brakes if required. The system is perhaps more robust at night as it focuses the LED headlights like a spot beam to illuminate any hidden dangers (a feature not yet available in US cars).
Take a Cold Bath
A traditional cold bath is on tap at the new wellness-oriented Arctic Bath Hotel & Spa in Luleå. With a design inspired by a floating jam of timber, the main building and six separate rooms freeze into the Lule River in winter. Each visit can be customized, but the experience typically includes a hot and cold bath, spa ritual, saunas, and spa treatments with Kerstin Florian products, a five-course dinner, and a Northern Lights excursion.
Go Ice Fishing
Local snowmobile guides tow a large sled with guests swathed in reindeer skins onto the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. Their fishing rods are surprisingly small and the ice drill is easy to manage. Spread out a reindeer hide on the ice, sip a hot drink, eat a local snack, and chat with the guide, waiting for that slight tug on the line signaling the call to action. In Luleå, the excellent and centrally located Clarion Hotel Sense connects its guests to local outfitters.

Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi never gets old. That’s because new rooms are sculpted every winter by invited artists and designers working with crystal-clear ice harvested from the adjacent Torne River. Staying there is, as you would expect, cold; guests sleep on a bed of ice covered in reindeer skins and wear more layers of clothing than seems possible. The sculpted Icebar outdoors gives new meaning to the notion of a cold drink: Even the glasses are made of ice. (You’ll need both hands to hold on to them!) Most visitors opt to spend one night in a cool room and additional nights in the warmer cabins on site to prepare, say, for a bracing snowmobile tour.