A Weekend in Swedish Lapland – Winter Edition

One Thursday evening in the beginning for February my mother and I boarded a flight to Gällivare. It was time to visit a relative in Malmberget in Swedish Lapland. This time Susann and Little A decided to stay at home. It was probably a good idea, considering that the Lapish winters get quite cold. The plan for our four days in Lapland included a visit to the Winter Market in Jokkmokk and a day trip to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi.

Actually, this trip took place less than a year after me and Little A hi-jacked my parents’ road trip to Gällivare. That time we flew to Kiruna and joined them for a few days. That was the summer visit of Swedish Lapland, winter is a whole other story.

Traveling to Gällivare

We had an evening flight from Stockholm-Arlanda Airport to Gällivare Airport with a short stop in Arvidsjaur. The route had recently been re-opened again after the collapse of Nextjet. It is now the Estonian operator Nordica that operates the route.

Just a few minutes before we were supposed to go to the bus stop to catch the bus to the airport I received a text message. Our flight was delayed with an hour. Then a few minutes later another text message told me about further delays. How long time would you expect to spend in a phone queue when calling the airline to check the actual status? In summary, I was quite surprised to hear a human voice on the line even before the first beep. Apparently, the plane had some technical problems and was at that time on its way to the hub in Warsaw. Luckily the flight was canceled. Instead, there was a replacement plane on its way from Warsaw. It is always nice to hear that there is a solution, no matter how weird it might sound.

Instead of waiting in the apartment we went to the airport and enjoyed a glass of wine while waiting for the flight. In the end, the delay was just 75 minutes. Once we arrived Gällivare, we noticed the cold. We had apparently just missed a perfect view of the northern lights. Instead -30 degrees (C) welcomed us. Fortunately, we were soon on our way to Malmberget. It is a small mining town right next to Gällivare.

Lapland Airport, Gällivare, Sweden
Lapland Airport, Gällivare, Sweden, LOT, Nordica

Friday in Gällivare and Malmberget

As we had arrived late the night before, Friday was a slow starter. We did eventually drive the short distance to Gällivare for a short walk in the center. Last time I took a similar walk in this town was a night last summer with the sun almost visible at the horizon. It is quite a big difference in winter, seeing the town with its white blanket. The differences do get quite extreme this far north. That’s one of the reasons I find Swedish Lapland so intriguing.

The evening walk in Malmberget was more than just dark in nature. A big part of the town is a ghost town and closed for the public, so it’s actually surprising each time you see another human. Even with people concentrated in a few residential areas, it is still hard to see anyone else in the dark.

But back to the main two attractions for this trip – the Winter Market in Jokkmokk and the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi.

Gällivare, Sweden

Winter Market in Jokkmokk

Early Saturday morning we boarded a bus in Gällivare that took us to Jokkmokk. For over 400 years there has been a winter market in Jokkmokk at the beginning of February. This market is famous for a couple of things. Firstly, it is one of Sweden’s oldest markets. Secondly, it’s a meeting point for Sami people from all over Sápmi. This is the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sámi people. Last but not least, and it is not uncommon that the temperature is below -25 degrees Celcius (or even much lower).

There are a few things you should not miss when visiting the market. The first is the Raid – a small caravan or Sami people and reindeer going through the market. We did feel sorry for the kids and the animals when everyone was getting close to taking photos, but it is an interesting tradition. Secondly, there is the Gahkku – which is a delicious Lapland flatbread that is even better when still warm. And the third thing is the Souvas kebab – which is reindeer kebab in pita bread. Yes, that is right. There is kebab everywhere.

My feet felt cold quite a few times, so there is, of course, a lot of things to bring to Swedish Lapland. Remember it can get cold and I was quite happy that is was only about -20 and not -40. Bringing warm clothes is the main recommendation. The market is outdoors and it can take quite some time to find a spot at a cafe to heat up. Talking a stroll in one of the two supermarkets is another way to defrost.

The one-hour bus ride back to Gällivare was harder. The bus was full and the heaters were on max. That is not so comfortable when being dressed for the cold weather outside.

Recommendations for Visiting the Winter Market in Jokkmokk

  • Dress properly for the cold. The market is in the middle of Swedish Lapland in one of the coldest months and the temperature can drop significantly. 20 degrees below zero is to be expected but prepare for temperatures as low as minus 40.
  • Consider how you travel to Jokkmokk and make sure that you can adjust your clothing accordingly. Not everyone will be staying in Jokkmokk during the market. Instead, they go there for a day trip. The inside temperature on a bus or train can differ a lot compared to the outside temperature. Make sure that you are able to undress parts of the warmer layers so that you are not a sweaty mess upon arrival in Jokkmokk.
  • If you start to freeze (toes, fingers or anything) while you’re outside, make sure to keep an eye out for a free spot at a cafe or similar. It is usually really crowded during these days, so it might take some time before you are able to get inside to heat up. Another solution is to head to one of the grocery stores. A walk inside might be enough to heat up, even though it is usually nicer to have the opportunity to remove the shoes.
Jokkmokk Winter Market, Sweden, Jokkmokks marknad
Jokkmokk Winter Market, Sweden, Raid, Reindeer
Jokkmokk Winter Market, Sweden, Raid, Reindeer

The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi

Just an hour north of Malmberget you will find both Kiruna and the much smaller village of Jukkasjärvi. One of Sweden’s most famous tourist attractions is located in Jukkasjärvi – the Ice Hotel.

After visiting the market in Jokkmokk the day before we were eager to explore more. My mother had always wanted to see the Ice Hotel. Well, she has even tried to convince my father to go up to Jukkasjärvi with her and stay there for a night. The visit did somehow change her mind in regards to actually sleep in one of the rooms – you can just imagine how cold it actually was just to walk around.

The Ice Hotel mainly consists of two parts. The seasonal part and the permanent part. Both parts have rooms designed by international artists. But it is the seasonal part that is completely made of ice and that melts in the spring. The permanent part is more like a giant freezer.

Recommendations for Visiting the Ice Hotel

  • Dress warm, remember that you are far above the polar circle and that they are actually even able to build a hotel out of ice here.
  • Make sure to have enough time to check out all the rooms. There are quite a few of them and you will probably not want to rush it.
  • Check beforehand to see if they expect a lot of visitors during your planned visit. You might need to pre-arrange things such as booking a table for lunch – the options are quite limited in Jukkasjärvi and a visit to the ice hotels restaurant was a pleasant culinary experience.Nellie33
  • Remember that the entrance fee for the ice hotel is quite expensive. If you have travel companions who are not really interested in ice sculptures – make sure to drop them of somewhere else before your visit.
Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, bus
Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, shark

Good Bye Lapland and See You Soon Again

I believe that it will probably not be too long before we are back in Swedish Lapland. I have become quite fascinated with nature up there and hope to also bring Susann with me next time. But I will probably make sure that it is during the warmer months, as February was a bit too cold and dark for my part. Good Bye Lapland and See You Soon Again.

Malmberget, Sweden
Lapland Airport, Gällivare, Sweden, LOT, Nordica
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