Sweden, Norway & Finland
Arctic Europe Adventures
Article & Photography by Olivia Balsinger
Northern Arctic Europe is a living paradox—physically defined by the contrast of the unceasing darkness of its winters and the perpetual light of its summers, when the midnight sun rests contently in the sky. The region serves as a haven for those who wish to retreat into vast mountain ranges and as a natural playground to satisfy adventurers’ lust for adrenaline. This area truly encompasses it all and is the “cool”—both figuratively and literally—destination to visit in wintertime.
Lulea is located in the high north of Sweden. Although the traditions of the Sami people who first inhabited this area about 5,000 years are well preserved in daily life, there is a thriving, lively urban center in its capital city of Lulea. The city has ethereal ambiance that combines harmoniously the natural beauty that surrounds it and the modernity of its city life.
Lulea’s Arctic climate affords an exciting and adventurous trip—one can even snowmobile on sea ice at Brandon Lodge! The culture is also renowned—in the midst of winter I listened to a band play instruments made of ice in the forest, embracing the weather.
The city also offers many culturally enriching landmarks to helped become familiar with its history. For example, The Gammelstad Church Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest and best preserved of its kind. It an open-air museum, once a village that provided shelter for churchgoers so they could sleep overnight to attend celebrations, as the treacherous weather made it dangerous to travel to church regularly. For comfort in the city center, consider The Clarion Hotel Sense and for adventure in wilderness and views of the frozen sea and archipelago, consider Brandon Lodge a paradise about 30 minutes out of town.
Yllas & Levi
Yllas is a resort located in the northern Finnish part of the Arctic Circle’s Lapland. It is split into two villages that occupy either side of a majestic mountain: Akaslompolo and the smaller Yllasjarvi. Snow-covered forests and from lakes form a postcard image of a winter-set fairytale. This remarkable aesthetic beauty and skiable terrain bills Yllas a much sought-after destination for an invigorating ski vacation.
Located on the southern end of Pallas- Yllastunturi National Park, Yllas is a perfect destination for those looking to truly embrace their rugged side. Winter calls for downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, mountain biking, among many others. It is a polar paradise of glistening white and gushing streams paralyzed like sculptures.
Speaking of storybook visions, tradition names a house in Akaslompolo as the original home of Santa Clause. In fact, you can venture to his village in nearby Rovaneimi, to visit Father Christmas.
And this extremely “cool” theme can even be woven into your dreams, by spending a night at the Lapland Hotel Snow Village where you will be surrounded by stunning illuminated ice while drifting off to sleep in a warm sleeping bag, surrounded by cold, refreshing ice. The hotel has its own ice bar and ice restaurant too–talk about cool!
Levi, on the other hand, is a more built up portion of this northern Finish area—however, while more “touristy,” Levi still prides itself on maintaining an authentic Finnish identity. Perhaps the most entertaining form of transportation is not with cars or motorbikes, but with reindeer—the Finnish mode of transportation! Within the villages of Levi are a fantastic selection of superb restaurants, charming pubs, and lively night clubs. However, for a more unique experience, eating in the Levi Igloos brings nature to you—under glass roofs and without barriers. And nature isn’t the only magic provider in Levi—Elves Hideaway is newly opened and offers magical insight into the world of elves, through tradition, activity and song. In Levi, consider a tray in the Hotel Hullu Poro (Crazy Reindeer) or treat yourself at the Levi Hotel Spa.
This area is also a perfect place to indulge in a Finnish sauna experience. For the more adventurous relaxation seeker. you can try swimming in an ice hole, which is thought to have restorative physical and spiritual benefits.
Sea Lapland is a region situated within the Finnish region of Lapland, whose proximity to the sea has afforded it prosperity in trade and travel since the sixteenth century.
In Kemi you will find a bustling town that combines the rugged nature of its environment and a modern city with renowned attractions. A highlight of the city is an unforgettable cruise experience to the Icebreaker Sampo, on the Gulf of Bothnia. On board you will witness the most memorable visions of Arctic nature; as the steel of your vessel reflects off of the glass-like surface of ice and sea beneath, you will wind through scenery of broken glaciers and open fields of ice. The sky changes above you constantly, like a faulty mood ring, which makes the ethereal scene ever more dream-like.
Another gem within Kemi is the Snow Castle, an impressive complex built entirely from the blocks of ice and snow made from sea water. Intricate decorative carvings are etched into the sweeping corridors of the structure, depicting visions of a fairytale.
The Lyngenfjord region in Northern Norway centers around a 56 mile range of the Lyngsalpene mountain range. The background is composed of towering glaciers, branch-like fjord arms, and frozen valleys, with snow-capped mountain peaks ever present. It is this area that professionals come to take iconic photographs of the Northern Lights, as the conditions for seeing the phenomenon is geographically ideal.
The region offers a wonderful balance of riveting and relaxing outdoor activities like skiing, fishing, ice climbing, dog and reindeer sledding. The indigenous culture of the Sami people is pervasive in the area, with some traffic signs bearing both their language alongside modern Norwegian. To learn more about their rich culture, there is the fascinating Center for Northern people which celebrates Sami history, archaeology, art and traditions.
The Norwegian city of Tromsø is located 400km north of the Arctic Circle, and links itself to the mainland by way of an elegant arched bridge. It is a modern city, yet nature remains a pertinent part of its culture. It’s also notoriously lively, with many outdoor sports and activities to participate during the day, and a vibrant metropolitan with a packed cultural calendar, excellent dining, and active nightlife.
I took advantage of the rugged nature on the city’s periphery to try new experiences on my Arctic getaway. There are plenty of options to experience the polar city from its many breathtaking views, including taking a snowmobile or a husky safari to the nearby hills, forests, and lakes. There are also several options for guided tours of the Northern Lights.
The city itself is a postcard vision of wooden houses; in fact, it has the highest concentration of these traditional structures in Northern Norway, the oldest dating back to 1789. The Polaria is located right outside the city center; it’s the world’s most northern aquarium with arctic marine life, and its main attraction: a large pool of bearded seals that visitors to make friends with. In Tromso, consider staying in the modern and luxurious Thon Hotel Tromso.
Flying Icelandair’s Saga Class (business) from North America is the perfect way to reach Arctic Scandinavia, especially if you want to adventure on your own in Iceland prior or afterwards on their stopover program. With Saga two complimentary checked bags for Saga Class, three cabins of service, available WiFi and new superior lounge access, comfort is assured.
Another option for reliable and affordable transportation through the skies is Norwegian Air, one of the world’s best long haul airlines with daily direct flights to Oslo and Stockholm (gateway to Arctic Europe via domestic flight) daily from North America.
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