After living almost the whole winter in Lund (southern Sweden) with no snow, we decided to book a last minute trip to Luleå (northern Sweden). We found snow…
Luleå was such an incredible experience and though we were relatively lucky with the weather, it was the end of February so I would have to say that there is no bad time to go to Luleå. You may be lucky in winter or unlucky in summer, however, you are guaranteed to be in for an adventure regardless.
Temperatures ranged from -17 to +11 while we were there and luckily we had brought enough clothes. There are many activities that you can do though that will get your blood pumping.
We stayed in a cosy airbnb in Lulsundet, just outside of the city and right next to Omberget Stadium (which I’ll explain later). We had the lower level of a lovely family’s house and had a really cool sauna which we used almost every day. We hired a car from Luleå Airport which I highly recommend as it is relatively inexpensive and gives you a huge amount of freedom.
Here’s a summary of some cool things to do in Luleå in winter (remember that most activities are heavily weather and season dependent there though).
This effectively means ‘ice highway’ in English. Every year, an ice track that stretches around 11km from the south harbour around to the north harbour is prepared and maintained. The ice track is often filled with people on skates, sparks (push sleds), cycling or walking. There are even free sparks that you can borrow available at both ends of the Isbanan.
We came to this track multiple times during our stay because it is super close to the city and is beautiful to walk or spark around. If you leave from the south harbour, it is also possible to walk to an island called Gråsjälören where they occasionally have a hotdog and hot chocolate stand. If the flag is up, the store is open.
Coincidentally, the KPN Grand Prix for long distance ice skating was on whilst we were in Luleå. In this competition, women skate 40kms, 60kms or 100kms and men skate 50kms, 80kms or 150kms on the Isbanan! It was really cool to watch and listen to the commentary which was in Dutch, Swedish and English. If you’re in Luleå it is impossible to miss the Isbanan.
We were so lucky to have accidentally stayed right across from this park. Having never cross country skied before, the park was the perfect place to practice my Granny style whilst being overtaken by well practiced Swedes. It was really fun though nevertheless.
The park has a variety of different prepared trails ranging from 1.5kms – 10kms and is really well lit meaning that you can also go when it’s dark (which it often is in winter in Luleå). We rented our skis and shoes from an outdoor shop in town called Äventyrsbutiken Hägglunds which was great. To ski at the park there is a small entrance fee which you pay on your phone in order to help fund the maintenance of the trails.
I really enjoyed cross country skiing here and it was great because we had one day that was really windy, cold, cloudy and occasionally snowing sideways but once we were in the trees at Omberget it was easy to enjoy the day. It is definitely a good way to get warm. The stadium is also one of the highest peaks around Luleå and has a nice view over the islands if you are game to walk up the downhill slope to the top.
Swedes aren’t super original. This name roughly means ‘the big rapids’ in English so guess what this next bit is about… These rapids were recommended to us by our Airbnb host. I had never heard of them despite all my researching before we arrived. We were really glad that we received the recommendation though. They are around an hours drive from Luleå though I am not sure if it is possible to get there by bus. The drive is quite scenic and once you are there you arrive at a big carpark. From the carpark, there are a few different walking paths leading to the falls.
The rapids themselves are incredible. There was so much power in the water the day we were there and we were also treated to sunny skies which was a bonus. The snow and icicle formations on the rocks were really cool. We were told that the spot is really popular with locals in the summer because of unique pothole style swimming spots that, while we were there, were covered in thick snow. I think this is a year round spot to visit.
This was something we really wanted to try whilst we were here. Luleå is surrounded by lots and lots of islands and many of these are inhabited. During the summer, many people have to travel by boat or ferry to reach their homes, but in winter, they are able to travel much more efficiently with snow mobiles (or even cars) over the ice (but I’ll get to the car bit later). There are many tour companies offering two hour snow mobile tours and to be honest, we couldn’t really tell the difference between them all and they all seemed to be around the same price. We ended up going to Brandon Lodge for our tour.
We had a perfect morning with -16 degrees, no wind and sunny skies. Brandon Lodge is a luxury accomodation site that offers loads of different kinds of tours including husky tours, northern lights tours, hovercraft experiences and snow mobile tours. After putting on lots of extra clothes, we took the snow mobiles over the ice and around a few islands. It was a really cool experience and we were pretty disappointed when our two hours were up.
To be honest, we were also a little bummed because the rest of our group were quite a bit older and not necessarily super fit so it was a little bit too chill and when things got trickier, it went pear shaped (one older couple flipped their snow mobile… whoops). This is what you can expect when going on a touristy tour though. We did look into hiring our own snow mobile but thought that it would be unnecessarily dangerous when we didn’t know much about the ice conditions there or the area itself. The tour was also pretty expensive and definitely not part of a student budget but it was a really cool experience so I don’t regret it. We also got a huge plate of warm kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls) to share after so that was pretty exciting.
Coming from Australia, it hadn’t really occurred to me before that it’s possible to drive your car to an island 10kms away. Well, it turns out it is possible (conditions dependent) and I even got to try it! The GPS wasn’t really sure what was going on but despite driving over the ocean on ice, it didn’t feel that different to driving on the road. There are four ice roads in Luleå but when we were there only two of them were open due to the ice being too unstable for the other two. We drove from the mainland out to Hindersön which was approximately 10kms. I guess in most places, winter means that traffic doesn’t flow as well but when the ice comes to Luleå, transporting yourself around becomes much more efficient. I really can’t imagine what Luleå looks like in summer as it must be completely different to how we experienced it.
All in all I would say Luleå is an epic place to visit and a must if you enjoy experiencing new and adventurous things. The climate is polar opposite to Australia and the seat heating was by far my favourite feature on the car. I would say that hiring a car is a must so that you are able to experience what you want, when you want (and can enjoy the seat heating along the way). It was really cool to see how people function in the north and to be around people that genuinely love winter (a must if you are going to live this close to the arctic circle).