Planning a winter road trip in Swedish Lapland

JUAN MARTINEZ

March 14, 2020

Planning a winter road trip in Swedish Lapland

Renting a car, driving on snow and booking outdoor daytrips. Here is all you need to know before planning a winter road trip in Swedish Lapland

During my last visit to Scandinavia I planned a winter road trip around the region of Swedish Lapland. Here, at the edge of the Arctic Circle, temperatures are low, life goes on a slow pace and the natural landscapes are completely untouched.

Because of the location and weather conditions of this part of Europe, renting a car is probably the most practical and cheapest option to get around and make the most of the experience. However, getting the car and drive into the wilderness is just the first step.

Driving during Lapland’s heavy winter

Driving in the middle of the Swedish winter is something that intimidates any driver. Conditions in this part of the world are for most of us “extreme” and drivers have to be very cautious in all circumstances. Moreover, with only 6 hours of daylight during winter, you have to feel comfortable driving also in the darkness.

I went to Swedish Lapland with a Spanish friend and although he had driven on snow before, Lapland was his first road trip driving at night and under heavy snowfall. Even though it felt quite intimidating and scary at the beginning, we got used to these weather conditions very quickly. We went on our trip at our own pace and drove at a speed we felt comfortable with. Although highways in Swedish Lapland are quiet at night and roads are mostly in perfect condition, we were extra careful all the time.

Driving on Swedish Lapland was an experience itself, as it was not like road tripping in any other part of Europe we had been before.

Walking safari on a frozen lake in Lapland
Walking safari on a frozen lake in Lapland

Driving tips for a winter road trip in Swedish Lapland

  • Check the car’s basics (snow tires, proper heating system, safety kit).
  • Drive at a speed you feel comfortable with – no matter if it is slower than the suggested speed.
  • Reconsidered travel distances – During the day you stop at some of Swedish Lapland’s scenic views and at night you tend to drive slower. Planning day trip distances between 100 – 200 km is a good start.
  • Plan most of the driving after the sun goes down and make the most of the 6 hours of daylight.
  • Check your fuel gauge regularly – Some parts of Swedish Lapland have no petrol stations at all. Keeping the tank at least always half full will keep you on the safe side.
  • Bring some good music. Radio stations won’t get signal at some point and with very monotonous roads or completely darkness, music is always a good companion.

Read more: How to photograph the starry sky when traveling

Sunrises in Swedish Lapland
Frozen river near Luleå

Renting a car in Lapland

As most parts of Europe, renting a car is a very simple process and it can be done completely online. Platforms comparing prices are easy to find on Google and going with your favourite car rental company is always a good choice.

Sweden is an excellent country to discover on a road trip and is home of some of the safest roads in the world. Travelers visiting Swedish Lapland on a road trip will get a more individual and personal experience crossing landscapes with endless views of forest, fields covered by snow and frozen lakes.

Finding a cheap car rental is quite easy. With luck you can even get a car for less than 20 EUR a day. However, in order to avoid overpaying fees and accessories you need for a winter climate, read more into detail the small letters.

Tips for a renting a car during a winter road trip in Swedish Lapland

  • Select carefully the pickup and drop-off location when booking online. Ideally should it be the airport you are arriving and departing. All airports in Swedish Lapland have car rental offices inside the arrivals terminal.
  • Small damages and simple accidents happen very quickly and easy (especially if you never drove on snow before). Buy a proper car rental insurance with zero liability and covering all possible costs.
  • An extra GPS for an additional cost is not necessary. Better download the Google Maps route of the area and bring your own mobile phone car charger. In case you forget it, ask for one at the rental office – it should be free.
  • Additional external headlights are very common on all vehicles in Swedish Lapland. Although these are not obligatory for a winter road trip, if your plan is to spend most of the time in the forest area, they can be a plus.
  • If you are planning to cross the border to Finland or Norway, declare this in advance to your car rental. Most companies do not allow it or you have to pay a surcharge.

Read more: How to photograph the Northern Lights when traveling

UNESCO World Heritage Site Gammelstad Church Town on Winter
UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gammelstad Church Town is a very popular spot near Luleå

Planning a road trip itinerary

Finding the perfect route is probably the most difficult part when planning a road trip around a new place. You want to make the most of the time and at the same time, go as far and as off the beaten path as possible.

During my winter road trip in Swedish Lapland my main goal was to enjoy the large amount of adventure getaways and discover photography hotspots. At the same time, due to the limited amount of time I was spending in Sweden (6 days/5 nights), I could not go as far as I wanted and was relatively limited.

Still, on a 6 day road trip in Swedish Lapland I found out a way to see the best of the region and at the same time, not rush into anything.

Road Trip map Swedish Lapland
Road Trip map of Swedish Lapland

Luleå and Piteå – outdoor adventure hotspots

My first obligatory stop during this road trip was the city of Luleå. It was my arrival point, as it has the largest airport in the region. This is a very common hub for travelers visiting Swedish Lapland and a good place to start a road trip. From Luleå travelers also transfer back and forth regularly to the smaller city of Piteå. It is located only 50km south with many other outdoor activities taking part in both cities, it is a very popular area for starting a road trip.

For me, Luleå and Piteå were perfect for spending my first days in Swedish Lapland. Here, I tried for first time driving a snowmobile, racing and drifting on a buggy on a frozen lake and hop on an ice breaker boat to take a dip in the icy ocean.

Activities like this were very easy to organize straight from the hotel and by having our rental car with us all the time, we saved a lot of money on private transportation and time.   

Note: Although Kiruna is probably Swedish Lapland’s most known destination, this location is extremely far north and isolated. If you are planning to try several outdoor activities, food and learn more about Swedish culture, this might not be the place to road trip around.

Drifting on a buggy in Pitea
Drifting on a buggy in Piteå is one of the activities travelers can do without leaving the city

Swedish Lapland off the beaten path

With Kiruna and other northern parts of Swedish Lapland out of question, my main goal became to explore the most western part of Swedish Lapland. These are some of the most untouched areas in the region and perfect getaways for those who want to take a break from the daily routine.

These are also areas that are developing very quickly when it comes to tourism, so finding a proper lodge to stay overnight or a good tour company to go on a safari was not a difficult task at all.

Driving around this desolated and monochromatic landscape was a full experience itself. Most lakes in the area were completely frozen and we could not see anything more than a white blanket on a flat area. We usually stopped at these spots to simply marvel the nature around us and get a breath of fresh air.

Read more: Meeting the Sami – Scandinavia’s indigenous tribe

Travelers use snowmobiles to get deeper into the Swedish forest
Travelers use snowmobiles to get deeper into the Swedish forest

Further west areas like Pieljekaise National Park turn the landscape from flat forests and snow-covered frozen lakes into a more mountainous scenery to admire. Huge boulders and picturesque mountains appeared side by side on the road, while the sounds of small birds became the music of the area.

Not far from Pieljekaise, I spent the night at Vuoggatjålme, A 3rd generation family lodge that offered a good variety of snow activities, hiking and wandering tours. This was the perfect place to stay more than a couple of days, as more than just the adventure activities, Vuoggatjålme is simply great for enjoying the quietness and wilderness of Swedish Lapland during winter – and probably summer.

Pieljekaise is not the only national park around this area, further north travelers can find the wildest landscapes in whole Sweden when visiting the Padjelanta National Park or Sarek National Park. These are some of the oldest national parks in Europe and full trips themselves. However, both of these national parks can only be explored in multiple day hiking/snowmobile expedition and require way more planification than simply a spontaneous visit.

Read more: Outdoor in the Arctic – Activities to do in Swedish Lapland

Aerial view from  Vuoggatjalme
Aerial view from Vuoggatjalme

Note: Salakena Glaciar is one of the most beautiful and untouched glaciers in Europe. This massive block of ice surrounded by mountains can be visited from the lodge of Vuoggatjålme during Summer on a week expedition or with a helicopter tour all year long. This is definitely something I just added to my bucket list for the next decade.

In order to motivate visitors to see more of these national parks, local businesses around the area are trying to introduce aerial tours with helicopters. This is another way to get a glimpse of the natural beauty Swedish Lapland has to offer without the struggle of hiking 3 or 4 days to just reach the edge of the national park. 

Outdoor cooking and ice fishing is very popular during a safari adventure tour
Outdoor cooking and ice fishing is very popular during a safari adventure tour on winter

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