Stockholm to Oslo - The Frozen North
Written by Martin Edström, Photography by Peter Rosen
Immerse yourself in the scandinavIan shopping festivities of December, then head north into the cold landscape of Lapland with its warm traditions, framed above by the northern lights.
Snow is all around, and as we close up on the Arctic Circle the days grow darker. But first, pack your down jacket, a good pair of gloves, and get ready to explore the snow-covered cityscape. Only then do we head north to Lapland, where you will experience Christmas just like in the time-honoured stories.
As fashions go, travellers used to packing shorts and flip-flops will have to ‘dress up’ in Sweden. Maybe not in summer, but definitely so at Christmas time. If you don’t have a down jacket, cashmere scarf, or woollen hat, there’s plenty to be found. Sweden boasts a shopping climate similar to that of London in winter, where a plethora of warm, inviting cafés and bars offer a steaming cup of chocolate, which turns the business of surviving the snow into a pleasant experience.
We begin our journey among the winding alleys of Gamla stan, commonly known as ‘The Old City’. Surrounded by teeming Christmas shoppers from Sweden and abroad, lose yourself in the medieval setting and enjoy the handicraft market. Ice needles adorn the crowded street of Västerlånggatan, and on the vibrant 14th-century square of Stortorget you will find the annual Christmas market. Cups of Glögg, the Swedish variant of the Swiss/German Glühwein, are a must to savour while exploring the many boutiques and quaint streets of this cobbled district.
If traditional shopping is not your cup of Glögg, you might prefer a stroll along Stockholm’s modern, central district. Orient yourself from the central square Sergels Torg, just by the Central Station, and you can easily browse this part of Stockholm without getting lost. Along the high street Drottninggatan and Hamngatan you stroll among large department stores such as Nordiska Kompaniet and PUB, comparable to Harrod’s in London. Join the ice-skaters in Kungsträdgården or take a walk by the castle, where the Swedish Royal family lives. Everything is neatly nestled in the centre of Stockholm.
To escape the city, you can fly north, but many prefer to take the more scenic route on the overnight train, snaking through vast tracts of coniferous forests; Sweden is estimated to have 51 billion trees, which cover more than 50% of the country. From Stockholm Central Station board an overnight train heading for Abisko. Fares are available at many rates, from shared six-person compartments to the luxurious first-class cabins with personal service.
Arriving in Abisko, the winter that greets you is even harsher – this is Lapland. Now well above the Arctic Circle, snowshoes are part of the everyday wardrobe. A foot of snow covers the ground, muffling the sound of the train slowly rolling away from the station.
Abisko is the true place to go for exploring the Scandinavian winter. With a local population of just above 150, tourists and travellers keep the place running. Travellers come to Abisko Turiststation for a night, and then head up to the Aurora Sky Station. Take the cable car to the top of a small mountain for one of the premier places in the world to get a glimpse of the northern lights. Thanks to the long period of darkness, you get an awesome view of the night sky and can even stay overnight, swept up in the movement and colours of the Aurora Borealis.
Another highlight while visiting Abisko in winter is the ice-climbing courses available at Abisko Mountain Lodge. The experienced guides here will let you try this rapidly growing sport on the icefalls scattered about the region, and will share a hot meal with you afterwards. The same guides will gladly take you cross-country skiing on Mount Nuolja, or on an off-piste adventure down its wild and natural slopes.
Abisko is 35km from the border with Norway, and in only two hours (by train) you can reach the Norwegian city of Narvik, located on the northern shores of the Narvik Fjord, 140km inside the Arctic Circle. The vista here offers a stunning contrast to inland Sweden. The city is framed by undulating snow-covered mountains (Narvik is Norway’s playground for alpine skiing), but it is the vastness of the fjord which adds drama and awe, even in the half-light.
Staying at the Grand Royal Hotel or the cosier Norumgården Guest House, you have a good vantage point from which to take on the town. For those wanting the adrenaline rush of winter sports, snowboarding or skiing on the graceful slopes of Narvikfjellet is exhilarating. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, take the cable car to Fagernesfjellet – which itself has stunning views – then upward on five ski lifts to 1,003m above sea level. While you can ski down from here, this is where the paragliders and hang-gliders launch. For a more family-friendly experience, join the laughter at the tobogganing slope, located close to the 1952 Olympic bobsled track.
Sating a hunger for sights, take a cruise with one of the fjord cruise ships – the brilliance of the landscape surrounded by the northern lights has to be seen to be believed.
For a gourmet experience while on shore, a visit to Tinja Fjellgård will not leave you disappointed; its kitchen is famed for using nothing but locally produced ingredients.
Our final port of call is Oslo – a short flight south from Narvik – to take a rest after the adventures through the frozen north.
Promenade through the Vigeland Park and Museum while heading for the docks and the famous restaurant D/S Louise, where salty smoked salmon is a speciality. Or enjoy the contemporary modern food at the Madu restaurant, where everything on the menu is served raw to enhance the natural flavour. Either way, take a moment to imbibe the flavours, scents, and sights. Enjoy winter at its best, huddled over warm drinks and hot meals on the shore of Oslofjord, the icy waterfront of Scandinavia.
KIRUNA ICE HOTEL
En route to Abisko or Narvik, or any destination in the far north of Sweden, one stop must be at the ICEHOTEL. Situated a small distance from Kiruna, this hotel is renowned worldwide for its ingenuity in giving guests an unforgettable experience.
The entire hotel is made of ice, down to almost the last detail. During the daytime you will enjoy the unique architecture and many artful ice carvings. In the evening dine at a table made of ice, and drink from an ice-glass at the bar. And when it’s time to turn in for the night, you sleep on a solid block of ice.
ICEHOTEL №22 opens this year on December 3, and closes depending on the advent of spring.
Going Scandinavian while shopping for handicrafts plunges you into a spiral of traditions and ancestral products.
The Sami people, indigenous to Sweden and Norway, are famous for their special generations-old designs. Divided into the categories hard slojdand soft slojd, Sami craftsmanship encompasses almost every aspect of everyday life. Utility items produced include knives and cups out of reindeer horns, elaborately engraved with classic patterns.
In the clothing line the Sami are famous for boots created from reindeer hide, bags and baskets woven from birch roots, as well as leather bracelets with tiny tin ornaments.
Sweden is sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Crystal because of its centuries-old tradition of glassmaking. In 11 glassworks around Sweden, visitors are welcome to watch the glassmaking process as well as buy from the extensive assortment of collectible, decorative, and everyday glasswear.
If there’s one thing you have to bring home from Sweden, it is a horse! Not a live animal, but one of the Dalecarlian horses. Available in an endless variety of colours and sizes, they are recognisably Swedish all around the world, and are made only in the region of Dalarna, which is also home to the world’s oldest tree – a spruce that’s 9,500 years old.