Luleå is a small city in Swedish Sápmi, and capital of the Norrbotten region. It sits on the Gulf of Bothnia and is home to Sweden’s seventh largest port.

With COVID travel restrictions eased, and a yearning to travel again, I decided at the start of the year to book a trip for the February half-term break. My sole motivation was to go somewhere cold and snowy. Previous half-term destinations were in Finland, but this time I wanted to try somewhere different. Norway was ruled out due to pricing restrictions, and so I decided on northern Sweden. An advertising campaign for Swedish Lapland on social media led me to decide on a trip to Luleå.

Getting there

The journey down to Heathrow was straightforward, making use of the recently opened Elizabeth Line meaning that the journey time was just over 2 hours. Train travel is the most expensive means of getting to Heathrow from Ipswich, however it is by far the quickest and easiest. I made sure to leave plenty of time before the flight, which meant I had a few hours of people watching once I had checked in and dropped off my baggage.

For the winter season, SAS offer direct flights to Luleå from Heathrow twice weekly. I flew out on a Monday evening, and the flight was not packed out, and I had the entire row to myself. Direct flights take just under 3hrs, and make for a stress-free means of getting to northern Scandinavia.

Getting around in Lulea

Lulea is extremely easy to navigate on foot – despite being a city, by British standards it is much smaller. In the centre of town, the pavements are completely clear of snow and ice, which makes moving around easy.

I used public transport to get to/from the airport, and for my trip to Gammelstad. The local bus company, LLT sells tickets via its app. You can also buy tickets on the bus using bank cards. A one-way journey costs 29SEK (approx. £2.30). Buses are frequent, clean, and easy to navigate.

Isbanan – The ice track

Lulea’s isbana, or ice track, is created by the town council every winter. It runs from Norra Hamn (north harbour), around Gultzaüudden, and over to the Södra Hamn (south harbour).

The ice track provides tourist and locals with a route over the frozen ice. It is popular with dog-walkers, . Accessibility is not an issue – there are two accessible entrances to the track. It is suitable for skating, walking, cross-country skiing, cycling, and taking babies for a walk in their prams.

Along the route are sheltered grilling places, where you can take a break from your exercise sheltered from the wind.

The highlight for me was the provision of free kick sled hire, as it meant I got to try kick sledding for the first time, and allowed me to discover a winter activity that I can actually do!

Norrbottens Museum

The Norrbotten Museum is located in the centre of Lulea. With free admission, there are exhibitions arranged over 4 floors, as well as a small café and gift shop. Presently, the main exhibition “Snöhvit, Punakorva, Fjellblom” is about Nordic cattle breeds, with the display information presented in both Swedish and Finnish. English language summaries of all the museum’s exhibitions are provided. Admission is free.

Gammelstad Kyrkbyn – Gammelstad Church Town

Gammelstad kyrkbyn is a UNESCO-listed site approximately 10km from present-day Luleå. . Gammelstad is the site where Luleå was founded in the 17th Century, before moving to its present location in 1649. The name ‘Gammelstad’ translates to ‘old town’ in Swedish, and has stuck over the centuries.

Gammelstad was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996. With over 500 falu-red wooden cottages clustered around the medieval church, Gammelstad is a pristine example of a Swedish church town. Church towns provided worshippers with accommodation close to the church, as for many, going to church involved journeying long distances. The transition from town to church town was accelerated by natural land upheaval meaning that the town’s harbour became too shallow to accommodate shipping. This is well-explained in the short exhibition available in the Visitor Centre.

Adjoining Gammelstad is the Hägnan open air museum and Gammelstadsviken nature reserve. The museum is open all year round, and in high season it is possible to look inside the various buildings. Hägnan was originally located in the Lulea, at Gultzaüudden, but moved to its new location in the 1970s.

As the museum’s buildings were closed, I took a short walk into the nature reserve where the only sounds I heard were birdsong, and the crunch of the snow.

Aurora Borealis

Whilst not the sole purpose for my trip to Sweden, it goes without saying that any opportunity to view the northern lights is welcomed.

The weather conditions and solar activity aligned, and on Tuesday night whilst on a post-dinner walk, I noticed the faintest hint of colour on the northern skies. I took a photo on my mobile phone and could see the faintest hint of green, and so I decided to stay out longer to see what may develop.

I decided to head back onto the Isbana, where I grabbed a kick sled and headed away from the light pollution and small banks of fog that drifted over the course of the evening. Camera in hand, I was able to capture the green bands of the aurora borealis over the ice.

Later, heading back to my hotel, the activity increased and I was able to see the bands begin to move; a faint grey/green to the naked eye, but unmistakeably the northern lights. From the hotel, it was possible to see the aurora as it strengthened before fading away overnight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s