Lapland By Train: Riding the Arctic Circle Express

Posted on January 29, 2013 by

Extending for hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. For many, this northern extreme is a mystery – where the midnight sun shines endlessly in summer and the stunning Aurora Borealis dances in the sky during the long, polar winter nights. Stretching across four countries and bounded by three different seas, the Lapland region is vast and rugged.

We’ve always been intrigued by this part of the world, considering our knack for all things wild. When the idea for our Ice Run project with Eurail.com was first hatched, we didn’t think twice about making Lapland our first stop. With our Eurail global passes, train travel would be the best way to explore the region especially since towns in Lapland are few and far between, and Scandinavia can be rather pricy.

Armed with some ultra-thick winter gear, we hopped on board the Arctic Circle train and weaved our way through the sugar-coated wonderland. Over two weeks, we experienced three different parts of Lapland and drank in the spectacular landscapes and pristine nature. As our train worked its way around the edges of the mountains, we admired narrow fjords, steep mountain slopes, and random clusters of Nordic villages. The Arctic Circle journey was easily the most beautiful scenic route on the Ice Run.

Rovaniemi, Finland

Our voyage started in Rovaniemi, the capital of the Finnish Lapland, and a major gateway to the northern extreme. It was an excellent launching pad to explore the surrounding wilderness. There were so many ways to get out and about – we sledded with husky-dogs, rode on snowmobiles and even glided through the Luosto forest on a reindeer caravan. Ice-fishing on a frozen lake was exceptionally fun as was snow-shoeing in the darkness.

That said, Rovaniemi itself is quite a cute, charming city. Besides the array of good hotels, restaurants and bars, there’s also the Artikum Museum which tells stories about Lapland, its history, culture and nature. In Rovaniemi, we also had the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle, which lies 8km north of town. This area is also the official residence of Santa Claus, and his post office. For more Christmas goodness, we also recommend the theme restaurant Santamus for a taste of good Lappish food and dance.

Abisko, Sweden

Then we hopped back onto the train and crossed borders into Sweden, where our next stop was Abisko. With our base at Abisko Mountain Lodge, the 75-sq-km Abisko National Park was just steps away and the stunning Lake Torneträsk in the near distance. We packed our schedule with fun activities with Aurora Zone, such as snowmobiling through the national park (where we almost fell into the frozen lake), a safari on dog sleighs, and a chairlift ride up to the Aurora Sky Station. We also made a daytrip to the original ICEHOTEL where we wandered through its gorgeous art suites and sipped cocktails from ice glasses.

One of the main aims of our trip was to see the Aurora Borealis. We’d heard that Abisko is the driest place in Sweden and is sheltered by the surrounding mountains from winds, which makes it one of the best places in the world to see Northern Lights. We were lucky enough to watch the sky dance and dazzle, and the aurora lighting it up with beams of light yellow and green.

While Abisko is a tiny town with a population of just over 85, its tranquility and quiet location also meant that we were truly in the heart of Lapland. As compared to the other two parts of Lapland, this was our favorite spot.

Narvik, Norway

Our final stop was Narvik in Northern Norway, where the Arctic Circle train journey ends. This part of the journey (from Abisko to Narvik) offered the most impressive views: narrow fjords ran alongside us, mammoth mountains loomed in the far distance, and frozen lakes stretched for miles beneath our feet. If you can only choose one section of the train route to take, this should be it.

In contrast with the other towns in Lapland, Narvik almost feels like a cosmopolitan city despite its humble population of 18,500. Tall buildings rise from the city center, while the port extends all the way to the water’s edge and countless alpine houses stand on the hill slopes overlooking the city. Located at the edge of the Ofoton fjord, Narvik is enveloped within a beautiful bay, surrounded by the sea, mountain slopes and ski pistes.

While the characteristically Lappish huskies and sleighs are missing in Narvik, there’s still a slew of activities available to the dare devils. We ventured up to the slopes of Narvikfjollet and challenged ourselves to an obstacle course that got us swinging, jumping and hanging like monkeys. Right after conquering our fears, we headed up to the peak for a panoramic view of the surrounding fjords and it made the task well worth it. By night, we headed to Tinja Mountain Farm, where we met a native Sámi senior, listened to his childhood stories, dined on gourmet Nordic cuisine, and went hunting for the Northern Lights – it was a perfect way to end our Lapland journey.

Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Eurail.com, Visit Lapland,  Aurora Zone, and Visit Norway, but all opinions, expressed are our own.

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

12 Responses to “Lapland By Train: Riding the Arctic Circle Express”

  1. Ryan January 29, 2013 8:07 pm
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    Awesome piece. What time of year did you go?

    • Nellie January 30, 2013 4:22 am
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      Thanks Ryan! We were there just at the end of December and beginning of January. It wasn\’t cold at all, surprisingly. Temperatures only went as low as -4 degrees Celsius, it only dipped down to -30 degrees Celsius when we were further south in Boden, Sweden and that was just for one day.

  2. Angela January 30, 2013 12:11 am
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    Okay, after reading this post and the reindeer one, we just decided to put Lapland on our list. It looks incredible!

    • Nellie January 30, 2013 4:20 am
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      Great to hear that Angela! Lapland is definitely a special place, you have to see it for yourself. :)

  3. Sebastian January 30, 2013 2:28 am
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    I was supposed to study in Rovaniemi. I'm kinda glad I didn't. I think I couldn't live in the cold so long. However, I really want to visit this part of the world since years and soon I will. Not in Finland but in Norway! Can't wait….

    • Nellie January 30, 2013 4:19 am
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      hey Sebastian, where did you end up studying? Berlin? We really liked Rovaniemi, it\’s such a cute and pretty town with so much nature around it. I hate the cold, especially since I grew up in the tropics, but I seriously feel the cold at all when we were there. Maybe because it\’s a dry kind of cold, without the wet wind that chills your bones. Plus, it\’s always warm and nice indoors (not like in Spain where we\’re based). Anyhow, I\’m sure you\’ll get to Norway soon but give Finland a chance too!

  4. Migration Expert January 30, 2013 9:17 pm
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    How many days or weeks did you and your team stay at Lapland?

    • Nellie January 31, 2013 6:43 am
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      We were in Lapland for around two weeks, spending about 4-5 days in each part of Lapland. We wish we could stay longer!

  5. Timothy Cocores January 31, 2013 11:09 am
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    Looks awesome, I like the train, it looks like it could be a lot of fun.
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  6. LG Motion 4G MS770 January 31, 2013 9:38 pm
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    I really like to experience this kind of travel as it is like winter Christmas every day. I can imagine how cold, freezing yet romantic it is!

  7. Get A Car Hire February 2, 2013 1:09 am
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    Nothing has been more convincing us to visit Lapland than the recent blogs about your trip. We have made up our mind to do this next year, same season, unless you again tempt us with some other exciting ideas! =)

  8. Jam @icoSnap February 4, 2013 10:17 am
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    So jealous! I would definitely love to visit Lapland. I've been to Helsinki but hopefully someday I can go there …