Travel the northernmost region of Europe on one of the greatest rail journeys in the world: the Arctic Circle Train and see Lapland by train.
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 Northern Lights dance in the sky during the long, polar winter nights. Vast and rugged, Lapland is a large region that stretches across four countries and bounded by three different seas in the northernmost part of Europe.
The best way to explore this massive wilderness area is by train, specifically the Arctic Circle Train. Known as one of the greatest train journeys in the world, the Arctic Circle train brings travelers along stunning fjords, near frozen glaciers, under icy waterfalls and whisk you past fairytale towns. It offers stunning scenery of Lapland and lets you see many of the rural parts of Scandinavia that are not accessible by cars.
The Arctic Circle Train is also a great way to get from one Arctic town to another and you might even have the chance to spot the Aurora Borealis from your train window. Taking the train is just one of the many fun things to do in Lapland though, bundle up and get ready for some icy thrills!
Table of Contents
Traveling Lapland on the Arctic Circle Train
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 that the area had to offer.
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 train journey was easily the most beautiful scenic route on our entire trip in Lapland.
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.
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.
Then we hopped back onto the Arctic Circle Train and crossed borders into Sweden, where our next stop was Abisko. With our base at Abisko Mountain Lodge, the 75-square-kilometre Abisko National Park was just steps away and the stunning Lake Torneträsk in the near distance.
We packed our schedule with fun winter activities, 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 day-trip to the original ICEHOTEL where we wandered through its gorgeous art suites and sipped cocktails from ice glasses. Read my review of the Sweden ICEHOTEL.
One of the main goals of this trip was to see the Northern Lights in Abisko. 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.
Our final stop was Narvik in Northern Norway, where the Arctic Circle Train journey ends. This was by far the best part of the journey. The views were the most impressive: 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.
Other Stops on the Arctic Circle Train:
The Arctic Circle Train officially starts in Stockholm and there are in total 12 stops along the journey to Narvik. You can choose to stop as many times as you want if you have a train pass (more info in the next paragraph). Besides the places I mentioned above, here are a few other stops that might be worth visiting:
Kiruna is one of the most popular places in the Swedish Lapland to see the Northern Lights. It is also the place to go dog sledding and cross-country skiing through forests and alongside lakes, to visit Esrange, Europe’s largest civil space centre, or witness the historical relocation of Kiruna.
The next worthwhile stop along the Arctic Circle line is Björkliden. Several hikes begin and end here – or you could walk back to Abisko along a section of the Rallarvägen trail. This path edges the train line and was originally used by the men who built the railway, but is now a popular route for hikers and cyclists.
After Riksgränsen, the northernmost ski resort in Sweden, the train continues through a fairytale landscape of steep mountains, past the greenish waters of Ofotfjorden, one of Norway’s many fjords. Here the best views begin and you can’t help but want to keep travelling west towards the wild Lofoten Islands.
How to Book the Trip:
You can easily book tickets directly on the Scandinavia Rail website. A one-way journey from Stockholm to Narvik (which takes 18.30 hours without stops) costs around 99euros per person. If you are looking to make a few stops, you’ll need to buy separate tickets for each leg of the trip. I recommend getting a pass as it’s much more affordable and worthwhile.
The Eurail Pass covers the Arctic Circle Train journey and no reservation is needed. All you need is jump on the train and show your Eurail Pass when the conductor comes. If you don’t intend to get a Eurail Pass, the Swedish National Railways offer the Arctic Circle Pass, which is a flexible three-day ticket that allows you to hop on and off as much as you like (364 SEK or US$44). The price is amazing, considering how expensive things usually are in Scandinavia.
Inspired? Pin it!
READ MORE: Norway In A Nutshell