In Summer, Swedish Lapland Is About Wilderness, Islands, and the Midnight Sun
Many people are familiar with scenes of Swedish Lapland in the winter — blankets of snow, reindeer, ice hotels — but Sweden’s northern stretches are equally incredible in the summertime. Maybe more so. From May to July, Lapland is bathed in light, with the sun never dipping below the horizon.
Beyond the midnight sun, traveling to Swedish Lapland in the summer lets you take advantage of Allemansrätten, or the “right to roam” that gives Swedes (and visitors) freedom to explore the country’s natural beauty, setting up camp where they wish, without having to worry about property laws. A sun that never sets makes it difficult to get any sleep, but after exploring all day (or night), you’ll be worn out enough to crash. Here are the best things to see and do in Swedish Lapland in the summer.
Visit Europe’s first national park
In 1909, Sweden became the first country in Europe to establish national parks, and in Lapland, you’ll find the oldest, largest, and highest number of them. Ninety-five percent of the country’s total national park area is located in Lapland’s eight national parks, making it the largest protected area, and one of the least populated regions, in all of Europe.
Two of the most popular national parks are Abisko and Sarek National Parks. Abisko is perhaps the most accessible, as it is located directly by the popular Kungsleden trekking trail starting point, Abisko Tourist Station. The park itself is most known for its Aurora Sky Station, a common place to spot the northern lights in winter. But while its trails are also popular with cross-country skiers in the colder months, they make great hiking paths in summer — taking you by the Abisko River Canyon and Delta, as well as Lake Torneträsk.
Sarek, Europe’s first national park, poses a bit more of a challenge. It’s the least accessible national park in all of Sweden, with no roads leading to it. You’ll have to hike a bit to get there, but the journey is well worth the effort. Once there, you’ll be rewarded with astounding views, pure solitude, and a stillness that could only be found here in one of Europe’s most remote wilderness areas. If you have the time, money, and stamina to hike with a heavy pack, one option is a helicopter-accessed wildlife tour with a company such as Jokkmokk Guiderna, a Lapland-style safari where you can see moose, wolverines, lynx, and other wild animals over the course of a multi-day excursion. Eight-day tours run about $3,000 per person. (Below we note shorter helicopter and hiking options to visit these remote areas).
Go island hopping in the archipelago
Island life isn’t something people typically associate with a destination north of the Arctic Circle, but in Swedish Lapland in the summer you can experience that, too — perhaps with a few more layers than you needed for your last island vacation. Along Sweden’s roughly 950 miles of coastline, there are over 4,000 beautiful islands in the Gulf of Bothnia — 1,300 of them in Swedish Lapland.
These islands provide visitors with a wonderful experience year-round. In the winter, you can travel between islands over the frozen sea by foot, sled, or snowmobile. When the days grow longer and the ice melts away, the distinct islands of the archipelago reveal themselves, and it becomes the perfect place for swimming, kayaking, fly fishing, and other water sports.
The coast and all its activities are easily accessed from the cities of Skelleftea and Pitea, but for the archipelago fishing experience, head to Lulea, Swedish Lapland’s largest city. To experience the coast and waters of the inner archipelago, take a guided kayak tour with Lapland Tours, during which you’ll visit a nearby island and explore the city’s coastline. Local tour operator Lulea Travel offers guided fishing expeditions throughout the year, with summer being prime for pike fishing. A four-hour tour including a guide, all necessary equipment, and transfer from and back to your hotel runs about $230 per person.
Commercial boats run regularly from the mainland to the larger islands such as Rödkallen, Kluntarna, Småskär, and Brändöskär. On the islands are small, family-run guesthouses and restaurants and, if you’re visiting for only a few hours, plenty of beach space for fishing and swimming. For the ultimate island-hopping experience, take a dinner cruise aboard the M/S Laponia and enjoy fresh seafood along with mushrooms and other veggies harvested from the islands. Live music and dancing follow dinner, with the three-hour cruise costing about $60 per person.
Experience Sami culture in Laponia
Located in western Lapland, Laponia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1996 as one of the most well-preserved nomadic areas in Northern Scandinavia. It is home to the Sami, the nomadic indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. Oftentimes, places like Laponia are described with cliché terms like “undiscovered” or “untouched” — but that’s definitely not the case in Swedish Lapland, or Sápmi, as the Sami People call it.
The Sami have inhabited the region for thousands of years. Rather than being untouched, it remains raw and untamed, retaining its natural beauty. The Sami have a close relationship with nature and a deep respect for the environment. In popular culture the Sami are known as reindeer herders, though everything from the land and the water to the wildlife that inhabit the area is treated as an extension of their own bodies, and as such, almost nothing goes to waste.
A number of amazing experiences in Lapland offer the chance to learn about the language, culture, reindeer husbandry, and slow food culinary customs of the Sami people. Camp Ripan, an overnight lodge in the northern Swedish Lapland town of Kiruna, offers a “Sami Wellness Day,” in which you venture into nature to study Sami traditional thinking, for about $150. The lodge also offers Sami dinner experiences that include picking berries, plant preparation, and a lesson in Sami cooking and recipes, for about $185 per person.
Soar in a helicopter
In Lapland, traveling by helicopter is one of the easiest and most practical ways to get around, especially when trying to reach remote areas where there are no roads, bridges, or trails. A number of companies throughout the region offer helicopter transport and guided tours in the air and on the ground, including Lights Over Lapland and Kiruna Lapland.
These tours can be a great way to see Abisko National Park, and on select trips you can be dropped off in some of Lapland’s most secluded regions for trekking, photo tours, and even wildlife encounters. This is a great option for travelers who don’t have time for a full hike or the week-long Sarek trek mentioned above, or just for anyone who wants to get a bird’s eye view of Lapland’s epic landscapes. Fly to the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden’s tallest mountain, or experience the dramatic winding ravines of Sarek National Park’s Rapadalen (Rapa Valley) from above. Prices vary depending on length, with some tours as short as 20 minutes, and destination.
Test your limits with a Kungsleden thru-hike
The Kungsleden, or in English “The King’s Trail,” is the longest hiking trail in Sweden and one of the world’s most iconic through-hikes. It covers more than 250 miles from Abisko in the north to Hemavan in the south, passing through four of Lapland’s national parks. The trail’s most popular section, and the most-traveled, multi-day path in Sweden, is from Abisko to Nikkaloukta. This northernmost section, also called the Fjällräven classic, is roughly 70 miles and can be completed in about a week.
Take advantage of Sweden’s Allemansrätten, or “freedom to roam,” and set up camp wherever you’d like (see our guide to trekking gear), or stay in one of the Swedish Tourist Association’s (STF) cabins along the way. From Abisko to Nikkaloukta, these mountain cabins generally have food and provisions and are a comfortable day’s trek away from one another, so bringing along heavy camping gear and lots of food isn’t necessary. This makes this portion of the trail the most convenient, but that is by no means the only reason why it’s so popular.
The trail from Abisko to Nikkaloukta also has some of the most dramatic and impressive views of the entire Kungsleden. The trek is challenging for even the most skilled outdoorsmen and women, but the chance to be immersed in nature while putting their bodies to the test is a rewarding experience that many trekkers come back for year after year.
Take a day-hike to a scenic summits
If you don’t have time for a full through-trek, you’ll find several easily accessible day hikes and summit expeditions. Spend the day exploring Abisko National Park, or head to Kärkevagge, just a 30-minute bus ride from Abisko Tourist Station. Also known as the Secret Stone Valley, Kärkevagge provides visitors with an easy-going, nine-mile hike through stunning rocky landscapes. Once you reach the head of the valley you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Rissajaure, or Troll Lake as locals call it. This scenic lake has been coined the clearest lake in Sweden, and is a wonderful spot to cool off after a day of hiking.
For a more challenging experience, hike to the top of Skierfe in Sarek National Park, about five miles and taking about four hours. If you want to put a big check on your adventure bucket list, take on Kebnekaise, Sweden’s tallest mountain. This trek takes upwards of 12 hours; it’s 33 miles and over 6,000 feet in elevation gain, and requires light mountaineering equipment including crampons and ropes. Many choose to hire a guide for the journey. (If you choose to hike solo, be sure you know how to avoid risks posed by nursing bears, wolves, or the mildly poisonous European viper).
Stay in unique and unforgettable accommodations
While in Lapland, many people take full advantage of Allemansrätten and set up camp in the wilderness. Even if you visit during peak season, you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere secluded and beautiful to pitch your tent for the night. Social distancing has never been easier. But there are a number of unique accommodations in Swedish Lapland in the summer to suit all travel budgets, should you not wish to rough it in a tent. Sleep suspended amongst the trees in one of the Treehotel’s seemingly floating rooms in Harads, an hour north of Lulea, They’re pricey (the famed Mirrorcube unit is $560 per night) but the best place in Scandinavia to attempt a landscape photo on your phone.
You could also disconnect at the secluded Geunja Sámi Eco Lodge, a great way to taste Sami culture in the Vindelfjällen Ammarnäs area of northwest Lapland. Your rate, which you must inquire about, benefits Sami buildings and promotes local eco-conservation initiatives.
If you do depart on a Kungsleden trek, or simply feel like escaping into the wilderness for some climbing, consider a one-night detour to crash at the jaw-dropping STF Nallo Mountain Cabin in the Stuor Räitavagge valley off the main trekking route. Wherever you choose to lay your head in Swedish Lapland, whether it’s a luxury hotel or a tent in the wild, you’re guaranteed an unbeatable morning view.