Imagine a magical place where the summer sun never sets, and mysterious glowing lights dance to brighten a dark wintery landscape. Imagine deep forests, untamed rivers and distant horizons. Imagine a place where summers are mild and bright, and the chillingly cold winter landscape glows in the lights from millions of stars.
This is Mother Nature in all her glory. This is the extremity of seasons in full force. This is what fairy tales are made of. This is Arctic Sweden.
Arctic Sweden, Swedish Lapland, or simply “the Northern Lands” (as most Swedes call the area) – the northernmost region of Sweden goes by many names. The area that we call Arctic Sweden consists of the three northernmost provinces of West Bothnia, North Bothnia, and Lapland. Together, they occupy approximately 151,466 km2, one-third of the country’s area, but the total population is only 657,379, a miniscule 6.5% of the country’s inhabitants. In fact, in Lapland, the country’s most spacious province, the average number of inhabitants per square kilometer is a microscopic 2.2.
The combination of a small population and vast space results in Western Europe’s largest area of pristine wilderness. In many parts untouched by human development, visitors can enjoy amazing views and good fishing in crystal clear streams, while experiencing the silence and solitude that is not available anywhere else in western Europe. From skiing to hiking, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities.
Being at or very close to the Polar Circle, Arctic Sweden offers four dramatically distinctive seasons. During the summer, the sun never sets completely, and one can enjoy daylight for most or all of 24 hours – a phenomenon called the Midnight Sun (or, as the Japanese call it, White Nights).
In contrast, during the winter, the sun barely rises above the horizon – or not at all – for several months. But contrary to what many think, it’s seldom really dark, even during the darkest months. The sun lurks just below the horizon during the day, spreading a faint, gloomy daylight, and during winter nights, the snow-covered ground reflects the light from a starry sky.
In addition, winter nights allow for superior viewing of the Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, in its breathtaking splendor. Nature definitely knows how to put on a fantastic light show, as proven by this otherworldly-looking display of shimmering, flickering lights.
With Arctic Sweden having an abundance of snow in winter, Lapland’s most famous tourist spot is definitely the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi – the world’s first and largest hotel made from ice and snow. Ever since its inception in 1990, it has been a top destination that attracts visitors from all over the world, with quite a few guests from Japan every year. Should you wish to spend a night there, book well in advance.
The hard-working people of Arctic Sweden need ample sustenance, of which there is plenty to be had. Wildlife is abundant – reindeer and elk are perennial favorites on the dining table, as are salmon, trout, herring and other fish. Kalix bleak roe, a golden caviar that’s the only food in Sweden with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, is exclusive to the region.
The vast forests are filled with mushrooms and an abundant selection of wild berries, which are free for anyone to pick according to the Swedish “freedom to roam” act. And lest we forget, the province of West Bothnia even has a cheese named after it: Västerbotten, a strong-tasting cheese that’s a must-try when you visit the region.
Despite its tiny population of only ten million, Sweden is in many respects over-represented on the world stage. It’s the country that gave the world IKEA, H&M, Volvo, Spotify, Skype, ABBA, and the Nobel Prize, after all.
Arctic Sweden’s key industries are also globally competitive. The provinces of West and North Bothnia are the industrialized parts of Arctic Sweden. The area is extremely rich in natural resources, mainly timber and minerals. West Bothnia is home to Europe’s richest source of gold, while North Bothnia is mainly about iron, although many other kinds of mineral are also sourced here. These two basic industries have in turn given birth to many sophisticated machinery and tool manufacturers.
Electricity in Northern Sweden is competitively priced due to hydropower extracted from the many rivers. This, along with the relatively cold climate, is why several companies, including Facebook, have set up eco-friendly data centers in the region.
Heavy industries have been joined by younger ventures, mainly in IT-related areas such as multimedia, web, games, and software development, but also with companies in design and other creative industries. Umeå and Skellefteå, two of the largest coastal cities in the region, have been actively promoting this trend.
This latest aspect is actually not as modern as one might think. It is often said that, due to the long, cold and dark winters, people in Arctic Sweden spend their time indoors, tinkering and developing new things.
Long industrial history, an overwhelming all-encompassing natural landscape, traditional handicrafts, and a long-standing tradition of innovation and self-reliance—these are the building blocks of the vibrant Arctic Design of Sweden.