Saturday, February 26, 2011

Traveling with kids in Sweden: Lycksele Djurpark

As European countries go, Sweden is a big place. Many tourists end up seeing Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö and maybe a bit more of the southern parts of the country. However, northern Sweden gets a lot of tourists too, and it's well worth a visit (and I should know, since I grew up in northern Sweden!).

Where in the world is Lycksele?
Lycksele is located in the interior of Sweden. The town is about 130 km from the region's main city, Umeå, on the coast, and it takes just over an hour to fly there from Stockholm Arlanda. It's a sparsely populated municipality with just over 12 000 inhabitants, and it has a pretty awesome zoo, Lycksele Djurpark, which is well worth a visit especially if you're traveling with kids.

The zoo
This is an outdoor zoo. Few animals are in actual cages, rather they roam around in largish enclosures with lots of trees, bushes and other vegetation. This means it is sometimes difficult to catch sight of some of the animals, but for someone who is squeamish about animals in cages (me) this is nicer than old-school zoos.
Visitors walk around the zoo on paved paths and some boardwalks. You can also take the train around the area too, which is something my kids love to do. Jst get your tickets at the entrance area and hop on when the train stops!
If you want to see everything in the zoo, there is quite a lot of walking involved. My tip is to bring a stroller or carrier if your children are young or if you know they won't like walking that much: it'll save you a lot of hassle (and whining). Also bring some snacks and something to drink, so you can stop and recharge their batteries occasionally.
 Most of the animals are native to Sweden or Scandinavia: moose, reindeer, seals, river otter (if you can catch sight of them), wolves, lynx, arctic fox, wolverine, and so on. There are also bears (usually with bear cubs in summer), and a wolf pack.

My favorite animal is the musk ox. Distinctly stone-agish in appearance, woolly, horned, looking like a pile of hay, they are not to be trifled with. Sticking your fingers through the fence or, hello!, climbing the fence is definitely not recommended. These animals are fierce and they are not as slow as they look.

Pigs, horses, and rabbits oh my!
Apart from the wild animals, there is a large section of the zoo devoted to farm animals. Sheep, pigs, goats, horses, cows: they're all here. The miniature piglets are some of the cutest things you'll ever see, literally looking like toys come to life.

There are pony rides, a petting zoo, and a large "rabbit warren" with real rabbits and child-sized tunnels for the children to explore.
The amusement park
Lycksele djurpark also includes a large amusement park area with rides for children, games, mini-trains, playground, bouncy castles, fairground games, and more. Tickets for the rides are bought inside the park and are not part of the zoo-admission.

Where to eat
There are a few coffee shops and snack places throughout the park, selling cookies, muffins, ice cream and the like. However, there is only one restaurant and every time I've been at the zoo, eating at this restaurant has been a vexing experience.

It's a cafeteria style restaurant where you order your food, get a number and then wait for your order to be ready before you pick it up yourself at the counter. In the busy season, there are always long lineups at lunchtime, service is kind of slow, and there's a lack of menus in other languages than Swedish. The poor layout of the place also makes it hard for people to know when their food is ready.

If you're here in summer, expect your meal to take a while. I've decided that next time we're visiting, we're bringing a picnic lunch!

This is a great place to visit with kids, if you are prepared to be outdoors and to do some walking both uphill and downhill. Lycksele itself is a small town really, but you can find some nice local food (fish, reindeer and moose meat for example), and the sami culture is also on display in many of the gift shops.

Map thanks to Lycksele kommun and muskox thanks to Lycksele Djurpark.

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