Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Traveling with kids in northern Sweden: 10 things to do & places to go

Sweden. (Not Switzerland.)
Whether they're traveling with or without kids, most tourists who go to Sweden end up seeing the southern parts of the country and then mainly the big cities: Stockholm, Göteborg/Gothenburg, Malmö/Malmoe and maybe some of the surrounding areas.

Statistics from 2008 presented by Visit Sweden, show that Sälen, a ski-resort in northern Sweden, is the only Swedish attraction or destination in the Tourism Top 10 that is not in a big city area, and not located in southern Sweden.

Sure, southern Sweden and the urban areas do have a lot to offer for family travelers, but northern Sweden is a great destination too. I might be somewhat biased, since I did grow up in Skellefteå which is located on the Baltic coast in northern Sweden, but there are a lot of things to see and do with kids in the north. For example:

Arctic circle, Överkalix Municipality, Sweden.
1. Visit the Arctic Circle, aka the Polar Circle
Once you're traveling north, it's difficult to resist the urge to head all the way up to the Arctic Circle, also known as Polcirkeln, or the Polar Circle in Sweden. To quote Wikipedia, it's located at the parallel of latitude that runs 66 degrees, 33 minutes and 44 seconds north of the Equator.

You can take a picture of yourself and your kids on the side of the road with a "Polcirkeln" sign, or go all out and spend some time in places like Arvidsjaur and Arjeplog which are close to the Arctic circle, and where there's a wealth of tours and activities available.

If you visit in summer, your kids will probably get a kick out of the fact that the sun never actually really sets, and that the nights never get really dark. In the winter the opposite is true of course: you won't see more than twilight all day.

2. Hike in the mountains
Northern Sweden has plenty of wilderness areas and national parks that are excellent for both longer and shorter hikes. There's Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain, Sarek National Park, and Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve.

3. Visit a mine
Mining, including mining for gold, is big business in northern Sweden. If your kids are at all interested in mining, rock collecting or just cool underground tunnels, there are a few different places to visit.

  • Vildmarksgruvan/The Wilderness Mine is located 10 km west of Skellefteå, and offers tours of the old mine, rock collecting, and a kids' mine that lets children try out different mining activities on a smaller scale. There's a restaurant serving traditional Swedish food like reindeer meat and fish, and other activities too, like a spa and a playground.
  • There's also the mine in Kristineberg, which is quite a unique mine since it has an ecumenical church in it. To quote the site: "It is the only one of its kind and has a reproduction of the image of Christ which emerged in the mine after a routine detonation in November 1946."
  • Another mining-related attraction is the world's longest ropeway. It was once used to transport ore, but now you can ride in it. I haven't visited this one yet, mainly because I've been afraid that the kids (or me?) would be freaked out by riding it. Maybe we'll try it this summer!

4. Meet the animals at Lycksele Djurpark
Lots more about this destination in my old blog-post all about this outdoor zoo.

5. Enjoy the view at Bjuröklubb
The lighthouse at Bjuröklubb still stands, even if it's not used anymore, and there's a boardwalk/ramp that goes all the way up to the top of the bluff overlooking the water. My kids love going here, and there's a nice, kid-friendly restaurant as well (my kids recommend the pancakes with jam, whipped cream and ice cream).

Nearby the lighthouse are various remains from prehistoric times, and there's a small harbor where fishing vessels still anchor. In summer you can buy fresh, smoked, and frozen fish there. I highly recommend this place if you're visiting the area with kids.

6. Go swimming at Pite Havsbad
Pite Havsbad is kind of kitschy, kind of cheesy, very touristy, and can still be a really fun day out (or a few days out) if you're traveling with kids. It's invaded by hordes of tourists in summer, but there is a reason for that: a long sandy beach with relatively warm water, and the spa and water slides. If your kids like water parks, this place is great. If your kids, like mine, are terrified of slides, then you can still enjoy the pool and the beach outside.

There's lots of accommodation, including camp sites, hotels, and cabins to rent, but if you're here in summer the place just might be full.

7. Get a taste of old-school, rural Sweden at Rismyrliden
My kids loved this place, and if you're at all interested in fresh-baked, traditional northern Swedish bread like "tunnbröd" or "mjukkaka" (and you should be!), you should definitely visit. My blog post about Rismyrliden is here.

8. Visit Nordanå, Skellefteå
Some more old-school Sweden can be experienced at Nordanå in the town of Skellefteå which is my old Swedish hometown.There are museums, art exhibits, a restaurant, a café, playgrounds, walking trails, duck ponds, an old-time store with toys and candy, and in summer there's an outdoor theatre for kids as well.

My kids enjoy going there because they can run around and play, feed the birds, roam in the grass or just go for a stroll along the river and throw rocks in the water. It's a great, relaxing place to take your kids.

9. Hang out at Gammlia, Umeå
This is located in the university town of Umeå, and is the site of the Västerbottens Museum

10. Go skiing in Hemavan
If you're visiting northern Sweden in the winter, you can be pretty sure that it will be a) dark, b) cold and c) lots of snow on the ground. There are several ski resorts in Sweden, and Hemavan is one of the best ones. There's a wide range of runs of various difficulty levels, and ski lessons for kids and adults are also available.

Even in summer, there is lots to do in Hemavan: hiking, fishing, canoeing... basically if you and your kids like the great outdoors, this is a wonderful place to visit. As in many places in northern Sweden, you can also learn a lot about Sami culture, and also eat some tasty reindeer meat dishes. Whether you tell your kids what they're eating is another matter...

For more information, take a look at Visit Sweden's interactive map!

Map of Sweden, thanks to Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Polcirkeln-sign, also thanks to Wikimedia.

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