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930km (578 miles) N of Stockholm

This is the northernmost town in all of Sweden, at least the northernmost one of any notable size. You'll suffer no great deprivation if you skip it or simply view the town as a refueling stop. Luleå is not totally devoid of charm, however. This port city on Sweden's east coast at the northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia is 113km (70 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, yet it has a surprisingly mild climate -- its average annual temperature is only a few degrees lower than that of Malmö, on the southern tip of Sweden.

Establishing a city this far north was laden with difficulties. Gustavus Adolphus may have founded the city in 1621, but it wasn't until 1940 that development really took hold. Today, as the seat of the University of Luleå, the town has a population of 70,000 and is liveliest when the students are here in winter, although most foreigners (except businesspeople) see it only in summer. During this season, the town is a port for shipping iron ore; its harbor remains frozen over until May. The state-owned ironworks here have led to a dramatic growth in population since the 1940s.

If you have 2 or 3 hours to wander about, you can visit the town's original settlement, which enjoys protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.