For some, summer visits to Norrland (the entire north of Sweden) and Swedish Lapland specifically mean nothing but bleakness, unrelenting daylight, and a wilderness foreboding enough to bring a tear to the eye. But for others, it's the adventure of a lifetime: They'll fly in from Stockholm in summer just to see the sunshine after midnight above the Arctic Circle. In other words, Lapland is an acquired taste -- a haven of beauty and tranquillity for many, but not all.
Swedish Lapland is Europe's last wilderness -- 9,400 sq. km (3,629 sq. miles) of more or less untouched nature. (The area of Norrland, which encompasses Lapland and other northern provinces, covers roughly half the area of Sweden, and one quarter of the country lies north of the Arctic Circle.) This wild, undisturbed domain of the midnight sun is a land of high mountains and plateaus; endless forests and vast swamplands; crystal-blue lakes and majestic mountains; and glaciers, waterfalls, rushing rivers, and forests.
Like the Grand Canyon and the Galapagos Islands, Lapland, whose natural wonders include a population of brown bears and alpine flora, is listed as a World Heritage Site. It has been occupied by the Sami people since prehistoric times. Most still make their living from tending reindeer herds.
Surprisingly, the territory can be reached easily. Fast electric trains take you from Stockholm to Narvik in Norway, with stops at Kiruna and Abisko. The express train, Nordpilen, takes a day and a night to travel from Stockholm to far north of the Arctic Circle. Once here, you'll find mail-coach buses connecting the other villages and settlements in the north.
It's much quicker to fly, of course, and there are airports at Umea, Lulea, and Kiruna. The last, for example, is reached by air in 4 hours from Stockholm. Those with more time may want to drive here. From Stockholm, just stay on E4, the longest road in Europe. From Stockholm to the Finnish border town of Haparanda, you'll ride along about 1,130km (702 miles) of good surface.
Various towns in Lapland can serve as a center from which to explore the Laponian area. We'll also preview national parks to visit in Laponia under those individual town listings.