This month we are looking at a challenging but very rewarding route through central Sweden. This 1363 kilometre route is one of Scandinavia’s great rail journeys, taking you through some very interesting towns and varied landscapes all the way to the Arctic Circle, but it does require some careful planning.
The Inlandsbanan is a privately run inland railway for tourist travel set up by the local communities to save it from closure and has now been in operation for 80 years. They offer a range of rail packages that include meals, photography stops and commentary by knowledgeable hosts. The full route from Kristinehamn (halfway between Stockholm and Gothenburg) to Gällivare (60 miles north of the Arctic Circle) can only be enjoyed during an eight to ten week summer season (usually from mid-June to mid-August). However, on the southern part from Mora to Östersund there are additional services aimed at the local population that run throughout the year. In the winter months, there are also night trains running from Malmö via Stockholm to Östersund and Röjan. The terminus stations Mora, Östersund and Gällivare can be reached by regular trains from Göteborg, Stockholm and other Swedish cities all year round (see Tables 758, 761 & 767).
The pace of the journey is slow and relaxed and is split into a northern and southern section with an overnight stop in the lakeside town of Östersund, but with a wealth of wildlife such as Reindeer and Moose and spectacular scenery to enjoy, this trip is certainly worth the effort. Regular tickets for part or all of the journey can be purchased from Inlandsbanan or if you plan to make several stops along the route the Inlandsbanan Card is the best choice as it is valid for 14 days unlimited travel between Mora, Östersund and Gällivare. Eurail and Interrail passes are also valid on this route with reservations not required.
The southern section of this route begins in Kristinehamn which is located on the shores of Lake Vänern in Värmland county. The railway station is located centrally and has regular connections to Stockholm, Göteborg and Oslo. Dotted with thousands of small islands, Lake Vänern is Europe’s largest freshwater archipelago, all of which can be explored by waterbus or chartered boat tours. There are plenty of attractions for tourists including pleasant shopping and cafes along the waterfront, historical walking trails and its most famous landmark, the Picasso sculpture. Situated on a peninsula seven kilometres from the town centre, the 15-metre tall sculpture is one of Picasso’s largest works of art.
We now travel north through the province of Dalarna, through wild and unspoilt landscapes stopping at some small Swedish towns and cities. The surrounding countryside has extensive forests, mountains, valleys and more than 360 lakes, with plenty of resorts offering outdoor activities throughout the summer season and ski facilities during the winter months. The GrängesBergsBanornas Järnvägsmuseum (railway museum) is also located nearby.
Around 3½ hours from Kristinehamn we reach Mora, located between the northern shore of lake Siljan and the southern shore of lake Orsasjön. Mora is the southern terminus of the Inlandsbanan and, as there are regular trains to the major Swedish cities all year round, you could choose to begin your journey here. Mora is most famous for hosting a cross-country ski race called the Vasaloppet, but it also has plenty of museums and beautiful gardens to explore. For the next section of the route, there is only one service available from Mora to Östersund which takes around 5½ hours including a meal break. Along this section of line the train runs through areas of untouched wilderness and bear forests. If you have time, it is worth stopping off at some of the towns along the line; Orsa is a good choice with its beautiful lakes, beaches, restaurants and interesting wildlife park.
We begin this week in Östersund which marks the end of the southern section of this route and where an overnight stay is necessary. Östersund is a pleasant and compact city with a proud food heritage. There are many upmarket restaurants and cafes together with a heritage museum within easy walking distance from the centre. The city sits next to Lake Storsjon, Sweden’s fifth largest lake where plenty of outdoor activities are on offer all year round. Every year the city becomes a winter sports village, with one of northern Europe’s best ski resorts offering daily prepared routes for ice skating and skiing.
We now begin travelling north through the forests of southern Lapland. The train makes regular stops at several small towns for meals or sight-seeing, where you can re-join after the short break or set off on your own explorations. Many of the towns hold markets and events throughout the summer or you could set off into the wilderness of Europe’s largest nature reserve, Vindelfjällen, either by bus or hiking the well-marked trails. In Sorsele you could visit the Inlandsbanan museum, located in the old goods shed in the station building, or you could take a trip on the tour boat Älvkungen, moored at its jetty in the centre throughout the summer.
Just before reaching Jokkmokk, we cross the Arctic Circle, where the train makes a stop for photographs. Jokkmokk is known for its traditional food culture, wilderness and beauty, where you can try reindeer meat and local produce from one of the world’s oldest markets as well as learning about Sámi culture. There are several exciting activities on offer here, such as horse riding in the midnight sun, helicopter rides or husky walks. However, if you decide not to spend time here, the train continues to the terminus of the line at Gällivare.
Gällivare is the northernmost stop on the Inlandsbanan line, one of the few towns of any significant size in the central part of Lapland, making it a natural place to break the journey before heading back down south or extending your travels further north or into Norway. The Laponiaentrén Gällivare is located on the second floor of the railway station building and contains an exhibition about the Laponia World Heritage Site. It contains about a fifth of the full exhibition which is housed in the Naturum Visitor Centre Laponia, a bus ride away. The lakes and forests in this area are beautiful and there are plenty of options for trips into the surrounding countryside or for a nice stroll along the marked Cultural Trail in the city where you can enjoy the great views. A popular activity in summer is to hike up Mount Dundret to one of Sweden’s most spectacular viewpoints, particularly for those wishing to experience the midnight sun.
From Gällivare there are several options to extend your travels. It’s possible to catch the sleeper train on the main east coast line to Stockholm (Table 767) or there are InterCity services on the Malmbanan (“Iron Ore Railway”, in Norway known as Ofotbanen) to Boden and Luleå on the coast or over the Norwegian border to Narvik (Table 765). Narvik is the northernmost point on the planet that can be reached by train on electrified standard gauge railways from the rest of Europe. From here there are bus connections further into Norway with more spectacular scenery to enjoy, such as the journey to the beautiful Lofoten Islands. Inlandsbanan also offer a combined ticket for the spectacular Hurtigruten ferry (Table 2240), one of the most beautiful sea voyages in the world through the Norwegian fjords down to Trondheim.