We met German journalist Axel Halbhuber earlier in the year who was staying at Abisko Guesthouse in Swedish Lapland (250km inside the arctic circle) with his two really small children. He is the author of Reisen ist ein Kinderspiel – travelling (with children) is mere child’s play. They had driven all the way up from Germany and were spending six weeks travelling around Sweden, Norway and Denmark before heading home again.
We thought – well, if he can do it, we could manage a four-night trip :D Armed with advice from him and two small researchers of our own (age 2 and 7), we tried, tested, climbed, investigated, opened everything and here are the tips we came up with (originally posted on www.NewinSweden.com):
– Book an apartment
We stayed in the 2-bedroom Fjällstugan and it was perfect for the four of us (and would have been good with two more children). The flat is also tough enough for us parents to be able to relax – no amount of prodding and investigating caused any concern (though keep little kids out of the kitchen as it isn’t toddler-proof).
There is space to eat in the living room and a proper table in the fully-equipped kitchen. The great big hallway is a perfect playroom and the shower and loo were just fine for us.
The Fjällstuga has two triple-bed rooms, meaning a double bed in each with single bunk over the top. Both rooms had plenty of space for a travel cot which we booked in advance from the Guesthouse. It came with baby bed covers and we took with us the littlest one’s pillow and duvet.
As we talking about travelling with children, the TV works well and even had YouTube on it, should you ‘need’ endless episodes of Peppa Pig (or in Swedish, Greta Gris…).
The rest of the accommodation was also suitable for children, except for the top-floor 3-bed flat which you want children old enough not to need a stair gate. However, if you have children that won’t throw themselves down the staircase, that top floor flat is fab, with three 2-bed rooms and the most spectacular views across the lake.
– Exploring outdoors
* Walk to the lake: Lake Torenträsk is 700m gently downhill from the Guesthouse and is a wonderful place to explore. In the summer, take a fishing net with you or if you have old-enough children, take fishing rods with you. The lake has trout and arctic char as well as plenty of things to catch. Arctic char is yummy so if you catch one, take it back and cook it for dinner. You can fish all year round but will need help drilling holes in the ice in the winter so then take a guide with you! Guests at the Guesthouse can borrow sensible clothing for free.
In the winter (8 months of it…), you can walk on the frozen lake, despite how deep it is (very). The view is indescribably spectacular. Frozen lake opens all around you and is surrounded by low mountains, making it look like something out of Lord of the Rings (think Rivendell in winter). The mountains sparkle. The lake sparkles. There is certain to be someone walking a dog across it at some point, though they may be a long way away, as you can see the whole length.
If the lake isn’t frozen, then look for fish, for bugs (not big ones, just ones small kids like to investigate) and there may even be a digger around, as repairs and building work to the small pontoons and houses there taken place in the few months with no snow. When we pottered down, a new pontoon was being built by a small digger.
* Chairlift up Mount Nuolja. We took our 2-year-old up on the lift after asking around but would only recommend it if you are sure that they will sit absolutely still for the 20 min journey up and the same down. We used a BabaSling tightly around ours and it worked well but wasn’t the most relaxing journey. However…the view is absolutely beautiful, very definitely worth it and is even better on the way down. Our 7-year-old thought it was amazing and took many, many video clips on the journey up and down and from the top. Check that it is open, it closes in the spring and autumn.
If you can and want to hike or ski down from the top, do. The hiking paths are well marked. If you don’t, you can take the lift, just buy a return ticket.
There is a cafe at the top chairlift station that served a small selection of yummy food. We had tomato soup and waffles (not together!). Then we went out onto the viewing platform and filmed and photographed the amazing scenery.
* A bit of a walk: there are all manner of hikes through Abisko National Park and with kids that are old enough, we would head to Trollsjön, a ‘magical’ lake that is entirely frozen most of the year so has no life in it at all. It is beautiful. But…our kids aren’t nearly up to that (yet…?) so Stornabben is a much better bet. A 1,5km trek up to the mound gets you great views of the lake and the landscape all around you and, best of all, it is only a 20 minute walk. It is magical to look across the lake and also see Lapporten – the gap between the mountains that is called the ‘Gate to Lapland’. Visitors have reported it as one of the most amazing places to see the northern lights.
* Short hike: if you have kids that might be interested in a busy beach full of bird-life, then head to the beach and delta where the river Abeskoeatnu meets the lake, 3-4km from the Guesthouse. Blue throats hang out there, sometimes singing a wide variety of songs, so listen out for them. Do check the time of year though – entrance to the area is restricted May-July to allow the birds some peace.
* Playroom at Björkliden hotel. When you just need space for them to play, the playroom at Hotell Fjället in Björkliden is ideal. It isn’t huge but is well designed with toys, books and colouring things. Look for signs to the Lemming Club (Lämmelklubben) but you can’t miss it, it is the first room on the right as you come in the main entrance to the hotel. We highly recommend lunch there too (see below). For older children (6-12 years old), the Lemming Club organises walks out looking for animals and adventure.
* Naturum nature centre at the tourist station in Abisko
About 2.5km from the Guesthouse is a group of buildings that includes the Swedish Tourist Association hostel and the local nature centre, called Naturum. On one side of the nature centre, you can find out all about the history and wildlife of the area. On the other is a shop and a place to sit and rummage through the books they have. More importantly are there things to colour in and with, dough to make things out of, a microscope to thoroughly investigate (including trying to take it apart…) and lots to look at, touch and press. The bird-song buttons were, of course, great entertainment. Sometimes, there are organised activities for children at a very simple level but ours loved investigating the hides of local wild animals that the guide assured them had all been killed by natural causes or by getting in the way of a train.
Every day, they show a couple of films in English and one in German, about the national parks and about reindeer herding. The one we saw seemed to have been filmed an extremely long time ago but it included showing the arrival of huskie puppies and our 7-year-old was fascinated. The room where the films are shown has a model of the area which was a) very useful to see and b) had a million buttons that kept our 2-year-old busy right through the 15 minute film. The films are free to see and you can ask them if they’ll put them on at other times too.
If you are in need of refreshments, the centre itself doesn’t have any but the really big hotel next door (STF Mountain Station) certainly does. A rather fancy restaurant is there but the shop, equipped with everything from very expensive hiking gear to tins of food, has tea and coffee and snacks. You can sit in the lobby with them, together with a fair few others in varying degrees of hiking attire.
* The Guesthouse is self-catering so the most important place to start is the supermarket. Sited inside an enormous sweet shop, do not take the kids in with you unless you can keep them from putting their hands in the huge barrels of sweets or you have managed to bribe them to behave with something else. I’d even recommend giving them something to eat right before you go in!
Apart from that, it is a perfectly well stocked little supermarket (the sweets have more space than everything else) and we managed to find all that we needed but don’t expect much choice or that they’ll have baby things. However, you can get frozen reindeer meat and we highly recommend trying it. The kitchen we had (and the others we investigated) were fully equipped and we didn’t need to ask for anything.
* As we mentioned, the hotel at Björkliden (about 10km from Abisko), Hotell Fjället, has a restaurant that serves a really great lunch buffet. There seemed to be just one thing on the menu but the days we tried it out, there was a vegan option too (meaning allergies were easy to deal with) and then small hotdogs and meatballs for the children – who eat for free…! Seriously, that is unheard of in Sweden! The Restaurang Lapporten has windows that look out right across the lake, back towards Abisko. The ‘app on an ipad’ you use to get tap water or squash from the machine was a big hit with our little travellers.
* The restaurant at STF Mountain Station looked very smart and we didn’t try it but will another time. It also lists a playroom which we didn’t find and forgot to ask about!
* If you head up on the chairlift, the cafe at the top is very nice and, although not a huge selection, had very nice food. Think warming soup and sticky buns.
– Do you need a car?
We wondered how we would manage without a car. You can book tours and transfers with the Guesthouse, they have a mass of minibuses. We arrived on one occasion by bus but there is only one bus a day from Kiruna airport and you’d be stuck if you missed it. On reflection, we think it would be tough there with little kids and no car, especially if it isn’t warm and sunny all the time. We hired a car from Kiruna airport and that worked well.
– Have you been to Abisko with small children?
Let us know your experiences of being up in the arctic circle with children or any questions you have about it in the comments or on Facebook.