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Lapland - Travel and visas
European Union, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand nationals need only a valid passport to enter Finland, Norway or Sweden – and, hence, Lapland – for a maximum period of three months. All other citizens should contact the appropriate embassy for visa information.
Given the tremendous distances involved in reaching Lapland, even from elsewhere in Scandinavia, the only feasible way of getting there is by air. Naturally, it is possible to drive to Lapland as part of a greater European tour, but consider just how far it is: London to Kiruna, for example, is 3,000km.
Getting to Scandinavia
The best transit airports to aim for when heading for Lapland are Stockholm Arlanda (ARN), Oslo Gardermoen (OSL) or Helsinki Vantaa (HEL). Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport, although the biggest hub in Scandinavia, has no direct flights to Lapland and is worth avoiding for that reason.
The main airports to use in Lapland are Kiruna (KRN), Lulea (LLA), Narvik/Harstad (EVE), Tromso (TOS), Rovaniemi (RVN) and Ivalo (IVL), but flying to Lapland will generally entail first reaching one of the Nordic capitals (Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki) and then changing planes for a domestic flight to one of the airports listed above; see Getting to Scandinavia above, for information on how to reach the Nordic capitals. The duration of the flight from one of these hubs up to Lapland is roughly 1½ to two hours, depending on destination. If bought in advance, it is possible to pick up a single domestic ticket from around £50/US$75.
Although distances are often long and journeys between towns can take several hours (if not all day in some circumstances), travel around Lapland is straightforward. The public transport system in all three countries is efficient, and more often than not runs on time. In Sweden trains run from Lulea northwest to Gallivare, Kiruna and Riksgransen before crossing the border to Narvik in Norway; when bought in advance a single ticket from Lulea to Narvik costs around 300SEK – not bad for a 7hr journey. There are trains between Gallivare, Jokkmokk and Arvidsjaur running on the privately operated single-track Inlandsbanan between June and August; irrespective of when you buy the ticket, a single from Gallivare to Arvidsjaur, for example, costs 420SEK. In Finland rail services effectively expire at Rovaniemi although there is an occasional service as far north as Kolari via Tornio Itainen and east to Kemijärvi.
Inlandsbanan train at the Arctic Circle, Lapland © James Proctor
In Norway, all transport north of Narvik is by bus; services run all the way to Kirkenes in the far east of the region and are described in the text; a single ticket from Narvik to Tromso costs 375NOK. Both Finland and Sweden have a comprehensive bus network, and in the summer months there are cross-border services between Finland and Norway, which can help you get around the region as a whole; once again details are given in the text; a single from Kaaresuvanto, for example, to Tromso costs around €50. In Norway, the Hurtigruten coastal ferry provides a relaxing (if expensive) way of travelling up and down this highly indented coastline, as do the Hurtigbat express ferries that operate over shorter distances; the Hurtigruten from Tromso, for example, to Kirkenes costs around 2,500NOK, including a cabin.
Flights too can be particularly useful, especially to cover some of the grinding distances between towns in Norwegian Lapland; the key airline to look out for here is Wideroe. During the summer months (generally late June to late August), the airline sells the amazingly useful Explore Norway ticket (Norge Rundt in Norwegian). This great-value air pass allows you to fly as much and as often as you like within a fixed time frame.
However, getting around by car is always going to be the most convenient way of seeing Lapland. Not only are you free of the tyranny of timetabling, but you can also get well off the beaten track beyond the reach of most buses. Car hire though is pricey and you may find it cheaper to arrange car hire before you go; airlines sometimes have special deals. Once again, Sweden and Finland are considerably cheaper than Norway, where even the Sultan of Brunei would think twice before hiring anything larger than a Nissan Micra. On the whole, expect to pay upwards of £300/US$450 a week for a small car. Across Lapland the rules of the road are strict: there’s a speed limit of 30km/h in residential areas, 50km/h in built-up areas and 80–90km/h on other roads.