Luleå, Sweden’s Winter Wonderland

NFGL members don't just study in Sweden - they live here, experiencing many things they've never seen or done before. Ahmed Abbas Mohammed shares his unique experiences in Luleå, in the far north of Sweden.

Luleå, Sweden’s Winter Wonderland
Photo: Joakim Höggren/Luleå.nu. Other photos by author

 A few hours ago, just before I started writing this article, I had to find my way through tons of snow packed in the short distance between our apartment building and the nearby supermarket. It has been snowing for the last few days, and while the ice is melting in other cities, Luleå is getting more of it every day. I have never seen snow before in my life, and the first time it started snowing I was so happy and excited I spent an hour walking outside trying to catch snowflakes on my hands and face.

Winter in Luleå brings so many breathtaking opportunities, from the amazing winter market in Jokkmokk, to Luleå Big Air, the ice road, the ice music festival, and many other events and activities. I will try to share some information about those events and activities with you to give you a better idea of what winter looks like here in the north.

We started the new year by visiting Jokkmokk winter market, and while it is not in Luleå, it is very close to the city. Jokkmokk's winter market has a long history and is considered to be a 400 year unbroken tradition. The market is open for a week with many activities spread around those seven days. The market presents many details about Sami people, life, culture, and traditions. You can find winter clothes, antiques, Sami food, reindeer, and Sami people in their colorful dresses. It was super cold, but luckily, we came prepared for that weather, after all “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dålig kläder”.

No matter how hard I tired, I never managed to imagine how an entire river or lake can freeze to the extent a car can go on it without breaking the ice, so you can imagine my amusement when my friends told me the ice road is now open for those who want to walk around the city on the frozen water. Each winter around 25 km of ice roads are created to connect Luleå with the many islands in the nearby archipelago. People skate, ride scooters, drive their cars or even walk between those islands and around the city itself; it is an amazing experience and a bit scary to be honest.

Luleå is known for many special events and one of them is the Ice Music Festival. Ice music is a new art where professional musicians play on instruments made of ice; you might think the music will not be that good, but you must hear it yourself, it rocks. Once again, this year the Ice Music Festival happened on the frozen Baltic Sea where people gathered from all over Sweden to enjoy this unique show.

Every year, skaters gather to participate in the famous Luleå Big Air, one of the most entertaining events you can ever attend while staying in Luleå. This year the event was hosted at Lulea Tekniska Universitet, with a 22 metre-high ramp and skiers and snowboarders from all over the country.

This was a quick peek at the type of activities we get to participate in here during the winter, and of course there are more activities including – but not limited to — skiing trips, northern lights hunting, camping, snowball fights, building snowmen, and a long list of indoor activities for students to enjoy during the long cold winter.

Last Christmas, we (SI NFGL Luleå members) got to see what a traditional Swedish Christmas looks like in a nice gesture from our university international office. The next morning I was taking the bus, talking with one of the exchange students about Luleå, and she said something that stuck in my mind: “Spending Christmas here was the best thing I did this year. It all felt like a magical wonderland, something we only see in TV shows and movies, but this year I got to experience it.”

She was right, it is a magical wonderland here in the north, and we are glad that we got the chance to experience it.

Finally, I have to share two compulsory pictures with you: the first is a picture of the northern lights, the second is a picture for some of our local NFGL network members during a recent event at our university Career Center: