Home » A Guide to Lapland and Northern Norway in Winter  »  A Guide to Lapland in Winter: Transportation

A Guide to Lapland in Winter: Transportation

Would you like to know more about travelling Lapland in winter?

Check out the full Guide to Lapland and Northern Norway in Winter. This 130-page, fully-illustrated eBook will tell you everything you need to survive and enjoy a winter trip to the Arctic north.

You may think that independent travel in Lapland is difficult because the snow hampers public transport. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From buses to trains to planes, Lapland has it all, and they are all more punctual than what you have where you live (unless you’re Swiss).

Transportation

Buses

There are very few places in Lapland that are not reachable by a daily bus. These buses run on snow tyres with little spikes coming out of their treads, which help them grip the road and make the bus seem almost as stable as one on normal tarmac. And, while they can experience long delays during heavy storms where the snow can’t quickly be cleared, they nearly always run on time.

Buses in Northern Norway

Buses waiting at a meeting point in northern Norway.

Even within each country, there are several different bus lines, so you will have to coordinate between several different timetables. When reading these timetables, you should always make sure you’ve picked the winter version as services are often drastically reduced (especially to Nordkapp / North Cape, which requires convoy travel in winter).

The main bus lines in the region are as follows (note that this may not be a comprehensive list):

  • 177nordland – Lofoten Islands & Narvik (timetables)
    • 177nordland has actually released a mobile app for the most up-to-date timetables. This is available for both Android and iOS.
  • 177troms – Tromso
    • The Visit Tromso site also has a very comprehensive list of bus routes to Narvik, Nordkapp, Finland, and more.
  • Boreal – Finnmark (including Honningsvag/Nordkapp, Karasjok, and Kirkenes)
    • 177finnmark also has a mobile app.
  • Eskelisen – Finnish Lapland (anywhere from Oulu & Kemi north)
  • Lanstrafiken Norrbotten – all of Norrbotten (Sweden’s northernmost county) in Sweden, as well as northern Vasterbotten (including Skelleftea and Umea)

Trains

SJ Train in Abisko

An SJ train stopped in Abisko National Park.

Trains do not have nearly the same coverage as buses in Lapland, and at least in Sweden, they have a reputation of being much less punctual. However, if you get the chance, you should ride one at least once. No other mode of transport can match the feeling of speeding through a pristine white landscape that a train offers, and they are clean and full of a lot more conveniences than buses (like power outlets and the ability to get up a stretch your legs whenever you want).

The routes covered by trains are:

  • Helsinki to Rovaniemi in Finland
  • From Stockholm north to Umea, Lulea, Gallivare, Kiruna in Sweden (continuing on all the way to the Norwegian fjords in Narvik)

These corridors have many trains daily and even have an overnight sleeper option to get to/from the southern capitals.

The two operators are SJ (Sweden) and VR (Finland). Their prices can often beat those offered on buses — for instance, on some days you can get a train from Kiruna to Abisko for 66kr when the equivalent bus trip would cost 173kr. Their timetables and other useful information can be found on their sites linked above.

While many locals complain about the fact that SJ trains can be delayed by up to 8 hours, this is not always the case, and many of them run on time (especially if the weather is clear).

It’s also useful to know that the bus and train companies are not affiliated. So, if you want to travel on a bus with a connection to the train, you’ll have to buy two tickets. It’s not fun ending up having to deal with a very grumpy ticket collector as you try to explain to him that you didn’t realise you’d have to connect to a train in Gällivare to get to Kiruna so you have a bus ticket for that section instead of a train ticket. Eventually, he may take pity on you, but depending on who it is, you may have to buy a second ticket for the exact same journey.

In addition, all trains ticket specific seats, so you need to have a ticket to have a seat that won’t get taken away from you by another, properly ticketed, passenger.

Planes

Flying into Oslo

Looking out from a Norwegian plane onto the landscape near Oslo.

Flying is the best option for getting to Lapland. In little more than an hour (1/12 of the time of a train) you can fly to Kiruna from Stockholm. The same goes for getting to Narvik/Tromsø from Oslo or to Rovaniemi from Helsinki. Tromsø even boasts direct (2.5hr) flights from London courtesy of Norwegian.

Because Norwegian, as a budget carrier, has entered this space, no one airline has a monopoly that pushes up prices. If you get in early enough, Norwegian offers ridiculously low prices (ie £69 one-way from London).

The airlines that fly to northern Norway and Lapland are Norwegian, SAS, Finnair, and Wideroe. Some possible airports to fly into include:

  • Bodø
  • Narvik / Harstad
  • Tromsø
  • Alta
  • Kirkenes
  • Ivalo
  • Rovaniemi
  • Luleå
  • Kiruna

A full list of airports in Norway, Sweden, and Finland can be found on TheAirDB.

It’s important to know that many of these towns only have flights to their country’s capital city — connections between nearby airports are often non-existent. This means that flying between cities within Lapland is infeasible for nearly all itineraries (except for a small number involving Tromsø).

In addition, you will often have to make connections to fly from capitals of other Scandinavian countries. To fly to Bodø from Stockholm, you need to connect in Oslo. You have no choice from Rovaniemi but to fly to Helsinki (unless it’s December high season for visiting Santa).

One other (less important) reason that you should consider flying: disembarking on a snow-covered tarmac, possibly in a blizzard. Now that’s an experience.

Cruise Ships

On the Hurtigruten

On the MS Midnatsol Hurtigruten ship near Finnsnes.

Because all Finnish ports (and many Swedish ports) freeze in winter and require icebreaking ships to open them for shipping, ferries and cruise ships are not a viable form of transport there. However, the Norwegian coastline doesn’t experience this issue…and it’s often best seen by boat.

The most famous option for traversing the Norwegian coast is Hurtigruten. This network of cruise ships runs from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes in the far north-east (near the Russian border). Each of the 35 ports between has one ship dock on its way north and the other on its way south daily. There are eleven ships in total, most built in the last 25 years specifically for Hurtigruten.

Traveling with Hurtigruten is very similar to being on a cruise in another country, with the main difference being that you can get on and get off as you please rather than traveling the entire route. Many people choose to do the entire 12-day return journey from Bergen to Kirkenes, but you’ll find that most of these people are in an older age bracket, while most backpackers seem to stay aboard for one or two nights before disembarking again.

Why take Hurtigruten instead of an overland bus? Well, seeing the coastline by boat is a unique way to see the country, and as the ship hugs the shoreline, there’s always something to see out the window. The main perk is how comfortable the boat is; you’ll have a proper bed and cabin to yourself and you can roam as you please. In addition, the food on the boat is fantastic and is much better than what you’ll find in a petrol station rest stop!

Prices on Hurtigruten vary drastically depending on which ports you are travelling between and what lodging options you choose on the boat, but they will be more expensive than the equivalent bus ride. The cheapest option is to travel “on deck,” which luckily doesn’t mean you have to sleep on the deck outside — rather, you don’t have an allocated cabin and need to find a corner to sleep in. There are plenty such corners (such as the comfy sofas in the bar) so you will still be able to sleep…yet your ticket will be half-price.

Ferries

Torghatten Nord Ferry

On a Torghatten Nord ferry from Bodø to Moskenes.

Many places in Norway are connected by ferries (some are even high-speed). One place that has a particularly large number of ferries is the Lofoten Islands, since parts of them are quite close to the mainland by boat. Torghatten Nord operates these ferries. There are plenty of options, from getting from the mainland to the southern Lofoten Islands (Bodo-Moskenes) to accessing the outer islands such as Rost and Vaeroy.

These ferries are well-maintained and offer a place to sit and basic amenities, but don’t expect anything as fancy as Hurtigruten.

Torghatten Nord also operates most ferries in the Tromso region as well. Boreal ferry timetables for Finnmark are available on the 177finnmark website or app.

Rental Cars

Rental Car?

Probably not your ideal rental car.

Rental cars are available from the larger centres in northern Norway and Lapland such as Narvik, Tromso, Kiruna, and Rovaniemi through major operators such as Avis, Hertz, and Sixt. Funnily enough, they will actually rent cars to foreigners who haven’t gone through the Nordic countries’ rigorous driving tests too!

All cars rented in this region come equipped for winter. They come with snow tyres with pins/studs (a requirement for all the Nordic countries in winter), which help the car grip in snowy/icy conditions and let you avoid the hassle of snow chains. The roads are kept in good shape and are regularly plowed so you should not need a 4WD unless you’re staying in the backcountry and are advised as such.

Many foreigners drive in the region without much prior experience and do not have any issues, but it’s very important to remember that the roads will be more slippery than you’re used to (even in rain) so you need to drive to the conditions.

The speed limits are kept reasonably high, but even if you end up with a bus tailgating you as you poke down the roads, don’t drive at higher speeds than you are comfortable with. Simply find an area to pull over when you can instead.

Ensure you keep a long distance away from any cars you are following (so don’t imitate those buses and their tailgating!).

Lower gears will help you feel like you have more control of the car. If you are having issues, go down a gear (even if you are driving automatic) and use the engine to brake.

Watch out for reindeer — there are over 200,000 of them in Lapland so chances are you’ll see one dart across the road at some point during your trip.

It’s also important to know about regions where convoy travel is required. The most well-known of these regions is the island of Mageroya, which is home to Nordkapp. These areas will have signposts advising you of exactly what needs to be done and the road will be blocked by a gate to stop you in case you miss those signs.

Why does convoy travel exist? Well, these areas represent huge driving risks, often because severe snowstorms can blind you and cause you to drive into snowdrifts and become stuck. This happens regularly even in the convoys running on Mageroya, but the difference is that if you get lost while in a convoy, you will have people come back to find you.

It’s highly recommended, regardless of where in Northern Norway or Lapland you are travelling, that you keep supplies available in the car. If you get stranded because of a flat tyre or any other car issue, you need to have plenty of warmth available as well as food and drink to possibly get yourself through a night. Ideally you’ll be able to contact help before then, but you’re better safe than sorry in an area as cold as this.


Between all of these modes of transport, you will have no problems planning your independent trip across Northern Norway and Lapland. One important fact to take note of with all of these forms of transport (except for rental cars) is that very few of them run on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday. You don’t want to find yourself stuck waiting for a bus in the snow only to find out it won’t be coming at all, so please make sure to plan around this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Connect With Me