In the summer of 2017 I traveled with Inlandsbanan all the way to Swedish Lapland. Slow travel, you might say. The first day the train from Inlandsbanan took me to Östersund (Jämtland), to leave early the next morning for Gällivare. On the way back I spent a night in Östersund. I chose Hotel Emma.
Hotel Emma is within walking distance of the station (Västra) and proved to be a popular stop for Inlandsbanan travellers. The hotel is located in the shopping street of Östersund. Unfortunately the shops were already closed when the train arrived. Several restaurants and bars can be found in the immediate vicinity. There is also a supermarket nearby.
The extraordinary breakfast at Hotel Emma
Hotel Emma does not have a typical hotel entrance. It takes a while to find the bell. There are also other companies in the same building. The room was comfortable and rather traditional. You have everything you need but you will not be blown away by the rooms. Cozy living rooms can also be found between the rooms where you can read a book in peace.
What blew me away was the friendly welcome and especially the extensive breakfast. On the buffet I mainly discovered homemade and local products. It gave me a warm B&B feeling. Moreover, you could bake your own waffles! There were different types of juices, different types of homemade jam, various pastries to choose from and lots of fresh products. In short: just for breakfast alone, I’d like to go to Hotel Emma back!
How do you get to Hotel Emma in Östersund?
Hotel Emma is centrally located in Östersund. From Stortorget you walk straight into Prästgatan and you will soon see the hotel on your left. From Östersund station you can walk straight through Prästgatan. The hotel is then on your right, 850 meters from the station.
After an invigorating overnight stay in Clarion Grand Östersund I was ready to continue my trip on the red train. You can read the first part from Mora to Östersund here. Inlandsbanan would take me from Östersund (Jämtland) to Gällivare (Lapland) in the north.
The Inlandsbanan only runs from mid-June to the end of August. There is also a (limited) timetable in the winter period. There are several stops along the way. Sometimes the train stopped for fika, to have something to eat, to visit a museum,… and then I drove on again. Other times I chose to dismount and spend the night wild camping and continue traveling by train the next day. The train journey with Inlandsbanan between Östersund and Gällivare is slow travel at its best.
The red train of Inlandsbanan is really photogenic in the green forest landscape in Sweden. For hours on end you can see the landscape passing by through your window. Yet it never gets boring. We saw reindeer, unique birds, works of art, waterfalls, impressive bridges,…
When leaving Östersund it was immediately apparent that there were more people on the train. Half the carriage was occupied by a group of Great Rail Journeys. I also saw some familiar faces from the day before.
The workmen of Inlandsbanan
Inlandsbanan’s train track between Kristinehamn – Mora – Östersund and Gällivare was mainly intended for freight traffic. The route is 1300 km long and is almost completely laid by hand. The wooden beam under the train tracks weighs about 70 to 100 kg! In 1936 the Inlandsbanan was complete and a year later the train track was put into use. During the Second World War, about 12,000 soldiers passed through the Inlandsbanan every week. Sweden received a lot of criticism for this.
It was a hard life for the workers. They had to work 12 hours each day. It was also no healthy work due to the use of chemicals. Moreover, they had to pay for wear and tear on their tools themselves! The working material was weighed in the morning and in the evening. Due to wear and tear, it often weighed less in the evening and the workmen had to pay for that difference in weight themselves.
Such a hard life led to a high alcohol consumption which in turn led to many fights. Local residents were therefore not very pleased with the construction of the Inlandsbanan. The government tried to intervene and ban drinking during working hours, but this resulted in protest from the workers. In the end they were allowed to keep their liqueur.
Forests and lakes alternate, for miles. The further north we go, the more lakes we pass. As I stare out the window, I wonder what it looks like here in the winter. A fellow passenger puts it this way: it is a pleasure to look around here. I can only agree with her.
Vilhelmina Norra is one of the stops of the train. Only a few 1000 inhabitants live in the village of Vilhelmina. There is plenty to do in the immediate vicinity. Something that the many tourists in the summer months can certainly appreciate. Yet at no point does it feel touristy. You can easily find a spot for wild camping without meeting other people all day long.
M. Bergmans Fisk
One of Vilhelmina’s must-see addresses is right next to the Vilhelmina Norra train station. The Bergmans restaurant is not just a restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, it is also a fish smokehouse and there is also a shop where you can buy the dishes and ingredients. The chef has already won a prestigious competition for artisanal dishes multiple times. So be sure to try the hot smoked salmon (varmrökt pepparlax).
Not only train passengers stop here. This is also a great place for a break for those who travel by bike or car. Some picnic benches have been set up, there is a grill area and for children there’s a playground and small farm animals that have their residence there.
Ulrikfors, Sweden’s first ‘hotel’
Another village along the railway is Ulrikfors. Here is an old prison where the lighter criminals (driving, theft,…) were sent to. It was not a closed prison. The prisoners worked in the local carpenter’s shop or in the forest. They were given the opportunity to receive an education, together with other citizens. Their wives and girlfriends could visit and rent a house. That is why they sometimes say that Sweden’s first hotel can be found here in Ulrikfors. Such anecdotes from the train conductors give added value to the train journey with Inlandsbanan from Östersund to Gällivare.
The Swedes are champions when it comes to barbecuing. Near every picnic area you will find a public barbecue or grill. These are exceptionally well maintained. It goes without saying that you should also leave the area tidy after use.
A short stop is also on the program in Hoting. Here you can see an old locomotive. Less than a thousand people live in the village.
The Storuman station building was built in 1923. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Storuman has a somewhat older population. 25-30% of the inhabitants are over 65. In Lapland, medical assistance is sometimes a bit further away. Storuman has a medical center. It would become a training center for medical care in remote areas for both Swedish and foreign doctors.
TV viewing tip: when I watched a new program on SVT Play a few weeks ago, the name of the village sounded familiar to me. Anyone who speaks a word of Swedish should definitely take a look at Storuman Forever. It is about 2 top athletes from the village who want to convince the rest of the village to live more environmentally friendly.
A little further the train goes over Vindelälven. A lot of water flowed through the river. This was because all the ice and snow from the mountains was melting and making its way down the river. Swedish composer Evert Taube wrote a song after seeing the Vindeälven. One of the largest nature reserves in Europe is located here. The famous Kungsleden also passes here.
Tip: you have the most spectacular view if you take a seat on the left side of the train.
On simple request, you can take a look in the front of the train. By the way, nothing is too much for the staff on board Inlandsbanan. We had 2 guides on board who provided us with anecdotes, bits of history and expert explanations about what we saw through our window. You can also go to them to buy drinks, fika or even souvenirs. They can also help you book accommodation or point out cool places to camp. The conductor was also very customer-oriented.
In Sorsele there is a museum in the station building: the Inlandsbanemuseum. I visited that on the way back. Sorsele has 2500 inhabitants. Yet there are 29 different nationalities in this municipality. The majority are Germans and in recent years a lot of refugees have also followed an integration programme.
In my notes I read that apparently we also saw 2 cranes here. I did remember that we had to stop the train because there was a herd of reindeer on the road.
The next stop of Inlandsbanan between Östersund and Gällivare was Arvidsjaur. About 10,000 reindeer live in and around the 3 sami villages here. The train changes direction here. A little further we drive over a 90 meter long bridge over the river Piteälv. This is a fast-flowing river of about 400 km that flows into Norway. The bridge was built between 1933 and 1935 and is a combined car/train bridge.
The Arctic Circle
We approached Inlandsbanan’s most photographed spot: the Arctic Circle. To be fair, the guides do say that the real Arctic Circle is a few hundred meters away. The many tourists (including me) opt for a photo at the sign or at the stones that indicate the Arctic Circle.
The sun does not set above the Arctic Circle in summer. In the winter months it is reversed for several weeks and the sun does not rise above the horizon. Nice to know: as a passenger of Inlandsbanan, when you cross the Arctic Circle, you will receive a (free) certificate that you have to fill in yourself. A nice keepsake. For me it was already the third time that I was above the Arctic Circle. The first time was in Norway, when I went diving on the wreck of the Belgica near Harstad. After that I was in Rovaniemi for work. So this time with Inlandsbanan between Östersund and Gällivare was the first time in Sweden.
Between the Arctic Circle and Jokkmokk, the little red train runs through the railway’s only tunnel. Vajkijaur is a part of Jokkmokk. Here the train has a fairly long stop. Ideal for exploring around the lake of the same name.
There are information boards by the water about Laponia and the Sami. Some barbecue areas are provided. When we were there there was a strong wind. I had feared mosquitoes beforehand and had no fewer than 3 different anti-mosquito products with me, but I was lucky. The mosquitoes turned out to be a bit later that year and so I only got 1 mosquito bite of the whole trip and that was in Stockholm.
Highway 45 runs parallel to the Inlandsbanan. A few caravans were parked near the water. Mainly Swedish ones but I also spotted a Dutch number plate. Except for a few clouds, the sky had cleared up completely. It was really enjoyable!
From Vaikijaur it went to Gällivare, the final destination of this train. Gällivare is the place where Max Burgare had its first branch. I stayed there at a hotel and at a camping.
From Gällivare I traveled on to Kiruna. I also spent a night in the ice hotel. I also did the return trip to Mora with Inlandsbanan. Fewer people travel south with Inlandsbanan. Still, the train ride is definitely worth it. You can read more about this in part 3.
Let’s go back in time. To June 2017. When I traveled through Lapland and also stayed in Mora and Stockholm for a while. It was mainly the way of traveling that added to the experience: I traveled with Inlandsbanan, a special railway that runs from Mora (Dalarna) all the way to Gällivare (Swedish Lapland). The train runs only once a day (1 train from Inlandsbanan runs from Mora to Östersund, another runs from Östersund to Gällivare). You can get on and off where you want and continue your travels the day after or even a few days later. You can also stay on the train for the entire course. The train stops anyway at the sights along the railway and around lunch, dinner and fika time there is also a stop at local restaurants (without obligation). Slow travel! The train can only ride at a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Today you get the first part of my travel experiene with Inlandsbanan: from the departure in Stockholm (Inlandsbanan departs in Mora) to the first evening in Östersund.
The exciting departure
I almost didn’t make it to Mora. I traveled by regular train from Stockholm to Mora. The train left Stockholm on time, but in Uppsala it stopped due to a technical defect. I had calculated extra time but I saw that shrinking rapidly…
Train delays in Sweden are nothing like the delays in Belgium. We immediately received a full explanation of why we were standing still. Really, that’s great as a passenger to know the reason. In addition, we were given a drink and snack as an apology for the inconvenience. In Rättvik, the train conductor suddenly announced that the train wouldn’t go any further and that a bus would bring us to Mora. That would mean I’d miss the departure of Inlandsbanan. Sure, there were other options to get from Mora to Östersund that evening, but I had consciously chosen Inlandsbanan. I wasn’t the only one with this plan. 2 English ladies also wanted to go to Mora for the Inlandsbanan.
I tried my best Swedish to negotiate with the train crew. They understood my frustration but couldn’t do anything. A taxi was arranged for other people and I asked the taxi driver where he was going. It turned out to be a bit past Mora and we were allowed to board too!
The station of Mora
In Mora there are 2 stations. It wasn(t really clear where the Inlandsbanan would leave. The taxi driver drove to the farthest station (Mora Strand) but Inlandsbanan was just leaving… Fortunately a passer-by knew that there was a second departure point (Mora Station). The driver drove as fast as he could. Another passenger encouraged us to run to the platform to stop the train while he was bringing our luggage. Unbelievable how compassionate everyone was! Hallelujah, we made it and our trip really could get started!
Maybe you should consider travelling to Mora a day earlier. Mora too has a lot to offer with Lake Siljan and both the finish and the museum of the Vasaloppet and plenty of wonderful nature.
Inlandsbanan consists of old red wagons. Our train had barely 2 wagons. There are toilets on board, there is a bar where you can order small snacks, drinks and fika and there is a place where you can leave your luggage. On each table you will find a road map and some folders. The menus of the places where the train will stop are also available. This way you can place your order and your food will be ready by the time you arrive at the restaurant. Smart!
Tip: in high season (the Swedish summer holiday runs from mid-June to early August) it is best to reserve a seat if you want to be sure that you can take the train. On certain days tour operators organize group trips (especially northwards and between Östersund and Gällivare) and it can be very busy on board. You can find the seat distribution on the website.
Don’t choose a place at the beginning or end of the train because your view ahead may be limited. It is also best to choose a place where you can see from both sides. So, for example, not at the toilet or the bar area. If you are lucky, there are still places available on board and you can move to a place with a better view.
The waterfall at Storstupet is best seen on the left side of the train. Storstupet is a canyon of the river Ämån. The train travels over the 60 meter high bridge that was built in 1903. The train slows down so that everyone has a chance to see the waterfall and take pictures.
On board you will receive explanations of the most important sights. Our guide Wilda first did the explanation in Swedish and then translated into English. Perfect for those learning Swedish! This way you could first listen to the Swedish and then, with the English, check whether you had understood it correctly.
The train also stopped in Sveg. This way everyone could stretch their legs and get some fresh air. It was also an ideal moment for a photo shoot by train.
Sveg is known for rock music, influenced by Elvis Presley, who could be heard on the radio in the 50s and 60s. One of the famous singers from Sveg is Torgny “Kingen” Karlsson.
Inlandsbanan was mostly used for freight transport. The railway was completed in 1936 and was officially inaugurated a year later. Inlandsbanan was built in several stages. It was a real struggle to get the rails in place. The rails were carried on the shoulders! They only used machines for the last kilometers of the route. It eventually took 30 years until the last stretch to Gällivare was completed. Because of the Second World War there was also less money for its construction.
The Inlandsbanan had almost never been there. In Sörtjärn, a small hamlet with only 15 houses and only 5 people living there, Margaretha Mohlne ran the Vandrarshem. She fought for a long time so that the train would also stop in Sjötjärn. In the 1970s there was a lot of protest about the construction of the Inlandsbanan. The car seemed to beat the train. Interest in Inlandsbanan seemed to disappear. Margaretha protested and gathered 30,000 names on a petition to keep Inlandsbanan. The Swedish government handed the operation of the Inlandsbanan to Inlandsbanan AB, an organization of 15 municipalities along the railway, and the railway was preserved. For now.
Close to Åsarna is the Locknesjön. When the light shines on this lake, it has a green-blue glow. This lake was created after a meteorite impact about 450 million years ago. In Åsarna they found fragments of the meteorite. If you want to learn more about this, you can visit the meteorite center.
In Åsarna the train stops for about 40 minutes. Plenty of time to eat something, visit a small museum and take a walk in nature. In the ski center/museum you can visit a small exhibition about the great Swedish cross-country skier Thomas Wassberg.
After dinner (I chose the salmon burger) I walked a little further to the lake Hålen. The silence was unbelievable! We didn’t dare to walk very far. Not only not to get lost but also not to miss the departure of Inlandsbanan. My luggage (and thus the tent and camping equipment) was still on the train!
Tip: here you learn the difference between reindeer and moose. (article coming soon)
The train passes almost continuously through forests. A lot of forests, but only a few pieces are still wild forest. Most of it has been planted. In some old forests we can also encounter reindeer in winter. These reindeer appear to be quite picky in terms of habitat. For a long time it was thought that the reindeer caused a lot of damage, but research has shown that they only eat a little everywhere and then move on. They dig in the ground with their horns to look for food. There are no more wild reindeer in Sweden. They all have an owner. There are about 4500 reindeer owners. They have from 1 to thousands of reindeer.
By the way, did you know that a tame reindeer is smaller? Because large animals brought in more money, the larger reindeer were increasingly slaughtered. As a result, after many generations, the species has finally become smaller. Sometimes reindeer can’t get through and they have to be transported by truck from the winter to the summer place.
The last part of the Mora-Östersund section Inlandsbanan follows Storsjön, ‘the large lake’, all the way to the north, near Östersund. By analogy with the Loch Ness monster, a friendly monster would also have been seen here.
For most train conductors, this is the most beautiful moment: when they enter Östersund in the evening sun. It was already after nine o’clock in the evening when we arrived in Östersund, the final stop for today. After checking in at the hotel, I walked to Lake Storsjön. That is the advantage of traveling to Sweden in June: it hardly gets dark there, and certainly not when you go a little further north.
Be sure to also read part 2 (from Östersund to Gällivare) and part 3 (the whole train ride south) of my journey with Inlandsbanan.
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4 August 2021
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