Nordkalotten is the geographical area around and north of the Arctic circle, containing parts of the Scandinavian and Nordic countries Norway and Sweden, the Nordic country Finland and Russia. Some PR-related names used in the area are: The land of the midnight sun, Europe´s last wilderness, Top of Europe, to mension a few. Among bikers, Nordkapp (North Cape) and the Lofoten islands are the best known locations in this region. Worthy of a bike trip?
My name is Ola Rova and my home is the northernmost city in Sweden, Kiruna. I´ve ridden quite a lot on motorcycle around Europe. Over the years I´ve gradually started to appreciate this area for bike riding more and more: The nature, roads, low traffic intensity and easy going in general. It´s actually great for touring on a motorbike, if you´re well prepared and have decent luck with the weather. There´s also a lot of false information "out there" regardning this area, so here´s my view of it all. I´ve never been to Russia on motorcycle, so that part is unfortunately not included i this small guide.
Experience the midnight sun? Just came across another marketing-lie. Dont´t get fooled here! There´s no midnight sun south of the Arctic circle on the northern hemisphere. See the map on the right for approximate dates of when it can be seen in different parts of Nordkalotten. Further up north means a longer period of time.
Else, Nordkalotten is a region of great contrasts regarding alot, climate beeing one of them. At lower elevations, like the Norwegian coast and around the Gulf of Bothnia, spring usally arrives around 2-3 weeks earlier than on higher elevations, further up north and the central parts. I would definately not go on a longer trip before mid june. Even then, on higher elevations, there might still be snow in the ditches and ice on the lakes making it chilly to ride. Likely in the tent as well, if you plan to camp. July or august is better from that perspective. With the warmth the mosquitos and midges will on the other hand wake up.
The weather is very changing. Rain is common, and may go on constantly for days if you´re unlucky. Rain is often combined with air temperatures dropping, in extrem and very rare cases as low as 0°C, with some snow as a result even in the middle of the summer. Hard wind is also common. Can be pretty cold hours in the seat, with no other option than to go on. The other way around, you might experience "The Russian heat". Temperatures around +25-30°C is common a couple of periods every summer, most likely to happen in the eastern parts. Default in july-august is however a day temperature around +15°C , cloudy, sun, some rain. Expect anything.
Crossing the borders between Norway, Sweden and Finland is usually no hassle. You don´t have to stop unless you´ve got something to declare. Sometimes, but rarely, the border might be manned and they´ll stop and check you out.
There might bee long distances between fuel and other services, especially in the central parts. See the map on the right. Wildlife and animals are always a potential risk.
Traffic intensity is low, especially in the central parts, and if you leave the biggest main roads. There are almost no motorways or dual carriageways in the area. The main roads are usually asphalt, but gravel and dirt roads are common when it comes to the smaller ones.
Make sure you´re well prepared for just about anything and any situation if you plan to leave the main and bigger roads - You´re likely on your own. In some more remote parts cell-phones don´t work at all. Don´t blindly trust the maps: Bridges or roads don´t exist, roads are in way worse condition than the map claims and there might be more roads and crossings to choose from.
Roads in general:
Note that the midnight sun can be very blinding and disturbing for your eyes when riding. Late evenings/nights and heading west/north is the most common situation to experience this dilemma.
More information and inspiration:
Photo album and road guide: Roads of Nordkalotten!
As usual, I´d say just about anything goes! Totally depends on your ambitions and preparations. The long distances, harsh climate, sometimes rough paved roads and plenty of unpaved roads makes a faired off-/allroad type of bike sound like a highly practical and versitile horse. However, any bike in good conditinon, with decent suspension and a fuel range of at least 300 km might do the job just fine, in my world. There can actually be something like 200 km between petrol stations in some rare cases and /or if you don´t wanna take a detour to a village or town to look for one. Around 100 km between them pumps is quite common. So a good fuel range is definately nice.
There are a few motorcycle dealers and garages around, but don´t expect the service level to be very high. Many of them primarily deals with snowmobiles and ATV:s. Conclusion: Make sure your bike and tires are fit for the whole trip.
Norway has: Norwegian kronor, Sweden: Swedish kronor and Finland has the Euro. The two Scandinavian kronors are usually about the same in value. Paying with bills are often, not always, accepted even if you are in the "wrong" country. Coins are often a no-go. Getting the proper local currency is recommended.
Payment by creditcards are however widely accepted. I´ve only been using Visa, and it´s been working just fine, usually. Cash is however always reliable and I prefer it myself any day, especially in remote areas, for privately owned camping grounds, paying for ferrys, cabins or whatever.
ATM:s/Mini banks can in some areas, primarily in Sweden, be non existent within close range when entering the country at some borders. Local petrol stations or food stores in villages can often assist with withdrawals, at least in Sweden.
Prices are generally high compared to many other European countries. Norway is the most expensive to travel. Sweden and Finland about the same. How hard the differences will be on your budget depends on your way of living and your demands of standard regarding service, food and lodging. If your aiming for nice hotels and restaurants, Norway will for sure be hard on the budget. Fees for camping, bread and food to cook yourself from ordinary food stores are just slightly more expensive than in Finland or Sweden. Price on a cooked hamburger or pizza from a fast-food-joint might be twice as high in Norway. On the other extreme, you can actually get along wild camping and getting food straight out of the natures big pantry. A possibility quite unique for this area.
Petrol prices are high in any of the three countries and differs all the time. Personally I just ignore them, you simply need the delicate brew.
When it comes to lodging, Nordkalotten can offer a lot of options for the night in different prices. Here is some of the most common. There´s also some odd and unusual alternatives to be found at some locations.