Happily freezing my feet off at -22°C during the annual winter market held within the Arctic Circle.
Jokkmokk is a small town of about 2000 people, located in the Swedish Lapland and just inside the Arctic circle. Its main attraction is the Jokkmokk Winter market, which has been held annually on the first Thursday of every February for more than 400 years. Considering it is held in the middle of nowhere in the Swedish north at temperatures usually well below -20°C, it is actually quite large and draws an increasing amount of visitors every year.
Since it is a market, its main focus is on the sale of traditional local products, such as reindeer hides and bone trinkets, seal skin shoes, handmade jewellery, ceramics, quilts etc., as well as leather goods and food (moose and reindeer meat, all sorts of fish eatables, local berry jams and so on). It is definitely not a place for hardcore vegans, as most of the products are made by the Sami families with a longstanding reindeer herding tradition and they really know how to use all parts of the animals.
The market was created at the request of king Karl IX in 1605, in order to control the economy of the Lappmarken (an early name for the northern parts of Sweden, inhabited by the Sami people). I got to visit the 2019 edition of the winter market together with my mother, who came to visit me while I was studying in Sweden. We took the train from Luleå, which took us to the very cute train station at Murjek, where we boarded the bus to Jokkmokk. Since we took the early morning train, the sun was rising on the way to Jokkmokk and the scenery was beyond breathtaking. Whoever said pictures taken through a moving bus window cannot look pretty?
The morning journey
Since Jokkmokk is a very small town, there is not much to see besides the market – the other main sights are the Ájtte museum about the Sami culture, which also has an outside exhibition, and the beautiful Jokkmokk church. There’s also a Superman purple bear in the local library, but I guess that is not meant to be an official attraction.
Impressions of Jokkmokk
As for the big event, the Jokkmokk winter market is held for 3 days and covers a huge area. Besides the many stalls offering traditional Sami products and homemade food there are many events throughout the day, celebrating the Sami history and culture. Most of the talks and workshops are held in Swedish, but larger events such as the reindeer parade, race and guided museum visits also kind of take into account foreign visitors. Keep in mind that the market is primarily a local event, which is part of its charm, so don’t expect a lot of programme in English. They do offer husky dog sledding tours, reindeer feedings and other winter touristy activities though.
We visited on Saturday, which was the main day. At midday, there was a reindeer parade, led by one of the Sami families in their beautiful bright traditional clothing. They had some kind of presentation of their work and all the reindeer afterwards, but it was of course in Swedish. There was lots of clapping from the audience though, so I guess they did well.
In the afternoon, they also had a reindeer race by the lake, which we unfortunately could not attend due to the lousy bus schedule, as we would have ended up stranded in Jokkmokk. Like many towns up north, the public transport connections to Jokkmokk during winter are very impractical, so make sure you know exactly when and where you have to go.
The Jokkmokk Winter market
Since the market is held within the Arctic circle in the middle of winter, the temperatures usually range around -30 °C, so be prepared. When you think you packed enough clothes, add another sweater and you should be fine – probably.
In 2019 it was about -22 °C and all the locals kept remarking on how “nicely warm it is”. Personally, I almost froze my toes off. My central European winter shoe soles were just not meant for standing on the ice for several hours and at some point I was in serious pain and had to literally run for shelter in a nearby cafe, but at least I got a great salmon soup because of it. There are also several large Sami tents offering local food inside the market area, which have nice warm fires burning inside, but they were quite crowded, so I guess you have to get lucky to find a spot there.
Although -22°C was by far not the worst temperature I experienced in Sweden, Jokkmokk winter market was my first time crossing into the Arctic circle, so that was one off the bucket list. 🙂 Since I like useful souvenirs and the market was full of handcrafted products, I bought a beautiful handmade Sami leather bag, salmon skin earrings and a flint pendant.
Overall, the market visit was incredible and I would really recommend it if you are in the area, as it is a great place to experience some of the Sami culture and it is not too awfully touristy yet. Just make sure you dress extra warm and get boots with thicker soles than I had!
You can also buy unique souvenirs at a cheaper-than-usual price (although it is still Scandinavian prices – super expensive) and support local Sami artists, instead of the usual souvenirs shops.