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We Tried It: Arctic Swimming in Lapland

Wintertime in the Arctic. Perfect time and place for a swim!

At least two adventurous souls thought so: Cicci and Sofia, travel consultants at the Nordic Visitor-Sweden office in Stockholm.

During their last inspection trip to Lapland earlier in 2015, they sampled traditional Arctic foods cooked in a lavvu, hitched a ride with some reindeer, chased northern lights on snowmobiles, talked to Santa and—after testing the indoor temperatures of our favourite ice- and snow-hotels—decided to top it off with a dip in the icy waters of Kemi, Finland. Why not?

This is We Tried It.


If you want to go swimming in a frozen sea, first you need to break open a hole in the ice. This is where the Sampo icebreaker ship comes in handy.

Sampo before tour
Cicci and Sofia ready to take on the world in their Sampo overalls. For the "arctic swim" part of the tour, passengers are provided with impermeable floating survival suits, which are so buoyant that swimming isn't even required.

 

You wouldn't know it from the frolicking faces in the pictures, but the Sampo used to be all business. Until 1987, it was the official icebreaker ship for the Finnish government, clearing the waterways of the Gulf of Bothnia for trade vessels in the long, icy winters.

Frozen Gulf of Bothnia
The Bothnian Bay, the northern part of the gulf, is frozen over for 110 to 190 days each year. Because it's fed by several large rivers, the salt content is low, resulting in much stronger ice in winter.

 

But since retiring from the public sector, the Sampo is now devoted to the enjoyment of visitors in the northern Finnish port town of Kemi, where the SnowCastle is also located. Day-cruises on the Sampo are about four hours long, including a guided tour of the ship's controls, a warm lunch and the optional "arctic swim".

On board the Sampo
On board, you learn there's a lot more to operating a huge ship than shouting "land ho!" During a guided tour of the facilities you get to see the engine room and even talk to the captain in the bridge.
Lunch on the Sampo
First of all, you need to put some warm fuel in your stomach. On the afternoon tours, a soup lunch is served in the restaurant on board the ship.

 

When asked about what to wear for a Sampo tour, or for any wintertime visit to Lapland for that matter, Cicci had good advice:

"I think for anything you do in Lapland, you need to have good base layers, stuff that's thermal, comfortable against your skin and dries fast. Woolen and synthetic blend materials are really nice, and thick socks of course. The nice thing about the guided activities is that overalls or other warm outerwear are provided, so you don't have to pack a ridiculous amount of stuff in your luggage. For the Sampo trip, we were just dressed for a normal, casual day and brought some extra things with us in backpacks."
Sampo stairs to the ice
Don't worry, there will be stairs so you won't be forced to jump off the ship! Also good to know: the swimming part of the tour is optional, so you can decide at any time to jump ship...figuratively.
Sampo suits!
Before you go thinking the Arctic has no respect for fashion, know that these high-tech neoprene suits are thermal, impermeable and buoyant, meaning you'll stay warm, dry and won't even have to swim. Cicci wears the red well.

 

Naturally we had some questions for our Nordic Visitor explorers, about how it felt floating in sea. Sofia replied:

"This is one of the best things I have ever done, and I recommend everybody to try it! The feeling when you are in the water, have the suit on and relaxing among the ice and thinking I am floating in the ocean in the middle of winter and are not freezing...how many people can say they have done this? The staff on board helps you put on the suits, and it was a little bit hard to walk around since they are quite big, but with some little help you can walk. And yes, the suits do keep you warm!"
Sampo staff helping guests
It's a bit awkward walking in the suits, but getting dressed isn't so hard. The staff on board will help you into your suits (and into the water). Underneath you're advised to wear thermal layers, like long underwear and wool socks.
Floating by the Sampo
Chill out! The water is warmer than you'd think; it's never colder than zero degrees under the layers of ice. The Sampo staff are always around to make sure everyone is feeling fine in the water.

 

Easy! No swimming experience required, just a good sense of humour and a spirit of adventure.


Ready to break the ice? Nordic Visitor has a variety of tours in Lapland that will give you plenty of conversation starters at parties for years to come.

For stories worth re-telling, Cicci and Sofia recommend our 5-day Best of Lapland tour. It's packed full of unique and memorable activities including the Sampo tour with optional "arctic swim", an overnight in the SnowCastle, a northern lights snowmobile safari and other adventures around Kemi.

Check out more stories from the staff of Nordic Visitor in our We Tried It series, and maybe come try some of these things for youself!

 

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Post by: Jessica

Jessica Bowe is a Communications Specialist at Nordic Visitor, and when not writing about Nordic travel destinations she's busy travelling to them or daydreaming about her next trip. A resident of Iceland since 2008, Jessica hails from Wisconsin (USA), which she thinks looks an awful lot like parts of Sweden and Finland.

More posts by Jessica

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way, check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.

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