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Sámi culture
Sweden's indigenous people, the Sámi, have their own cultural heritage, language, flag and parliament.
Photo credit: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Discover Sweden's traditional Sámi culture and way of life

Sweden's indigenous people – the Sámi people – lead sustainable, culture-rich lives close to nature. Responsible tourism is increasingly part of this lifestyle, and you're invited to take it all in via a variety of experiences, some of which involve unforgettable encounters with reindeer.

At one with nature, the Sámi people inhabit parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia – a borderless region known as Sápmi, the land of the Sámi. Although many in the Swedish Sámi community live in Swedish Lapland – a vast area stretching from Sorsele and Skellefteå in the northern province of Västerbotten, right to the country’s northernmost tip – Sámi enclaves are also found in the county of Dalarna in central Sweden. The stunning and seemingly untouched nature in all these parts of Sweden has been respectfully cared for by the country's indigenous Sámi people for thousands of years. So attuned are they to nature that they've divided the year into eight seasons, naming every mountain, stream and valley in their midst.

Today, many Sámi people lead "modern" lives but remain true to their Sámi heritage, traditions and culture. Reindeer herding is both a way of life and a key source of income for many Sámi, with some 5,000 reindeer owners, counting even those owning a single animal. Sámis can lay claim to one of the oldest folk music forms in Europe – the ‘Joik’. These unique songs typically tribute or "call" a mountain, a wild animal or person. It's also used to express emotion, be it sadness or joy.

Sami handicrafts – called ‘Duodji’ in Sámi – are practised by many in the community, using natural and surplus materials, such as wood and bark, and every part of the reindeer, including the hide, antlers and even bone. Nothing goes to waste here; the Sami people were leading eco-friendly lives long before sustainability became the buzzword it is today.

In Swedish Sápmi, you'll be able to experience Sámi culture in an authentic, educational way courtesy of some 40 small-scale companies, with many run by entrepreneurial women. Many combine guest activities with reindeer herding, giving you the chance to discover this unique lifestyle across culture, food and outdoor activities, often with friendly reindeer taking an active part.

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Sapmi Nature Camp

Sapmi Nature Camp is a small-scale, sustainable and personal glamping site close to nature, where you can get a glimpse into traditional Sámi culture.

Photo: Lennart Pittja/Sápmi Nature/imagebank.sweden.se

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Sapmi Nature Camp

Photo: Lennart Pittja/Sápmi Nature/imagebank.sweden.se

Cabins at Geunja Sami Eco Lodge

Photo: Swedish Lapland

Sami eco tourism

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

Sarek national park

Photo: Anders Ekholm/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Padjelanta National Park

Photo: Hans-Olof Utsi/imagebank.sweden.se

Feeding reindeer

Photo: Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Sapmi Nature Camp, Gällivare

Photo: Sapminature/Lennart Pittja

Sweden-wide Sámi experiences – from reindeer feeding to guided hikes

The variety of adventures you're able to embark on are as wide-ranging as the destinations themselves. Look for the ‘Sápmi Experience’ seal of quality to ensure sustainable and responsible travel. Jukkasjärvi, Kiruna – home to Sweden’s famous Icehotel – is a Sámi experience hotspot. Within walking distance of the hotel, you'll find Nutti Sámi Siida, a key Sámi experience organiser for every season – in spring, you'll be given the unique chance to accompany a reindeer herder to see new-born calves taking their first steps. Educational in style, your guide will share knowledge about traditional reindeer husbandry, and to refuel, you'll tuck into a traditional Sámi meal in a ‘lávvu’ tent (much like a tepee). Wintertime, you're invited to experience the magical Northern Lights and can also look forward to the Sámi guide's atmospheric folktales – storytelling is part of the heritage. Accommodation is available at Reindeer Lodge, right next to some of Nutti Sámi Siida's herd, who you might even participate in feeding in the morning.

Also consider Geunja Sami Eco Lodge, idyllically tucked away in Swedish Lapland's Ammarnäs. Run by the Vinka family, you'll get to participate in the traditional Sámi lifestyle and culture – off-grid style – via boat trips, fishing excursions, bird watching and invigorating hikes in the nearby mountains and forests, inhabited by wildlife such as wolverine and lynx. Food-wise, expect freshly caught fish and traditional fare such as reindeer stew cooked over an open fire. The accommodation is equally authentic – you'll be staying in goahti huts (traditional wooden Sámi huts) or grass-roofed log cabins.

Hiking through Laponia in Swedish Lapland – one of the world's few UNESCO Heritage Sites inhabited by indigenous people – is a trekker's dream. The area is home to seven Sámi villages active in the field of reindeer herding, each surrounded by stunning arctic nature. Take it all in as part of a hike through the numerous national parks and nature reserves found here, including Sarek, Padjelanta, Stora Sjöfallet and Muddus.

Several marked hiking trails snake through the enchanted, old forests of Muddus, while more experienced hikers will get a thrill trekking among Sarek's dramatic glaciers and 2,000 metre high peaks. The Padjelanta trail is a much-loved route, and the major Swedish trail Kungsleden runs along the eastern part of this national park, all the way to the Kebnekaise range. Places to stay in Laponia include Sapmi Nature Camp where you can glamp in a traditional ‘lavvu’ tent, meet a local reindeer family and enjoy winter wonderland trails on traditional wooden skis or snowshoes.

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The Sámi costume

The Sámi people have their own folk costume, the kolt. The traditionally blue costumes have at least 12 different styles and differ for men and women.

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

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The Sámi costume

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

Reindeer

Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk

Photo: Ájtte museum/Åsa Sundqvist

Photographer Nils Thomasson, Jamtli, Östersund

Photo: Jamtli

Nordiska museet, Stockholm

Photo: Agence Les Conteurs

Swedish museums with notable Sámi collections

The Sámi heritage of Sweden can also be lapped up at museums spread across the country. Ájtte Mountain and Museum in Jokkmokk is a definite draw, and as the main museum and archive for the Sámi culture of Sweden, it has a lot to offer beyond its focal areas – the culture and nature of the mountainous area of northern Sweden.

Silvermuseet i Arjeplog (The Silver Museum) is of equal calibre, charting the history and cultural significance of Sámi silversmithing via a wondrous collection dating as far back as the Middle Ages.

The city of Östersund, Jämtland, forms part of the south Sámi region and its resident museum, Jamtli, offers both interactive Sámi exhibits and other events. Stockholm's Nordiska Museet (The Nordic Museum) is another must-visit – it boasts the world's largest Sámi collection, regularly holding exhibitions featuring Sámi culture.

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Sámi bracelet

Handmade bracelets from Swedish Lapland. The bracelets were traditionally made in Sámi culture, and are made of reindeer skin and tin thread with silver.

Photo: Pernilla Ahlsén/imagebank.sweden.se

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Sámi bracelet

Photo: Pernilla Ahlsén/imagebank.sweden.se

Sámi handicraft

Photo: Jessica Lindgren/imagebank.sweden.se

Jokkmokk Winter Market 2020

Photo: Ted Logart/Swedish Lapland

Jokkmokk Market

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

Sámi handicraft at Risfjells Sameslöjd, Vilhelmina

Photo: Byn Collective/Risfjells Sameslöjd

Sámi handicraft at Sami Duodji, Jokkmokk

Photo: Juhán Niila Stålka/Sameslöjdstiftelsen

Support local craft by taking home a Sámi handicraft souvenir

Traditional ‘Duodji’ handicraft is tightly woven into the Sámi heritage. The techniques behind these lovingly handmade items ­have been passed on from generation to generation. Objects range broadly in shape and texture, and while many have practical uses, such as beautifully hand-carved birchwood bowls and ladles, there's also a wide range of jewellery and accessories to consider. Reindeer leather bracelets and bags are intricately embroidered with pewter thread, featuring buttons crafted from reindeer antlers. As always, making use of surplus material is second nature to the Sámi people.

So where might one find a good selection of Sámi handicrafts? Sami Duodji in Jokkmokk is a good bet as it's run by the Sámi craft association, Sameslöjdstiftelsen. Risfjells Sameslöjd, based in Vilhelmina and selling its wares online, is equally well stocked, offering everything from wool blankets to reindeer bone letter openers – most of which are made on the premises by Doris and Sven-Åke Risfjell. Jokkmokk is where you’ll also find Stoorstålka, a treasure trove of authentic Sámi handicraft, home goods and clothing, both traditional designs and modern interpretations of true Sámi style.

In Östersund, you'll find the Sámi Information Centre and Gaaltije – a shop selling a well curated edit of Sámi handicrafts, books and items for the home. In the same city, the resident shop of Jamtli Museum also offers a selection, including jewellery and books. Also consider Åre Hemslöjd, a craft-based shop located in the popular ski resort. Over in Stockholm, Svensk Hemslöjd and the shop at Skansen both offer a selection.

Last but not least, the iconic Jokkmokk Market, held at the beginning of February each year (digital and possible to experience from home in 2022) is a goldmine for anyone keen to discover not only Sámi handicrafts, but also culture and food. In addition to the many quality Duodji and food stalls, there's ample opportunity to join a lecture or sit down for a Joik concert.

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Sámi food

Cooking reindeer meat, or ‘suovas’, over an open fire during a Sámi cultural experience organised by Nutti Sámi Siida in Swedish Lapland. The company organises eco Sámi adventures all year around in Jukkasjärvi, in Swedish Lapland.

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

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Sámi food

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

Suovas

Photo: Magnus Skoglöf/imagebank.sweden.se

Reindeer meat

Photo: Pernilla Ahlsén/imagebank.sweden.se

Traditional bread

Photo: Pernilla Ahlsén/imagebank.sweden.se

Cloudberry dessert

Photo: Magnus Skoglöf/imagebank.sweden.se

Chefs table at The Veranda at Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi

Photo: Asaf Kliger/ Ice Hotel

The Sámi food culture and its sustainable main ingredients

The Sámi culinary heritage is rooted in sustainability and tradition. Local produce is key and many ingredients are foraged in nature – think herbs, roots, lingonberries and the rarer cloudberry – an amber, nutrition-packed delicacy.

Reindeer meat is a staple enjoyed in smoked form – called ‘suovas’ – but also as part of stews and sausages. In 2003 ‘Suovas’ became Sweden’s first Slow Food Presidia product – a culinary preservation listing issued by the international Slow Food movement to local, culturally important food products.

Elk also features on the menu and as for fish, Arctic char and whitefish are caught fresh in local waters – fishing and hunting for game are part of the Sámi lifestyle.

Don't miss the opportunity to sample Kalix vendace roe – a product of Swedish Lapland and the first Swedish food offering to have been given Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the EU, joining the ranks of Champagne and Parma ham. Cheese lovers will have plenty of choice courtesy of the small-scale dairy farms found in Sápmi country – Svedjan Ost in the county of Västerbotten being but one example. You must try 'kokkaffe' – coffee made over an open fire, together with some dried, smoked reindeer meat and a spectacular view of the Swedish highlands. Just like the Sami people do when taking a break and keeping track of their reindeer herd.

If you're tempted to try a wide range delicacies, opt for the tasting menu offered at the Icehotel's fine dining restaurant The Veranda. Also consider Huuva Hideaway, a retreat located in the small village of Liehittäjä, and discover educational dining experiences in keeping with true Sámi tradition.

Everywhere you go in Swedish Sápmi, you’ll discover the carefully maintained origins of the sustainable ideals ingrained into Swedish culture. Please remember to respect the Sami culture and customs and that you are a visitor to Sápmi, the traditional land of the indigenous Sami people.