Northern Europe is drawing more Chinese visitors, who experience more in the region. Xu Lin reports.
Yu Huayun was dazzled as the northern lights flickered like colorful sparks across the sky. The 41-year-old photographer from Beijing was so stunned by the picture shifting through the heavens that she forgot to snap shots.
“The aurora’s magic is that it’s different hues each time. And you need luck to see it at all, which is one of the reasons everyone loves it,” Yu says.
She spent three days in Tromso, Norway, in January in hopes of viewing the spectacle. And she wasn’t disappointed. She’s among a growing number of Chinese tourists visiting northern Europe in winter for such experiences as dogsledding and snowmobiling.
Over 380,000 overnight stays by Chinese were recorded in Norway this year as of October. That’s a 36 percent increase over the same period of the previous year.
Sweden logged about 380,000 stays as of October 2016.
Chinese visitors to Finland totaled 326,000 last year, a 35 percent increase over 2014.
“People usually think (Norway’s) northern lights can only be seen in winter. Actually, it can be seen from the end of August to mid-April, as long as there’s a clear, dark night,” the Scandinavian Tourist Board’s chief China representative, Wang Yu, says. Tourism authorities in Norway and Denmark founded the board.
The board typically promotes four countries but will focus on in-depth experiences in these two nations next year.
Autumn in Norway offers fantastic views and warmer temperatures — and cheaper travel — than the coldest season.
“Tourists search the skies for the northern lights and enjoy winter activities in northern Norway and visit Denmark’s Christmas markets,” Wang says.
“You need to slow down to feel the happiness and ease of Norwegian and Danish people.
“The itinerary shouldn’t be hectic. Otherwise, it’ ll be very difficult to find these countries’ true charms.”
He recommends the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market, in Odense, Denmark.
The attraction — set in the 19th century, when Anderson lived — offers an atmosphere of old-fashioned Christmas festivity crafted with elements from his fairy tales.
Visitors can buy Christmas ornaments, baked goods and knitwear, and bump into “residents” dressed in traditional clothing.
Visit Sweden’s China’s country manager Li Chunmei agrees that more Chinese are seeking more comprehensive experiences abroad.
“Chinese travelers are shifting from traditional sightseeing to deeper travel. They want to enjoy the best of the Arctic region and aurora, and to stay in ice hotels,” she says.
Li says most visitors to Sweden go for the northern lights. The best place to witness the aurora is in Abisko National Park, Kiruna, which also hosts such activities as snowshoe hiking and reindeer tours.
Icehotel in northern Sweden’s Jukkasjarvi village has been rebuilt every year from frozen hunks of the nearby Torne River since 1989. It takes more than two months to construct the structure that stays open from December to April.
About 40 artists, designers and architects were invited to design this year’s guestrooms in different styles.
Guests swill drinks in a bar fashioned from ice, and worship in an ice chapel.
It recently unveiled Icehotel 365 — an ice hotel open all year.
Sweden began promoting “soft adventures” last year to offer such local experiences as lobster fishing along the western coastline.
The country opened 10 new visa centers in such Chinese cities as Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu, this year.
Finland’s Santa Claus Village in the serendipitously named Lapland region offers such activities as reindeer-drawn sleighs.
Visitors can also send postcards from the Santa Claus Main Post Office with special Arctic Circle stamps. The office also receives all letters sent to Santa — about 700,000 a year.
Visit Finland suggests travelers venture further outside of Helsinki to such regions as Lakeland in the summer.
Indeed, it seems Scandinavia isn’t only attracting more Chinese visitors — but also those who hope to have more experiences in the region, especially in winter.
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From left: Dogsledding is one of the winter attractions of Northern European countries; the indigenous Sami people in Sweden; Icehotel 365 in northern Sweden’s Jukkasjarvi village.