When LULEÅ, 65km from Pite Havsbad up the E4, was founded in 1621 it had at its centre a church town and medieval church. Numerous trading ships would load and unload their goods at its tiny harbour, reflecting the importance of trade with Stockholm even in those days.
Although shipping is still important today, in recent years Luleå has become the hi-tech centre of the north, specializing in metallurgy; it also has an important university. The town’s wide streets and lively, friendly atmosphere make it immediately likeable, and if you’re heading north for the wilds of the Torne valley, Gällivare and Kiruna, or to the sparsely populated regions of Swedish Lapland, Luleå represents your last chance to enjoy a decent range of restaurants and bars. Be mindful of the weather, though: Luleå is built on a peninsula which takes the full brunt of the northerly winds. If you’re here in summer, taking a boat out into the archipelago, makes a wonderful day-trip – departures are daily and there’s a whole array of islands in the Gulf of Bothnia to choose from: beaches, walking trails and plenty of peace and solitude are the main draws.
The harbour soon proved too small, thanks to the growth in business, and so, by royal command, the settlement was moved to its present site in 1649; only the church and church town, today part of Luleå’s Gammelstad (Old Town), remained in situ. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, Luleå was still little more than a handful of houses and storage huts; indeed Linnaeus, Sweden’s famous botanist, who passed through here in 1732 on his journey to Swedish Lapland, described Luleå as a village. Though the town had started to become something of a shipbuilding centre in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the construction in 1888 of the Malmbanan, the railway built to transport iron ore from the Gulf of Bothnia for wintertime export at the ice-free Norwegian port of Narvik, that Luleå’s fortunes really started to flourish. Luleå was at one end of the line, and its port was vital for lucrative iron exports (the main ironfields were – and are – around Kiruna and Gällivare).