Northern Sweden's most vibrant Baltic port promises to turn 2014 into a nonstop party, beginning with opening weekend Jan. 31-Feb. 2. A folk festival called Burning Snow will blaze across the banks of the Ume River, the cityscape will be illuminated by laser beams, and Town Hall Square will be transformed into a place of Sami culture, complete with reindeer. The migratory Sami people are natives of Europe's frozen north, and they have long made their mark on Umea. During Umea's cultural year, Sami folk traditions will share the stage with the city's outdoor pursuits and its considerable musical resources.
Among the top events are the following:
Feb. 12: Burbot fishing — This is a chance to ice fish in the dark in a nature reserve. Bring warm clothing, food and a headlamp. (Ice fishing will be canceled should temperatures dip below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Feb. 26-March 12: Sami Week — Known for their reindeer and yurts (portable teepees), the Sami people come to town to perform their dances and music, demonstrate their sports and display their handicrafts.
Feb. 28-March 1: House of Metal — 25 bands on four stages turn the Umea Folkets Hus upside down.
June 25-28: Swedish Beach Tour — Sand fills Town Hall Square as Europe's top beach volleyball players dig in. With luck, temperatures will be in the 60s.
July 19: Opera in the Sheep House — Opera and food dominate as Victoria Power, Andreas Ericsson and the opera trio Divine play the Halje Farm.
Aug. 1-2: Rock Out Wild — Hard metal shines on the shores of the Vindel River.
Aug. 14, 16, 19, 21, 23: "Electra" — Norrland's Opera presents an all-out outdoors performance of the Richard Strauss opera at the old military barracks in Umestan.
Aug. 29-Sept. 7: Ten Days of Contemporary Circus — Street artists give cutting-edge nouveau cirque performances under the big top at Town Square.
Sept. 20: Historic Market — Plays, goods and costumes from the late 19th century grace the Vasterbotten Museum.
Sept. 26-28: Umea Pride — Parades, performances and forums address LGBTQ themes.
Nov. 24-30: "Umea Autumn Lights" — Downtown gets a laser treatment.
Dec. 6-7: Christmas Market — This Swedish tradition, held at the Vasterbotten Museum, thaws out shoppers with heated drinks and logs ablaze.
For more information: For Riga, Latvia, go to riga2014.org/eng or riga.lv.
For Umea, Sweden, go to umea2014.se/en or umea.se.