Witnessing the northern lights is an amazing bucket-list experience that many people wish to get. This requires to be at the right place, the right time, and get some luck for clear sky AND solar eruptions activities for the magic to happen 🤩.
The best way to see the Aurora borealis is to get closer to the poles and particularity within the Arctic Circle. Some of the most famous areas are Alaska (Fairbank), Canada (Whitehorse), Iceland, Greenland (Ilulissat), Norway (Tromso), Finland (Rovaniemi), Russia (Murmansk) Australia (Tasmania), and New Zealand (Dunedin), and finally Kiruna and Abisko areas in Sweden that are said to have the highest statistical probability to see the Auroras. So, I went there for New Year Eve 21-22…
December through March is usually the “best” time to observe this amazing natural phenomenon when the sky stays dark for a large part of the day.
Going in those very remote and freezing cold places in winter with a risk of not seeing the Aurora Borealis might however be intimidating for some 😅 😰. So my post aims to provide insights that, while Northern lights will be the highlight of your trip, there are many other wonders to discover in the Lapland wilderness in winter. So do not hésitate, go there, life is too short!
So here are some great places to see or activities to do in Swedish Lapland near Kiruna and Abisko in winter.
This is where you’ll land, and a great base to hunt for the northern lights because it is located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. I’ll speak about Abisko (90 min drive away) later as a base alternative.
Kiruna is obviously a very small town but offers many nice facilities, restaurants, and some photo opportunities.
Kiruna is an industrial town as it houses the largest underground mine (iron ore) in the world and is also known for its satellite/space projects. It offers however a little downtown nicely lighted around Christmas / year-end
Of course, most people would not go to Lapland to visit Kiruna, but it is still nicer than expected little town 😊.
Jukkasjärvi is a beautiful village 17 kilometers outside Kiruna that is really worth a trip as this is really a fairytale village, and a paradise for photographers and landscape lovers.
Believe it or not, I even saw Santa there 🦄!. This was the morning after New Year Eve so I might have been (very) tired still but my camera doesn’t lie 😂…
Take the time to discover the Sámi culture that remains strong in that area. The Sámi have lived and worked in Northern Sweden for millennia and they try today (successfully) to combine traditions and tourism for the great pleasure of visitors
Jukkasjärvi church is quite famous as it dates from 1726 with its original parts from 1607. That timber, red-colored building, with a stand-alone bell tower is worth a visit if you love travel photography
The Torne River is very wide there, hence the village name comes from a Sámi word that translates to “meeting place by the water”.
In December, the days are very short (10 AM-2 PM ish) with the sun that doesn’t even bother to pass the horizon 😰 . HOWEVER, I hope that my images will make a case that rather than being gloomy and dark, this is actually an amazing permanent colorful twilight, like the picture below in Laxforsen nearby Jukkasjärvi.
Jukkasjärvi village is currently home to 900 people … and 1,000 dogs…
I’ll talk later about the dog sledding experience but those beautiful Huskies (I learned that there are 22 types of huskies) are on their own a reason to visit Lapland…
I can’t talk about Jukkasjärvi without mentioning the world-famous Ice hotel there.
The concept is to stay in rooms made of ice blocks, with platform beds, thermal sleeping bags, and reindeer hides.
Each room is a different beautiful theme, and they are all created by ice builders and artists from around the world.
There is even a bar to refresh (and the cups are made of ice as well of course)
The indoor temperature is set at a constant minus five degrees Celsius (so much warmer than outside). Do you want to take a bath 😜 ?
I let you decide if staying in those (expensive) rooms for one night is worth it, or not (as a bucket list tick maybe). You can as an alternative visit during the day all the rooms for a fee (not cheap either).
Dog sledding in the Tundra Forest of Lapland wildness is in my view a must-do experience if you have the chance to get to the Northern wilderness.
The experience of sledding on a frozen lake with those beautiful animals is in my view a once in a lifetime experience not to miss …
Crossing the Tundra forest with the permanent colorful sunset light is a true fairytale!
Of course, the Alaskan or Siberian huskies are the real stars here.
If you’re lucky enough to do this with family and kids, this will be with no doubt a memorable highlight of the overall trip.
You`ll find online many companies up there that can organize tours with passionate mushers that truly love their dogs.
Some can offer an amazing experience with even a warm lunch in the wild 🤩.
Or course, like for the Northern light chasing, you need to be dressed accordingly (-10 to -25°C) but those tours can provide extra warm cloths as needed. And no, the campfire does is insufficient to be there in a tee-shirt 🥶
That trip will offer endless travel photography opportunities for nature lovers
But again, the dogs remain the cutest photography subject
Shooting conditions are obviously not easy at such a temperature but be prepared to fill your memories cards…
While I shoot with a DSLR big camera toy, that might be one of the few occasions where an iPhone camera is much easier. I can’t believe I’m saying that 😭.
Anyway, the permanently changing lights and colors during the (short) day are gorgeous and, again, a travel photography fairytale.
Chasing the northern lights
Obviously, you should increase your luck by chasing the northern lights where they are (or where the sky clears up) so using one of the many local guides that know where to go, have the right apps, etc is a significant plus. Even on a cloudy day with low hope, after several boring hours drive (up to Riksgransen at the Norway border), we finally saw them. So never ever give up…
Actually, in the dark by -20°C with the fingers and camera mostly frozen, I frankly did not notice such beautiful colors in the field but the long exposure on the camera captured the magic…
And talking about fairytales, Riksgränsen, at the border between Sweden and Norway is a nice place where very low-intensity auroras combined with light pollution can create some magic photography conditions…
Abisko, THE place to be …
Last but not least, let’s et to the place. There are obviously various opinions about the best place to see the Northern lights. Abisko is however considered to be one of the best places in the world as it is in the center of the Aurora Oval, has clean air and usually clear sky (microclimate linked to the lake and surrounding mountains), and no light pollution.
Clearly, Abisko was for our trip the place where the true magic happened. So staying there (Instead of Kiruna) may be a good idea. Higher probability to see more with less commuting but certainty for fewer restaurants and hotels vs Kiruna.
You’ll find many photographers and nature lovers on the frozen lakefront (rushing there when the specialized apps alert for solar activity)
The stary clear sky, combined with the Northern lights and the small villages light pollution provide the gift of landscapes from a different world
Of course, you can see them by yourself but some of the local guides will have their own areas and a teepee with a fire and hot drinks can be a very valuable asset after a few hours wait by -15 or -20°C 🥶.
The Sami teepees are well a cool foreground to photograph those natural wonders…
So I hope that post would engage you to go on an adventure north. This is really a must-see place at least once in a lifetime. Of course, you will very likely stop in Stockholm to get to Lapland so have a look at my post about Magic Stockholm, the winter wonderland of Northern Europe.