How to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
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Wondering when and where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden? Great choice! Sweden is more budget friendly than Norway and the area of Kiruna is actually closer to the north pole than Iceland. 145km north of the Arctic circle to be exact.
This article will give you a good idea of where to see the northern lights in Sweden, what is the best time to see the northern lights in Sweden and where to stay.
When to see Northern Lights in Sweden
Scientists predict that the solar cycle will peak in 2025 and over the course of the next few years leading up to 2025 chances increase to see the Northern Lights. Or rather, Aurora Borealis as they are called more accurately since Galileo Galilei named them in the 17th century.
The best time of year to see Aurora Borealis in Sweden is September to March. While you may see them anytime after nightfall, which can be as early as 4pm, the highest chance to see them is between 10pm and midnight.
Even if the lights appear almost every night during the dark season, you will need clear skies to enjoy them. No forecast is 100% accurate, but you can check here for a prediction of the cloud cover.
All that being said, there are no guarantees you will see them. Mountain weather changes quickly. And the most intense part is usually over in 10 minutes so look up often not to miss it!
The solar winds that cause Aurora Borealis also hit the earth’s magnetic field during daytime and summer, but then they are harder to see. They can even be mistaken for clouds. You want the sky as dark as possible to see the most spectacular lights.
Dálvi – Winter
Dálvi is the word for winter used by the indigenous Sami people. They distinguish 8 seasons instead of our four, revolving around herding reindeer. Dálvi is the longest season, from December to March, temperatures drop and snow activities are on the rise: show shoe walk, dog sledding, ice-fishing, snow mobiling and skiing offer diversion during the few daylight hours that remain.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
To see Aurora Borealis you want to go north of the Arctic circle. In Sweden that means you are going to the Kiruna province. While you may see the lights from the town or Kiruna itself, it’s easier where there are fewer lights polluting the view.
If you stay in Kiruna, you can walk to Camp Ripan in 15 minutes or even better, take the 30 minute walk to mountain Luossavaara, a popular spot to watch the dancing lights.
20 km east of the town of Kiruna is Jukkasjäarvi where you will find the popular Icehotel (see below), it’s a 20min drive or 30min on the bus from Kiruna.
But to really get the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights and live the full experience you may want to make the journey to Abisko National Park. There is no light pollution and their Abisko Sky Station was named best place to see the Northern Lights by Lonely Planet. The mountains to the west protect it from clouds, so it is not only very dark but also has the highest chance of clear skies in the area.
To get to the Abisko Sky Station you can hop on a train that takes about 1h30min from Kiruna. Then you take a chair lift up the mountain to 900m elevation (3000 ft). It operates in the winter between 9pm and 1am, a ticket includes a warm overall and boots. On their website you can even book a full dinner experience (seems like a good way to kill the time in case these lights keep you waiting, if you ask me).
Check out their live cam to see what the view is like right now!
Northern Lights Sweden Hotels
Fancy a stay in the Icehotel? Every year they rebuild 37 ice hotel rooms with fresh ice in the village of Jukkasjäarvi near Kiruna. In each room the furniture including the beds are made of ice. Enjoy a drink at their bar, served in an ice-carved glass. There is a restaurant, activities and even rooms that remain frozen during the summer, thanks to solar energy!
200km north of the Artic Circle, where the sun doesn’t rise for two weeks each winter, you can find this unique hotel where suites are being redesigned with fresh ideas each year. The indoor temperature in the permanent part is kept at minus five degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit). 20 rooms remain all year, when the rest of the ice hotel melts away in the spring and the melt water flows back into the Torne river.
If you prefer to stay in the town of Kiruna, there are few more hotel options for you. You can use the map below to explore hotels in your budget that fit your needs.
Northern Lights Sweden Tour
If you don’t know the area well, a guided tour is usually a good idea to get to the best places without having to worry about the logistics. And in the Kiruna province there are some really fun options for you!
What to wear on your trip to see the Northern Lights
Layers! Layers, layers and layers! For you avid hikers it won’t be much news but here are a few tips that work for cold weather:
- your base layer should be synthetic or wool. Not cotton, because will cool you down rather than keep you warm as it keeps moisture in
- your second layer should be fleece to keep you warm. You can add more synthetic or fleece layers as needed
- a puffy layer is a good idea whenever temperatures are below freezing
- your outer layer needs to protect you from wind an rain/snow as well, so get a good coat
- use gloves and a good hat because your body loses a lot of heat via hands and head
- get warm boots with a thick sole, nobody likes cold feet
Good to know
Prepare for cold weather. Temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in the area.
There is nowhere to exchange money in Kiruna, but businesses prefer card over cash anyway. There are also several ATMs in Kiruna.
Except for grocery stores, expect shops to be closed on Sundays. Normal hours are 10-6pm on weekdays and until 2pm on Saturdays.
Alcohol is only available for purchase in restaurants, if you are over 18, or at the Systembolaget liquor store if you are over 20. Liquor sales in Sweden are government controlled and alcoholic beverages are expensive.
Between approximately December 11 and January 1 the sun doesn’t rise – this is called Polar Night. The farther your date of travel is away from Polar Night the more daylight you will see.
While people in Kiruna do mostly speak English their official languages are: Swedish, Finnish, Sámi and Meänkieli.
Free Wifi is widely available at restaurants, hotels, cafés, the tourist information, airport and bus station.
When you travel to the Kiruna province you will enter the Sápmi land of the Sámi indigenous people. While overlapping with about half of Sweden, it also stretches into Finland, Norway and northern Russia. The Sámi lifestyle is structured around reindeers and adjusted to the harsh arctic climate.
In Kiruna town you will have the opportunity to meet Sámi entrepreneurs who will be able to tell you more about their traditions and customs. Out of respect for their nation, I won’t aim to summarize their customs in this article.
How to get to Kiruna
From Stockholm there is a train to Kiruna twice a day. It takes about 15 hours. One of these options is a night train you can sleep on (save on accommodation and be nice to the environment at the same time!) operated by Vy. Tickets must be purchased in advance, not on the train or at the train station. The shuttle bus from the train station to the town center is free, year round.
Side note: You will get to a temporary train station in Kiruna, the old one is closed. This type of make-shift solution is rather common these days in Kiruna, because the town is on the move! A mine below forces the people to move to a new town that is constructed nearby over the course of the next years, house by house. Some houses are literally put on a trailer and moved to their new location.
From Stockholm, SAS and Norwegian service Kiruna airport. It’s a 90 minute flight. There are very few international flights, in the winter 2022/23 the only one is to Düsseldorf, Germany.
Once at the airport, you can rent a car or take the airport bus to get to the center. A bus ticket is 110 SEK, cash or card, no need to prebook. Busses are scheduled around plane landing times and rides take about 25 minutes.
On the road
The distance between Stockholm and Kiruna is about 1300km (800 miles). Driving this distance yourself will take you about as long as the train ride (14 to 16 hours).
No direct bus line connects Stockholm and Kiruna, you’d have to change along the way and it takes significantly longer than all the other options. Interestingly, it’s not even reliably cheaper than the train.
Whatever way you decide to go to northern Sweden, I hope you have a great time chasing the colors in the sky and this article was helpful for you. Any questions, please comment below!