Northern Lights in Kiruna

Weekend Trips: Sweden

This is long overdue, but while everyone else jetted off to somewhere warm President’s Day weekend, I took an amazing family and friends trip up to the Arctic Circle to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid: see the Northern Lights! We got a decently priced fare to Stockholm on Thursday night for 0 on Norwegian with connecting flights to Kiruna for 0 on SAS (there were half price options for the second flight if you are more flexible, but we were trying to optimize our short stay).  If you have more than a long weekend for this adventure, you can also take the overnight train to a bus to get to Kiruna.

Stockholm Ferry Andrea Baptista

Stockholm Ferry

The extended long weekend was the perfect amount of time to see a bit of Stockholm and venture off to Kiruna.  We spent all day Friday in Stockholm to stop by the Vasa, run around the Gamla stan (Old Town), grab a delicious dinner at Rolfs Kök (I highly recommend!), get a Starwood stay for me at the Sheraton, and check out the Ice Bar that all our friends said we had to see (despite two of us agreeing that they are better in London and Rome).  The only thing I really wanted to do, but didn’t have time for was to explore the Swedish shops, especially the ones related to design (like these).

Camp Alta, Kiruna, Sweden

Cabin at Camp Alta

If you are interested in the Northern Lights and have a tight schedule, there aren’t too many ways to do it very cheaply to optimize your chances of seeing them.  I did a lot of research on different cities like Tromso, Norway and different accommodation types to watch the lights and it seemed like one of the best value options was a cabin in Kiruna.   We stayed in Camp Alta which has bundled pricing of very cheap cabins with excursions. The cabins were around $25 per person with excursions at around $100 each.  When I was looking at different companies they were all around $100-200 on top of normal $150 two person rooms per night accommodation.

Kiruna Airport, North of the Article Circle

Kiruna Airport, North of the Article Circle

We took the earliest flight up to Kiruna from Stockholm on Saturday and made it there in time to buy groceries, take a tour of the grounds, cook dinner, then head out to our first excursion.

Camp Alta Sunset

Sunset from Our Cabin

Our first excursion in Kiruna was dog sledding looking for the Northern Lights our first evening. The gear was all provided (thick socks, overalls to put over your own ski pants and ski coats, gloves and thick boots) and though initially I had mixed views of dog labor like this, I left thoroughly convinced the dogs loved to run and howl through the night. They were also incredibly well fed to maintain their health to pull the sleds. We were told they sleep outside every night, but only because they’d be too warm inside otherwise after being accustomed to the cold.

Dog Sledding in the Swedish Laplands

Dog Sledding in the Swedish Laplands

Each sled had a driver and four passengers and we sped through the paths with no light pollution, took a break halfway to have some cheese and toast and mushroom soup by a fire with a few groups on sleds, then returned back to the kennel.  If you are planning on taking a dog sled, I recommend you bring your own very warm ski mask!  It got to -25 Celsius when we were there and we didn’t mess around with 5x layers.

Entrance to the Ice Hotel

Entrance to the Ice Hotel

Our second excursion was a snow mobile tour to the Ice Hotel. Truly a marvel, this famous compound of ice buildings that gets rebuilt differently every year was really a sight.

 

Inside the Ice Hotel

Inside the Ice Hotel

It is worth paying to enter to look at the different art installations in each room. For a light $750/night you can stay there and freeze your bottoms off!  It by all means did not seem as luxurious as movies made it seem.

"Abject Beauty" by Lotta Lampa and Julia Gamborg Nielsen

“Abject Beauty” by Lotta Lampa and Julia Gamborg Nielsen

If you are strapped for cash, some people opt to not go inside and instead hang out in the outside compound and bar area which are free to roam.

Inside the Bar at the Ice Hotel

Inside the Bar at the Ice Hotel

You can switch excursions around and take the dog sled to the Ice Hotel and take snow mobiles at night, but I recommend how we did it.  You can go considerably fast on the snow mobiles and it is much much more fun to go fast on paths you are unfamiliar with while the sun is up (I would have been way to terrified the way Ryan was zipping around!!)

Snow Mobiling in Kiruna

Snow Mobiling in Kiruna

Aside from the great value, the really nice thing about our camp was the ability to walk out to the middle of the lake we were situated on, lay down in the snow, and stare at the stars waiting for the Northern Lights.  We didn’t see them our first night, but were lucky to see them on the second night.

Northern Lights from Our Camp

Northern Lights from Our Camp

If you have bad luck with the conditions and aren’t able to see the lights, there’s also some fire heated saunas on the property.  If we could have stayed for another day we probably would have cross-country skied for a few hours, go snow-shoeing, and hang out in the sauna. Naturally, you’ll have some down time in the cabin between excursions, sauna time, and sleeping, so we brought a deck of cards and played Chinese Poker and drank Absolut Vodka (brought from NY duty free because of Sweden’s heavy alcohol taxes) for hours! Altogether, it was a really wonderful trip and I highly recommend it!