So many visitors to northern Sweden go straight to the Ice Hotel in Kiruna - point proved by the fact that Abisko is not even in this websites drop down menu!! [Noone has tipped about it yet - ed] I recommend keep going north on the train to Abisko, about an hour further into the Arctic Circle. There is a fantastic, huge, youth hostel in the middle of the Abisko National Park, more like a hotel. If you are visiting between October and May you can sign up to spend a night in the cafe on top of the Kungsleden mountain. It sounds bonkers (its not posh, you literally sleep on the floor of a cafe in sleeping bags) but you get to spend the whole night watching for the Northern Lights followed by the sun rising over the Lapporten, the famous Lapp Gateway. This mountain view is seeped in Sami traditions, legends and stories. I also recommend following your evening on the mountain up with a trip on a skidoo across the bright blue frozen lake with a local guide. NB: make sure you book the Abisko Mountain STATION (the youth hostel) not the Abikso Mountain Lodge (the posh hotel)
We did this for our honeymoon and even though we spent the whole trip in separate beds (or sleeping bags!) it was truly amazing. The closest thing to magic I have witnessed.
I still remember the first time I saw snow – I was 29 years-old and I’d been living in the UK for just over half a year. I’d met some people through the kids’ school and I was having a coffee at someone’s house one Saturday when the big, wet flakes came fluttering out of the sky like some old-fashioned washing powder. I ran outside, embarrassed by my own colonial excitement. Of course, I’ve seen plenty of snow in the 11 or so years since then – I’m a little snow-jaded.
Swedish Lapland. The Arctic Circle. I’m ridiculously pleased to be here. The air is dry as it's -35 deg outside. The snow sparkles like a million diamonds strewn beneath my big warm snowboots. I look at a flake on my arm, except it’s not a flake, it’s a proper crystal, like in the fairy stories, like something covered with silver paint you’d buy to scatter on your Christmas table or tuck into envelopes to fall all over someone’s floor as they take out their Christmas cards. Seriously, my heart squeezes at the perfectness of it.
We’re on snowmobiles, there are only three of us and it’s night time. It’s a little scary driving over these frozen lakes and rivers – Bjorn warns us not to stray from his path as there are places where the ice is thinner. He tells us to go quickly over one section and not stop as there is water on the track – water that’s so cold you’d die if you fell into it. The wind chill has got to be taking this down to way under -40deg. Thank goodness for all the snow gear I’m wearing. The snowmobile has heated hand grips, so my hands are ok in the mittens, but my feet are very uncomfortably numb. I’m starting to not enjoy the ride when we arrive at a tipi. We go in and Bjorn makes a fire which warms the place up a lot. I’m jumping about to make my feet warm, but its not working. He gives me a headtorch and tells me to go outside and run up and down the track.
This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’m claustrophobically puffing through a balaclava as I run three meters one way and three meters the other – always with one eye on the tipi in case it suddenly disappears into the trees. I go in when I’m sweating, rip off the balaclava and the jacket and breathe deeply. He makes us reindeer in a creamy sauce and boils a copper kettle on the fire for tea. The milk is frozen in its container so we have to warm it by the fire. He tells me there are brown bears in the woods, but they’re hibernating right now. We talk politics and economics and books. He’s so tall, must be nearly seven foot, I find out later he’s 65.
We move on, through a few more trees and then onto a plain which is actually a huge frozen lake. It’s snowing lightly, the snow flicking, sparkling in the snowmobile headlights. Then the sky begins to glow white in the north, and then the white becomes green and the green grows and undulates in the sky. The aurora borealis. The cameras are all frozen, so we can’t take a picture, but it’s ok. Apparently, the aurora have only been seen four times this winter, so we were so lucky.
We went to Kiruna in northern Sweden in late January. Kiruna is an interesting little mining town and was under about 10 foot of snow which made for a wonderful wintry experience. Actually seeing the Northern Lights is somewhat of hit and miss process. Don't believe the places that 'guarantee' you will see them - as they are as dependent on the rest of the weather and there actually being sufficient solar activity that night to see the Lights. You have to get a little out of Kiruna (just get a taxi to the other side of the ski slope hill at night) to see the Lights, as Kiruna has a surprising amount of light pollution.
Just an hour and a half's drive from Kiruna is the Abisko Mountain Station considered as the best place on earth to view the Northern Lights.
With its fresh clean air and its practically cloud-free skies the conditions for seeing the lights are optimal. Aurora occurs, more or less, every night but to detect it the skies have to be dark. The period from September to March is best time of year.
The world-famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi is just outside Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost town, which itself is worth a visit. The world’s largest underground iron ore mine, a magnificent view of the mountains, plenty of fresh air – it’s nearly always windy – and a population who are completely obsessed with being outdoors. The further north you go, the more chance you have to see the midnight sun in summer and northern lights in winter.
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