For the final part in our series of where to catch the Northern Lights, we look at the Arctic wilderness of Sweden’s Lapland.
The city of Kiruna is one of the last outposts of civilisation, being 145 km inside the Arctic Circle, and it is where most tourists fly into for their Lapland wilderness adventure. The town of 23,000 people is so far north, that the only reason it exists is because of the rich Iron Ore deposits beneath its streets. It is farther away from Gothenburg than the Austrian city of Vienna. Ironically, the mining of Iron ore will mean the whole town will have to move 3km to the east by 2033.
Tourists are well catered for in Kiruna with tour companies offering Northern Lights, snow mobile, husky sledding, skiing and other winter sport activities. There’s a range of interesting accommodation on offer including the world famous Ice Hotel, which is made out of ice and melts every spring, and the Tree House hotel where guest rooms are literally houses in the trees. There are also much cheaper options than the big chain hotels with lodges like hostels and some Airbnb offerings.
Isn’t Sweden a bit expensive though?
It is, but if you travel independently you can tailor your visit and cut costs. Hostels in Kiruna are clean, comfortable, modern and safe. A bed is around 200 kroner or €21 per night and you can book private 4 bed dorms. If there’s a group of you, then Airbnb is also an affordable option. A lot of the properties come with their own private sauna and the hosts appear to be very helpful according to the reviews. Some hotels can offer very competitive weekend rates too.
Another way to save money is to do what the locals do and eat your main meal at lunchtime. Most cafes or restaurants will serve a dish of the day (dagens ratt) for around €7 or €8 and will include a main plus salad or vegetables with bread and a soft drink or coffee. Quite often, these are buffet affairs so you can really fill up before your afternoon’s excursions.
Sweden is famed for its high alcohol prices, but prices are actually quite similar to Dublin City centre. You can expect to pay between €4.50 and €7 for a half litre of beer in most bars or restaurants. You could also save more money by shopping in the state run off-licenses, known locally as Systembolaget. Wine and spirits for home consumption can only be purchased at a Systembolaget and you must be at least 20 years of age to buy the alcohol here. They close at 6pm on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays and don’t on Sundays at all.
Sounds do-able. How do I get there?
The easiest way is to get a package from one of the travel agencies. These are geared towards families and go in December for the Christmas season, but are expensive. While you fly direct and accommodation, food and excursions are included, expect to pay the equivalent of a 2 week summer holiday for a 2 night 3 day trip to Lapland.
The affordable way is to find a cheap flight to a destination that connects with Kiruna airport and get a transfer to your pre-booked accommodation.
It’s going be a bit cold so what do I pack?
Average temperatures in Kiruna during winter are -15 degrees and can drop as low as -30, so the correct clothing is essential. Firstly, do not wear cotton clothing whatsoever. For your legs you will need woollen or polyester long johns or thermal underwear. Over that wear polyester jogging pants and then ski pants or waterproof pants. For your upper body start with a thermal top (polyester or wool) with sleeves. Then a fleece shirt underneath a 100% woollen jumper. A fleece jacket goes on before you put on your last layer, an insulated jacket. Wear two pairs of woollen socks in either hiking or snow boots. Rubber boots will let the cold in very quickly.
Thick mittens will keep out the cold and if you want to take pictures, wear a pair of thin gloves underneath so you can operate your camera; but make sure to keep that camera out of the cold underneath your jacket when you’re not using it. You’ll also need a really warm hat and a balaclava, facemask or snood if you go snowmobiling or sledding.
After all of that, will I get to see the Northern Lights
As we’ve said before in our series on the Northern Lights, they are extremely hard to predict, but having said that, the Abisko National Park in Sweden has the country’s clearest skies and provides the optimal opportunity of catching the Aurora Borealis.
You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to catch the Northern Lights. Here’s our first article on how to watch them from Inis Owen, Co Donegal. It’s a relatively short trip away! Remember, you can get a car insurance quote from Liberty Insurance in less than 2 minutes.