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Nothern lights over Kiruna, Sweden

by Thom Robinson 

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Northern lights over the road on pour way up to Nabisco  by Thom Robinson

Kiruna is one of the Northern most towns in Sweden, located well within the arctic circle, about an hours drive from the Norwegian border, when we landed in Kiruna airport we were taken away. A single plane landing on a single runway right outside a single terminal. Something you’re not used to seeing coming from the city ( London ). Once wed got our bags from the baggage collection we made our way outside to grab a taxi, as it was my first time in Sweden I wasn’t really sure how it all worked, the airport staff helped us with arranging a taxi, a free call phone which put you direct to the taxi company. Within a few minutes our taxi arrived at the airport, we were staying in a little village just outside Kiruna called paksuniemi. The taxi ride was around 20 minutes and cost us 525kr which is around £50 which we didn’t realise straight away was quite costly for a 20 minute ride, the taxi driver was very helpful and even told us about alternate forms of transport we could take. Once he’d dropped us at our cottage we then met fredrik. We booked one of Fredrik’s incredible cottages through air bnb. The location of the cottages were incredible and fredrik was extremely helpful. He gave us a tour around his yard to explain how everything worked. We were staying right on the edge of the winters frozen torne river, we had a shared sauna in the boat house which we had to manually start up ourselves, walking onto the frozen river to break the ice in order to get the water from the river to use on the hot stone sauna. That was an experience in its self. Chopping wood on a block with an axe to fuel the fire. Which was a nice touch. The cottages are equipped nicely with everything you need. Down duvets. Reindeer rugs and real local decorations. Not to mention again the log fire. I had so many questions for fredrik which he was more than happy to answer, mostly about the Northern lights, were to go, best locations, best time for the activity, you name it I asked him. Fredrik is a photographer so he had some of the best knowledge within kiruna about where to go and to capture the most amazing photos. On our first night fredrik had messaged me to inform me the lights were over the cottage. Which on our first night set us up for the remainder of our holiday. Trying all we could to see the best lights possible. This time they weren’t as active as I thought they’d be but never the less we still saw them. the next morning we made our way into kiruna where we had booked tours with kiruna guidtur.

We had booked a tour every day for the 7 days we were there to maximise our experience in Swedish lapland. our weeks plan looked like this

  • Snowmobile aurora expedition
  • Snowmobile ice fishing
  • Husky afternoon
  • Northern lights tour on horseback
  • Dogsled Northern lights tour
  • High mountain valley tour
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Moose on the high mountain tour on New Years day in Nikkaluokta by Thom Robinson

Snowmobile aurora expedition

we arrived at kiruna guidtur where we met our guide for the night, he got us equipped with arctic jumpsuits, boots, mittens everything we needed to keep warm in the -10 weather. We drove by minibus for around 20 minutes until we reached the snowmobiles, after a quick brief on how to ride them we had set off Into the arctic night. Driving in and around the Swedish woodlands with the sound of snowmobiles, incredible white snow, a sky full of stars and one ambition to see the Northern lights. after driving for 10 – 15 minutes the guide had pulled over on the frozen lake. We turned our snowmobiles and lights off. Only to be pointed in the direction of the low lying green mist that appeared in the near distance. The northern lights had appeared. After taking a few photos we dove to a Saami cabin, eat reindeer, moose and tried hot lingonberry juice over an open fire pit before moving off back to the office, the whole tour took 4 hours and cost 900 sek per person.

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Northern lights over our cottage by Thom Robinson

Husky afternoon

The husky afternoon was definitely one of the things you have to try if you visit Swedish lapland, we were transferred by the owner of the dog sled tour to his house way out back on another frozen lake. Once we arrived the alaskan huskies were sat in their kennels relatively quiet, we were given a safety brief from the instructor before we were told to mount our sledge. It was at this point the huskies knew they were going for a run. The noise just erupted with husky howls and barking, once the dogs were all strapped in it was our moment to take our own dog team across the open lakes. I had my foot securely on the brake holding on tight not knowing what to expect. I took my foot off the brake and the huskies just took off. They have so much power, something I really wasn’t expecting, considering there were two of us on the sledge. Once we had left the owners yard we headed onto the lake. And there was something incredibly surreal about hearing the sledge carving through the snow and the dogs howl whilst the northern lights were above our heads. I wouldn’t advise taking your camera on the sledge with you as there is no time to stop and take photos, this was purely riding the sleds. However It was absolutely incredible . The tour lasted around 2.5 hours and was 1400 sek.

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High mountain tour in Nikkaluokta by Thom Robinson

Northern lights tour horseback

Now the whole idea for going to kiruna was for my girlfriend Kate’s birthday and this tour I knew she was going to love the most seen as though she’s a horse enthusiast. Me, I’m a complete novice and was my first time on a horse. we opened the doors to the stable to find the heads of 20 or so Icelandic horses turn to look at us. The instructor had told us that we were to prep the horses before riding. Kate, was all over this and just carried on herself. Me. I didn’t have a clue, I was brushing the horse wrong, he kept trying to headbutt me and I put his saddle on backwards. Never the less I remained hopeful that I would ride him like a champ. Once the horses were ready we mounted and moved off into the woods. This was supposed to be a Northern lights tour however with very heavy snowfall we didn’t have a chance in seeing them. But then we didn’t really need to. We were walking through the Swedish forests on horse back whilst the snow was falling and you could hear moose walking around the area. The horses knew exactly what to do without any commands. so even for the complete novice you can still ride with confidence. which I did manage to pull off. Even to a degree where my horse knew it was going back to the stable and could smell the hay. So he decided to gallop and overtake all the horses. Which at the time was terrifying but at the same time great fun. would highly recommend to anyone who loves horses.

the tour lasted 4 hours and cost 1750 see per person.

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 Local reindeer that belongs to the museum by Thom Robinson

Dogsled Northern light tour.

This was by far my most memorable part of the holiday, not just the tour but the entire day. I had checked the aurora forecast for today and it was the highest of the entire holiday, so somehow, On Kate’s birthday I had convinced her for us to travel north after the tour to hunt the lights. We were again collected from the kiruna guidtur office by another guide. They’d taken us to the ‘husky lodge’ which offers accommodation too, which would be a great place for kids as you can visit the huskies throughout your stay. When we arrived the dogs were eager and ready to go we met with our sled driver for the night and told us that we would at some point see the lights. We mounted our sled and set off into the night. We had a 12 dog sled which was much faster than the previous tour. The guide was telling us about the freshly laid moose and reindeer tracks that had been left. At this point the dogs had picked up the scent of something and started to pick up the pace. The guide then told us to look over to our left, where we could see a small strip of green in the distance, we knew that this was the start of the evening show. We stopped of at another saami lodge where we had reindeer, moose and coffee. I stepped outside to start taking photos where id just caught the start of the lights appearing, we then continued to talk and told him about our trip up to abisko that night, he then told us we were guaranteed to see the lights which was very exciting. after our short break we headed back to the lodge where we all wished each other happy new year before heading off. This was by far my favourite tour and would highly recommend it for anyone. It just felt very realxed and natural. the tour lasted around 2.5 hours and cost 1250 sek.

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Kate and I opening champagne on New Year with the Northern lights in the distance by Thom Robinson

New Years night

After kate and I had finished our dinner in kiruna we made our trip up to abisko, this was around 9pm so we had plenty of time to get up there before new year, we had our camera gear at the ready and kate was looking out for the lights, we noticed the strip of green appear in front of us so we knew it was about time. It was then when I head ‘STOP THE CAR’. So I pulled over into the lay by which are scattered along the roads. We stepped out of the car and there they were. The most incredible thing I have ever witnessed the aurora borealis dancing above our heads. green , red , purple lights there for us to enjoy. It was the highlight of the entire holiday, after searching for a week and seeing moderately good lights, we had finally seen them at their pinnacle. I wish I could describe what it was like but you really can’t describe it. You really have to witness it yourself. So we continued to drive further north so we could celebrate under the lights at midnight. Eventually midnight came, and we opened a bottle of champagne on the side of the road under the lights. I don’t think ill ever have a new year quite like it. It was truly magical.

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Kate and I opening champagne on New Year with the Northern lights in the distance by Thom Robinson

Tips

a few tips I would recommend before coming to kiruna

  • don’t book through a travel agent. its over priced and you will get the same experience as every other tourist that comes through.

Try booking through air bnb. The cottage we stayed at was in a village called paksunemi, well out of the light from the town which is why we managed to see the lights almost every night from our bed. My experience at fredriks cottage will remain in my memory forever. if you’re looking for a relaxed back to basics peaceful stay then Fredriks cottage is for you. If you want hotels there are plenty of hotels to choose from

The ice hotel, we visited the ice hotel but didn’t bother staying, they do tours around the hotel and once thats done you’ve pretty much seen everything, plus it is expensive and I would rather spend money on doing activities. I would recommend going to have a look around as it very nice to look at. The ice hotel is located in a village called jukkasjarvi, 5 minutes from Fredrick’s cottage (by bus or car)

There is also a saami museum in jukkasjarvi which is cheap entry has a nice cafe with open fire, but also gives you the chance to hand feed reindeer and learn about the saami culture, although its only small we managed to spend a few hours there.

Getting around

From paksuneimi there is a bus that runs a few times a day from right outside Fredrick’s cottage which stops at the ice hotel, saami museum, ice hotel and finally kiruna town. The bus costs roughly 60 sek for a return. Be careful not to miss the bus though as they come every 2 hours. The bus only accepts card payment, so make sure you don’t plan on paying in cash like we did. We tried to book a hire car before we arrived but upon arrival they asked for payment from a credit card, which unfortunately I didn’t have. This was through hertz. Luckily Avis accept visa debit cards and was hassle free, we had the car within 10 minutes.

Warm weather clothing, kiruna guidtur offer a warm weather clothes package for a set fee, you can keep these for the duration of your stay and just hand them back in, alternatlivley they do provide you with the exact clothing on their tours, so a way of saving some spending money is just to get the clothes when you arrive for your tour.

I hope that you do decide to visit kiruna at some stage. It was just something I will never forget. Even after being completely knackered from staying up late waiting for the lights and up early for the tours. Also if youre a drone pilot be careful on the extremely strict laws on drones in sweden, they’re illegal to fly in public places. Take that as you will

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Lunch being prepared over the open fire pit in the saami museum by Thom Robinson
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