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Watch the northern lights in Sweden

On more than one traveller’s list of things to do before you die, you’ll find ‘See the northern lights’ jotted down. Rightfully so – these lights are one of nature’s most jaw-dropping displays. Here are the best places to watch them in Sweden.

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Photo: Fredrik Broman/imagebank.sweden.se

Dark, cold and clear

In Sweden, the northern lights usually occur during the winter months through late March or early April, but they can be spotted as early as September in the northernmost parts.

Your best chance of catching a glimpse of the northern lights is on cold winter nights when the sky is clear, dark with little to no moonlight, and cloudless. You need to be away from city lights, which dilute the effects of these natural phenomena, so head out into the countryside.

On clear nights, the northern lights can be visible from most locations in Swedish Lapland, occurring between 6:00 and 14:00, with the strongest shows happening between 22:00 and 23:00.

For those willing to brave the cold on winter nights, here are some of the best locations in Swedish Lapland for viewing these phenomena.

Abisko National Park

Abisko National Park, a couple of kilometres north of Kiruna, is a prime location for viewing the northern lights. The scientifically proven ‘blue hole’ – a patch of sky over the Torneträsk lake that usually remains clear despite overcast weather in surrounding areas – gives Abisko its own microclimate, which is suitable for catching the lights.

In addition to guided tours, back-country camping and trekking out into the park at night, travellers can also take a chair-lift up to the Aurora Sky Station and its lookout tower to get a better view of the park.

Jukkasjärvi and the Torne Valley

The village of Jukkasjärvi only has about 548 inhabitants. But don’t let the small population size fool you: Jukkasjärvi boast the world’s first ice hotel and is one of the best regions to view the northern lights.

The ice hotel organises guided tours for guests to the Esrange Space Center located 30 minutes from Kiruna. There you can dine at a wilderness camp and get the chance to scan the Arctic winter sky for aurora borealis. Or why not try to get closer to the northern lights and watch them through an aeroplane window? The ice hotel arranges northern lights flights together with Spaceport Sweden in Kiruna for the ultimate northern lights experience.

The Tornedalen region (home to the Torne River), the areas around Lake Poustijärvi, and the neighbouring villages of Nikkaluokta and Vittangi, are all ideal for viewing auroras. Several companies run night dog-sledding and snowmobile trips that take you through the surrounding wilderness for sky-watching.

Porjus and Laponia

Porjus is a tiny village of roughly 400 residents located in Swedish Lapland some 60 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Laponia.

Porjus – close to national parks Sarek, Padeljant, Muddus and Stora Sjöfallet – is located along the shores of the Stoma Lulevatten lake. Clear and cold nights with little light pollution from nearby houses makes Porjus a prime spot for viewing northern lights.

You can rent a private flat or share one of several flats located along the edge of the lake, providing front-row seating to for amazing light shows over the lake.

Photo: Fredrik Broms/imagebank.sweden.se

Other regions in Swedish Lapland

As mentioned earlier, if weather conditions are just right (dark, cold and cloudless) you might catch a glimpse of the northern lights from any location within subarctic and arctic Sweden – even close to larger towns such as Luleå, Jokkmokk, Arvidsjaur and Gällivare.

While in Luleå, you can head out into the surrounding Brandö forests and wilderness, far from bright artificial city lights to view the natural ones. Dog-sledding across frozen Lake Skabram just outside Jokkmokk might also put you in close contact with the northern lights.

You can drive a snowmobile to the mountaintop of Dundret in Gällivare for a private light show, or head a few kilometres to nearby villages around Arvidsjaur to watch those lights shimmer across the dark winter sky.

But remember – if you do get the chance to see the northern lights in person, never whistle to them. According to ancient Sámi mythology, it brings you bad luck…

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC and CNN among others. She's the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm, contributes as a photojournalist to the Swedish Red Cross and has also been Sweden.se’s photoblogger.