I’ve been wanting to visit Lapland for some years now. The funny thing is that when you live in Finland, Lapland is just always there and you never seem to prioritize traveling in your home country. Now that I’m in Sweden and not sure for how long I’ll stay, I want to visit more places in Sweden than just Stockholm. This is kind of how I ended up booking flights to Kiruna for me and my boyfriend.
As neither of us skis or is a big fan of cold and snow, we decided to focus on seeing the northern lights and riding in a sled pulled by dogs. As we were planning on traveling during the week when a lot of Swedish kids have a school break, I booked everything months in advance just to be sure. Our flights were fully booked, but otherwise I didn’t notice any crowds. According to one of our guides, Swedes don’t generally travel to north of Sweden except for the past year or so. Most tourists are from the UK, but there has been a decline in British tourists this year.
We landed at Kiruna airport, which is tiny. I think there are five flights a day, so it’s definitely not busy. We decided to stay for two days in a small village called Björkliden, some 100 kilometres from Kiruna and then for two more days in Kiruna itself. We booked a transfer from Kiruna Airport to Björkliden with Visit Abisko, which worked out really well. We found a bus really easily at the airport and they dropped us off right at our hotel in Björkliden after making a few stops in Abisko. The transfer took about one and a half hours.
On the way to Björkliden there were really nice views of mountains and lake Torneträsk (I recommend to sit on the right side of the bus). 😉
I was pondering between staying in Abisko or in Björkliden and decided in the end on Björkliden, which I think was a right choice for us. Abisko is a small village with several hotels and hostels. The upside is that there is a train station nearby if you’re arriving by train and there are more restaurants. The downside is that it’s pretty unremarkable and doesn’t really have any nice views. We chose to stay in Hotell Fjället in Björkliden and it was located on a top of a mountain with amazing views. It’s also remote, which is an upside if you want to feel secluded and calm. The downside is that there is only one restaurant and one lobby bar in the hotel and if you want to eat somewhere else, you need to drive there. There is also a ski slope right next to the hotel, so if you’re into skiing, then this is very convenient. I think the train station is not too far away, but you’re up for a very steep climb if you walk from the train to the hotel.
The room was pretty tiny with a dated bathroom, but it was very warm and had an amazing view from the window. The wifi worked really well in the hotel lobby, but didn’t reach our room (4G worked just fine in the room, so that wasn’t a problem for us).
We arrived around 4 p.m., so it didn’t take long for the sun to go down after we arrived. So, the first evening we just took a short walk around the hotel (it was -18°C, so the walk really wasn’t long) and then went to have dinner at restaurant Lapporten.
Dinner was alright, nothing amazing, but we mostly liked it and the price was ok by Swedish standards. We spent some time trying to spot northern lights from our hotel room window, but there was nothing, so we went to bed.
The next morning I woke up quite early to see the sun come up from behind the mountains.
We had breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the price and let’s be honest, it’s not like we had any other options. 😉 The breakfast was quite nice, but the best part is that the breakfast room (which is the same space as restaurant Lapporten) has large windows into two directions and offers some amazing views.
We had booked a Winter Wonderland Dog Sledding Tour via Lights Over Lapland. We were collected from our hotel and then we stopped to pick up two more people. The maximum for one tour is eight people, in which case there would be two sleds, but in our case we were all sitting on one sled and the guide was standing in the back and guiding the dogs.
I found the company and the people to be professional and really care for the dogs. They also cared for us and gave us all warm overalls, boots, and hats as it was again -18°C. 😉 Then we sat in the sled and the dogs started pulling it. It was pretty cool just to sit and watch the nature. We were sitting in the back, which was nice as the people in the front were acting as windbreakers. On the way back I sat in the front and it was cool to see clearly what’s going on and take some pictures. But it was really cold and I had to hold my scarf in front of my cheeks, because they started to hurt from the cold.
I was expecting to see different breed of dogs pulling the sled, but the guide explained that when people think of huskies, they often think of Siberian huskies, which is a tightly regulated breed of dogs and while they have same properties (tolerate cold really well and are very strong), they suffer from breed-specific health problems. The dogs used here were Alaskan huskies, which don’t look quite the same, but offer freer possibilities of breeding the best dogs for the purpose.
The tour was pretty expensive (1 595 SEK or about 160 EUR per person), but it was a great experience as our group was so small. Also, apparently the dogs eat 2-5 kilos of meat every day each and they only run during the winter season, so it is rather expensive to keep them.
We stopped mid-way in the goahti, which is a type of tent, for tea, coffee, and cinnamon buns. There was also fire, which made the sitting much more enjoyable. The dogs also got some time to rest and roll in the snow.
After that we headed back and as I mentioned, I sat in the front. Surprisingly dogs pooped quite a lot while running, so there’s a risk of flying poop you need to consider if sitting in front of the sled. 😀
After giving back all the extra layers, we were returned to our hotel, where we had an early dinner at the lobby bar. Their food was actually very decent bar food and I liked my hamburger a lot.
In the evening, we had another activity – The Great Aurora Chase. I chose this trip as I thought that it could be nice to have an opportunity to sit in a warm van if I got cold and also the tour description promised spectacular locations. I couldn’t be more wrong. The spectacular locations were parking spots just off the main road with the traffic passing by and the truckers having their break at the same spots. So not exactly the great and only known to the guide great locations. Also, yes, you could indeed sit in the van, but as it wasn’t running, it was barely warmer than the surroundings, so while you could get away from the wind, you couldn’t get away from the fact that there is -28°C outside. 😀 Also there was a party of American tourists, who repeatedly burst singing “I’m so excited” and had a discussion among other things on whether Gothenburg has many goths and how they would describe the northern lights to their friends instead of enjoying the moment.
In the end though I was happy with this tour, but this is mostly due to the fact that we actually saw northern lights. We saw some activity and were about to call it a night and drive back to the hotel, when the guide called us out and the nature offered a great show. Shitty pictures, but it was impossible to get better ones with my iPhone and in the end I preferred to just watch what was happening instead of trying to capture the lights. The upside was also that while we tried to huddle and warm up in the van, the guide stayed outside and called us out every time the aurora picked up. At some point even the fact that we were at the parking spot didn’t matter that much. It was pitch black, so we couldn’t really enjoy the surroundings that much anyway and there wasn’t that much passing traffic. So while I was hoping that the aurora spotting location would be more secluded and private secret spot, what mattered is that we were able to experience the northern lights.
We returned to our hotel after 11 p.m. and took a long warm shower to get the feeling back to our extremities; cranked the heating up in the room, and fell asleep.