The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, draw thousands of visitors to northern Sweden every year. Despite no guarantee of a sighting of what is without doubt one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena, many choose to make the trip in the hope that the night skies are clear at some point during their visit.
Those of us lucky enough to have seen the aurora will agree that the effort made in trying to secure a sighting is generously rewarded. But having made the trip to what can be a extremely cold part of the world at a time when the sun barely gets above the horizon (if it appears at all), what else is there to do apart from staring at the sky in eager anticipation? Quite a lot, as it happens. Here are a few highlights offered by three of the hotels and lodges in the region.
Around 20 miles north of Luleå, the cosy Pine Bay Lodge is set in dense pine forest and is beside the lovely Furufjärden lake, which freezes quickly in the winter months. There are only a handful of rooms, and guests are offered a range of snow-related activities to make the most of the short hours of daylight. There’s a snowmobile tour over the pack ice, heading through the forest to reach a remote 17th-century fishing village on an island – the trip includes outdoor lunch and the opportunity to try your hand at ice fishing. Another unusual option is a hovercraft ride across the frozen waters of the Gulf of Bothnia; you might even spot sea eagles hunting over the ice.
The quirky pods of the Treehotel make for a highly unusual holiday before you’ve even started, but there are some fascinating options for getting out and about in the surrounding forests. You can spend a day building your own igloo, under the supervision of a local guide. It’s hard work and offers a special insight into the methods used for many generations in building these simple homes in freezing conditions. There’s also a cultural tour which involves spending time with a native Sami who will introduce you to reindeer herding, before serving a traditional Sami lunch. And horse-riding offers yet another way of experiencing the Arctic wilderness.
From the remote and simple Abisko Mountain Station there are plenty of options to make the most of the unique surroundings. The neighbouring Aurora Sky Station has an aurora exhibition as well as a viewing platform designed for ideal aurora spotting. There’s even the option of a 4-course dinner here while waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. And for photographers the mountain station offers several photo tours, from one-day courses which show you how to best capture the aurora and night sky (and how to look after your camera in the extreme cold) to multi-day photography courses.
In addition, most lodges will offer snowshoe excursions, dog sledding tours and of course, Northern Lights tours, although if you’re staying out of the glare of city lights you’ll have a great chance of watching the aurora directly from your accommodation.
The chances of seeing the Northern Lights are higher in northern Sweden than almost anywhere else in the world. But with so many other highly unusual activities on offer, it’s just possible that even the aurora borealis might be upstaged by some of the region’s other highlights.
by Andy Jarosz