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The Northern Lights in Kiruna: Self-Guided Or Joining A Tour?

Are you planning a trip to see the Northern Lights in Kiruna? That’s amazing! We loved our trip to Swedish Lapland in the winter, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Kiruna is the biggest city in Swedish Lapland. With about 20,000 inhabitants it is not that big, but large enough to offer all the amenities that come with a typical city. The city also has a wide range of accommodation options, from classic hotels to vacation homes and some camps at its borders.

However, the city remains small-scale and you only have to drive 15 minutes in either direction to be surrounded by nature.

By staying in Kiruna you have the advantage of the comfort of the city and the proximity to the beautiful nature of Lapland.

Kiruna is located 90 miles north of the Arctic circle and is therefore also a great place to spot the Aurora.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about seeing the Northern Lights in Kiruna.

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In A Hurry? Here Is The Most Important Information About Seeing The Northern Lights In Kiruna

Seeing the Northern Lights in Kiruna was a highlight of our trip.

What Are The Northern Lights?

The original inhabitants of Lapland were scared of a strange phenomenon they saw in the sky, and attributed it to a sort of holy experience.

They didn’t know what it was doing there, the only thing they could do was stand back, watch, and prey.

Thanks to research, we now have scientific theories that explain the mysterious phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis.

The sun is the source of this phenomenon. Gas molecules escape, and collide, and when they do there is a chance for protons and electrons to get pulled out. That is when they will likely be picked up by the solar winds and blown towards the earth.

They take roughly 3 days to reach Earth from the Sun. As they get closer, they will get pulled towards either of the magnetic North or South Poles by our planet’s magnetic field. Hence, the Aurora can only be seen in the North and South Pole regions.

The Aurora is known as the Aurora Borealis at the North Pole, and the Aurora Australis in the south.

The colors we see dancing in the sky are produced when the particles enter the earth’s atmosphere. The most common color is green which is caused by oxygen particles 60 miles above the earth.

The aurora can also come in other colors such as blue, purple, or red. These are much rarer, you should consider yourself very lucky if you see them.

Variations in colors occur when particles are formed at different altitudes or when they are composed of a material other than oxygen.

Northern Lights in Kiruna
The magical Northern Lights

What Is The Best Time To See The Northern Lights In Kiruna

The Northern Lights can best be seen during the winter. It’s best to head over to Kiruna somewhere between September and mid-April.

The days shorten and lengthen very quickly in Kiruna.

At the beginning of this period, the days are still very long, but in the middle of winter, the sun no longer rises.

The most popular months are February and March and to a lesser extent January.

Here’s what you can expect in the various months.

September – Oktober – November

September is not a good month to see the Aurora. The short nights make it hard to spot the lights.

At the start of the month, there is no real darkness, just twilight during the night. It’s therefore very hard, if not impossible, to spot the Aurora.

Later during the month, there are real sunsets and sunrises but nights are still very short. You can of course pull an all-nighter but you make it much easier on yourself if you wait a few more weeks until the nights have become longer.

Starting from October you can enjoy almost a full 7 hours of complete darkness. This quickly grows to over 12 hours by the end of November.

This makes October and November good months with a good mix of daylight and dark hours. As much as the lakes are starting to freeze over, some spots still have open water which allows for dazzling pictures of the aurora reflecting off of its surface.

In addition, you can enjoy the beautiful autumn colors during the day.

December – January

You don’t see the sun in Kiruna in December. It only gets a little bright between 10 AM and 2 PM. Around 2 PM the sky turns blue, a phenomenon that the residents call the “blue hour”.

Visiting Kiruna during this month of complete darkness can be a truly magical experience!

There’s a drawback though, the lack of daylight makes it less ideal for daytime activities.

In January days again start to lengthen. This is probably better if you want to enjoy some other activities on your trip.

February – March

February and March, especially the first weeks of the month, are good periods because the days are again somewhat longer and offer plenty of time for exciting daytime activities.

At the same time, there is still a long period of darkness which means you can go exploring at night to see the Northern Lights.

The Northern Lights

Aurora Forecast Kiruna

Fortunately, you don’t have to get a stiff neck from waiting for the aurora.

The solar activity is monitored with a satellite. Initially only for scientific research, however, all the figures that are collected can also be found in Aurora apps.

You also don’t have to be a scientist to understand the data.

The apps analyze the data and predict how well the aurora is currently visible, as well as during the coming hours and days.

We installed several apps on our phones and finally settled on the “Aurora app”. (Google Play – Apple Store)

The Aurora App

The Aurora App shows the current KP index for your location.

In the app, you can give permission to use your current location or you can enter your location yourself.

Once you’ve set it to your current location you will get the Northern Lights forecast for Kiruna Sweden.

The KP index represents the geomagnetic activity. A higher number indicates that there’s more activity. More activity means that the chances to see the Aurora should be better.

To see the aurora in Kiruna you need a KP index of 3 or higher. The higher the number becomes, the further you can see it from the earth’s poles.

The app automatically calculates your viewing opportunity and also gives an indication of the cloud cover.

In addition to that, it also shows the expected values for the coming hours and days.

Next to that, the app shows the speed and the density of the solar wind.

More speed is typically better. The density shows the number of particles per cubic centimeter the solar wind is carrying.

Here again, you want to see a high number to increase your chances of spotting the Aurora.

Underneath the speed and density, you find the BZ and BT values.

BZ is the solar wind direction and should ideally be a negative value, the more negative the better.

The BT value shows the solar wind strength, a high number means that the solar wind is strong, increasing your chances of seeing a beautiful aurora.

Lastly, there are some satellite images showing the solar flares.

So, for good chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you want:

  • A high KP-index
  • No, or very few clouds,
  • A high solar wind speed
  • A high solar wind density
  • A negative BZ-value
  • A high BT-value

With all the above data you can also create your own aurora forecasts. Knowing that the data is coming from the ACE satellite which is 1.5 million kilometers away from our planet you can use the solar wind speed to calculate when the wind will reach our planet.

Let’s assume that the solar wind is traveling at 500 km/sec:

1500000 (satellite distance) /500 (speed) / 60 (seconds in a minute) = 50 minutes

In the above example, the wind will reach our planet in 50 minutes.

Looking at these graphs, it can be seen that the wind speed as well as other aspects tend to fluctuate from hour to hour.

The long-term forecast is therefore not very reliable. To get the best chance at seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to check this app on a regular basis.

The Northern Lights in Camp Alta Kiruna
Northern Lights above the sauna of Camp Alta Kiruna

Where Can I See The Northern Lights in Kiruna?

The fact that Kiruna is a full-fledged town with bars, shops, and restaurants has its advantages, but it also has one disadvantage.

The light pollution makes it more difficult to see the Northern Lights.

This means that the best place to see the Northern Lights in Kiruna is not to be found in the city itself but rather someplace a little away from the city lights.

It is of course possible, but the lights will need to be brighter, meaning a higher KP index, before you see them because of all the lights around you.

You may be able to see them when you’re staring out of your hotel room but if you’re really serious about spotting the Aurora it’s best to take some additional actions to increase your chances.

Here’s what you can do.

The Northern Lights in Camp Alta Kiruna
The Northern Lights seen from Camp Alta Kiruna

Seeing The Aurora Self-Guided

If you do want to see the Northern Lights from your hotel room you can book a hotel a little outside Kiruna.

Kiruna is not such a big city that the city lights can be seen from miles away.

Kiruna Hotels To Spot The Northern Lights

Here we list the best hotels in Kiruna for seeing the Northern Lights.

Camp Alta Kiruna

We stayed in Camp Alta Kiruna, a northern light camp in Kiruna, about 15 minutes by car from the city. This is a beautiful camp located at the edge of a lake and completely surrounded by nature.

We saw the Northern Lights there on our second night.

Camp Alta Kiruna is a great place to stay with rustic accommodations, some with private bathrooms, most have shared bathrooms.

We stayed in one of their small cottages that sleep 2, they also have private houses that can sleep up to 15 people. It’s typically the larger houses that have their own bathrooms.

All guests can use the typical wooden sauna. The camp also has a communal kitchen but provides no breakfast.

Check prices and availability:
Booking.com

The icehotel in Kiruna
An ice sculpture in one of the rooms of the ice hotel
The Icehotel

The famous ice hotel is located in the same area as Camp Alta Kiruna.

We visited the Icehotel but haven’t stayed there. Based on the location I would say that it should be just as easy to see the Northern Lights there.

The ice hotel has cold and warm rooms, the cold rooms are the ones carved in ice, and the warm rooms are traditional hotel rooms.

The ice rooms are redesigned each year by international artists and every room is unique.

You don’t have to sleep in these rooms to see them.

You can also view the rooms as a guest by paying an entrance fee.

If you’re staying in the warm rooms of the hotel you can visit them for free.

Since the Icehotel is also outside of Kiruna, this is a great place to spot the Northern Lights in Kiruna.

Check prices and availability:
Booking.com

Máttaráhkká Northern Light Lodge

Another suggestion is Máttaráhkká Northern Light Lodge.

This northern light camp is located 5 kilometers north of Kiruna and gets excellent reviews.

The lodge has 7 rustic 2-person bungalows each with its own bathroom.

There’s also a sauna, hot tub, and a communal reception area with a fireplace where you can socialize with the other guests.

Check prices and availability:
Booking.com

If you’re staying at one of these hotels you will probably want a rental car to explore the area and head into town for meals or to do grocery shopping. Here you can read everything about driving in Sweden in winter. 

Camp Ripan

We also stayed in Camp Ripan, which we have to say has a rather misleading name now that we have been to the place.

Located on the outskirts of Kiruna, it offers a view of the city’s skyscrapers.

There’s definitely a lot of light pollution with the apartment buildings towering over the vacation homes.

The hotel is very popular and was very busy when we were there but we wouldn’t recommend it for seeing the Northern Lights for this reason.

If you want to stay in the city, we recommend taking a rental car so that you can drive to a quiet place a little outside the city from where you can spot the Aurora.

Check prices and availability:
Booking.com

If you don’t want to drive yourself after dark you can also join a Kiruna Northern Lights tour.

Several tours include a pick-up and others depart from a central location in the city.

One of the ice sculptures of the yearly Kiruna snow festival

Joining A Kiruna Northern Lights Tour

The alternative to going out on your own is to join a tour.

These tours have some advantages but are not cheap.

Benefits of Joining A Guided Tour

We’ll list the benefits below so you can decide if a tour is right for you.

You Don’t Need To Have a Rental Car

You don’t need a rental car and you don’t need to drive after dark.

Arguably a rental car will give you more flexibility and will allow you to go explore other places.

Still, if you’re here to see the Northern Lights then you don’t need one if you join these tours.

You Don’t Need To Look For A Quiet Location Yourself

You don’t have to look for quiet locations yourself. After all, it is not always so easy to find your way around a new destination.

It’s not that there are that many roads.

What makes it difficult is that the roads outside the city are not lit.

As a result, small side roads do not stand out, you’ll be past them before you know it. I also don’t recommend stopping at night on any of the main roads.

There is quite a bit of freight traffic at night on the E10 and by stopping there you are taking unnecessary risks.

The tours usually take you to a location with a tent or cabin where you can warm up while waiting for the Aurora to appear.

This makes it slightly more comfortable than just waiting in the car.

You Get Warm Clothing

Most tours also provide an extra layer of warm clothing that you can put on over your existing clothes.

We put these on over our own ski suits, and even though we felt a bit like Michelin men, it wasn’t that we were overly hot.

You spend a lot of time outside, in the cold, just waiting for the lights to appear, warm clothes are therefore a necessity.

You Can Combine Spotting The Northern Lights With A Snowmobile And Or Dog-Sledding Tour

Lastly, we have also included a snowmobile and or dog-sledding tour.

Doing your hunt for the Aurora on a snowmobile or with a dog-sled can only make it more epic.

And this is of course something that you cannot do on your own.

Admiring the Northern Lights

How Much Does It Cost To See The Northern Lights In Kiruna?

We already said that the tours are not cheap.

Count on a ticket price of between 120€ and 250€ depending on the tour and the time of year.

The two most expensive tours have dinner included.

Seeing The Northern Lights On A Budget

If you think that the tours are not worth it then here’s how to see the Northern Lights in Kiruna on a budget.

Start by installing the Aurora app that we mentioned earlier in this article.

The app can send a notification if there is a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights, but we recommend that you regularly check the app anyway.

Ideally, you have a car and you can explore the area during the day looking for some nice places to drive to at night.

We would recommend driving towards Jukkasjärvi or Nikkaluokta.

Watch out for wildlife when driving to Nikkaluokta, moose are often spotted along this road.

There’s no need to drive all the way to Nikkaluokta, this is a quiet road where you can stop in one of the parkings along the way.

If you don’t have a car you can ask your hotel for some spots within walking distance of the hotel.

We recommend bringing a headlamp if you will be hiking after dark.

Lastly, be patient and reserve several nights in your planning.

They say that you have an 80% chance of seeing the Northern Lights if you go out for 3 nights.

Kiruna Northern Light tours

Here’s an overview of the best Northern Lights tours in Kiruna.

Hunt for the Northern Lights in Kiruna – Abisko

This is a small group tour that leaves from downtown Kiruna.

The meeting point is at their office at the square where you also find the tourist information and where tours for the LKAB mine leave as well.

A pick-up from your hotel is possible for an additional fee.

If you go to their office they will provide you with winter suits, boots, gloves, and a warm hat.

From there you will drive northwards, towards the Abisko National Park, in search of the aurora.

The tour lasts approximately 4 hours and ends back at the office.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Small Group Tour

Dinner in the Tipi tent (The Longest Northern Lights tour in Kiruna with dinner)

The Longest Northern Lights tour in Kiruna with Dinner

This is one of the Northern Lights tours we did.

This tour picks up guests from several locations in Kiruna from where you will drive to Abisko. We joined it in Abisko.

You start with a traditional BBQ reindeer meal before you go hunt for the Aurora in a mini-van.

Warm clothes are provided but we found the quality of the snowsuit and boots to be subpar compared with what we got during other tours.

We spend about 2 hours on the first part of the tour, the dinner and putting on the warm clothes.

So, even though this tour claims to be the longest, the actual part you spend chasing the Aurora is more or less in line with the other tours.

Check prices and availability:

Viator

GetYourGuide

Or read our full review of the tour.

The Stejk food truck

Aurora Borealis Tour Kiruna – Abisko with local Street Food

This tour starts at the Stejk Street Food stand.

The tour operator does not offer pick-ups but can drop you off at your hotel at the end of the tour.

The tour starts with dinner in the cozy Tipi tent of the street food vendor.

We can absolutely recommend Stejk, we didn’t do this tour but stopped there one evening ourselves.

Their moose and reindeer sandwiches are a delight.

After your meal, you will board a van and your guide will set course towards the Abisko National Park in a quest to find the Northern Lights.

This tour lasts around 5 to 6 hours, including the dinner.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Tour With Dinner

Snowmobile Banff Golden Canada
Kris riding a snowmobile in Canada

Northern Lights Snowmobile Tour with Dinner

During this tour, you will look for the Northern Lights on a modern snowmobile.

Riding a snowmobile is not only fun, it also means that you can go to remote places that you can’t reach with a car.

The tour will take you deep into Lapland’s winter wonderland.

Somewhere halfway through the snowmobile tour, the guide will make a fire and you will take a break to have dinner and enjoy some other delicacies.

Pick-up from your hotel in Kiruna is included.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Snowmobile Tour with Dinner

Dog Sledding & Northern Lights Tour

A dog sled tour is a common bucket list item, imagine doing one underneath the magical Northern Lights. It’s absolutely possible in Kiruna!

Your sled will be pulled by 12 cute Alaskan Huskies. These dogs just love to run! Your tour will take you through the Taiga forest to a rustic cabin where you can enjoy a traditional Fika break.

On the way back there will be more frozen rivers, snow-covered trees, and hopefully also the Aurora.

Hotel transfers from Kiruna and the Jukkasjärvi region are free.

Check prices and availability:
Dog Sledding & Northern Lights Tour

Or read our full post on the best Northern Lights tours in Kiruna.

The church is a must-see when in Kiruna
Kiruna’s church

Is a Northern Light tour in Kiruna worth it?

A guided tour can improve your Northern Lights adventure by giving you background information about the phenomenon so that you get a full understanding of what you’re seeing.

In addition, they can make your experience more enjoyable and comfortable. It’s only a matter of picking the right tour for you.

Regular Northern Lights tours, where you will chase the Aurora in a mini-van, are the closest to what you can do on your own.

They have the benefit that you don’t need to rent a car and don’t need to worry about finding a good spot on your own.

Sometimes the tours take you to places that you probably wouldn’t find yourself.

However, if you have a car, you could consider going out on your own.

One thing to keep in mind is that the tours sell out several days in advance.

If you first go out on your own but don’t like it, you probably can’t book a tour for the next day or the one after that.

If you’re a little more adventurous we absolutely recommend the Snowmobile tour.

You will definitely get a kick out of driving that roaring snowmobile. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get to see the Aurora, you still did this epic nightly snowmobile excursion.

Couples can each drive their own snowmobile, one person can sit in the back, or you can take turns driving.

Another way to combine two epic activities is by doing the Aurora dog sledding tour.

You never know if you’re going to see the Northern Lights, but you’re sure to be in the adorable company of these beautiful Alaskan huskies.

Another picture of Camp Alta Kiruna with the beautiful Northern Lights

FAQ You May Have About Seeing The Northern Lights In Kiruna

What is The Chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Kiruna

Kiruna is located North of the Arctic Circle which puts it in a good location to see the Northern Lights

Sightings are of course never guaranteed.

We saw them on our second night but after that, we never saw them again. On days with clear skies, there was no activity and it was very often completely cloudy.

Here are a few tips to improve your chances of seeing the Aurora:

  • Use an app to regularly monitor the Aurora activity
  • Provide enough days, they say if you can hunt the Northern Lights for 3 days it will increase your chances of seeing them up to 80%
  • Book a rental car so that you can drive further away from Kiruna (or book a tour). The further away from the city, the less light pollution there will be, and the easier it will be to spot the Northern Lights
  • Head to Abisko, an hour’s drive from Kiruna, the tours do this as well. Abisko is known for the blue hole. The small town has more clear days than Kiruna which means you may be able so see the lights there when it’s completely cloudy in Kiruna.
Abisko Mountain Lodge
The Abisko Mountain Lodge, one of the few lodges in Abisko

Abisko or Kiruna for Northern Lights

We stayed a few nights in both Kiruna and Abisko.

Despite the fact that Abisko is known for the Northern Lights, ironically we saw them in Kiruna and not in Abisko.

Probably just bad luck because all tours in Kiruna take their guests to Abisko, they must do this for a reason.

If you’re going to join Northern Lights tours you are better to look for accommodation in Abisko, this will save you 2 hours driving during each tour. (1 hour out, 1 hour back)

Abisko has some additional benefits as well.

Being a very small town you can just step out of your hotel to see the lights, there’s hardly any light pollution.

For the best experience, it may still be better to head out a little further but the setting is very different from Kiruna.

And that also applies to your stay as a whole. Staying in such a small village in the middle of nature is a unique experience.

There’s one catch though, there’re only very few hotels so you need to book your accommodation long in advance.

Read more about Abisko here, including 19 incredible winter activities you can do in the town.

Conclusion

Kiruna is a fantastic winter destination. It’s a good place to see the Northern Lights and you can enjoy many other great outdoor winter activities.

There’s the impressive LKAB mine, you can go moose spotting, or try your luck at ice fishing.

Thanks to the many daily flights between Kiruna and Stockholm it’s a very accessible place in beautiful Swedish Lapland.

Enjoy your trip to this winter wonderland!

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