If you are one of those people who don’t like destinies just because it is cold there, please stop reading (no just kidding… a bit). But to be fair: If your kind of vacation includes pools, beaches and pina coladas, then you probably shouldn’t waste the time reading on, unless of course you’re as curious as I am and are therefore ready to try something new.
So yea, Kiruna is kind of cool considering its location. Never underestimate distances in Sweden and Norway! The domestic flight from Stockholm to Kiruna took longer than the flight from Hamburg to Stockholm. Kiruna is considered the northernmost town in Sweden and is lies just a bit north of the polar circle. That is the boarder at which one can experience at least one day of total darkness and respectively one whole day of “sun”.
The temperature in October, November, March and April, which are the optimal months to go to Kiruna for obvious reasons explained soon, is about -5 °C on average (23F for silly people). It will be dry, so all you need is maybe two layers for your legs and 3 layers including a good jacket for your upper body.
Getting there is pretty much only possible by plane, with a 90 min flight from Stockholm. About two planes a day arrive and leave in Kiruna. When I went there in 2015 I flew in a propeller plane. So definitely get the right seat and take your camera, you wouldn’t want to miss out on these kind of photos.
If you have no Idea what is going on here, you should learn something about the Rolling-shutter-effect before moving on.
Now I must admit I have been a bad storyteller and have been blabbering about this cold place in the middle of nowhere. So why would you even go there?
Polar lights, aurora borealis (opposed to aurora australis at the south pole), appear due to charged particles erupted by the sun hitting our atmosphere. They excite atoms as high up as 150 km (93 miles) creating lights that can be seen by the human eye from below. These wonders of nature are strongest in the months I mentioned above. If this hand waving explanation isn’t enough (and it shouldn’t be), check out my in-depth explanation on polar lights.
Before I had gone to Kiruna I had never taken more than a handful of photos for myself. I used to believe special moment in life shouldn’t be perceived trough a lens but through our naked eye, and I still believe this. But polar lights are actually slow enough to do both!
It is surely not the easiest object to start taking photography serious as a hobby but if you’re fascinated by natures beauty, then you can use that as a stepping stone for photography. If you’re already into photography but have never played around with night-time photos, then you should definitely do that! All you need is a decent reflex camera, optimally with a good light-sensitive chip, a tripod and a shutter release cable (so you don’t move the cam as you start the exposure), then you’re ready to play around with ISO, aperture width and exposure time. As a last notice, always try to integrate some ground into your picture. Our stupid brains need a reference point otherwise no one will know what they are looking at.
This picture has just a “small” strip aurora and yet several people have asked me if they could use it for their purpose in magazines. So obviously it isn’t only about getting many bright lights into your camera. (Nice brag I snuck in back there, huh?).
Fortunately for us Kiruna has a lot to offer when it’s too bright for polar lights:
The “Institutet för rymdfysik” (don’t just skip that word, try to pronounce it!), the Swedish institute for Space Physics, has its headquarters is Kiruna. They can display a wide range of research subjects from Polar Atmospheric to Solar Terrestrial Physics and are one of the leading providers of Ion thrusters! Actually if you’re looking into doing your SpaceMaster here would be a great place to study. I mean come on, that’s almost as good as Master of Disaster.
Moving on to the next space related topic. ESRANGE is a scientific rocket range and research center for high altitude balloons and small rockets such and BEXUS and REXUS, which are projects that are only open to university students! The unique part about ESRANGE is, that they can reclaim the rockets with the experiments because they landcrash on a big area north of Kiruna (yes there is even more land up north) instead of crashing into water. Usually they also tell the Russians before they launch a fast rocket into the stratosphere.
Last but not least you should end your trip with a visit to the biggest iron ore mine in the world. The reason why someone would even consider building a town up there in the beginning of the 20th century is, well… iron. Today they extract gigantic amount of ore from deeper than 1300 meters. If you ever wake up at night or are still awake taking nice photos you may experience some tremors due to the explosion in the mine. The iron ore lies under the city of Kiruna if you go deeper. Thus the company running the ore has to pay half the city money to relocate to a safer part of the city, what iron(y)!
So to sum things up, I hope you could see from the few photos how beautiful it is. I would highly recommend going there as an excursion with your university buds (or anything similar). If you love an adventure, a change in climate and are mildly interested in space science and/or nighttime photography, then this is definitely a place to check out!
Warm travels and stay curious!