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When the Northern Lights Dance in Stockholm

When I moved to Stockholm, one of the many things I was looking forward to was seeing the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights. To do that, it’s usually necessary to head north – which is saying something because the latitude of Stockholm (59°33′ N) is pretty far up already.

A roughly 15-hour car ride (or overnight train ride) from here will bring you within the Arctic Circle (66°30′ N) and to a handful of famous places for spotting the northern lights in Swedish Lapland. I made the trip last winter and can confirm that Abisko National Park (68°33′ N) lives up to the hype.

My week-long trip included some ice skating on frozen lakes, winter hiking, attending zoom class, and of course, chasing aurora. Even with mild forecasts and some clouds, my friends and I got lucky and saw some incredible green and yellow aurora. Watching the vertical sheaths of light ripple across the sky is, to this day, one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Whereas (for example) a rainbow is static, the northern lights are dynamic, and I think that’s what makes them so ethereal.

Pictures don’t do it justice, but here’s a view from Riksgränsen, Sweden:

A view of the northern lights in Riksgränsen, Sweden.
Riksgränsen, Sweden 2021

Part of the magic of the northern lights is that there’s a good deal of luck involved in actually seeing them. You can go as far north as possible, and it can be too cloudy. You can go during prime season (September – April), and still get unlucky with the global geomagnetic conditions. But other times, you can be sitting at home in Stockholm and have the greatest luck of all… 

Last week, quite literally out of nowhere, I ended a call with my sister to find a flurry of messages about the northern lights being visible in Stockholm. I immediately turned off all the lights in the apartment and opened my window blinds to see this over the treetops of Norra Djurgården: 

A view of the northern lights in Stockholm, from my very own window.
Stockholm, Sweden 2022

Later, a Swedish friend told me it’s pretty rare to see the northern lights from Stockholm. This far south, the geomagnetic conditions are supposedly prime about one night per year. But, timing and local weather conditions make the reality of seeing the lights more of a one-in-five year opportunity. 

If you’re planning to study in Sweden or visit someday, be sure to chase some aurora while you’re here. A little tip – there are several aurora forecast apps you can use to keep an eye on the conditions. As for the rest, I’ll be crossing my fingers for you.

// Claire