Lately, the pictures of Northern lights started to appear quite often on my social media. People could see it as far south as Copenhagen or even further. Sweden is however one of the few to-go countries to actually see the strong, colourful, and breathtaking ‘Aurora Borealis!!! If you know where and when to look for it…
Here is your ultimate guide to hunting the spectacular experience – the Northern lights (‘Norrsken’ in Swedish)
Pick the right month
It is most commonly known that solar activity is strongest in September and March. These are the months when the probability to see the aurora is the highest because it is still pretty dark at night and the KP index tends to also be more increased.
Now you start asking yourself: What is the KP index? Is that important?
Short answer, yes. KP index measures disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar activity. Basically, it tells you whether the solar activity is strong enough to generate Northern lights. KP index can range from 1-9 with 9 being the strongest probability to see the lights. You should be aware of the fact that when the KP index is below 3, aurora can only be seen in the more northern parts of Sweden.
To know what KP is in your region currently, I recommend downloading the ‘My Aurora’ app on your phone.
Trusting the KP index is not always the best idea.
If you decide to travel a bit more north to hunt the Northern lights, you should keep in mind that even if the app predicts a low % probability of seeing the Northern lights, it might not always be correct. If you travel far to see it, make sure you put an effort to wait outside and watch out for it. You might get lucky!
Learn to seek out good weather conditions
1. Make sure to check the weather reports, not only for your location but also for other locations nearby. Especially, if there is a lake or a field nearby.
2. Get an app that shows the cloud forecast. I recommend the app called “Windy”. There you can look for locations where the probability of clouds is lower.
3. Dress really warm because the probability of aurora is higher when the weather is cold but you also have to last at the place for a few hours. So make sure you wear several layers to survive.
Finding the right location
How north should you go?
When we started hunting for the aurora, we thought that we need to go as far as Kiruna to see it. We traveled to the very north but we did not get lucky because it was cloudy all the time. Then the next day we saw it on the borders between Sweden and Finland while driving in a car. We stopped and took some photos. When we came home, we also managed to see the aurora in Gothenburg the next day. 😎
The fact is that if you are at the right place at the right time, you might be able to see the Northern lights even in the southern region of Sweden. But if you want to make hunting the Northern lights a fun trip, I recommend flying to Luleå from Stockholm airport. It’s a quick and quite affordable way to get to the north and winters in Luleå are wonderful. There’s a lot to see and experience. We stayed there this winter, read about it more in my post about the Winter trip to Luleå.
It needs to be really dark to see the Northern lights.
Another important thing to consider is that to see the Northern lights (especially if KP is not that hard), you need complete darkness. The more light pollution, the harder to see the lights. The best places to go are usually beaches by the lakes. In winter, you can often even walk on the lakes, but be careful – ice breaks. My current favourite spots are now in Vänersborg and Luleå.
Taking photos of Northern lights
I went to see the Northern lights with my friends. We were able to take a photo of them with iPhones and a camera. See the side-by-side comparison. Of course, the quality of the photo depends on how good the camera is, how strong the light intensity is, and your photo skills.
If you’d like to take the photo with a camera, the top tips are:
– you need a tripod
– long exposure
– wide lens
Best universities to attend if you want to see the Northern lights often during the winter:
- Umeå University
- Luleå University
- Mid Sweden University
Don’t be disappointed if…
- your KP is low and the weather is cloudy – it is fun just to try and look for it with friends
- the aurora you find is not colourful – most colours of aurora are not easily visible to the naked eye but if you use a camera or a better phone, you’ll probably see it more clearly
- you don’t see the aurora on the first try – as a student in Sweden, you’ll have many opportunities