Choosing Sweden over Iceland
Sweden. I’ve always wanted to travel there in the back of my mind, stemming from a love of professional ice hockey in my early teenage years, with several of my favorite NHL players hailing from Sweden. I even had several pen pals for a few years from Sweden (does anyone even know what a pen pal is anymore?), writing frequently and sending each other samples of candies and treats from our home countries. But I never actually had it in the forefront of my mind to plan a trip there.
Flash forward to October 2017, when I walked away from my successful career in an attempt to “find myself”, and looking for a trip to photograph the Northern Lights.
Nowadays, when you mention the Northern Lights, most people imagine traveling to Iceland. In fact, when I told people about my trip, they asked, “why aren’t you going to Iceland?” Iceland has become quite popular with Americans in the last few years, with tons of Instagram feeds showing off its beauty, and very cheap airfares on several low cost carriers.
EVERYONE goes to Iceland, and that is exactly why I chose Sweden. I don’t want to have the same photographs as everyone else, and feel like I am surrounded by tourists everywhere I go. I also read that northern Sweden is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights.
With the terrain surrounding the arctic town of Abisko creating a “blue hole” of clear skies and good weather above, it is a perfect viewing spot for the aurora borealis. Coupled with my fascination with Sweden, this made it a given for me to arrange for my arctic adventure vacation.
I hate the cold, but when I arrived in the arctic north of Sweden, I fell in love. The landscape was covered in a pure white, powdery snow, even the roadways! No black, dirty snow like you see on the East Coast of the U.S. after the roads have been salted and begin to melt. As my trip was in early December, the towns of Kiruna and Abisko were decorated for Christmas, with advent stars hanging in nearly every window, making it feel like I had arrived in Santa’s North Pole! It was absolutely freezing, but the beautiful landscape and Northern Lights shows in the evenings made it very easy to forget how cold it was.
I even got to take day trips to the Ice Hotel and Norway, which were equally magical winter wonderlands.
Stockholm and history
After four days in the Swedish Lapland, I took a two-hour flight to Stockholm, where I took in the sights for a few more days before returning home. Stockholm did not disappoint as well.
Museums highlighting Viking and ABBA music history, restaurants where locals dine outside despite the cold, a royal family, and rich history make it a great travel and photography destination. I enjoyed my time strolling through the Old Town, eating Swedish meatballs, and just absorbing the Scandinavian city.
I now classify my trip to Sweden as one of my favorite vacations and destinations of my life, probably coming in a close second to Africa. I feel like the Arctic Circle is still quite exotic, and many people still haven’t discovered the beauty of this part of the country. A month later, and I still am dreaming of snowy landscapes and the polar night, and of course, the spectacular dance of the Northern Lights. I can’t wait to go back.
Michelle Kenyon lives in San Francisco, California, USA, and has spent 20+ years working healthcare in the specialty of radiation oncology. She spent the majority of her career as a healthcare executive in both community and academic medical centers. She lives with her boyfriend and two cats, and enjoys travel, spinning classes, and wine, and is currently focusing on turning her passion for photography into a career.