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The Northern Lights Apartments: A Home Away From Home

I don’t think I would have enjoyed my trip north of the Arctic Circle nearly as much if I hadn’t picked such a great place to stay. The Northern Lights Apartments, located about 500m down the road from the main town of Porjus, were a little oasis in an otherwise rather inhospitable environment. Their owner, Patricia, was an absolute delight and one of the most helpful and friendly people I’ve met in my travels.

The Northern Lights Apartments & The Station House

The apartments and the station house looking very much like an oasis in the snow.

My trip was hastily planned as part of a last-minute work-related trip to Lapland (and for those that are curious, my work took me to Lapland because that’s where a company we work with — the guys who make TinyMCE — are based). I thought I had all of the logistics planned, but I thought wrong. Had Patricia not warned me of a two key things via email, my trip could have been disastrous.

The Northern Lights Apartments

The apartments, as seen at around 11.30pm when I ran outside thinking the northern lights had finally come out.

I had looked at the train information on the Northern Lights Apartments website, which said to get off at Gällivare and that further arrangements could be organised from there. So, assuming that Gällivare was the closest town serviced by buses as well (and completely missing that the website had a bus information page as well), I booked a bus ticket from Skellefteå to Gällivare via Luleå. Had Patricia not pointed out that Porjus was actually on that bus line, I might have gone through town and continued on the bus for 45 more minutes. Instead, Patricia and her husband Lars picked me up at the bus stop and it saved everyone a lot of hassle.

Candles in the Window

The candles that are a fixture in Swedish windows over Christmas. These were in my kitchen.

It would have been a lot more hassle for me had Patricia not sent me an email a few days before my arrival telling me that there would be nowhere to buy food in Porjus on the day after my arrival due to a public holiday. I had no idea that Sweden celebrated the Epiphany (Twelfth Night) holiday, and as I was flying in from Heathrow, I would have had next to no food to tide me over for the day. Instead, I was able to give Patricia a short list and arrived to a kitchen already stocked with food.

Having food in the fridge wasn’t the only thing that made the apartment feel like a home away from home. The whole place felt lived-in and vibrantly colourful (which was a stark contrast to outside, which seemed to be a wall of white). I loved the fact that Patricia’s own photos of the northern lights hung on the walls. Those photos really helped to motivate me when I was crawling out of bed at 4am to see if the clouds had parted to let the aurora through (which they never did — I only saw a brief green flash on my last night).

Webcam view at 11.30pm - Flash of green

See that flash of green? I saw that from the window, so I piled on my gear as quickly as possible and ran outside. Sadly, that was all I saw. Photo courtesy of uk.jokkmokk.jp.

My apartment was one of four apartments, which were set slightly apart from the old Porjus station house (where Patricia and her family live). The station house also houses the Arctic Colour Gallery, which showcases the fantastic photos that Patricia has taken in her 15 years in Porjus. I was very impressed by her wide array of old cameras on display there and spent quite a long time looking at them!

Porjus Station House

Porjus station house.

Even though I had booked in for a shared apartment, for 550 SEK, I got the entire “Middnatsol” (Midnight Sun) apartment to myself. The bedroom had two beds, a wardrobe (complete with hi-vis vest for walking on the main road into town), a table & chair, and importantly, a heater that kept the room lovely and warm at night.

Bedroom at the Northern Lights Apartments

My bedroom at the Northern Lights Apartments. The visible bed isn't made up because I was the only one staying in the room.

Next to the bedroom was a lounge room with plenty of room for a group to sit at the windows and gaze at the snowy landscape outside. This was one of the reasons I had chosen Porjus for my northern lights getaway — because the windows face roughly to the west, I could sit inside and watch for the aurora (craning my neck around to see the north as well) before getting all kitted out and venturing outside. The lounge room also had a TV & DVD player that came in quite handy on my second day there; because it had gotten dark and was snowing heavily, I stayed inside and watched The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, which I’d chosen from Patricia’s extensive DVD collection kept in the station house.

Lounge room at the Northern Lights Apartments

A bit of mood lighting in the lounge room.

Surprisingly, there was also a laptop set up on one of the tables, ready to connect to Arctic Colour’s wireless network. I’d gone up there anticipating being completely disconnected from the world and was disappointed at first that this wasn’t going to be the case.

However, I ended up being very happy that I had internet access. Not only did it mean I could Skype with my family (and give them video tours of the apartment and the snow-caked porch), but I could also watch the many webcams set up around the station house. This meant that I could watch in all directions at once to make sure I wasn’t missing the lights by staying inside (although I still laced up the boots about once an hour to venture outside and make sure the webcams weren’t lying). Plus, while I was sleeping, my mom could call me if she saw the webcams start to light up!

The view from the kitchen

The view from the kitchen window. Yes, that's a Norwegian flag, but I was definitely in Sweden!

While one of the main draws of staying in Porjus was just seeing such a foreign environment, it certainly wasn’t the only thing to do. Of course, this is if you feel like getting up during the day after all-night vigils for the northern lights. One night, I was lucky enough to have neighbours from Brisbane (what are the chances?) to sit up and chat with, but on the other nights I stayed up as late as I could and set alarms for every hour I was sleeping so I could get up and check.

On my first full day there — a day marked by 3 hours of sunlight — I went for a walk around town and was initially searching for the forest walk that goes to the town’s ski hill. I ended up being perfectly content crunching through the unplowed streets looking at the lit up, bright red houses.

In Porjus

A typical winter scene in the town of Porjus.

On my other full day, I went on a dogsledding trip in Jokkmokk that was the highlight of my trip. Had I not done this (and had my adventures at the bus stop in Jokkmokk resulted in me fracturing my tibia), I could have gone out on a snowmobile with Patricia’s son or tried my hand at cross-country skiing.

Patricia was incredibly helpful with my injury — when I limped over to the station house, she was genuinely sad to hear that I hadn’t called her to ask for a ride from town. She then made sure I had plenty of ice packs to alternate with my heat pack to help keep the swelling down. The next morning, Lars helped me with all my gear and drove me into town (not that they would make anyone drag their suitcase through the snow all the way to the bus stop!). Days later, I even received an email from Patricia wondering how my injury was going.


The clouds finally cleared...as I was leaving!

This is probably the longest accommodation review I’ve ever written, but I really can’t write enough about what a wonderful time I had in Porjus and how truly welcomed I felt there. Even though I didn’t get to see the northern lights, I felt like the trip was a success, and I’m hoping to visit again next year for another attempt!

The Northern Lights Apartments are located at the Porjus station house, just outside of Porjus on Strömgatan (E45). Trains and flights are available from Stockholm to Gällivare, 45 minutes away by bus. Buses run direct from Gällivare and Luleå daily. There are four apartments available, ranging from 550 SEK/night for a shared apartment to 990 SEK/night for the largest apartment. Patricia can be contacted through their website

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