Thoughts on the best place to make our hub during a week in the Arctic Circle at the end of December? We plan to take the night train from Stockholm up there and will likely fly back for the return. Seems like there are more options for places to stay in Kiruna, but Abisko seems really cool and we would like to spend a bit of time in Norway. Narvik is closer, but would it be worth it to make the trek to Tromsø for a day or two? We are open to splitting the time between several cities/hotels, if that makes more sense. Planning to rent a car - is AWD necessary in December? We are hoping to see the northern lights, but also interested in other winter activities - skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, etc. Would also love to see and learn about Sami culture, if there is a recommendation for a specific area to visit.
Splitting your time is probably a good idea, distances are long in the north and travel is often slow. Kiruna is a great base with many things to do, and an easy day trip to the Ice Hotel (if you don't want to stay there). Abisko is on the other hand a great place for seeing the Northern lights, but it is in the middle of nowhere. It is a small village, and if you are staying at the tourist station (which you should in my opinion) you are 2 km outside the village. But a great place to see the Lights, and there are a good selection of other winter activites as well. Skiing is done everywhere, are you looking for downhill or cross country?
For Sami culture, the Sami museum in Jokkmokk (https://www.ajtte.com/english/) is a good place to visit. Regarding Norway, visiting Narvik is a good idea. And if you have the time, a trek to Tromsø is also worth it. In the end it also depends on how much time you have and what you want to do.
Regarding driving, AWD is not needed in December, but good winter tyres are. Which any car rented in the area will have. But renting a car for the week is also not needed, there is public transport in the area. Although renting a car for a day or two can be useful. It is also important to remember to have a bit of slack in your plans as bad weather can impact your travel plans.
Thanks, Badger, that is helpful! It sounds like staying in Kiruna or Abisko for a few days and then heading to Narvik/Tromsø for a few might be the best bet. Good to know about winter tires being available on rentals. When you say public transport in the area, do you mean only between towns, or within towns? I had the impression that the area was quite remote and it would be difficult to get around without a car, especially if we want to take day trips outside cities. Any other recommendations about places to go with in a day trip's time? It would be fun to see a bit of Finland also (saunas!), but not sure if it makes sense logistically in a week's time.
Is there much to do/see in and around Jokkmokk other than the museum? I've heard about the Sami markets there, but I believe that is in February usually.
As far as skiing, we do both Nordic and Alpine, but probably would be leaning more Nordic, so glad to know that we can do that anywhere.
That is not a bad idea. It might also be a good idea to spend some nights in Kiruna and some in Abisko, depending on what you want to see and do. It is a very remote area and travelling from one place to another takes time. But public transportation is available both between towns and within some of the larger towns (those who are large enough for everything to not be withing walking distance). For day trips outside the city, it depends on where you want to go. For some places a car is good idea, but for other the bus is a better option. If you only have a week, you should probably skip Finland, but if you just want a sauna they are common in Norway and Sweden as well.
Regarding Jokkmokk the market is famous and worth a visit, but takes place in February. Apart from the museum it is also not a bad place to look for modern sami and northern handicraft. For skiing, cross country is done everywhere in the winter in Sweden and Norway, it is a very popular sport. Alpine skiing is also done a lot so there should not be a problem as well. The same if you want to try ski touring.
Excellent, thank you, Badger!