Abisko is a tiny remote town in the far north of Sweden close to the Norwegian border and is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
I was in Abisko for four nights and saw the aurora every night. There are plenty of activities you can do while in Abisko other than seeing the northern lights. This guide will cover everything you need to know including the best things to do in Abisko.
- Seeing the Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights
- Getting pulled across the snow by the Lapland huskies
- The passion of the guides and those living in this unique environment
- Climbing frozen waterfalls
- Take a tour (or spend a night there) to the Ice Hotel
- Learning about Sami culture
The high chance of seeing the northern lights is due to Abisko being in a valley surrounded by mountains. This provides Abisko with a microclimate and low levels of cloud cover, and if there are clouds over Abisko you can usually find areas in the valley with clear skies. Once you’re above the arctic circle there is almost always enough solar activity to see the aurora so it’s more about avoiding the clouds and light pollution as opposed to finding the lights. I arrived at 3pm and within an hour there were aurora visible over the town.
I was there during the winter solace meaning there was the least amount of light at any time of the year. During December, the sun doesn’t breach the horizon meaning you only get a few hours of twilight each day. I was surprised though at the amount of light you get, I wasn’t expecting much but at least you get a few hours each day of relative brightness. By 2pm though it’s very dark and by 230 almost pitched black.
I arrived in Abisko from the Ice Hotel near Kiruna, you can read about my experience in the Ice Hotel. As always, I researched about Abisko before going and can share with you all the details you need to plan your trip to Abisko.
Getting To abisko
The most common way of getting to Abisko is by arriving at Kiruna airport and taking a transfer.
Plane: There are flights connecting Kiruna with Stockholm and occasionally Dusseldorf. The flight from Stockholm takes 2 hours and landing on the snowy runway during the twilight is a great experience. Daily flights to and from Stockholm are available on SAS and Norwegian Air. From the airport you’ll need to arrange further transport to Abisko.
Bus: Buses from Kiruna to Abisko are the cheapest option but also the coldest, the bus takes approximately 1.5 hours depending on the weather conditions. You can see the bus timetable here just look for line 91.
Private transfer: The easiest way to get from Kiruna (or the Ice Hotel, Kiruna airport or Narvik) is to arrange a private transfer. Most accommodation options offer transfers but I found the cheapest to be with Abisko Tours which is the same owner as the Abisko Guesthouse. If there’s a few of you sharing the cost, it works out to be not much more than the bus. I paid SEK1650 (US$160) for three people from the Ice Hotel.
Drive: Hiring a car is possible but driving in these conditions can be difficult so if you’re not experienced either take it really easy or get there another way. Sweden even has a license structure that allows you to drive in different levels of road conditions.
Train: There are two train stations in Abisko; Ostra is in Absiko town and Turistation is next to the Turistation which is 2 kilometres from town. The overnight train runs all the way from Stockholm and continues onto Narvik in Norway. Although the train was tempting there is so little light during winter that the journey would be mostly in the dark so you wouldn’t get to enjoy the views.
Things to do in Abisko
Northern Lights Tour
The Aurora Borealis are the main reason people visit Abisko in the winter and there’s a very high chance you’ll see them. Sometimes you can see the lights from Abisko or down by the lake, other times you’ll need to drive out of Abisko to see the lights. But the best chance to see the lights is to go with a tour company that specialises in reading the weather forecasts and driving wherever will give you the best chance to see the lights. There are a few companies offering northern lights tours but from what I researched online the two that stood out were Lights over Lapland and Lights of Vikings. So, I decided to do both.
They’re both similarly priced but Lights of Vikings promote themselves as the longest tour and include dinner. Lights Over Lapland were the original northern lights tour company and offer a tour where they provide you with a camera and a professional photographer so you can take your own photos. Both companies were very easy to deal with but I found the best place to book is through Viator as they offer both tours with better cancellation policy than booking directly with Lights of Vikings or Lights over Lapland.
Onur and Cristina are the owners and guides at Lights of Vikings so you get the special treatment when it’s the owner guiding the tour. They’ve been around for years and prior to Abisko were in Iceland so they ‘re experts at reading the solar forecasts. They pride themselves on driving as far as needed in order to find you the lights and Cristina will take great photos so you don’t need to worry if you’re camera isn’t up to it. They offer a discount for multiple nights and they’ve also opened an accommodation option allowing you to stay in an igloo.
Lights over Lapland offer a few different tours but I chose to do the photo tour so I could take some photos of the aurora myself. The two guides I had were passionate photographers and just as passionate and knowledgeable about the northern lights. Claudio and Miquel read the weather forecast and decide where to go, they also communicate with other groups so that if lights are spotted in another area you can drive there. If you’re worried your own photos won’t be good, you can ask the guide to take some photos of you.
Who doesn’t want to climb frozen waterfalls? If your fitness is up for it, then it’s definitely worth doing an ice climbing tour. The tour lasts a couple of hours and after being picked up from your hotel you’re given pickaxes and cleats and dropped back a few hours later. There are two climbing locations; a road cutting and the canyon, and your guide will pick which one you’ll go to on the day. I went to the road cutting which I was disappointed with as I’d prefer to climb the more natural location in the canyon. I did the tour with Abisko Adventure and the guide was a climber himself so could explain about the sport and other climbing places around Abisko.
Visit the Ice Hotel
The tour includes entry (SEK350, US$34) and gives you 2 hours to explore the hotel. As the Ice Hotel is 1.5 hours away from Abisko the entire tour is approximately 5 hours. You can read a detailed post about the Ice Hotel.
There are a few hikes within the Abisko National Park that are well sign-posted. I hiked alone and did the loop around the canyon as well as out to the Sami village and up the frozen river. There are also organised hikes provided by the STF that leave in the morning and early afternoon and usually last a couple of hours depending on the weather conditions. Snowshoe tours or rental is also available from the STF.
Dogsledding is the most common form of transport for the Sami people and the dogs are treated extremely well. I’m always cautious about how animals are treated so it was great to see that these dogs are genuinely happy running their sleds across the region. There’s plenty of tours available from long to short but as I’d taken a dogsled from the airport to the Ice Hotel I decided not to do a dog sled tour. However, if you’re interested you can find some great options here on Viator.
The Sami people are native to the north of Sweden, Norway and Finland and are the northernmost indigenous culture in Europe. There are a few tours run from Abisko but I did a Sami tour while in Jukkasjärvi. Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend it, you can read why in my post about the Ice Hotel.
Snow Mobile Tour
Snow mobiles are fun! Everyone should get on a snowmobile at least once in their life. The first time I was on a snowmobile was by accident when I first went skiing in France and missed (didn’t realise they stop) the last chair lifts back to the resort. In Abisko you’ve got plenty of snowmobile options and some tours will let you drive your own snowmobile. I did the tour with Abisko Guesthouse but found it to be a bit tame. I know they need to make tours to accommodate everyone’s abilities but I would’ve liked to go a lot faster and further.
For a little more comfortable tour which will keep you warm but the adrenaline levels a little lower is to go look for wildlife and see the national park on your way. Wildlife spotting tours head out of Abisko and often head towards Kiruna where you’ve got the best chance of seeing moose. I didn’t see any moose but saw some reindeers while in Abisko and Jukkasjarvi.
Day Tour to Norway
There are a few companies offering a day trip to Norway to either see the fjords or visit Narvik. Unfortunately our tour wasn’t very good as the guide wasn’t prepared and hadn’t done the tour before. However, I think this was just bad luck for us and normally spending a day seeing the Norwegian fjords would be great.
Ice fishing is a popular activity in the Abisko National Park and the Torne River is home to many different types of fish, including char, trout, salmon, and pike. Jump on one of these tours and head out across the frozen lake with your rod, bait and reindeer hide. Once on the lake you’ll drill through the ice, bait up your rod, take a seat on your reindeer hide and wait for the fish to bite.
Visit the Aurora Sky Station
The Aurora Sky Station is located at the top of the Noulja mountain which is 900 metres above sea level and 500 metres above the ski runs below it. There is a 25-minute chairlift to access the top and a return ticket will cost approximately SEK995 (US$95). You can also book a ticket with dinner included at the Sky Station for 1900SEK (US$181).
Skiing and snowboarding
The only place to ski and snowboard in Abisko is the Sky Station just 2 kilometres out of town. The ski season runs from February to May but you can drive towards Narvik to ski at Riksgransen and Bjorkliden which are serviced by the same lift pass. Keep in mind though that during winter there’s limited light so you’ll mostly be skiing under lights. Amazingly, you can ski during summer under the midnight sun.
Where to Stay in Abisko
Abisko has transformed itself into a winter destination thanks to the high possibility of seeing the northern lights. As more tourists arrived more accommodation options became available. Based on your budget I would recommend either the Abisko Mountain Lodge or the Abisko Guesthouse. Both will be able to organise tours for you but if you’re coming during the peak period it’s best to book in advance. As I mentioned before, I recommend using Viator as they usually have a great cancellation policy. They also price match too in case you find something cheaper after you’ve already booked on Viator. The ATF is a bit out of town so while it’s a great place to visit I thought it was much better to stay in town.
The rooms are basic but likely the best value for money in town. Good quality boots, gloves, hats and snowsuits are provided which means you can enjoy more time outside without freezing.
The hostel offers dorm rooms and private rooms and is located 500 metres from the train station. It’s the cheapest place to stay in Abisko (in a dorm room) but if you book in advance you can pick up a private room at the Guesthouse for not much more than the dorm room at the hostel.
Abisko Mountain Lodge
One of the most expensive places to stay in Abisko but not as good value for money as you’ll find elsewhere in Sweden.
STF Abisko Turistation
Lots of accommodation options from privates, cottages and dorm rooms. The Turistation is 2 kms outside of town across from the train station. There is a restaurant and it’s close to hiking trails in the National Park, you can also book tours from reception.
Where to Eat in Abisko
The town only has one restaurant which is at the Abisko Mountain Lodge. There is also another restaurant at the STF which is 2kms away. There is a supermarket so if you’re staying at the Guesthouse or the Hostel you can buy food to cook or prepare at your accommodation but the Mountain Lodge doesn’t have kitchen facilities. The supermarket is pretty limited but you can get some fruit, vegetables and basic supplies like packaged or canned food. Interestingly its full of candy and soft drink thanks to the sugar tax in Norway which makes candy, chocolate, soft drinks etc more expensive. So the supermarket, which is 1 hr drive from Norway, is full of candy to cater for the Norwegians coming over the border to buy their candy. You might read about a food truck but it wasn’t profitable so it closed.
Travel to Abisko! Anytime of the Year
After spending a week in Abisko and the Ice Hotel it was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. Abisko is fast becoming world known for possibly the best place in the world to see the northern lights, it’s also one of the most accessible destinations to see the lights as there are multiple transportation and accommodation options catering for varying budgets. I’d recommend staying a few days in Abisko to give yourself the best chance to see the lights, you’ll also need a few days to do some tours because there is limited light each day meaning you can’t do much before it’s dark again.
Travel Resources for Visiting Abisko
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.