Ever since I started travelling, at the tender age of 22 that is, the idea of chasing northern lights was at the top of my list. The fact that we are at the mercy of mother nature to be able to experience it, drew me more. After the never ending search, I finally found the perfect destination – Abisko. In this post, let me share with you my chasing of the best Abisko northern lights.
Things to figure out:
- A destination (in the aurora oval, clear skies, doesn’t break my bank to get to or stay at)
- Time of the year, which was relatively easy (to get clear skies with most part of the day being dark – winter months (Dec-Feb); sun’s activity is another important factor and you can learn about the cycles here)
Why Abisko Northern Lights?
Abisko (in northern Sweden, 200 miles inside arctic circle) ticked all the right boxes. The mountains around the area protects it from clouds and rain and the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere, with only a small number of residents, prevents it from light pollution, and its geographical location puts it in the most coveted aurora oval.
How to get there?
There are a couple of ways to get here from Stockholm (assuming you’d be travelling from Stockholm)
Fly from Stockholm to Kiruna and then take a train from Kiruna to Abisko
If you could plan ahead of time, then this is the best way to get there. SAS flies to Kiruna frequently (from Stockholm or even London/Manchester). The train station is a free bus ride away from the airport. It’s really easy to get to the bus as the only way to get out of airport is where the bus waits. The train ride is fun; it lasts for an hour and most people are going to Abisko so it’s time to start making friends.
Take a 24h train from Stockholm to Abisko
A few friends chose this option and none of them had nice things to say. To quote a few: ‘I lost my baggage’, ’the compartment smells like shit’, ’it’s not a comfortable seat or berth’, ‘24h felt like ages’ etc., added with the fact there isn’t much sun light for sight-seeing makes it an unattractive option for me. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re on a tight budget.
Where to stay in Abisko?
There are a few hostels in the area, and all these places are at a walking distance from Abisko Ostra train station. All of them offer dog sledding, ice climbing, photography tours, ice fishing and hiking tours with very similar prices.
Other places to stay closer to Abisko Turiststation train Station (closer to the sky station)
I stayed for 6 nights (£135/$170) in a six-bed mixed dorm at Abisko Fjallturer (the tourist hostel). One of the nicest dorms I have stayed at. This comes from the experience of staying at many youth (private and public) hostels in the UK, France, Czech and Italy. So, the legends are right about Scandinavian hostels J Bonus: when you book any winter activity through them (I highly recommend dog sledding), it comes with free renting of skis, winter clothes, boots and snow shoes.
They have a sauna that’s free to use in the evenings. Showers are just a few steps away from the main hostel building. Their staffs are friendly and resourceful, happy to help on routes for hiking/tips on where to catch the lights/giving a shout when the lights show up and you’re curled up in your bed. The kitchen space is big enough to socialise with fellow travellers and is well equipped to make your own meal.
Dog sledding tour (costed £144/$181) with them was pure joy. The huskies there are well looked after and when you’re riding at 20-30 miles an hour with freezing tears, you feel like you’re on top of the world (Note: balancing the sled is an art form, sometimes you may fall face down like I did)
What to eat?
There was a supermarket here but unfortunately it is closed now due to losses, so I would advise on buying groceries from Kiruna/Stockholm before getting here (may be a few microwave meals). There is a grocery store in a nearby town, Bjorkliden, easily accessible if you are driving. Failing all that, restaurant food for a few days would be your only option.
There is a restaurant in the area. A few friends and I went there for a meal and a drink, just as an obligatory visit and I tried their moose burger, can’t complain but not great either.
For candy lovers, there’s a HUGE candy super market (could rival the ones in the US). This is because Abisko is closer to the Swedish-Norwegian border and the sweet-tax is low here, so this is where people from around the country go to buy candy. I bought 2 Kg of candies and it costed around £12. I was crowned ‘super uncle’ to my nephews and a star at my work (helps when you have candy loving colleagues.)
What to do?
There are a few marked and unmarked (purely personal choices) hiking trails around Abisko.
- the world famous King’s trail is one of them. Doing a part of this by hiking/skiing was a popular option, I hiked a part of this trail and it was breathtaking.
- I hiked to and from Abisko Turiststation. Right next to the STF hostel there is a man-made canyon and you could walk around the canyon. Don’t miss to look out for the mountains in distance. If you’re here in the thick of winter, you’d be blessed with the sight of everything in every direction being painted in white. And the sunsets (about an hour in the early afternoon) is the only time you’ll see any colours in the sky and it can get magical!
- A friend and I chose to wing it, by taking a walk through the national park from Abisko Turiststation to reach our hostel. It was well worth the effort.
Chasing Abisko Northern lights
Chasing is a loose term here; some norther lights display might be too light to be seen from your hostel due to light pollution, so you’d be running out to the helipad behind or the lake to catch the lights. But if you are lucky (like I was) you could just open the windows or step out and be blessed with dancing lights above your head. Mostly dark days mean that northern lights can be visible anytime of the day, assuming the sun’s activity is good enough.
I, being a photography enthusiast, was walking around with my photography kit wherever I went. I chose to stay here for 6 nights (and I advise you to do more than a weekend stay) to increase the chances of seeing the lights. Best decision ever. I was able to see the lights on all nights in varying intensities. I also explored the area and met some lovely people that I call friends now.
This trip really opened up my senses and thoughts on our place in this universe. Even if aurora wasn’t expected that night, one of my favorite pass times was to go out in the dark, set up my cameras, lie down and look up. The immensity of the number of stars out there blew me away, every time. Add a hot beverage in a flask and you’re golden!
Abisko Scientific Research Station
Took a small ski trip (our butts were sore in the end) to the Abisko Scientific Research station. Unfortunately, it is not open for public, so we swung around instead.
Aurora Sky Station
It’s an aurora observation centre located on top of a mountain. This is accessible by a cable car lift and people go there to watch auroras from the insides of a café with a warm drink. But it is expensive (£166/$210). I didn’t do it. In my opinion, higher altitude to catch auroras is unnecessary in places like Abisko, where light pollution is low.
It’s safe to say that this was an amazing trip, as I had the chance of witnessing the aurora on all nights, met some wonderful people, hiked my heart out, explored some of the less traveled paths, and strengthened my bond with mother nature! Hope I’ve inspired you to take on this adventure! Ask me any questions in comments below.
Below is my trip breakdown:
|Stockholm to Kiruna (return)||163||205|
|Kiruna to Abisko (return)||11||15|
Final Thoughts from Chloe
Chasing aurora is always on top of my bucket-list, but I haven’t gotten the chance to check it due to the long distance from my country Singapore. Sathya Parthasarathi’s journey has once again reminded me to start planning my trip. After all, 2017 may be the last chance to see the northern lights before they dim for a decade.