In January 2015 I was lucky enough to spend a few days visiting Swedish Lapland. Although it was VERY cold when I stepped off the plane (-37 degrees Celsius), there was about 2 hours of sunshine, I got lost in the woods and filmed a ‘death tape’, it was an incredible experience and an experience not everybody will have in their lives. I’m going to be honest in saying that at the time I was extremely out of my comfort zone to the point where it was, at times, unpleasant but now I look back on this trip with only fond memories and I’m grateful that I was able to have these experiences. A lot of people ask me about my Northern Lights trip so I thought I would put this together. I have a lot of other information in my head from weeks of planning and working out the best options, etc. so if you have anymore questions or want any advice, let me know!
I was supposed to be meeting a friend, but unfortunately she missed her flight from London so it was yet another solo trip for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for solo travel and, in fact, I prefer it, but seeing the northern lights was one thing I didn’t want to do by myself – I wanted somebody around to share it with!
Seeing Aurora Borealis AKA The Northern Lights is definitely an item for the bucket list, so scribble that one down now if it’s not already on there. I will tell you right away, however, that most people say it didn’t live up to their expectations. Decide for yourself.
This is my experience.
Where Did I Go?
Abisko National Park is situated in the most northern part of Swedish Lapland – 250 km north of the Arctic Circle. It’s famous for its natural beauty, Nordic wildlife and is a hot (cold) spot for winter adventures as well as summer hiking in the midnight sun. It’s also
Being one of the locations situated within the mystical-sounding Auroral Oval – a ring around the geomagnetic North Pole where auroral activity is most likely to occur – it’s probably no surprise to learn that Abisko’s skies are frequently painted with the dazzling, colourful illuminations. However, it is said that of all the aurorae hotspots in the world, Abisko boasts the highest
probability of sightings. This is due to several, differing factors.
Firstly, its remote location means there is very little light pollution, thus the night skies are not obstructed in any way. Secondly, Abisko rarely experiences any inclement weather due to its geography; it sits within a ‘bowl of mountains’ which seemingly protects it from cloud or rain – what’s known locally as ‘the blue hole over Abisko’.
This micro-climate also produces some prevailing winds which, together with the mountains, serve to disperse cloud cover. Hence the region enjoys greater numbers of clear nights per season, something that other locations cannot so confidently boast.
All of which means that the chances of seeing the aurora are far greater in Abisko than in any other Auroral Oval spot. In fact, if the lights are in the sky, then there is an exceptionally high chance of seeing them from any location in Abisko; you’re as likely to spot them from behind a hotel as you will on top of a mountain. That’s why so many people choose to see the aurora here; because for sightings of the Northern Lights, Abisko virtually guarantees.
Tip: Take a camera! Duh! I actually didn’t have a camera there with me but thankfully I befriended two lovely guys, Evan, the Canadian and Gab the Italian and these photos were taken by them – thanks guys!
In winter the best time to visit is anytime between November and March. The main attraction here is the Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) and your best time to see those is in February/March. I went in January and saw a spectacular light show! There are many other winter activites to get involved in as well. Go Alpine, off-piste or Nordic skiing. Try telemark skiing (traditional downhill technique but using cross-country skis). Slap on your snowshoes or dog sled to an ice fishing spot. And for a true local experience, eat reindeer and/or moose, drink coffee round the fire and camp with the indigenous Sami people.
To see the Midnight Sun it’s best to go from the May 30th – July 14th. Other summer activities include trekking through boreal forests, hiking along fjords, canyons and waterfalls, caving, fly-fishing, or visiting Trollsjön, the clearest lake in Sweden in the Kärkevagge valley.
I had previously been doing some travel around Scandinavia so I was already in Stockholm, Sweden. From there I caught a flight to Kiruna, which is the most northern airport in Sweden. Have a look at Norwegian Air – I think they’re absolutely fantastic and probably my favourite airline in the world! They’re very affordable, comfortable the staff are extremely friendly and they have free on-board wifi! I’ve also managed to get a free upgrade on almost every one of my flights with them!
When you arrive in Kiruna there are a few options to get to Abisko National Park, including bus, train, taxi and private transfer. I originally booked the train, which was quite affordable, although I met Jan, a nice Swedish guy at Kiruna airport who offered to drive me there.
Abisko is roughly an hour north of Kiruna, no matter which way you go and it’s fairly easy to get there but I would definitely recommend booking something in advance or at least working out your plan of attack. I often use the Rome2Rio website to plan my transport journeys and this is how I came across the train.
Tip: They only have a few busses/trains leaving daily (depends on when you’re going) so double check before you arrive or you’ll end up spending more than you budgeted for. Also, if you decide to get a taxi (even to the train station in town) or transfer these need to be booked in advance.
Where I Stayed
Abisko Turiststation – HI Hostel – It’s great to know there is a hostel up here because my main concern when planning this trip was that I was going to end up spending a fortune on accommodation. Well, Hostelling International has saved my life again! To be honest, it’s not the best place I’ve stayed at. If it were anywhere else in the world I probably wouldn’t recommend staying there. The staff weren’t that friendly, I couldn’t find my room (because they pointed me in the wrong direction!), the wifi didn’t work and there just wasn’t a great atmosphere there at all – the second night I was in a room by myself and there were only two other people in the whole hostel, neither could speak English.
They do have a number of different options when it comes to accommodation though and I think it’s great they are able to cater for all budgets. They have a hotel, a hostel, cabins, chalets and you can camp (I would definitely NOT advise camping!). Realistically, I can sleep anywhere so I wasn’t really that bothered but if you have high standards I would suggest opting to stay in the hotel.
At the Turiststation they have a shop where you are able to buy a small (and very expensive) selection of food/drinks as well as souvenirs and where you can rent any equipment, like winter gear, cameras, tripods, etc.
Where I Ate and Drank
There’s not a lot of choice here. You’re pretty deserted where you are and although there is a local supermarket 5km away, you don’t want to be out walking in that weather. There is a restaurant at the hotel that offers a set lunch and dinner each day. On the menu are traditional but touristy dishes like reindeer and moose. For my meals I basically stocked up on 2 minute noodles at the hotel shop and Swedish Rekorderlig Cider (obviously!). On my second day there I was pretty hungry and unsatisfied and after getting lost in the woods for a few hours I needed to celebrate being alive with a hearty meal. I decided to have lunch at the restaurant in the hotel and there they were serving moose Bolognese! There’s a first time for everything. It pretty much just tasted like normal Bolognese. It was just what I needed. This was also probably one of the highlights of my trip as I got to hang out with my awesome new buddies Gab and Evan for a while before they left.
Tip: If you want to save on money, the lunch is all you can eat. It opens from about 11am and closes around 2. Just stay there and fill up so you don’t have to have dinner! They also have a great selection of tea, coffee and hot chocolate!
– Don’t go if you’re on a very tight budget.
– Take a camera (no, an iphone will not do!)
– Take somebody with you to share it with and also so you don’t get lost in the woods alone in a blizzard!
– There is no need to pay for an entry into the Sky Station. If the lights are out you will see them anyway.
– Best place to see the lights for free is down by the lake.
– The lake is also worth seeing during the day as well – beautiful!
– The turiststation has saunas – go and relax in one after coming in from the cold. If you’re brave, sit in the sauna for a while then run outside naked before running back into the warmth.
This experience is one I will never forget and if you are thinking about doing a Northern Lights trip sometime, I would really recommend looking into Abisko further.
Happy Travels 🙂
By Gidget ‘Gigi’ Gallaher