Lying in the far north of Sweden, close to the border with Norway and nestled deep within the Arctic Circle, is the tiny outpost of Abisko, which feels a very long way from nowhere. And literally, that’s the appeal.
Hailed as the last arctic wilderness in Northern Europe, this unique town with majestic mountains, fjords, and shimmering lakes, is the best place to see the Northern lights in Sweden, and offers a (surprisingly) wide range of activities for adventurous travelers (including travelers with kids) all year round.
This prime hiking park, with clear skies and miles of untouched nature, is the best place to see the Northern lights in Sweden and to explore the breathtaking landscapes of the Swedish Lapland (the large expanse of land in the northwest corner of Sweden that covers nearly a quarter of the country).
If you’re looking for striking views of the Aurora Borealis and want to get a good grasp of northern Sweden’s lifestyle and culture, this is the place to go. Here's what makes Abisko an exciting travel destination and the best place to watch northern lights in Sweden- and probably the entire world.
Why Should You Visit Abisko and Sweden’s Lapland?
The real question is, why not? In addition to its beautiful mountainscapes and the fact that is one of the highest-rated Northern Lights destinations, travelling to Abisko is also an immersion into the fascinating culture of the Sami (Europe’s only indigenous people) and the perfect scenario for winter sports and entertaining outdoor activities, among other things.
No matter what time of the year you visit Abisko and the Swedish Lapland, your trip will be nothing short of an adventure.
Top Things to Do in Abisko Sweden
Here I’ll tell you about the best tourist places and things to do in Abisko, based on our own experience in the Swedish Lapland. We visited this part of the Swedish lapland for 9 days as a family, with our three year old son Teo during the month of October
This guide will give you an idea of the popular attractions you must visit, and off-the-beaten-path activities you should include in your bucket list. It’ll help you to plan your Sweden holidays and will make your enjoy your time here hassle free.
The Northern Lights in Sweden
There are few experiences in nature that can compare with the thrill of gazing up at the beautiful Aurora Borealis as they flow across the night sky, exploding with vibrant colors and lighting up the snow-covered landscape beneath.
It’s something that most can only dream of experiencing during their lifetime, mostly due to the nature of the lights being so unpredictable, or the perceived high expense required to travel to suitable locations which provide the best chances of seeing them.
Abisko is recognized as the most reliable place on the globe for northern lights sightings, with an 88% success rate if you stay for three nights (guess how many we stayed?).
With easy travel connections across central Europe, it has also become the most convenient and cost-effective location for spotting the famous green lights, compared to other common travel destinations for the aurora like Iceland and Norway where the proximity to the ocean could affect the weather.
Coastal climates are more temperamental with frequent cloud cover in winter, decreasing your chances of seeing the lights dramatically.
Abisko, on the other hand, lies in a valley surrounded by great mountains which often block the cloud cover, giving it the benefit of more clear, cloud-free skies than anywhere else under the aurora oval.
This is why spotting northern lights it’s one of the top things to do in Abisko during winter months.
When planning a trip to Sweden for the northern lights (see bottom of this post), however, you should keep in mind that no matter what you do you’re at the mercy of weather. Chances of seeing the aurora borealis are high, but no amount of planning or preparation can guarantee you being successful.
I can only speak from my own experience and things like when, where and how were game-changers during our lights hunting. On the next few lines I’ve spilled all my secrets for how to (successfully) catch a glimpse of this spectacular phenomenon. I found this information very useful, so it could definitely make the difference for you.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights, one of several astronomical phenomena, are curtains of colored light which snake across the night sky during fall through spring months. This awe inspiring light show, also called Aurora Borealis, occur when electrically charged particles released from the sun hit the magnetic field of the Earth.
Those particles then collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms found in the Earth’s atmosphere and produce dazzling aurora lights.
Aurora displays can appear in many vivid colors and the variation between each one of them depends on the kind of gas particles involved. The most common aurora color (green), for instance, is produced by low-lying oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the Earth.
When to see Northern Lights in Sweden?
As I said previously on this post, the Northern Lights can be seen throughout the Swedish Lapland during winter months, specifically between September and mid-April, when the verdant forests are cocooned by a glistening blanket of snow and there’s more solar activity.
We were there in mid September, early in the season, and as you can see below we did get to see them!
How to see Northern Lights in Sweden
It’d be helpful to join a tour to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights. The best photo tours in Abisko help you get away from light pollution and provide you with high-quality cameras and sturdy photography gear, which is a huge advantage if you don’t have the necessary equipment to take professional shots by your own.
Some guided tours also include snowmobile rides and cozy wilderness camps to warm up while you wait for the lights to do their thing. And if you have no idea of how to retreat the aurora, no worries!
Most tours count with professional guides/photographers who are always willing to assist you in setting up your shots and help you get stellar compositions for your photos.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Sweden on a Budget?
The options above mentioned are really great, but don’t come in cheap. If money is a concern during your Sweden travels, you definitely don’t need to do a guided excursion if you don’t have the budget for it.
Alternately, you could go up to the Aurora Sky Station (I’ll talk about this later), which is easy walkable from the village. Keep in mind that this place is also one of the key attractions in Abisko, especially during winter, so it can get quite crowded.
If you want to same money I think you might be best off just watching the Northern Lights on your own. You can walk down to the harbor and look north towards Mt. Noulja. It’s really dark there, so you should be able to see the Abisko’s Northern Lights without much hassle.
The best part? It won’t cost you a penny. Wrap up warm, though – if it’s a clear night, temperatures plummet pretty quickly after dark.
And if you’re at your hotel room you can keep an eye on the Aurora forecast to know whenever you need to run outside. Remember: sometimes the Northern Lights will only appear for a few minutes so if you see them get outside and take your pictures as quickly as possible.
Where to Watch Northern Lights in Sweden?
The short answer is… anywhere in the Swedish Lapland! Head away from all sources of light pollution (the far from civilization you go, the better) and if the weather conditions are favorable, bingo! You’ll have great chances of seeing them.
Explore Abisko National Park
One of Sweden’s oldest and most-visited natural reserves, Abisko National Park, features 77 km2 of rich vegetation and abundant wildlife. It is often cited as being the best place in Abisko for viewing the elusive Northern Lights and the midnight sun at their opposite seasons.
Throughout the year you can take part in a great number of outdoor activities that range from hiking the famous King’s Trail (Kungsleden) and admiring the views of the lakes, mountains and valleys, to cross country skiing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding.
There are two places in Abisko National Park you must visit:
The Aurora Sky Station
Located within the National Park is the Sky Station. In Abisko’s winter, the Station is a key attraction, as it is considered one of the world’s best places for spotting the Northern Lights; on average, they can be seen between 50-60% of the time that the Sky Station is open.
Many visitors rave about the views from this place, mainly due to its prime location at the summit of a mountain, and we have to agree. For the very best chances of watching the Northern Lights you'll have to make the trip up to the observation tower, which is easily accessible by a 20 minute chairlift ride.
Remember to bring warm clothes, although full winter gear is provided at no extra cost at the chairlift station.
The thrilling chairlift to the top of the mountain offers spectacular views over the Swedish Lapland and the wide-open skies beyond. Apart from the viewing facilities, there’s also an Aurora exhibition, a café, souvenir shop and a gourmet restaurant where guests can enjoy a delicious Nordic-inspired, multi-course meal under the night-filled sky.
Word of warning: the admission fee to the Aurora Sky Station isn’t cheap – you’ll pay around 695 SEK per person, and no refunds are given if the weather conditions are bad. But if you think it’s worthwhile the cost, I’d recommend you to buy your tickets well in advance, as they tend to sell out fast, especially during winter months.
STF Abisko Mountain Station
Near the Aurora Sky Station is the Abisko Tourist Station, home to Abisko’s best hostel with a capacity of 300 guests. This station is run by the Swedish Tourist Association and serves as the starting point for a wide range of summer and winter activities.
The Abisko Mountain Station offers three different kinds of accommodation options: a hotel (in the main building), fully furnished modern cabins (where we stayed) and a hostel. You can choose to have breakfast included, which I recommend as it is abundant and very good.
The Abisko Tourist Station provides most of the services you'll need including a small convenience store, a camping store (with clothes and outdoor gear), laundry, internet and tours.
Where Did We Stay?
We stayed at one of the cabins at the Abisko Tourist Station and can't recommend them enough if you're visiting Abisko with kids or in a group. We travel with a 3 year old and the luxurious 2 floor cabin had two bedrooms, a living room and a full kitchen!
Warm outer clothing is provided and English-speaking guides give you an introduction to the Northern Lights, emphasizing the importance of observing and understanding the Aurora Borealis.
Visit the World-Famous Ice Hotel in Sweden
The original ICEHOTEL, the world’s first hotel made of ice, is well-known for its unique concept, dazzling pieces of art (all of them completely made of ice) and fairy tale atmosphere.
Quite a few ice hotels have popped up throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but this one is the original and arguably the most stunning. Among the hotel’s many features are the stylish reception area and main hall, the ice church (yes, you can actually get marry here) and the chic ice bar.
Every winter since 1989, the massive ice structure is rebuilt from scratch by ´40 artists, using snow and blocks from the local Torne River. It takes them months of planning and several weeks of hard work to finish the hotel…
The result? One of the world’s most innovate buildings and one of the most visited Sweden’s attractions, drawing thousands of tourists to the Lapland region each year.
Incredibly, in 2016 they created a whole new hotel which remains open year-round. This new permanent structure it’s completely cooled by solar panels and mashes up luxury ice rooms that you can visit (and even stay in!) during summer months.
Find Current Ice Hotel Deals
This is a one-of-a-kind hotel and definitely not for everyone. The good news is that there are great cabins within the premises!
Guided tours are available for visitors not spending the night at the hotel. This day trip include a tour of the artist-created bedrooms, the famous ICEBAR and the ice Church – plus leisure time to explore the interiors, take photos, or even dine and drink at the hotel’s facilities (not included).
Keep in mind that the original ICEHOTEL is redone at the start of winter, so if you visit before mid-December, it’s not likely to be finished. If the seasonal ice hotel isn’t yet open though, you can check out the ICEHOTEL 365 which is always open to the public.
If staying in a room made of ice doesn't suit your fancy don't sweat it: there are also more than 20 spacious cabins that will keep you warm and comfy during your visit. It's where we stayed!
Where is the Ice Hotel?
It is located in the small village of Jukkasjärvi. Getting there from Abisko can be a bit of a pain, as it’s actually closer to Kiruna than Abisko. There’s no direct public transportation to the ICEHOTEL from Abisko, so you’ll have to transit via Kiruna which you can reach by train or bus, and then hop on a taxi.
Alternatively you can rent a car and make the trip independently.
However, it’s far easier to go on a guided day trip and not much more expensive.
Meet the Sámi People
Just 45 minutes away from Abisko is Rávttas, a small village where you can learn the traditional lifestyle of the Sámi’s - the indigenous people of the Sápmi region which encompasses northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.
The best part of this unique experience? Meeting reindeer! They have historically held an important role in Sámi life and industry. The majority of Sámi people make their living in reindeer herding, and in most Nordic countries the practice is only legally allowed to them.
However, the focus of reindeer herding has recently shifted towards tourism rather than animal agriculture.
Guided tours to this village often include visiting reindeer farms and getting up close and personal with these animals. It’s a popular option for things to do in Abisko, so book your tour in advance if meeting reindeer and learning about the Sámi culture is a must on your Sweden bucket list.
Guide to Kiruna Sweden
Kiruna is the Sweden's northernmost city, with a population of around 17,000 people. It is an easy day trip from Abisko, or if you fly into Kiruna in the morning you can explore the city before your afternoon train to Abisko.
Kiruna is actually in the process of slowly being moved two miles away from its current center, which is why some places –like the train station- are so inconveniently far out of town.
There’s quite a lot to do in this charming Arctic city, so let me break down my favorite sights and activities:
- See the Kiruna’s Northern Lights
- Visit a Sámi village
- Get some fun with dogsledding
- Take a photography course
- Ice fishing
- Visit the Wooden Church of Kiruna
- Explore the city center
- Eat local food
Whether you want to see the Aurora Borealis by car, snowshoe, snowmobile, dogsled or skis, you’ll find a tour company in Kiruna that has the perfect package for you.
If you want to arrange a guided tour upon arrival instead, the best to start is the tourist information office inside Folkets Hus in the middle of the city. Leaflets and poster will let you know what kinds of tours are available and staff members will be pleased to hook you up with specialist guides.
Pro tip: prices for tours and guided excursions in Kiruna are often sky-high, so don’t be afraid to shop around for the best price.
Getting From Stockholm to Kiruna and Abisko
Roughly 1500 km separate Stockholm and Abisko, making the 15 hour drive only a final option unless you want to take the trip slowly and stop often along the way.
The two most popular ways of reaching Kiruna from Stockolm are train and airplane.
Stockholm to Kiruna by Plane
There are several daily flights between Stockholm and Kiruna. The flight lasts about 1.5 hours and costs around 125 USD. If you travel during the daytime and the sky is cleared be prepared for some amazing views, but if you fly during the night don't despair: there's also a good chance you might be able to see the northern lights from the airplane!
You can get from Kiruna to Abisko by public bus, a taxi, or train.
Stockholm to Kiruna by Train
This is also a very popular option, and can be more affordable than flying if you're visiting this part of Sweden with family or as a group.
Did you know that in Sweden children under 16 travel for free on trains? This is one of the main reasons families traveling from Stockholm to Abisko and Kiruna choose to do so by train. It's also great adventure fun!
We traveled by overnight train with our three year old, and while it was indeed a long trip (17 hours to Abisko) it was good fun and entertainment.
The train has different car classes, but it certainly makes sense to book a cabin unless you're on a budget. Tickets run at around 100 USD each way per person (book with plenty of time), but again as our son is under 16 he travels at no cost! That's a 100 USD saving when compared to flying...each way!
The train itself is all right. There's a car with a basic restaurant, and the rest of the train has seating and sleeping quarters. Cabins have a sink and three bunk beds, are pretty comfortable, and a a few electric outlets. Nothing to write home about but are definitely enough to make the journey pleasant.
As for the sleeping order, we had Teo on the top bunk bed, which was alright as there's a net on the side that would keep him from falling.
What to Bring
Sweden is an expensive country, and as you might expect anything you buy so far up north will cost you more than if you buy it in Stockholm or, even better, you bring it from home.
The following are items we used during our northern lights sightseeing trip and recommend you at least consider.
Those that I believe to be a must have been marked with an asterisk (*)
Headlamp * - Very important when walking around at night while preparing to take pictures of the northern lights.
Tripod *- Big or small, you'll need some kind of tripod to take pictures of the northern lights. I try to travel even lighter now and the Gorillapod I bought did the trick.
Gloves *- It gets really cold once the sun sets. Make sure you have some for everyone in the family, and I suggest you grab an extra pair if you travel with young kids as they do get wet at some point.
Waterproof trekking shoes *- You and your family are going to be walking a lot, and chances are there will be snow. Keep your feet dry and warm!
Good camera *- I recently ditched my Nikon D90 and got a Panasonic G85 mirrorless camera. Why? It's smaller, lighter, shoots great video and photos with low light, has great stabilization and still has great pro reviews despite it being 2 years old.
Hiking thermal wool socks - You can of course layer up socks, but if you get some of these you'll be much more comfortable and warm.
Child carrying backpack - If you're visiting with a kid under 5 the chances of him/ her getting tired are very high as you'll be doing a lot of walking and the cold temperatures wear everybody out quicker. This said you can also rent one at the Tourist Station, which is what we did. But if you want to buy one we have the Kelty Journey Perfect Fit and it's great.
Plan Your Abisko-Kiruna Trip
Accommodation in Abisko-Kiruna
Flights to Kiruna
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Rental Cars in Kiruna
RV Rentals Kiruna:
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Tours in Abisko-Kiruna
Get Your Guide offers small group tours and activities in Abisko-Kiruna including tickets to the popular Abisko- Kiruna attractions.
More Info About Abisko-Kiruna
The official Swedish Lapland Website has a lot of information that can help you plan your trip.