Chasing the Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden
Why Abikso? Abisko is one of the best places in the entire world to see the Aurora Borealis because of the special atmospheric conditions that are created there. The lake effect and the mountains help to create the Abisko “blue hole” – which is basically a clearing in the sky. There is also very little light pollution. All of these things combine to help make Abisko a go-to destination for chasing the Northern Lights.
When to Go
Northern Lights season is between September and early April . I went at the end of November. The daylight in Abisko during this time is very limited. The daylight began around 10AM, and it was completely dark by 2:30PM. I say daylight and not sunrise and sunset because the sun is not visible at all in Abisko during some months. The locals told us they would not see the sun again until February. Keep in mind that the Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon, so it is never guaranteed that you will get to witness the lights. You do, however, increase your chances by giving yourself more than one night to chase the lights.
How to Get There
After spending a day in Stockholm, my friend Frances and I caught a plane to Kiruna. You can take a train to Abisko from Stockholm, but the flight is short and cheap. So, it is worth it to fly. You will need to book a transfer to get from Kiruna and Abisko. We booked through Visit Abisko. We were thankful to have an experienced local to drive us because there was a snowstorm rolling in the day we arrived. The trip takes a little over an hour (give a little if the weather is bad).
Where to Stay
We booked our trip about two weeks before arriving in Abisko. Options were limited because it was so last minute. Many sites will recommend the STF Abisko Mountain Station because of the close proximity to Abisko National Park (where most of the lights tours occur). Our only option was Abisko Mountain Lodge. I am so happy we ended up there. It was cozy, warm and had a very Christmasy feel to it.
The rooms are very, very small but comfortable and cute. Each night the restaurant served a different, set 3-course dinner at the restaurant. There was a buffet breakfast in the morning (included with the cost of the room). The food was delicious and artistic. I tried foods I had never had before.
Even though this accommodation was so small, it did not feel that way. The atmosphere really provided that winter, holiday getaway vibe.
What to do While You're not Chasing the Lights
Abisko is very small. There is not much to do. You can take a tour to Norway from Abisko during the day if you would like. We opted out because of the cost and knowing we didn't have much daylight to see things anyway.
The first night we arrived late. It was already dark. We decided to take naps, relax and have dinner. We were originally supposed to go on the Northern Lights Photo tour that night with Lights over Lapland, but as I mentioned before... there was snowstorm. They suggested we postpone until the next night.
We took our time getting up and getting to breakfast. It's easy to sleep in a little when it doesn't start getting light outside until around 10am.
Around 11AM we walked to Abisko National Park. It was cold and windy outside. The walk takes about an hour, and there are some slick parts on the trail, so be careful.
We made it to the canyon, walked around, took photos, then headed back. If you leave a bit earlier you can explore more, but we knew we needed to head back so that we weren't walking back in the dark.
Upon returning back to the mountain lodge, we showered and had dinner.
Chasing the Lights with Lights Over Lapland
After dinner we waited patiently for our photo guide to arrive. We were a bit worried about how the evening would go because of the snowstorm the day before. The conditions were similar, just not as bad, as the night before when they had cancelled the tour.
The guides felt confident that we were going to have a great night for viewing the lights. This made us feel a bit better, and we started to get excited. The photo tour is great for those people that want to capture a great photo of the lights. The kind of photo that you see online and in magazines. What you see with the naked eye does not look anything like those photos. Keep this in mind. The photo tour cost 1,295 SEK (or about $140). I also paid a bit extra to use a better lens (once in a lifetime opportunity, right? I had to).
Our guide was supposed to be Chris, but last minute we were switched to another group. Harry was leading this new group. It was a very short drive to Abisko National Park. Once we got there we walked through the snow, only one small area being deep snow, to get to a small clearing where we set up the tripods. Above us there was the infamous blue hole. Harry helped to make sure all of our cameras were focused and set correctly.
There was a tipi with fur rugs and a fire pit. However, Frances and I didn’t care to get warm or take a break because we refused to miss any of the action! After a couple hours of waiting – I spotted the aurora! I screamed, “Aurora!” I snapped a picture, and low and behold a bright green steak appeared on the camera. I can’t even express how exciting this was. After trying to see them in Iceland and having the tour the previous night be cancelled due to bad weather conditions – we were so happy we almost cried. Frances and I screamed, hugged and celebrated.
We were trying to stay out long enough to see the aurora dance, but it got to be too late so we packed it up. Good thing too because then the snowstorm started again, as if it only stopped long enough for us to see the lights.