Seeing the northern lights should be on everyone’s bucket list. However, doing that on budget can be a challenge. Top destinations to see the northern lights are in Alaksa, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Getting to these destinations come with a cost. While there is likely no true budget option, there are ways to reduce the costs and see this amazing phenomenon.
Abisko, Sweden is a small town in the Lapland, roughly 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It was recently chosen by Lonely Planet as the best place in the world to view northern lights. Known for the Abisko Aurora Sky Station, this area is incredibly dark at night, and a hot zone for aurora activity. We travel on a budget and thought viewing the northern lights would be too expensive for us. We found a way to minimize costs and check this off our bucket list. Here are ways you can too.
Abisko is very isolated, with few options for accommodation and food. There are only a few hotels, most expensive, yet there is one budget option. Abisko Hostels owns both the Winterday Hostel and Hostel Haverskog. They are located side-by-side in Abisko, with dorms and private rooms available. Both have kitchens as well as a shared sauna open from 8pm-9pm.
Accommodation Pricing and Options
Winterday Hostel is the most budget friendly accomodation. Hostel Haverskog, while still “budget” for Sweden, is slightly more expensive than Winterday. To confirm pricing and for reservation inquiries, contact them at www.abisko.net. Below are prices for Winterday Hostel.
Dorm Bed in 6 Bedroom: $250 SEK per night per person
2 Bedroom Private Room: $600 SEK per night per room
TIP: Book a room NOT on the ground floor. It is loud, and people are viewing the aurora throughout the night.
Winterday Hostel Options
Clothing rental: 150 SEK per stay
includes heavy duty boots, mittens, and full 1-piece snow outfit
Cross country ski rental: 150 SEK per stay
Dog sledding is available for 1,500 SEK, which includes cross country skis and clothing rental for the duration of your stay.
One block from Winterday is Coop, the only supermarket in Abisko. Sweden is very expensive and Abisko is very expensive even for Sweden standards. We searched for deals and stuck to eggs, beans, toasties/sandwiches, and pastas.
Abisko National Park, 2 km from Abisko town, offers great exploring by cross country skiing or snowmobiling. As mentioned, ski rentals are available from Winterday. Snowmobiling is available from $1200 SEK per person for a 2 hour tour.
Viewing the Northern Lights
Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, are only active during the winter. Auroras are best between November and March. Auroras are not predictable, they can last for minutes or sometimes for hours. They typically are the most active between 10pm and 3am.
To see the northern lights, the darker the surrounding area is the better. From Winterday, there are two options for viewing. There is a helicopter landing area, 5 minutes walking distance, above the hostel. The other option, and best in Abisko, is a 20 minute walk down to the frozen lake.
If there was one thing to splurge on, The Abisko Aurora Sky Station is the best option for the viewing the northern lights. The price is 745 SEK per person, which includes the round trip gondola and warm clothing to view the lights. They have a cafe area where you can stay inside as well as an outdoor viewing platform.
EU aurora forecast has a 3-day forecast as well as a short term 1 hour forecast. Check the long term forecast and find the time in the evening when the forecast is high. Then watch the short term forecast for increased in activity. In addition, watch the Abisko Aurora web cam which has updates every few minutes.
Forecasting is all done through an estimated KP Index rating. KP Index is between 0 and 9, showing the strength of the geomagnetic storms, which result in seeing northern lights. The stronger the storm, the further south in latitude you are able to see the northern lights. There is a great map and information on how to read KP Index here: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-school/all-about-the-kp-index/
Websites on Aurora Forecasting
Europe Aurora Forecast: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
Abisko Sky Station Cam: http://www.auroraskystation.com/live/
How to Get There
Scandinavian Rail via:
Kiruna – 3 hrs
Stockholm – 18 hrs
Narvik, Norway – 2 hrs
There are two stations, Abisko Tourist Station and Abisko East. Winterday is located at the Abisko East station.
TIP: Purchase your train ticket 90 days ahead of time. With less time, the cheaper ticket options sell out. There are regular class tickets with seats that only slightly recline and electrical outlets. There also are sleeper trains with 6 beds, fully stocked with electrical outlets and a large table. Book the top bed.
What to Bring
Abisko is in the Arctic Circle. Be prepared for cold weather during the day and extremely cold nights. The most important thing is keeping your feet, hands, and head warm. Bring thick winter boots, or rent from Winterday hostel. Bring wool socks (2 pairs even better), warm gloves, and a warm hat. Also bring something to cover your face. Just in case you do forget something, Winterday has a large lost and found bin with clothing. We grabbed some really good wool socks and an extra pair of thick clothing rather than renting gear. Here is a list of what to bring:
Long wool socks
Wool shirts for layering
Down jacket or lightweight bubble jacket
Ski pants/jacket for outer layers
Gloves (best for thin gloves and a 2nd pair of thick gloves over these)
Extra camera batteries
Remote for camera
Seeing the Northern Lights is really special, make sure to stay up and enjoy the show!
Visited on 02/28/16 – 03/01/2016.