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Abisko: The Northern Lights Capital of the World

    Nestled in the heart of the Swedish Lapland, Abisko is a small village located just 40 km from the Norwegian border. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and overlooking Sweden’s largest alpine lake, Abisko boasts a unique climate, giving it one of the highest odds of clear skies in the Arctic.

    For this reason, Abisko is considered one of the best places in the world to witness the Northern Lights. Away from large towns, nestled in an enchanted landscape, Abisko boasts dark skies and one of the highest chances to spot the Northern Lights. The probability is said to be over 86%! Which means that during the winter season, approximately between October and March, it is very likely that you will see a beautiful Aurora just by staying in Abisko for 2 or 3 days.

    The village of Abisko is just 90 km from Kiruna and 80 km from Narvik, making it easily accessible yet secluded enough to feel like a true escape into the wilderness.

    Abisko: Where it is Located and Other Interesting Facts

    Abisko is a tiny village located in the heart of Swedish Lapland (Sápmi), in northern Sweden, not far from the border with Norway. Overlooking Lake Torneträsk, Sweden’s largest alpine lake, navigable by rowboat in summer and frozen over in winter, the small village of Abisko is nestled in the remote, wild valleys enclosed by high mountains, nicknamed the Abisko Alps, part of the Scandinavian Mountains.

    Abisko has just over 80 inhabitants, and the nearest town, Kiruna, is approximately 90 km away. Paradoxically, the town of Narvik in Norway is closer, at around 80 km away. Its remote location, like a true frontier village, and the fact that it is located in an area with a quite special microclimate, with often cloudy and rainy skies in summer, but with an abundance of clear skies in winter, has attracted travelers from all over the world for over a century, eager to see one of nature’s most magical phenomena: the Northern Lights.

    Besides being a popular tourist destination, Abisko is the starting point for some of Sweden’s best and most popular hiking trails, such as those that allow you to explore the wild lands of Abisko National Park and Kungsleden, The King’s Trail, which with its 440 km is Sweden’s longest and most famous hiking trail.

    Despite its remote location, and its being – along with Kiruna – one of the most attractive and least known destinations in the Far North, Abisko is relatively easily accessible. In fact, the village was built along the Iron Ore Line, the railway that transports the iron ore from the Kiruna mine to the port of Narvik, and which is also traveled by the Arctic Circle Train, the night train that goes from Stockholm to Narvik via Kiruna. Furthermore, Abisko is located along the E10, an international road that leads from the village of Å i Lofoten – at the western tip of the Lofoten Islands, in Norway – to Luleå, on the Gulf of Bothnia, in Sweden. And this could be an idea for a memorable road trip.

    Things to Do in Abisko

    Abisko Aurora Sky Station

    The Abisko Aurora Sky Station, nestled in the heart of the Abisko National Park, is by far the most popular attraction in Abisko, and one of the most popular places in the world to view the Northern Lights. At an altitude of 900 meters on the summit of Mount Nuoljia, the station offers a truly magical atmosphere, surrounded by silence and the boundless beauty of Swedish Lapland, a short distance from the border with Norway. You will enjoy a breathtaking view of the valley – a huge expanse of wilderness, covered by ice and snow in winter and mossy meadows in summer – and Lake Torneträsk.

    Visitors to the Aurora Sky Station will find a panoramic terrace, a cafeteria, and a small exhibition dedicated to the Northern Lights, where the science behind their formation is explained in detail. The station is accessible via a modern chairlift, which departs from the STF Turiststation and takes around 30 minutes to reach the summit. Operating times vary depending on the season and period.

    From November to March, the Aurora Sky Station – as the name suggests – is the ideal place to witness the Northern Lights, away from the lights and pollution of the village below. During this time, the STF Turiststation offers guided night tours of the station, providing visitors with the opportunity to see the Northern Lights from one of the best vantage points in the world. The chairlift operates from 10:00 pm to 1:00 am, with the last ride down at 1:00 am. The tour includes the return journey on the chairlift, overalls, and warm boots to protect against the cold, and a guided tour of the station. The cost of the tour is around 1000 SEK per person.

    During the months of June and July, the STF Turiststation offers night tours to admire the Midnight Sun from the summit of Mount Nuoljia, at over 1000 meters high. The tour includes a 2 km hike accompanied by an expert guide, offering beautiful panoramic views and interesting facts about the area. Once you reach the summit, you can enjoy a refreshing drink and snacks while taking in the stunning Midnight Sun. The hike lasts around 4 hours, from 9:30 pm to 1:40 am, and the total walking distance is 4 km. The cost of the excursion starts from 800 SEK and includes the return journey on the chairlift, the guide, and drinks and snacks.

    The Aurora Sky Station also offers a breathtaking view of the Abisko National Park, a huge pristine wilderness area, crossed only by rare paths, along which you can meet reindeer, moose and small arctic fauna. With a little luck, practicing the less traveled paths, you could meet some Sami reindeer herders, the nomadic people of Lapland, who have inhabited these remote and wild lands since ancient times. The large lake in the background, the Torneträsk Lake, dotted with islets, goes all the way to the Norwegian border, while all around there are silent and deserted plateaus and high and rugged mountains.

    During the winter months, the Aurora Sky Station is the main starting point for skiing, and in the summer, it is a popular spot for hiking. The chairlift operates from February to April and from June to September, and offers daytime service every day from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. The ticket price starts from 200 SEK per person.

    Besides hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, you could also treat yourself to dinner in the beautiful setting of the Aurora Sky Station. From November to March, the STF Turiststation offers a unique dining experience at the Aurora Sky Station: guests can purchase a “Northern Light Dinner” featuring Nordic cuisine served inside the station. The package includes drinks and four courses of typical local dishes, all enjoyed in a truly unique atmosphere. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights while dining. The cost starts from 2200 SEK per person and includes the return journey on the chairlift, overalls, warm boots, and a guided tour of the station.

    However, you should think of the Aurora Sky Station as an observation deck – a tourist attraction. Keep in mind that no one can guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights from the top of the Aurora Sky Station, as it depends on nature. So, if you’re traveling on a tight budget, you could just venture along the trails around Abisko to find equally good spots to see the Northern Lights, for free. Alternatively, you could opt for a guided Northern Light chasing tour, which offers the best chance of spotting the best Northern Lights, being itinerant and led by expert guides.

    People often ask if it’s necessary to go up to the Aurora Sky Station to see the Northern Lights in Abisko. The answer is no. You can see equally (if not more) beautiful Northern Lights anywhere in Abisko, even just stepping outside your accommodation. And, in my opinion, to find the best place to see it, you’ll just wandering along the paths and wilderness areas around the village.

    Abisko National Park

    The Abisko National Park extends around the village of Abisko, from the southern coast of Torneträsk Lake to the wild lands of the hinterland, and up the long valley of the Abiskojåkka River to another large alpine lake, Abiskojaure Lake, also called Ábeskojávri. Abisko National Park is nestled in a backdrop of majestic mountains, which give way to a valley covered in flowering alpine meadows which in winter become a huge white expanse of snow and ice.

    All around there are small waterfalls, rapids, streams that flow even in winter and form a scenic deep canyon. Scandinavia’s most famous trail, Kungsleden (the King’s Trail), and several other trails and nature paths traverse the park for its entire length. Its stark beauty and wealth of opportunities for outdoor activities make Abisko National Park a primary destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

    The Abisko National Park covers an area of 75 square km and is surrounded by a mighty mountain range, improperly called the Abisko Alps. Depending on the season, it offers a very varied landscape. In the summer, nature has lively and bright colors, while in the winter it is filled with snow and frozen streams and waterfalls, creating an enchanted landscape. The park features a rich variety of arctic flora and fauna. In summer it is also possible to spot some rare alpine plants, such as the Platanthera Obtusata Oligantha, also known as the Lapland Orchid, the Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron Lapponicum) and the Arnica Artica (Arnica Angustifolia), but also the Pinguicula Alpina, a small carnivorous plant.

    The park is also home to many species of animals, such as wild reindeer and moose, as well as bears, wolverines, lynxes and arctic foxes. Martens, stoats, lemmings and squirrels are also frequently encountered in the birch-covered forests, common in Abisko National Park, and in the alpine moors. This was for a long time a territory where the Sami lived and raised reindeer, an animal that adapts well to this environment, since they can feed easily in these grasslands where the snowpack is never excessively deep.

    In addition to the large Torneträsk Lake, Abisko National Park is home to several picturesque alpine lakes, which are worth visiting in the summer along the many trails that crisscross the park. The main one is Lake Ábeskojávri, at the southern end of which stands a small solitary mountain cabin, the STF Abiskojaure (Open from mid-February to mid-April and from mid-June to mid-September, bookable only through the Swedish Tourist Association – Svenska Turistföreningen, prices from 450 SEK per bed, mixed dorm accommodation), located right along two of the most popular long-distance hiking trails: Kungsleden and Nordkalottleden.

    Other lakes worth visiting are Lake Vuolip Njáhkájávri, reachable with the Njakajaure Trail (5 km), and Lake Bajip Njáhkájávri, easily reachable with a 15-minute walk along a path that leads from Abisko Östra station to the Stornabben viewpoint and from there to the lake.

    Another nice hike that is not too difficult is the one towards the Kårsafallen waterfalls, along the Kårsajåkka river. The trail starts near Abisko Turiststation and is approximately 8.5km round trip, passing through birch forest, beautiful moorland on ridges and sparse pine forest. The hike is a bit demanding and is only advisable in summer, as it is not clearly signposted in winter.

    The park’s main visitor center is located at the STF Turiststation. Here you will find maps and tips for exploring the park. If you plan to go hiking, you should get some hiking trail maps, as the area is full of trails and it’s not always easy to navigate, especially in winter. A smartphone can be a valuable aid to navigation.

    At the STF Turiststation you could take a look at the Abisko Naturum, where you can get a lot of useful information about the geology, geography, flora and fauna of Abisko, as well as interesting historical anecdotes. A permanent exhibition offers insight into the geology of Abisko National Park and its flora and fauna. It’s very interesting to see the different species of animals and rare birds that live in the park and learn how to spot them.

    The Abisko Naturum also highlights the fragility of the ecosystem and how it is currently threatened by global warming. It emphasizes the importance of traveling and exploring the area responsibly. An area of the exhibition specifically shows how climate change is affecting the lives of animals and the growth of plants, and how it has changed over the years. Suffice it to say that, in recent decades, much of Lapland’s permafrost is under threat and is gradually disappearing. The Abisko Naturum is open from December to September.

    Hiking Trails: Walk the Kungsleden, or King’s Trail

    Abisko National Park is well-known for its many hiking trails. The most popular – not only in Abisko, but in the whole of Sweden, is the 450 km Kungsleden, or King’s Trail. The trail goes from Abisko to Hemavan, passing through picturesque villages, majestic mountains and amazing landscapes. It also includes a climb up Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, which stands at over 2000 meters.

    The hiking route is divided into five sections:

    • Abisko to Kebnekaise (90 km) – The first stretch is particularly popular as it crosses the Abisko National Park;
    • Kebnekaise in Saltoluokta (52 km) – Through forests and wide valleys;
    • Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk (75 km) – Include the ascent of the Sitojaure Plateau and the boat crossing of Lake Laitaure;
    • From Kvikkjokk to Ammarnäs (160 km) – It’s considered the most challenging stretch because its length;
    • Ammarnäs to Hemavan (80 km) – Include the pass on Kungsleden mountain;

    The trail is marked by red wooden balls all along the way. It is also practicable in winter, obviously with the support of skis and snowshoes. You could walk even just a part of it, even a short one. Along the way you will find cabins and hostels where you can spend the night or simply rest.

    It is important to plan the hike responsibly, especially in winter, when snow and harsh weather make the hike very challenging. Ideally you should time each stop so that you arrive safely at a hostel or mountain cabin. I advise you to bring all the necessary equipment, such as a sleeping bag and tent, as not all shelters are heated or have electricity. In addition to the King’s Trail, there are also shorter day trips available, such as visiting the Abiskojåkka Canyon. This canyon is beautiful in both summer and winter, with lovely streams and viewpoints that can be enjoyed on a peaceful, easy stroll along a wooden boardwalk.

    Sami Camp

    With a short walk of a few minutes (about 300 meters) from the parking lot of the Abisko Turiststation train station, you will reach an old Sami Camp. This is actually a reconstruction of a traditional Sami village made by local Sami people. In fact, the area has been inhabited by natives since ancient times, many of whom are now fully integrated into modern society, live in normal houses and have a normal job, like any Swede.

    But the Sami are also proud of their traditions and love to welcome travelers and tell stories about their culture, reindeer herding, the Northern Lights and what it means to live in the remote lands of the Arctic. The Sami Camp is located on top of a small hill and features several ancient earthen homes and timber frame houses in the traditional style, tents and other structures in wood, stone, mud and straw, which served as warehouses, kitchens and meeting places.

    Guided tours are occasionally held at Sami Camp, with some Sami guides who will allow you to see the interiors of the houses and learn more about the local culture. These tours don’t have a fixed schedule, so you may ask your host or the STF Abisko Turiststation. Aside from the tours, you can roam the village freely and admire the photogenic houses for free.

    STF Abisko Turiststation

    For over 100 years, the STF Abisko Turiststation has been welcoming travelers to this remote corner of Lapland. Its fascinating history is directly linked to that of Abisko, Kungsleden and tourism in Sweden. In 1885 a group of geology students from Uppsala, just north of Stockholm, with an interest in outdoor activities, decided to found an association called Svenska Turistföreningen (STF), with the aim of making the Swedish mountain world accessible to tourists.

    The first ambitious mission of the STF was to mark the hiking trails along the Kungsleden route between Abisko and Kvikkjokk. The members of the STF soon realized that it would also be appropriate to build accommodation for hikers and travellers, the so-called vandrarhem or hostels. Among these, one of the most important was built in 1903 in Abisko, taking advantage of the lodgings that had been built for the engineers who were building the mining railway, the so-called Iron Ore Line, which from Luleå and Kiruna went towards Riksgränsen and from there, after crossing the Norwegian border, it continued along the so-called Ofotbanen to Narvik. This new mountain accommodation took the name of STF Abisko Mountain Station, and recently of STF Abisko Turiststation. Even today it is the largest mountain accommodation managed by Svenska Turistföreningen.

    Located on a scenic hilltop in the northern part of Abisko National Park, with beautiful views of Lake Torneträsk and Mt. Noulja, the STF Abisko Turiststation is a true Abisko institution and also serves as the main visitor centre. Nearby are the Kungsleden trailhead and the chairlift to the Abisko Aurora Sky Station. Furthermore, most of the trails for Abisko National Park and for exploring the surroundings start from here.

    Most guided tours depart from Abisko Turiststation, including night visits to Aurora Sky Station, guided hikes in Abisko National Park, educational activities, ski and snowshoe tours, as well as offering services for skiers, including ski lessons.

    Obviously the primary purpose of the STF Abisko Turiststation is to provide quality accommodation to travellers, and for this reason it boasts a wide choice of double and family rooms, as well as charming cottages and holiday homes. It also features affordable dormitory accommodation, with a shared kitchen and on-site convenience store. But what makes a stay at the STF Abisko Turiststation truly memorable is its magical atmosphere, with various common areas and lounges where you can rest after a hike, a library and common rooms where you can relax or read a book in front of the fire.

    STF Abisko Turiststation is worth a visit even if you are not a guest, especially in winter when its atmosphere is magical. You can freely stop here to rest, have a drink or something to eat in the cafeteria and its restaurant that serves good local specialties, or simply take a break from the harsh arctic climate after a hike.

    The Abisko Turiststation train station is located just across from the STF Abisko Turiststation. The Arctic Circle Train also stops here on its route between Stockholm and Narvik.

    Abisko Border Defense Museum

    A little-known gem sure to please history buffs is the small Abisko Border Defense Museum (Abisko Gränsförsvarsmuseum), located a stone’s throw from the STF Abisko Turiststation. This is the best place to better understand the history of the village of Abisko and its strategic importance, linked to the railway which since 1902 has transported iron ore from the Kiruna mines to the port of Narvik, Norway.

    Located on the border between Sweden and Norway, the small village of Abisko had significant strategic importance, particularly during World War II. At the outbreak of war, Swedish exports to Germany accounted for 40% of their supply of iron ore, which was vital to the war effort. As a neutral country, Sweden found itself caught between the demands of the Allies, who could have blocked the export of iron ore, and Nazi Germany, which had occupied Norway and could have invaded Sweden.

    In 1940 the entire mine line and border was fortified and Sweden prepared to defend itself against an invasion. Railway bridges were mined and the area around Abisko and along the border with Norway became a very dangerous area of enormous military importance. This was maintained even after the end of the war, when the strategic importance of these remote areas revived again in the Cold War era.

    The small museum offers an overview of this little-known chapter of history through descriptive panels, objects, maps and photographs. It also houses a small Rallarmuseum, a museum dedicated to the railway, which tells the story of the half-forgotten heroes who built the Iron Ore Line, which still today carries millions of tons of iron ore a year, as well as thousands of passengers on the legendary Arctic Circle Train.

    The museum opens only on request. If you are interested in visiting it, you should ask a few days in advance at the reception of the STF Abisko Turiststation.

    When is the best time to visit Abisko?

    Abisko is a popular destination both in summer and in winter, thanks to its truly unique landscapes. Obviously, depending on the season, the landscape changes considerably, and the attractions and activities you can do will also be different.

    Winter in Abisko

    Winter is the most suggestive season to visit Abisko: you will be able to experience the harsh climate of Lapland, a thick blanket of snow covers the whole landscape and for most of the day it will be dark. But that doesn’t mean giving up hiking, since the polar night isn’t completely dark at these latitudes. For most of the morning you will be able to enjoy the light of the so-called civil twilight, similar to dawn, which will enrich the sky with bluish tones and a large number of shades of incredible colors, from pink to orange, carmine red and purple.

    If you choose to visit Abisko during the winter season, keep in mind that you will find plenty of snow and a fairly harsh climate. This might put you off but it’s really just the beginning of the fun: from October until March you will have the chance to see Abisko’s most famous attraction, the Northern Lights.

    Abisko is renowned for being one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights, being within the Aurora Oval – the area near the North and South poles where auroras are usually viable – away from large settlements and sources of light pollution, and enjoying a high probability of clear skies, all of which are necessary preconditions for seeing the Northern Lights.

    This extraordinary mix of weather conditions is known as the Blue Hole of Abisko: the jet streams and winds that blow in from the Arctic ocean and the mountain ranges surrounding the great valley and large lake around Abisko, create a unique micro-climate . The winds blow with an almost stable strength and direction and usually crash into the tall mountain peaks and in the wild lands around Abisko, generating a sort of hole in the clouds, an area where the probability of good weather is higher than in the surroundings. This is quite a rare condition in the Arctic climate, which is why Abisko is a unique place to see the Northern Lights, as it is also relatively easily accessible.

    Does this mean that the sky is always clear in Abisko? Not, of course. But, let’s say that if you stay there for 3 or 4 days, the probability of getting clear skies is very high. Will you definitely see the Northern Lights? No one can guarantee it, the probability is high, but it is also necessary that the solar activity necessary for their formation occurs. And this is something that only nature can know.

    However, visiting Abisko in winter means fully enjoying the many outdoor activities it offers, such as skiing, walking in the snow in Abisko National Park, which has many hiking trails open even in winter, or enjoying a snowmobile ride or dog sledding. You may also take the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Kiruna, and the charming Lappish villages in the vicinity, where you may take the opportunity to spend a night in the memorable Jukkasjärvi Icehotel.

    Summer in Abisko

    If you want to see what is hidden under the blanket of snow that covers Lapland for most of the year, then you should come to Abisko in the summer. This is the best season to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Abisko National Park and to easily explore the surrounding region.

    Also, this is the Midnight Sun season. In spring and summer, the days will have more and more hours of light until the sun never sets even at night, always remaining above the horizon.

    Although the climate is more pleasant in summer, it is still recommended to dress in layers as cold winds and thunderstorms are frequent. All hiking trails reopen when the snow melts. Abisko offers many hiking and mountain bike trails to explore the surroundings, especially within the Abisko National Park, which boasts hundreds of km of trails, perfect for a holiday in the wildest and most unspoiled nature.

    How to Get to Abisko

    Getting to Abisko by Plane

    There is no airport in Abisko, so you will need to fly to the nearest airport, which is Kiruna Airport. From there you will have to continue by land, bus or train from Kiruna. Or you will have to book a private transfer. Kiruna Airport has internal connections only, mainly to and from Stockholm (approx. 1.5h).

    Alternatively, you could fly into Harstad Narvik Airport in Norway. From there you could hire a car and follow the E10 (which passes right in front of the airport) to Abisko, or go to Narvik and continue by train or bus.

    Getting to Abisko by Train

    One of the most popular, cheapest and undoubtedly attractive ways to reach Abisko is by train. Abisko has two railway stations: the main one is the Abisko Touriststation, located next to the STF Abisko Turiststation. The other station is Abisko Östra, which is located right in the center of the tiny village of Abisko, a few kilometers south of the previous one. A footpath goes from station to station, it’s an easy half hour walk. Many of the hostels and private accommodations are located near Abisko Östra station, which is also the first station you’ll encounter when coming from Stockholm or Kiruna.

    From Stockholm

    For those traveling from Stockholm, the famous Arctic Circle Train offers a direct connection to Abisko. The night train takes around 20 hours to reach Narvik and passes through Abisko once a day, departing from Stockholm Central Station at 18.00 and arriving in Abisko the next day at 10.30.

    From Narvik

    From Narvik there are two trains a day to Abisko, one in the morning (Vy 95 for Luleå) and one in the early afternoon (Vy Nattåg 93). The latter is the Arctic Circle Train, on its return journey to Stockholm. The journey from Narvik to Abisko takes approx. 2 hours.

    Alternatively you could take a bus, the Arctic Route Bus (Route No. 6) offers daily connections which take 1.5 hours.

    From Kiruna

    Kiruna and Abisko are about 90 km apart and are connected by two trains a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

    Otherwise you could take a bus, there are a couple of buses a day operated by Länstrafiken Norrbotten, usually around 11am and 6.30pm, taking 1.5 hours to Abisko. It is advisable to inquire about the timetables on site, at the Kiruna tourist office or at the bus station.

    From Luleå

    For those coming from Luleå, there are two trains a day that take around 6 hours. There is also one bus a day to Kiruna, operated by Arctic Route or another local operator. It usually leaves early in the morning. From Kiruna bus station you can continue to Abisko by one of the Länstrafiken Norrbotten buses or by train.