February 21 – 24, 2014
I have seen a fair share of people who, for whatever reason, arrive Abisko woefully unprepared. As my friends are already asking me information about this trip, below are some practical tips on how to see the northern lights without breaking the bank.
There are two ways to get to Abisko – by plane or train.
SAS and Norweigian fly daily between Stockholm and Kiruna, about 100 km south of Abisko. Weekend flights on Kayak.com are around 1670 SEK round-trip. The flight takes about an hour and forty minutes.
So why did I take the train (1908 SEK round-trip) when on paper flying is slightly cheaper?
I am not a train buff, and usually I do prefer taking the plane over a 17-hour train ride. But in the case the train worked better with my itinerary.
My flight landed in Stockholm at 21:30. If I were to take the next flight (8:15 am) to Kiruna, I would have to spend a night either at the airport or somewhere close by. Taking the 23:05 sleeper train saved me a night’s accommodation (or a sleepless night at the airport) and the transit fare from Kiruna to Abisko (ranges from 160 – 450 SEK, depending on time of arrival and availability). The train arrived at Abisko Turiststation at 16:20 with a change in Boden.
And the real benefit, in my case, was the one-way ticket allowed me to stay in Abisko as long as I wanted. Flying can arguably provide the same flexibility, but the cheapest one-way flight to Kiruna costs 1150 SEK.
On the other hand, a slight benefit of flying is since you have to stop in Kiruna, you have a much higher incentive to visit the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, some 20 km away. I didn’t find the hotel interesting enough to justify a stop in Kiruna but I very well might have done so if I have chosen to take the plane.
If you have decided on taking the train, do yourself a favor and pay a few hundred more kronor for at least a six-bed cabin. I reserved only a seat to Abisko (649SEK); I paid for my mistake by barely getting any sleep. Passengers were constantly getting on and off the train, the toddler sitting behind me went berserk for hours and the school kids next to me just wouldn’t stop talking.
On my return trip to Stockholm I shelled out for a three-bed cabin (1,259 SEK). The train, because of electricity failure, delayed for four hours without any apology. I was told delay is to be expected during winter; this is the Arctic after all.
“What company doesn’t apologize for a four hour delay?” As I was grumbling to myself when I opened my cabin’s door, inside was a Chinese couple busy reshuffling their luggage. They told me because of the delay they had missed their Kiruna-Stockholm flight and their subsequent Stockholm-Helsinki flight. They would take the complimentary train ride to Stockholm then fly to Tallinn, the next-in-line on their itinerary after Helsinki. I felt slightly sorry for them, but that’s a classic case of why it is never a good idea to “travel” to five countries in a week.
Delay or not, I had already paid a hefty price for a good night’s sleep and I wasn’t going to let anything to stop me from falling into a coma after suffering from three consecutive nights of terrible sleep because of noisy roommates.
STF Abisko Mountain Station
For accommodation it is basically a coin toss between STF Abisko Mountain Station (AMS) and Abisko Mountain Lodge (AML). I chose AMS because it is closer to attractions like the Aurora Sky Station, Kungsleden and Torneträsk (I will get to them later).
Located just across the road from the train station, AMS has a range of accommodation types, from hostel room to private cabin. A night at the hostel costs 295 SEK. To stay there you have to bring your own bed linen and pillow cover, or you can pay 150 SEK for rentals. You also have to vacuum and mop the room before you check out or you will be charged 500 SEK.
The three-bed hostel room is quite cramped, furnished with a bunk bed, a single bed, a sink, a small dining table, a chair, a shelf and two wall hangers. Even though ten rooms share two public toilets and showers, I never had to queue for either. Two communal kitchens are down the hall and there is a sauna downstairs on the ground floor.
What to Wear
Expecting -20°C, I packed the following:
- a Leaveland water-resistant ski jacket
- a North Face down jacket
- a neck gaiter
- a knit cap
- a sweater
- three Uniqlo Heattech
- a pair of non water-resistant ski pants
- two pairs of thermal underwear trousers
- two pairs of 70% wool ski socks
- a pair of snow boots
I ended up packing too much. The temperature never dropped below -10°C. The last day it even rained and snow started to melt. That said, it is better to pack more than be sorry. You can also buy all kinds of winter gear at AMS, but at Arctic prices of course.
Finally here is a table of my expenses. (1 SEK = 0.16 USD)
|Overnight train to Abisko (Seat)||649 SEK|
|STF membership fee||295 SEK|
|Three-bed dorm room at STF Abisko Mountain Station||295 SEK x 3|
|Aurora Sky Station||595 SEK|
|Food (local supermarket and Hong Kong)||~ 150 SEK|
|Overnight train to Stockholm (Three-bed cabin)||1,259 SEK|
|Food and drink bought on train||120 SEK|
A STF membership gives discount to both accommodation and activities, but since I only stayed for three nights and didn’t enroll in many activities, it wasn’t a good deal for me. Those who intend to spend more could benefit from the membership.
The key to saving money is definitely cooking your own food. If you don’t plan to carry food from home, a supermarket is located close to AML and a 30 min walk from AMS. For people who don’t want to cook, AMS charges 110 SEK for breakfast, 95 SEK for lunch and 225-375 SEK for dinner.
The other key is a matter of personal choice – do you want to join the outrageously expensive activities like dog sledding and Nordic skiing? Your expense will run up in a hurry if you sign up for just one or two. I only signed up for the Aurora Sky Station, but if it wasn’t booked out I would also have tried dog sledding. You can find a list of offered activities here.
You don’t have to stay indoor even if you don’t pay a dime. To the north is Torneträsk, the (useless trivia alert!) seventh largest lake in Sweden. It is covered by thick ice in winter and is one of the more popular places to see the aurora at night.
Kungsleden to the south is a 440-km long trail and attracts many cross-country skiers. Still worthwhile to do on foot, even though I only managed 10 km in three hours. Walking in snow is tough!