I’ve always traveled on a tight budget, and Sweden is rightfully notorious for being an expensive travel destination. Even a dorm bed in a hostel in Stockholm will easily cost 250 SEK, or $30 USD, per night.
But when I saw flights to Sweden on Norwegian Air for under $400 return during my February school break, all thoughts about how expensive Scandinavia was flew out the window, and I found myself staring at a ticket confirmation page. The damage was done: now I had to figure out how to see both Stockholm and the Northern lights on a budget.
Making the Most of a Week in Sweden
With only six full days in Sweden, I decided that I wanted to spend three in Stockholm and three chasing the Northern lights in Abisko. In Stockholm, my two friends and I saved by splitting an Airbnb three ways (not a member yet? Use my link to get a discount off your first stay!).
We each paid $30 a night, to stay in the lovely neighborhood of Hornstull on the island of Södermalm – the same cost as a hostel but with a lot more privacy! To keep costs down, we mostly bought groceries, ate out for lunch rather than dinner, and walked everywhere (I mean everywhere — we didn’t even take any public transit except for the bus to the airport!)
After three blissful days in Swedish urban paradise, it was time for me to realize my science nerd dream of seeing the Northern lights in Abisko. In true type-A fashion, I had laboriously researched the best place to see the lights. Statistically speaking, scientists agreed on Abisko as the prime spot for viewing the Northern lights, with an 80% success rate of seeing the lights if you stayed for three nights in Abisko.
So up north we went.
How I Saw the Northern Lights on a Budget
Flight from Stockholm to Kiruna: $61.65 on SAS
Flight from Kiruna to Stockholm: $59.19 on Norwegian Airlines
My share of food and a six-pack of beer from Coop Grocery Store: $24
2-bedroom at Abisko.net Hostel: $35 per person (dorms available for $30)*
Taxi to Kiruna train station from airport: $20 per person (split two ways)
Buffet lunch at SPiS in Kiruna: $10
Train from Kiruna to Abisko: $11
Return shuttle bus direct to airport: $45
Total for 3 days and 3 nights: $315.84 USD
Getting to Abisko
Contrary to what you might think, flying is actually usually the best way to see the Northern lights on a budget. The train from Stockholm to Kiruna is closer to $100 USD each way and takes 17 hours, and time was a luxury we did not have.
From Kiruna, you have a few choices to get to Abisko: either an obscenely expensive taxi, bus/taxi + train, or a direct shuttle bus. There is also a once-daily public bus (line 91) that goes directly from the airport to Abisko, but it is generally really hard to line up your flight arrival time with the bus departure. It’s worth looking into, but don’t get your hopes up.
Planning a trip to see the Northern lights? Don’t forget these budget-friendly necessities!
There are certainly ways that you could see the Northern lights for cheaper, such as by buying inexpensive groceries and forgoing the beer, hitchhiking, or trying to find Couchsurfing hosts (which are pretty rare that far North, as Kiruna – the nearest “city” – has a population of only 20,000).
However, here I tried to represent the most typical paid costs that most travelers would incur when trying to see the Northern lights on a budget. It’s definitely not cheap, and well over my typical $33/day budget…. but for a natural phenomenon this majestic, it’s hard to be mad about it.
We booked to stay at Winterday Hostel; however, due to a last minute problem with the hostel, they had to cancel our reservation and rebooked us for no extra cost at STF Turiststation, a more expensive (but incredibly nice!) hostel. We loved our stay at STF so much that if your budget allows I’d really recommend staying there!
They have multiple saunas, snowshoe and cross country ski rentals, TWO of the nicest hostel kitchens I’ve ever seen, a fireplace and lounge room, and it’s walking distance to frozen waterfalls and the frozen lake in Abisko National Park. If you don’t stay there, it’s a great place to go for lunch – they have a daily buffet for about $10 USD.
The people at Winterday Hostel/Abisko.net were so lovely but I can’t speak to how the dorms were as we ended up being unable to stay there. The dogsledding tour we took with them, however, was excellent! They treat their dogs excellently and value their safety and wellbeing.
At approximately $140 USD, it’s certainly an expensive treat, but well worth it to me. I didn’t include the cost of the tour in the budget breakdown as it’s not integral to seeing the Northern Lights if you’re on a tight budget. For me, the realization of a childhood dream was worth the added cost.
Travel Hacking Tip: Looking for a flight to Sweden? Be sure to check out Norwegian Air directly, as they’re sometimes not included on popular online travel agencies. I’ve found fares as low as $160 USD one way from California to Stockholm!
- A guide to backpacking Svalbard where you can see the Northern lights in Norway by Freeborn Aiden
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There’s no need to splurge on a Northern lights tour. If you walk somewhere dark in Abisko and stay out long enough on a clear night, you will most likely see the lights by yourself. I saw them three nights in a row with varying levels of visibility due to the cloud cover.
Be sure to have travel insurance, as you’re far from the nearest hospital if something goes wrong. I use and recommend World Nomads for their affordable prices and flexible policies.
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