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Sweden

How to Do an Abisko Northern Lights Trip on a Tight Budget

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.

With only six full days in Sweden, I decided that I wanted to spend three in Stockholm and three in Abisko, Northern lights spotting.  In Stockholm, my two friends and I saved major money by splitting an Airbnb three ways (not a member yet? Use my link to get a $40 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!)

Stockholm is beautiful in winter, and it's a great starting spot to see the Northern lights on a budget

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 Northern lights.

Statistically speaking, scientists agreed on Abisko’s Northern lights as being the most reliable in the world, with an 80% success rate of seeing the lights if you stayed for three nights. Luckily, since seeing Northern lights in Lapland is a popular city break getaway for Europeans, flights north are relatively cheap. And even better, once you’re there, Abisko’s Northern lights show is totally, 100% free!

Seeing Abisko Northern Lights on a Budget

Abisko's northern lights are some of the best in the world

Cost breakdown:

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 in Abisko for Northern lights spotting: $315.84 USD

Why not try spotting the Northern lights in Abisko?

Getting to Abisko

Contrary to what you might think, flying is actually usually the best way to start a cheap Northern lights holiday. 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, and most people on short weekend breaks will not either.

From Kiruna, you have a few choices to get to Abisko, where you can view the Northern lights a lot easier: either an obscenely expensive taxi, bus/taxi and 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.

Abisko Northern lights spotting is the best!

Planning a Northern lights vacation? Don’t forget these budget-friendly necessities! 

It’s near impossible to photograph the Northern lights without a proper tripod. This is carry-on friendly and under 20 bucks to boot!

You lose a lot of warmth through your legs, so be sure to invest in some fleece-lined leggings to stay warm and cozy.

Protecting your hands and feet are extra important – Smartwool socks and gloves will serve you well in the Arctic

There are certainly ways that you could see Abisko’s 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 budget…. but for a natural phenomenon this majestic, it’s hard to be mad about it.

Kiruna Church Sweden - the jumping off place to see Abisko Northern lights

A scene from Kiruna, where most Northern lights adventures begin in Sweden

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, a fantastic deal for pricy Sweden.

Must see Northern lights in Abisko

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 in Abisko if you’re on a tight budget. For me, the realization of a childhood dream was worth the added cost.

When not seeing the Northern lights, dogsledding is a fun way to pass the time

#lifegoals, 10/10

Other Northern Lights trips:

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Want to see the Northern lights in Sweden but traveling on a budget? Abisko is one of the best places to see the beautiful aurora borealis. Tick this off your bucket list for under $350 USD including flights from Stockholm!

Recommended Companies: Abisko.net for dogsledding
Recommended Accommodations: Abisko Guesthouse or STF Turiststation
Further Reading: Lonely Planet Sweden
Useful tips: Be sure to bring plenty of warm clothing and layers – Swedish Lapland is COLD! Cooking for yourself will save you a fortune. 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!

Be sure to have travel insurance when traveling to Sweden. You’re a long way away from a hospital when you’re in Abisko, and that would be a very expensive accident to have! I use and recommend World Nomads for their affordable prices and flexible policies.

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I truly believe in.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Prasad Np
    October 9, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Such magical images, each one of them so different and showing such beauty of nature that one cannot have enough of them

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 10, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks so much! I wish I had gotten more photos but the -10 C temperatures caused crazy havoc with my batteries!

  • Reply
    Linette Chua
    February 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Hi Allison, thank you for sharing your experience, so funny and so informative! I have a few questions though, I hope you don’t mind if I e-mail you?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 1, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Hi Linette! Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been in Cuba without wifi for the last week and a half. Please feel free to email me at allison at eternalarrival dot com 🙂 I’d love to help!

  • Reply
    Gill Curran
    March 20, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Allison,

    A great article, thanks very much. Can I ask, is it worth paying to visit the Abisko sky station, or can you see the Northern Lights well without booking a tour?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 20, 2017 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Gill! In my opinion, it’s not worth it to visit the Abisko Sky Station. I would recommend staying at STF Turiststation where you can walk 10 minutes to the frozen lake where you can see the lights beautifully.

  • Reply
    Juan Bautista
    April 3, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Hi Allison, I’m Juan Bautista from Argentina and I really loved you pictures! I intend to go to Abisko next year in January/February. I just want to see the Northern Lights on a budget. How long would you recommend me to go to Abisko and how cheap could it be if I don’t do any activity? Thank you very much!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      April 4, 2017 at 12:45 am

      Hi Juan! Thank you 🙂 I would recommend you go for at least 3 days, and excluding transport, budget $40-50USD per day if you aren’t doing any activities, cook all meals yourself, and don’t drink more than a beer or two from the supermarket. A hostel at Winterday is about $30 a night, or was last year at the exchange rate back then. So then add on another $10 or so for groceries each day. Transit is expensive though – flights are about $120 roundtrip plus another $80 or so to get between Kiruna and Abisko, so keep that in mind!

  • Reply
    joseph
    June 13, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Nice info about where to see the Northern lights and also stunning photographs

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 13, 2017 at 6:45 am

      Thanks Joseph! Glad you found it helpful 🙂

  • Reply
    Peeyush
    August 5, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Hello,

    Thanks for the article.

    I am planning to go to abisko national park in January 2018 (2nd January – 5th January 2018). I know that no one can give 100% guarantee about northern lights appearance.

    1 .But can you please suggest me that is it a good time to see the northern lights?

    2. What about the weather during theses day ? I saw the forecast and it says that it will be dark throughout the day.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      August 6, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Hi Peeyush.

      You have about an 80% chance of seeing the Northern lights if you are there for 3 days so you are pretty sure to see them as long as there are no winter storms that cover up the sky. But the microclimate of Abisko means that clouds are less likely than other places in the far north so you have a very good chance to see them. I saw them 3 nights in a row, but the first 2 nights were kind of cloudy so you could only see them for a bit.

      The weather will likely be very cold as there is no sun to warm you up. I’d estimate anywhere from -20F to 10F and yes, it will be dark pretty much all throughout the day as you are only a week or two after the solstice. Dress warm and be prepared to be kind of confused by the lack of day and night!

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