Stockholm to Turku Ferry: From Sweden to Finland By Boat

It’s a bit weird to admit this as a travel blogger, but I have a nasty (and growing) fear of flying. And not just the flying itself, but everything associated with it: oversleeping and missing a morning flight, physically getting to the airport, the anxiety of being in the airport. Basically, any which way I can stress about a plane, I will.

Because of this anxiety, I’ve started limiting my flying as much as I can while still working in travel, opting for the overland option whenever viable. That’s led me to take the longer, more scenic route more times than I can count.

And while normally, that means holing myself up in a stuffy bus armed with podcasts and bus snacks and waiting on torturously long border crossings, this time was different. This time, it meant gliding peacefully as the midsummer light danced on the surface of the Baltic Sea, passing the Aland Islands and Turku Archipelago, on my way from Stockholm to Turku by ferry.

Definitely beats my standard Balkan bus journey, I can tell you that.

Note: For this journey, I partnered with Tallink Silja to write about my trip from Stockholm to Turku. I received a complimentary seaview cabin and meals on board the ship to test out their services.

The Stockholm to Turku Ferry: Times, Costs, and Details

The gorgeous Stockholm archipelago upon leaving!

The Stockholm to Turku ferry is operated by two companies, Tallink Silja and Viking. I took Tallink Silja when I went from Tallinn to Helsinki a few years ago and loved it, so I went with them again on this trip.

In this post, I will be writing about my experience on board the Baltic Princess, the ship Tallink uses on the morning ferry from Stockholm to Turku (as well on the night ferry from Turku back to Stockholm). However, out of transparency, I want you to know that Viking is an option as well.

If you want to do a daytime cruise from Stockholm to Turku, I strongly recommend it if you have the time. It’s an extremely beautiful and relaxing way to get from Sweden to Finland.

Not to mention, it’s extremely affordable. A simple ticket on board (no cabin) costs a mere 12 euros, which is pretty outstanding for an international journey that takes about 10 hours in the Nordics of all places.

My personal seaview cabin, which can fit two.

Upgrading to a cabin ups the price, but not significantly: 40 euros for an inside E or B class cabin (which can house up to 4 people, so just 10 euros apiece extra in addition to your 12 euro ticket). I had an A class cabin with sea view, which added on an extra 65 euros to my ticket cost, and could fit 2-4 people for that price.

If you really want to ball out, there are deluxe rooms, suites, and even executive suite, which include free goodies in the mini-fridge, more space, and some even have a balcony. You can book tickets online here.

Tallink Silja departs at 7:00 AM daily from the Värtahamnen port, sailing past the Stockholm Archipelago and Aland Islands. It arrives in Turku by 7:15 PM, about 11 hours of cruising as there is a one-hour time shift forward once you reach the Aland Islands.

Views leaving Stockholm on the morning ferry!

There is also the option with Viking to leave Stockholm at 7:45 AM and arrive in Turku at 7:50 PM, which departs from Stadsgården.

You can also take an overnight Stockholm to Turku ferry, which is a great way to save time if you are traveling as you don’t waste time going to or from airports, sleeping through your journey and maximizing the next day to come.

Tallink Silja operates their overnight ferry, the Galaxy, so that it leaves Stockholm at 7:30 PM and arrives in Turku at 7 AM. This gives you a little more than 10 hours to grab dinner on board, relax, and sleep so that you’ll be refreshed when you arrive in Turku.

Viking has an overnight ferry as well with similar departure and arrival times, leaving Stockholm at 8 PM and arriving in Turku at 7:35 AM.

Getting to the Stockholm Ferry Terminal

The terminal for all departing Tallink ferries from Stockholm

Depending on which ferry company you choose, there are two different terminals in Stockholm for the Stockholm-Turku ferry line.

I went with Tallink Silja which meant I departed via the Värtahamnen port in Östermalm. It’s extremely easy to get here via metro via the Gärdet metro stop – just follow the signs to Värtaterminalen.

Signage makes it easy to find the Stockholm to Turku ferry!

If you don’t want to deal with the metro in the morning, you can stay nearby the ferry terminal: there is a Scandic right on the water just a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal, or there’s an affordable STF hostel with private rooms available about 20 minutes away.

If you go with Viking, you can leave via Stadsgården on the island of Södermalm, which is convenient if you are staying in that part of Stockholm or even in Gamla Stan which is pretty close by.

On Board the Baltic Princess

I opted for a daytime cruise because I wanted to cross from Sweden to Finland during the day so I could see the beautiful archipelagos and lush forested islands which dot the Baltic Sea between these two Nordic countries.

That meant going on board the Baltic Princess, one of the two ships that Tallink operates between Stockholm and Turku.

A row of cabins on the Baltic Princess

The Baltic Princess has a number of amenities that make the time on board the ship go by quite quickly. There’s a variety of restaurants offering buffet and á la carte options.

If you’re used to Scandinavian prices, the buffets are quite well-priced: 13 euros for breakfast and 28 euros for lunch which includes as much beer or wine as you like, which is quite good for this region!

There was a really wide selection of food for both breakfast and lunch and the quality was overall really high.

If I had to pick one, I’d pick the lunch buffet as I’m more of a lunch person than a breakfast person, plus the included beer/wine was quite a nice perk.

However, a note: be sure to watch the time change as you reach Aland, which marks the beginning of Finland’s time zone! We shifted forward one hour and I was working on my computer which doesn’t automatically change time zones. I came down to the lunch buffet an hour late and nearly missed it and had to stuff my face quickly in order to get my fill.

Breakfast on board the Baltic Princess
Some of the lunch buffet offerings

If you’re not a buffet person, there are plenty of other options for you. There’s also the Grill House, which serves burgers and steaks, Tavolàta which has Italian food, Happy Lobster which serves upscale seafood, or Fast Lane if you just want to grab something quick to eat (which could be a great option if you just want a simple breakfast0

There are also some bars and pubs on board, serving alcohol at quite reasonable prices (again, for the Nordics). There’s Sea Pub which focuses on beer and cider, Piano Bar which focuses on cocktails, and Starlight Palace and Klubi which were pretty quiet during the day ferry but likely see a lot more activity on the overnight Turku to Stockholm ferry which also transits via the Baltic Princess ship.

There’s also a duty-free where you can make like a Finn (or Swede) and stock up on tax-free alcohol. Seriously, I think the best way you can tell who’s a tourist on this boat is if you don’t leave with 4 cases of beer.

Tourist vs. local

Getting From Turku Harbor to Turku City Center

Beautiful archipelago houses as we near the city of Turku

Luckily, this part is extremely easy! Simply disembark the boat and walk towards the outdoor area of the ferry terminal. There’s a small kiosk where you can purchase a bus ticket using a credit card… however, if you’re American (or just don’t have a contactless credit card), there’s no place to swipe your card or enter your chip and these kiosks are basically worthless.

Hopefully, you have a few euro coins on you and you can simply buy a bus ticket from the driver for three euro! Board the 1 bus right outside the harbor, which will be heading in the direction of Turku Airport, and get off when you reach your destination in the city center, which should take all of 15 minutes. Keep your eyes peeled as you’ll pass the gorgeous Turku Castle along the way!

Note: Thank you to Tallink Silja for partnering with me to experience the best of this Baltic sea cruise! While my experience was complimentary, all opinions (and pounds gained at the buffet) are entirely my own.

7 Magical Things to Do in Abisko This Winter

frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park

One of the most memorable places I’ve ever visited in my 60-something countries of travel was my trip to Abisko in the winter of 2016.

It was before I was even blogging, but visiting Swedish Lapland in winter all covered in snow still remains one of the top travel highlights of the last decade or so I’ve been traveling.

While I’m sure Abisko, Sweden is a lovely place to visit at any time of year, it truly shines in winter.

I visited in mid-February and found the weather to be perfect: the days were getting long enough to ensure plenty of sunshine hours (okay, like six or seven) but the nights were early and dark enough that I got to see the Northern lights dancing overhead literally every night.

The Most Magical Things to Do in Abisko in Winter

Take advantage of the “Blue Hole” and go Northern lights spotting

The thing about seeing the Northern lights in Scandinavia is that often, the lights will be roaring overhead, but clouds will get in the way.

The geomagnetic activity that creates the bands of the aurora is way above the cloud cover, and therefore, if there are clouds in the sky on the night you’re attempting to see the Northern lights you’re unlikely to have much success.

So while many people choose to go to Norway or Iceland in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, the fact that most of the places you’d visit in these countries are coastal doesn’t do you any favors. Coastal climates are more temperamental with more frequent cloud cover in winter, decreasing your chances of seeing the Northern lights dramatically.

Abisko, on the other hand, has a microclimate that’s been blessed with clearer weather than other places in the Arctic, thanks to the so-called “Blue Hole” effect that the lake and surrounding mountains have. That’s why Northern lights spotting is one of the top things to do in Abisko in winter.

The exact physics behind this meteorological phenomenon is a mystery to me, but all I can say is that the odds proved in my favor. The statistics say that if you stay in Abisko for three nights, you have an 80% chance of seeing the Northern lights in Abisko.

Anecdotally, I stayed for three nights and saw them every night of my stay to some degree or another, the most spectacular show on my final night.

In contrast, I spent 7 days in Tromso and saw the Northern lights only twice in the city itself, and I had to take a pricy Northern lights tour leaving Tromso to see even a fraction of the spectacle I saw in Abisko.

northern-lights-budget
Green is the most common color you’ll see, but you can see purples, yellows, and even reds!

When planning a trip to Sweden for the Northern lights, keep a few things in mind. One: the aurora is generally not as vivid and green as you see in photos. That’s not photoshop but rather a trick of long exposure, as the camera is able to take in light for seconds at a time where your eye can only take in light at, well, the speed of light, creating a much different effect.

While you’ll definitely notice bands and colors moving across the sky, expect paler colors with your naked eye and much more vividness on camera. Two: no matter what you do, you’re at the mercy of the weather, and no amount of planning or preparation can guarantee you seeing the lights.

I can only speak about my experience, which was that I saw some variation of the Northern lights in one way or another each night. My first night, I just saw a small band appear low on the horizon, one that I could barely tell was an aurora with my eye but appeared bright and green on the camera.

My second night was similar, with some aurora activity that I glimpsed through some cloud cover. But my final night was truly incredible and I was able to see the whole aurora show through the famed “Blue Hole” effect.

Even with Abisko’s odds, I struggled a bit to find the Northern lights on my first two nights despite there being plenty of solar activity. Had I gone on a guided excursion for the Northern lights, I undoubtedly would have had a different experience those first two nights and gotten to see more.

The great thing about doing a Northern lights tour is that your guides will do their best to find cloud-free skies and take you to places where you can get better compositions for your photos.

The company with the best reputation is Lights Over Lapland, which you can book online here. This tour is slightly more expensive than other options because it is a photography tour in which you are given a high-quality Nikon DSLR with an 18-50mm lens plus a sturdy tripod to use (all you have to bring camera-wise is your own memory card, which costs about $20). Of course, if you have your own photography gear, you can use that instead.

The tour also includes a snowmobile ride, and there’s a cozy wilderness camp to retreat to when the Arctic temperatures dip too low and you’re not seeing any aurora – plus a piping hot mug of lingonberry juice and snack to warm up while you wait for the lights to do their thing! The tours are restricted to 10 people per group (with two professional guides/photographers to assist you in setting up your shots), so you’ll want to save your spot in advance. Check for availability here.

However, since these tours come with a lot of inclusions and are the name with the highest profile, they do come at a steeper cost. If budget is a concern, I recommend this similar Northern lights chasing tour which lasts for 4 hours and takes you to various places where you can get stellar compositions for your photos. However, keep in mind that this does not include any photography equipment, so if you don’t have a DSLR or mirrorless camera plus tripod setup capable of setting up long exposure photos, it’s not the ideal tour for you.

Alternately, you can do what I did and just hope for luck with the lights – it worked for me one night out of three, and maybe it’ll work for you too, and it won’t cost you a cent.

Go dog sledding and cuddle some husky pups

While seeing the Northern lights was incredible, it wasn’t my favorite of all the things to do in Abisko. That honor belongs to the incredible dog-sledding trip (and subsequent puppy-cuddling) I took with Abisko Fjällturer.

When not seeing the Northern lights, dogsledding is a fun way to pass the time
Me and my happy team of pups!

Dog-sledding is so much more interesting and involved (and difficult!) than you’d imagine.

I think I pictured a leisurely ride through the snow, but I opted for the drive-your-own-dogsled option where you had to man your sled, steer, brake, and help your dogs up hills in the snow.

It was one hell of a workout and an incredibly thrilling day out. Working as a team with your dogs, looking out on the vast Arctic landscape, was truly a life-changing experience and the best money I spent on my Sweden trip. Especially since it came with a side of husky pup cuddles (obviously there won’t always be puppies, but we got lucky when we visited!)

While I’m generally quite wary of animal activities in tourism, this is one I can make an exception for, as huskies have been domesticated for exactly this kind of life for thousands of years: it’s literally what they were born to do. The dogs live in great conditions and are given tons of love and rest time, as there’s only one two-hour run per day.

Their individual personalities are known and respected; for example, the staff knows exactly which dogs to pair up based on their personalities, and they also know what order to place the dogsled teams in, as some teams prefer to be leaders and some have their own rivalries!

As for the huskies, they truly seem to love what they do. They actually get so excited as they’re being harnessed up that they start howling in anticipation!

dogsledding in Abisko

Keep in mind that driving your own dogsled is way more difficult than it looks and requires a good deal of physical strength. Because of that, it’s not really suitable for kids – on this tour, you have to be 16 or older to drive your own sled – or people with limited mobility or injuries.

But if you can handle it, this is my #1 thing to do in Abisko, so I recommend booking it online in advance because as far as I know, they’re the only husky sledding tour operator in Abisko.

If you’re traveling with kids or people with limited mobility, a better option is to sit back and enjoy dog-sledding on a sled, getting driven through the snow by a team of huskies. Personally, I think getting to drive your own sled is a lot more fun (though a lot more work), but this isn’t a half-bad option if you can’t man your own sled. Check out more info and book online here.

Chase (frozen) waterfalls in Abisko National Park

Abisko National Park was one of the first national parks in all of Europe – and when you visit for yourself, you’ll see why.

It’s a truly breathtaking place and in winter Abisko National Park becomes utterly magical under a dusting of snow. But what’s most impressive are the impressive waterfalls you’ll find just a short but snowy hike from STF Abisko Turiststation (the front desk staff there can help draw you a map).

It took us about 15-minutes trudging through Abisko’s winter wonderland to come across these beautiful waterfalls, and boy was it worth the cold!

frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park

If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, we saw people ice climbing up the waterfalls, using a harness-pulley set-up with pickaxes and crampons. If this is up your alley, you can book at the front desk of STF Turiststation or get more information online here.

Learn about the indigenous Sámi culture

One thing I’ve been trying to do more as part of being a responsible traveler is to educate myself about the indigenous people of the lands I’m visiting.

The Sámi people are the indigenous people of the Sápmi region which encompasses northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola peninsula in Russia. The Sámi have stewarded the land in these regions for over 5,000 years.

They’ve preserved their traditions, language, and culture despite the harsh Arctic climates, attempts to force assimilation through political and “educational” means, and the division of their ancestral lands into four distinct modern-day nations.

Reindeer have historically held an important role in Sámi life and industry. Historically, the Sámi would hunt reindeer, but since the 1500s the Sámi began herding reindeer and domesticating them in a manner similar to cattle.

While this is still part of the Sámi economy, the focus of reindeer herding has shifted in recent years towards tourism rather than animal agriculture. Visits to Sámi villages often include visiting reindeer farms and getting a chance to feed reindeer or go reindeer sledding.

To be honest, having not experienced a reindeer camp firsthand, I’m not sure of how I feel about reindeer sledding.

While it doesn’t seem like animal abuse, as it’s pretty similar to a horse pulling a cart, it also doesn’t seem innately enjoyable for them the way that dog-sledding is for its enthusiastic team of huskies.

Vanessa of Nordic Wanders does a great job at breaking down the ethics of animal tourism in the Arctic here, so read up on it so you can make an informed decision for yourself.

Personally, I think it’s also important to consider how to balance the benefit of uplifting local indigenous communities with the need to make informed decisions around animal tourism.

Tourism is an important facet of the modern-day Sámi economy, and so long as the animals are well-fed and taken care of, I think you can ethically visit a reindeer farm if it’s in line with other animal activities you would do, such as riding a horse or a camel.

Long segue aside (hope I haven’t lost you!) this Sámi tour is the one I would recommend as it is also run by Lights over Lapland, which enjoys a great reputation in the region.

The 7-hour tour consists of a visit to a reindeer farm in Rávttas, a small Sámi village 45 minutes away from Abisko.

The tour includes roundtrip transportation, meeting and feeding the reindeer, learning about Sámi culture from an English-speaking Sámi tour guide, a short reindeer sled ride, and lunch in a traditional Arctic teepee (word of warning: your lunch may include reindeer – get in touch with them if you have dietary restrictions). It’s a popular option for things to do in Abisko during the day, so book this tour in advance if meeting reindeer is a must on your Sweden bucket list.

Visit the incredible ICEHOTEL

One of the most famous places in Sweden, a visit to the famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi is likely one of the top things to do on your Abisko itinerary. I. love ice hotels — I’ve visited the Tromso Ice Domes and adored it — and this Swedish ice hotel is no exception!

Getting there from Abisko can be a bit of a pain, as it’s closer to Kiruna than Abisko. There is no direct public transportation to the ICEHOTEL from Abisko, so you would have to transit via Kiruna, and I’m not even sure how you’d do that. It’s far easier to go on a guided day trip like this one and not much more expensive.

Visiting the hotel for the day independently will cost you 325 SEK (~$35 USD) plus all your transportation costs from Abisko to Kiruna by train, then to Jukkasjärvi by bus, then back to Kiruna and then taking the train to Abisko again – easily another $35 USD.

That’s not without counting the significant headache of the limited public transportation up north, as I found out from my disastrous experience trying to navigate Kiruna’s public transportation which ended up with me dragging myself and my backpack through a snowdrift running to the train station… but I digress. Just book yourself the day trip and save yourself the stress.

The ICEHOTEL is an incredible feat of engineering, which mashes up a hotel with an art exhibition — all of this 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. The original ICEHOTEL was created in 1989 and the ice structure is completely redone each year (hence the serious price tag on the cold rooms).

Incredibly, in 2016 they created a whole new hotel: a permanent structure with ice rooms that you can even visit (and stay in!) in the summer month, called ICEHOTEL 365.

Before you go worrying about the carbon footprint of such an undertaking — it’s completely cooled by solar panels so it’s eco-friendly! While temperature is not a concern if you’re visiting Abisko in winter, it’s pretty amazing to think that this structure still exists in the summer when temperatures can reach 17 °C/63 °F.

Keep in mind that the winter ICEHOTEL is constructed at the start of winter each year, so if you visit before the middle of December, it’s not likely to be finished.

It takes a team of 40 artists each year several weeks – not to mention months of planning – to create the ICEHOTEL completely from scratch each year, which is truly incredible. If the seasonal ICEHOTEL not yet open, however, you can check out the ICEHOTEL 365 which is open all year round.

This structure has luxury suites you can stay in, and if no one is in the rooms you can take a peek inside. Even better, it also has an ice bar serving up chilled champagne (what else?) to curious visitors and day-trippers, and there’s also an ice gallery you can visit no matter the time of year.

The day tour consists of a guided tour of the art suites, ice bar, and ice church – yes, you can actually get married here! – plus leisure time to explore the hotel, take photos, or even dine or drink there (not included)

Explore the cute, curious town of Kiruna

Kiruna is an easy day trip from Abisko, or if you fly into Kiruna in the morning you can explore the city before your afternoon train to Abisko.

Kiruna is a mining town, and herein lies the curiosity of this city: it’s actually in the process of being moved two miles away from its current center. There is a giant crack in the earth progressing towards Kiruna at a slow but steady rate, at which point, at some time in the future, will swallow up Kiruna as it currently exists. Check out this fascinating article which explains the situation far better than I ever could.

The town is in the process of slowly being moved bit by bit – annoyingly, the first bit to move was the train station, which is why it’s so inconveniently far out of town. Taking a taxi or hitching a ride into town is recommended in winter, as the path into town is basically a highway and is extremely icy – we were lucky that when we tried to walk it, a local picked us up and gave us a ride in.

There’s actually quite a lot to see in this charming Arctic city, so let me break down a few of my favorite sights.

Kiruna church

First, you can’t miss the wooden church of Kiruna – one of the largest wooden structures in all of Sweden! The church is unique for having a Gothic Revival style with an Art Nouveau interior and is more than 100 years old. (It, too, will eventually be deconstructed and moved two miles away).

The town center is quite cute, and there’s lots of great shopping to be had for a town of its size. I really loved popping into the local design shop, Kvadrat, which had great mugs, textiles, text art, and other unique souvenirs.

Don’t miss a buffet lunch at SPiS Mat & Dryck, which offers a fantastic spread for an affordable price. There’s a wide variety of salads, soups, and cold and hot dishes, plus all you can drink coffee!

SPiS

Unfortunately, it can be hard to DIY a day trip to Kiruna from Abisko, since the first train of the day leaves Abisko Östra at 12:30 PM and arrives in Kiruna at 1:30 PM. That would be fine… if the final train didn’t leave at 2:49 PM! Since the station isn’t that close to the center you would barely have any time in the city.

Therefore, it’s best to visit either on your way in or out of Kiruna airport (we did it after arriving on a morning flight and taking the 2:49 PM train to Abisko). Alternately, as a day trip, you can book a shared shuttle that stops in Kiruna’s town center from Abisko on the way in and then take the train back to Abisko at the end of your day trip.

Take a day trip to Norway

This is not as ambitious of an undertaking as it sounds, as Narvik, Norway is just two hours away by train.

It’s quite possible to do this trip independently, but you will have limited time in Narvik if you do.

The trains aren’t exactly set up for day-trippers, so the first train leaves at 11 AM and arrives just before 1 PM, but you’d have to leave on the last train of the day at 3:15 PM, which gives you just about two hours to explore (double check timetables here, as they may change in the future). Still, you can do a day trip independently for less than $16 USD roundtrip for two hours of exploring Narvik, which may be worth it.

When I went to Abisko in winter 2016, while I was itching to scratch Norway off my map, ultimately I felt like it wasn’t worth it to spend 4 hours in transit to spend 2 hours in Narvik, just to say I’ve been to Norway.

In the end, I didn’t do the trip – but I didn’t know that there was a guided day tour option that gave you more time in Narvik. It’s definitely pricier (check current rates and discounts here), but you get a lot more time to explore the beautiful fjord city of Narvik as a result.

On this comfortable shuttle tour, you’ll get to see a wide variety of Arctic landscapes, including the second deepest lake in Sweden at Lake Torneträsk, frozen waterfalls, stunning Norwegian mountains like Björnfell, and the fjord beaches of Narvik.

It also includes lunch (not a minimal expense when we’re talking Norway prices) and a visit to the Narvik War Museum, which explores battles the Norwegian Army faced during WWII.

Where to Stay in Abisko

Abisko is a rustic village of 85 people, and therefore, there’s not a ton in the way of guesthouse and hotel options. Most of the places to stay veer towards the budget end of the spectrum, with a number of hostels and affordable guesthouses, as well as one traditional mountain lodge. You can spend anywhere from around $35 USD for a bunk in a dorm to around $250 for a cabin sleeping 4-6 people.

northern-lights-on-a-budget
In Abisko National Park!

Budget: The owners of the dog sledding tour included above, Abisko Hostel & Huskies is a fantastic place to stay in Abisko if you are traveling on a budget. This is actually where I had booked to stay in Abisko in 2016; unfortunately, the hostel ended up having an unforeseen issue and wasn’t able to host me, so it rebooked me at STF Turiststation (below), a more expensive place, in a better room at no extra cost to me. That sort of above and beyond mentality was really encouraging, and while I didn’t get to see their facilities firsthand, I loved the dog-sledding tour I did with them. With seriously affordable dorms and doubles and perks like a free sauna and shared kitchen, I can definitely recommend this hostel to budget and/or solo travelers in Sweden! Check out photos, reviews, and prices here.

Mid-Range: I personally stayed at STF Turiststation and can highly recommend it – it was literally the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at, hands down, with not one but two incredible kitchens, a free sauna, and an incredible restaurant. The breakfast and lunch buffets offer a great value in pricy Sweden, and while the dinner is definitely more expensive, it’s also incredibly delicious and well worth shelling out for on a special occasion. Plus, you’re literally in Abisko National Park, just a 10-minute walk from the lake or frozen waterfalls: how much better can a location get? Check out photos, reviews, and prices here.

Luxury: I’d recommend Abisko Mountain Lodge for a low-key but luxe stay in Abisko. There aren’t a ton of luxury offerings in Abisko, so this is the closest option I could find. While STF Turiststation is great, it is more a traditional hostel in that it’s mostly bunk bed rooms, with limited twin room options. Abisko Mountain Lodge, on the other hand, is definitely more of a traditional hotel. They have a variety of rooms from singles to doubles and even full cottages that sleep four. There’s a sauna, restaurant, lounge area, and breakfast is included with most rooms! Check out photos, reviews, and prices here.

15 Useful Things to Know About the Northern Lights in Sweden

One thing that tops many travelers bucket lists is a trip up to the Arctic for a chance at glimpsing the beautiful, mysterious Northern lights that dance across the night sky.

If you are planning a trip to chase the Northern lights in Sweden, you likely have a lot of questions: How much will it cost? Do you need to do any tours to see the Northern lights? Where exactly should I go to have the best chance of seeing the lights? How long should I stay? And how the hell do I get the best photos of ti?

I’ve written this guide to help answer some of the questions I get about seeing the Northern lights in Sweden, mostly from people who have found this post about traveling to Swedish Lapland on a budget.

Here’s some good news: Sweden is more affordable than its Nordic neighbors to the right and left, and luckily, it is one of the better places to see the Northern lights for a variety of reasons.

Aaaand here’s some bad news: No matter what, the Northern lights are unpredictable, and while visiting Sweden on a budget is possible, it is still not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.

Hopefully, this guide will illuminate (ha) some of your questions and equip you with the knowledge you need to successfully plan a trip to see Sweden’s Northern lights. If you have any other questions, please drop me a message in the comments and I’ll answer within a few days!

You will need to go way more north than Stockholm to see the Northern lights

One big misconception about chasing the Northern lights in Sweden is that you can see them all over the country. Unfortunately, this is not so in most cases! If there is an extraordinary amount of solar activity and an especially clear night, you may be able to catch the occasional glimpse of the lights from the Swedish capital. I’ve actually met Swedes who have never seen the Northern lights in their own country!

However, generally, Stockholm is too far south to reliably see the Northern lights. You’ll want to head north to the Arctic Circle in order to have the best possible chance of seeing the Northern lights. The regional hub of Northern Sweden is Kiruna, and there is both a train station and a small airport there. You can easily fly to Kiruna from Stockholm in 1.5 hours on Norwegian or SAS (I flew one way with Norwegian and the other way with SAS as each airline offered cheaper tickets on different days).

northern-lights-budget

Alternately, you can take the train from Stockholm to Kiruna or Abisko, which is a popular option but a little more expensive than flying… though to be honest, I think if you consider the cost of getting to and from the airport in all directions, the train works out to be a better – and more comfortable – deal.

However, the train does take about 17 hours, leaving Stockholm at 6 PM and arriving in Abisko around 11 AM. So if you are super tight on time, or the thought of being on a train that long makes you antsy, you may prefer flying.

Abisko has the best chance of seeing the Northern lights in Sweden

There is a special microclimate in Abisko National Park as a result of Lake Torneträsk, which basically pushes cloud cover away from Abisko at night. In a major snow storm, this won’t be the case, but generally, Abisko enjoys relatively clear nights compared to elsewhere in Sweden and the Arctic. Scientists estimate that if you stay in Abisko for 3 days during aurora season, you have an 80% chance of seeing the Northern lights — those are some good odds!

Also, the population Abisko is tiny – some 85 actual residents, plus a small but robust number of tourists staying in hotels and guesthouses. The perk of this is that there won’t be a lot of light pollution in Abisko. I was able to see the Northern lights just outside the door of my hostel at STF Turiststation, after giving my eyes just a few seconds to adjust to the dark.

The great thing about staying at STF Turiststation is that it’s the only accommodation actually inside of Abisko National Park, so I was able to walk to the frozen-over Lake Torneträsk in about 10 minutes, giving me a great, unobstructed place to see and photograph the Northern lights.

The Northern lights in Sweden can be seen from roughly September to April

This sounds obvious, but it needs to be properly dark in order to see the Northern lights dancing overhead. And if you visit during the peak of summer, which runs from May to August, it is not going to get dark enough at night to see the lights.

In fact, from May 25 to July 19, the sun doesn’t go down at all in Arctic Sweden (using Abisko as a reference point).

Must see Northern lights in Abisko

However, even after the midnight sun ends, it still won’t get dark enough at night until around the end of August. Similarly, while the end of April will still be quite cold and there will be a lot of snow on the ground still, the days are getting longer — about 18 hours long at this point — which gives you precious few hours of actual dark night to see the lights.

But if there’s no solar activity, you won’t see the lights

However, even if you go to Sweden during the aurora season, you are not guaranteed a Northern lights show. The aurora depends on solar activity. To get a bit geeky on you, here’s roughly how it works. Powerful storms on our sun’s surface send particles through our solar system – some of which make it our own pale blue dot, Earth.

Normally, these solar particles just pass over the lower latitudes without any special show. But close to the Earth’s poles, these particles interact with the geomagnetic field, creating light shows when the particles from the sun meet particles from the earth. For a more detailed explanation, this breaks it down quite nicely.

northern lights stf turiststation

So, what does all of this science mean for you? Basically, no storms, no show. But generally, the sun is a pretty active guy. You can use this aurora tracker to predict how the aurora will be over the next 3 days. There’s a lot of information on that site, but basically, anything above a kp 5 (rare) will be visible down in southern Sweden, and anything above a kp 2 (more common) will be visible in the Abisko region.

Still, it’s all just predictions, and nothing is ever guaranteed with the aurora.

The best time of year to see the Northern lights depends on what activities you want to do

Since the aurora can be seen as long as the sky is dark – roughly September to April – pretty much any time within that band will give you opportunities to see Sweden’s Northern lights.

Theoretically, the more hours of darkness there are, the higher your chance of seeing the Northern lights is. However, the deeper you are into winter, the higher the chance of winter storms is. And of course, the Northern lights could be doing the most spectacular dance in the world over your head, and you’d never know it if the sky is blanketed in clouds.

The truth is that while you have a good chance of seeing the Northern lights in Sweden during this time, you shouldn’t plan your whole trip around it. Instead, I recommend planning your trip based on what activities you want to do outside of seeing the lights. This way, you’ll still have a magical and memorable trip, even if the lights and weather don’t cooperate.

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

Most people want to see the Northern lights as part of a winter-themed trip, combining it with activities such as dog-sledding, visiting with reindeer, snow-shoeing, and ice-trekking. If that’s the case, I recommend visiting in late October/early November or late January/early February. I personally visited around the  middle of February and saw the lights 3 times (3 nights in a row!), but still had sufficient daylight hours to enjoy activities like dog-sledding.

Keep in mind that if you visit during the polar night, which runs roughly from December 7 to January 5, you won’t have any daylight hours. While there will be some twilight-like light and not pitch blackness during part of the day, it may be a bit disorienting and some activities may not be as enjoyable.

If you want to do hiking, Northern Sweden is an absolutely amazing place for that. The Kungsleden trail is a massive 440 kilometers long and is one of the most famous trails in Sweden. Much of the trail runs through prime Northern lights spotting territory. While you certainly don’t have to hike all of it, you could do a small portion of the trek – such as from Abisko to Nikkaluokta, about 100 kilometers – or shorter day hikes on and around the Kungsleden.

The Kungsleden trail is open until the end of September, so you can definitely combine some hiking days with Northern lights spotting at night, staying in one of the STF huts along the trail or wild camping if you prefer.

You’re more likely to see the Northern lights in Sweden than in Norway or Iceland

Norway and Iceland are two of the most popular places to go searching for the Northern lights, but Sweden actually has a much better climate for seeing the Northern lights.

Basically, anything that shares a coast with the Atlantic is subject to lots of fussy weather. I mean, there’s a reason why the UK and Ireland have notoriously gloomy weather!

Iceland’s weather is infamous for being fickle, and the same goes for Norway. Because Sweden is a bit sheltered from the Atlantic by Norway, which acts as a buffer (in my highly scientific understanding), you have more clear nights and therefore a better chance of seeing the Northern lights.

Iceland is also not necessarily in the Arctic Circle with the highest amount of solar activity. The higher latitude you are, the more likely you are to see solar activity at night. So if the Northern lights are your ultimate goal, I’d definitely opt for Sweden over other countries as a result of the relatively milder weather.

The Northern Lights are not as bright as they look

Now, to burst your bubble a bit – the Northern lights are not quite as green as they look in the photos. The photos you’ve seen of Sweden’s northern lights aren’t photoshopped, though: that’s the work of long exposure.

Basically, your eyeball is taking in light at, well – the speed of light. Meanwhile, your camera is able to take in light for longer than the split second that light registers in your eye.

Most photos you see of the Northern lights were taken over the span of 3 seconds to 30 seconds, meaning that your camera has captured a lot of light detail that your eye necessarily can’t.

That said, the Northern lights are definitely not invisible – they look more like a faint green, with occasional brightening pops of brighter neon green. On my final night seeing Sweden’s Northern lights, I was treated to a magical show of greens and purples, bands of light moving rapidly across the sky. The lights were so bright that I was even able to capture them looking bright green with a simple smartphone (which is not typical!).

So, don’t go expecting exactly what you see in the photos, but at the same time, don’t worry – should you be lucky enough to spot the Northern lights, you’ll be duly impressed.

You will need a proper camera to photograph the lights

I mentioned that I got super lucky and was able to snap a photo of the lights with my smartphone one night, but that rarely happens, and still, it didn’t do the lights justice. I had much better luck with my actual camera.

I’ve since upgraded my camera gear from my trip to Sweden in 2015, and now I recommend the Sony A6000. It is an excellent entry-level camera that gives professional results. You need a camera which you can change all the settings on: namely, you need to be able to adjust aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. If you are looking for a great travel camera that is affordable, this is my top recommendation.

If you are looking for a more advanced camera, the Sony A7R III is the top-rated mirrorless camera in the game, but it costs a fortune, so it’s only worth getting if you are serious about your photography. When I have the money to upgrade my gear, this is without a doubt the camera I am getting.

But you will also need a tripod

In order to properly capture the Northern lights in Sweden, you will need a tripod. This is because you will need to keep the camera steady for a minimum of 2 seconds or longer in order to get a proper, non-shaky photo. While you may think you can hold still for 2 seconds, trust me – your hands shake naturally (and will do so even more in the snow!) and any photos you take with a long shutter speed will not turn out properly.

I recommend buying a sturdy tripod for traveling in Sweden. I have used this cheapo Amazon tripod, but a proper sturdy tripod is a good investment if you are planning on taking your photography seriously. This one by Vanguard is one of the highest-rated in the industry for the price.

If you don’t plan on pursuing photography beyond the Northern lights, just buy a cheap tripod, but if you are planning to get more serious about landscape photography I highly recommend making an investment in a sturdier tripod.

Another thing to consider is that you will want to use either a self-timer (most cameras come with a 2 second and a 10 second option – 2 seconds should be fine to reduce camera shake) or a remote function to take photos. The Sony A6000/A7R III both have the capability to turn your smartphone into a remote. However, if you already have a DSLR or mirrorless camera that doesn’t have this remote function, you will want to purchase a remote that is compatible with your camera brand, such as this Canon remote or this Nikon remote.

Get comfortable with manual settings before your trip

One big mistake people make when trying to photograph the Northern lights in Sweden is that they don’t get familiar with their camera and tripod beforehand, especially if they buy new gear.  Take the time to read your camera manual and attempt some simple night photos at home before your trip.

You will want to use the largest aperture (which, confusingly, is the smallest possible “f” number your lens is capable of). On many cameras, that is somewhere between f.2 and f.4. You’ll then want to play around with your shutter speed and ISO.

Basically, you want to use an ISO that allows you to get a 3+ second exposure without degrading the image quality too much. On my Sony A6000, my images get grainy above 1600, but higher quality cameras can be cranked up to 3200 or even higher before getting very noisy and ugly.

I’m just an amateur photographer, so this is just what I’ve found from my own experience, but this guide to choosing settings for the Northern lights will likely prove helpful.

The cold will zap your batteries – fast

One thing to considering when trying to photograph the Northern lights is that your camera batteries will drain faster than you ever thought possible – same with your phone if you’re using that as a remote when shooting.

To combat this, you’ll want to bring several back-up batteries. I have these cheap Sony A6000 batteries and they work great – the best part is that it charges two batteries at a time. Grab one or two packs for your trip – it’ll come in handy! I found two fully charged batteries were fine for me, but you may want a third or fourth as back-up if you are shooting for a long time or if the weather is especially cold.

Finally, a small Anker portable charger will be your phone’s best friend, since your phone battery will drain quickly, too.

You don’t need to go on a Northern lights tour, but they can be helpful

If you are lucky with the weather and the timing, there is no need for a Northern lights tour – getting a good photo of the aurora is simply a matter of walking out your front door and setting up your gear.

However, if the weather is going to be unpredictable during your stay, or the aurora forecast is on the low side, you may want to opt for a Northern lights tour. These guys are highly skilled at chasing the Northern lights in Sweden and will do everything in their power to try to get you to a place where you can see the lights, although of course, no one can offer a guarantee. Your Northern lights guides will also bring you to beautiful photography locations where you can have an interesting photo composition, so it may be worthwhile if you are really looking to get some killer photos.

For people traveling on a budget, a Northern lights tour can be quite expensive and actually not really necessary. I personally saw the lights 3 nights in a row during my 3 nights in Abisko – but I may have been exceptionally lucky. Still, the first two nights, I only saw tiny glimpses of the lights from behind the clouds, and perhaps had I gone with a tour guide they would have driven us to a less cloudy location and I could have gotten better photos.

It’s up to you – I’d base it on a combination of your budget, how badly you want to see the Northern lights in Sweden, and how likely you are to ever return to this part of the world. It is far cheaper to pay for a Northern lights tour than a whole ‘nother trip up North!

The Aurora Sky Station is a bit of a rip-off, but their tracker is awesome

Similar to what I wrote above about Northern lights tours, the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko is not really worth the money if you are on a budget.

For one, while you are elevated above Abisko at 900 meters, that generally doesn’t really make a difference in terms of cloud cover. If it is cloudy at sea level, it is likely to be cloudy at the Sky Station. For another, the Sky Station is just that – a station. If there is bad weather at that spot, you are kind of stuck there, and you don’t have the freedom of jumping in a car and driving around looking for better conditions.

They also reserve the right to cancel in case of bad weather and provide a ‘substitute activity’ without giving your money back, so it is a bit of a gamble. Several people have been unlucky with bad weather and not been happy with the replacement activity.

However, the Aurora Sky Station does have a really nice dining experience, where you can take a chairlift up to the Sky Station and have a 4-course meal influenced by Nordic cuisine and Swedish ingredients. It is rather expensive, of course, but if you are really aiming for an unforgettable Northern lights trip it’d be a special thing to add to your itinerary.

Still – the Aurora Sky Station has an awesome live aurora cam! I stayed at STF Turiststation nearby, and instead, what I did was stay warm and cozy inside the hotel and check the live aurora cam every few minutes for a flash of green or see if the clouds were parting – at which point I’d head out with my camera.

Stay as long as you can – even if you’re on a budget

I was visiting Sweden on a short weeklong break, and I gave myself 3 days in Abisko National Park in order to try to see the aurora. While I was super lucky and saw a glimpse of it every night, and one truly spectacular light show, I think that 3 nights is the bare minimum you should spend up north if you are trying to see the Northern lights in Sweden.

There are tons of activities you can enjoy during the day in Swedish Lapland, from husky sledding (a must-do) to snowshoeing to ice-climbing to snowmobiling to just going through wintry hikes in Abisko National Park. You can also ski at nearby Björkliden or go into town to Kiruna for a day of sightseeing in this surprisingly charming mining town.

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

Many hotels and guesthouses offer free or low-cost snowshoes and cross-country skis during your stay, which is a great way to keep your costs down on a longer stay. Even just sitting in a charming guesthouse with a crackling fire and a cracking book is a good time – so I highly recommend extending your stay to however long is possible, especially since transport is one of the biggest costs and accommodations in Abisko are rather reasonable.

The longer you stay, the better your chances of seeing the Northern lights, so if you can stay for 5 days or better yet a week in the North, then all the better.

Don’t forget to dress warm!

This is yet another “duh” item, but seriously – don’t underestimate the cold! If you are chasing the Northern lights in Sweden, you may be outside for several hours at a time, at temperatures below freezing. A good jacket (I love my North Face parka), thermal layers like these from 32 Degrees, a tight-fitting hat, a warm scarf, and sturdy waterproof gloves are absolute essentials for visiting Arctic Sweden.

I’ve actually written a complete packing list for Northern Sweden, which you can find here.  If you don’t have proper winter gear, you will definitely want to buy it beforehand, as consumer goods in Sweden are quite expensive and you will pay a huge premium on clothing you buy in Sweden compared to what you can buy on Amazon back home.

frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park

Where to Stay to See the Northern Lights in Sweden

Like I said, don’t expect cheap in Sweden, but at the same time, you can find a variety of accommodation options that are suitable for different budgets.

Budget: The best option for where to stay in Abisko if you are traveling on a budget is hands down Abisko Guesthouse. Prices here are extremely reasonable, but the rooms are quite small as a result, and the facilities are more akin to hostel than a hotel. Still, it has nice perks like free use of a traditional Swedish sauna! You won’t be staying in Abisko National Park itself (my preference) but it is a great location nonetheless, easily walkable to town where you can buy groceries and other necessities. It’s especially good if you want to plan a longer, active holiday because the prices are low and they have a lot of activities they can help you book, from snowmobiling to husky-sledding to ice-climbing and beyond. As it’s the most reasonable option by far, it does tend to book up, so click here to check rates, availability, and reviews well in advance of your trip.

Mid-Range: This is where I stayed when in Abisko – we were initially planning on staying elsewhere in Abisko, but a last-minute problem at our guesthouse left us getting booked in here. We certainly didn’t complain as it was quite an upgrade! STF Turiststation is located in Abisko National Park a short distance from the shores of the frozen lake. With two amazing, well-stocked kitchens (truly the best of any facility I’ve ever stayed at), tons of areas to lounge around in, extremely reasonably priced breakfast and lunch buffets, and two of their own saunas, STF is in my opinion the best place to stay in Northern Sweden. Click her to see rates, availability, photos, and reviews.

Luxury: Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi is famous for a reason – this gorgeous hotel is one-of-a-kind. What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that this hotel has both cold rooms made of ice and traditional hotel rooms called ‘warm rooms’ which are much more affordably priced. If you wanted, you could do one night in an ice room to have the crazy, once-in-a-lifetime experience and then spend a few nights in one of the warm rooms. The cold room is -5C — so very cold — but it comes with a sleeping bag with a liner, so that you will be kept warm even as you sleep in a room made of ice. Just note that Jukkasjarvi is far from Abisko, and it doesn’t have quite the same luck that Abisko does in terms of pushing the cloud cover away, but it is located very far from any source of light pollution and you still have an excellent chance of spotting the Northern lights  in Jukkasjarvi. The Icehotel understandably is quite popular, so book in advance if you have your heart set on visiting it. Click here to check rates, availability, reviews, and photos!

 

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Planning a Northern lights trip? Try chasing the Northern lights in Sweden. Swedish Lapland is one of the best places on earth to see the aurora borealis. Here are 15 things to know before planning a trip to Northern Sweden! Tips on Abisko, Kiruna, Jukkasjarvi / Ice Hotel and beyond.

Sweden Packing List: What to Wear in Sweden in Winter (From Stockholm to Lapland)

stockholm-sweden-winter

If the idea of visiting Northern countries like Sweden in the winter seems overwhelming and you have no idea what to pack for Sweden in winter… don’t worry, it’s actually a lot less daunting than you think. I found that I actually didn’t need much that I didn’t already have when I did my research and wrote down my Sweden packing list.

Even though my trip took me north of the Arctic Circle, I actually didn’t need to overthink what to pack for Swedish Lapland since it was actually colder in New York City than Sweden during my trip!

While I got a bit lucky with the weather, I am also willing to bet that a trip to Sweden in the winter is not quite as cold as you think. let’s look at the numbers, here: the coldest month of the year is January, and even in January, the average temperature is 10°F or -12°C — not that different than a cold winter day in NYC or Boston (and positively balmy compared to where my sister lives in Minneapolis). Canadians could even tan in that weather! Your typical low temperature in Lapland would be closer to 1°F / -17°C, which is also not that bad compared to a lot of the United States or Canada in the winter.

That said, you will need to pack plenty of warm clothes and layers, as the weather is quite unpredictable and you could end up experiencing temperatures as low as -20°C / -5° F or even -40° C/°F if you get really, really unlucky. Pack for the worst; hope for the best.

Kiruna church
Kiruna church in winter. Worth the subsequent snow drift maneuvering.

Sweden Packing Guide

What to Pack Everything In

Having seen my friend struggle with a giant suitcase throughout Arctic Sweden… I strongly recommend that you bring a well-designed travel backpack instead of a suitcase. Sure, it’s possible to travel with a suitcase… but you will likely regret it when you end up trying to drag your bag through freshly laid snow, getting all your clothes wet in the process. Take it from an idiot who brought a rolling suitcase to Finland in November 🙂

Although I often travel long-term for weeks or even months at a time, I have learned to travel light with a backpack that’s around 45L (more on this in a bit). I use packing cubes, because having an organized system – especially with all the layers you need for winter travel – is essential to make packing for Sweden a breeze. This winter packing list includes a few of the things that I swear by all year round, not just winter, for helping me organize my clothes and belongings when I travel.

Abisko train station
How I packed vs. how my friend packed for Abisko. Trust  me – leave the rolling suitcase behind.

    • Travel Backpack (carry on size or check-in size): While rolling suitcases can be great for short weekend trips, they are decidedly a bad idea for Sweden in winter. There will likely be snow and ice on the ground, and you will have to drag, not roll, your suitcase, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a rolling suitcase. Not fun. You’re way better off with a backpack that you can easily carry. I am a light packer, so my Tortuga Setout Backpack is my true love — this is the updated version of the exact backpack I brought with me to Sweden’s Arctic north, which I also spent two 5 month trips through Europe with it. The newer version is just as toughly constructed but even more organized – I’m a huge fan!
      • Why do I recommend Tortuga so much? Here’s why: this bag is 45L and has got three main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to. It also has a water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside. Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.
      • Does it pass budget airline requirements? I’ve never once had to check it in on a budget airline flight, and I’ve taken probably 50+ Ryanair, Norwegian, and Wizzair flights at this point. I just buy priority boarding so that I have a guaranteed spot on board for my bag (plus a second personal item bag), which adds about $5 onto my total flight cost instead of the $20-40 or so that a heavy checked suitcase or backpack would. This adds up massively over time – with a bigger bag, I would have paid $1,000+ extra in baggage fees over the past few years. That’s massive savings.
      • Despite traveling for two years, I haven’t personally used a bigger backpack, but I’ve heard excellent things about the Osprey system. If I ever were to upgrade my backpack capacity, that’s what I would choose. But I’m cheap and hate paying baggage fees, even at the expense of having less clothing options, so your mileage may vary.
    • Packing Cubes: If you haven’t used packing cubes before, get ready for a travel revolution. These super helpful zippable bags are a miracle when it comes to organizing your clothing, keeping everything from bursting out every time you dare open your backpack. Any packing cube will do. I personally use these packing cubes and love them to the ends of the earth. As a substitute, some gallon size plastic Ziploc bags do the same job of keeping clothing separated and contained. But given how bulky winter travel clothing can be, you’ll likely just rip them and have to throw out the bags, so I recommend actual packing cubes instead.
    • Laundry bag: If you are traveling Sweden in winter, you will get your clothing wet, dirty, and covered in snow constantly, and you’ll have to change your clothes a decent amount. A laundry bag will come in handy at keeping dirty stuff separated from the clean. Like packing cubes, you don’t need anything fancy at all. I do like having a cute one like this one from Kikkerland though, because I’m impractical and like cute stuff.
    • Hanging Toiletry Bag: Packing for Sweden in winter has special toiletry concerns (hint: bring ALL the moisturizer) and I recommend using something like this  hanging toiletry bag to organize your various shampoos, moisturizers, make-up, etc. This bag conveniently fits perfectly in the outer pocket of my Tortuga backpack. It has a good number of separators, organizers, and pockets without taking up any excess space.  It’s the Mary Poppins bag you always needed but never knew existed – a miracle for girly girl travelers like myself who want to bring their entire vanity with them when they travel (but don’t want to pay check-in fees).
    • Cute travel daypack : I prefer using a daypack to a purse when I travel and I always bring the same backpack with me on literally every single trip. I am completely obsessed with the PacSafe Citysafe backpack which is a security bag that is actually cute and not horrendous to look at. I use it every day, whether I’m bringing my laptop to a café or packing all my camera equipment for a busy day out. The best part is that it is slashproof and has locking zippers that make it virtually impossible for a pickpocket to get into your bag without you noticing! Sweden is super safe so this isn’t really a major concern but I’m obsessed with this backpack (and paid for it out of pocket – nothing here on this list is sponsored, for the record) so I had to plug it anyway.

Most Essential Things to Pack for Sweden in Winter

Keep in mind: Sweden is freaking expensive (though it is one of the more affordable of the Scandinavian/Nordic countries). Therefore, it’s extra important that you pack appropriately, because anything you need to buy in Sweden will be extra expensive.

If you plan to travel elsewhere in Europe this winter, check out this Europe in winter packing list to get you started!

Gamla Stan in winter
Long parkas, hats, scarves, and boots – the winter uniform in Sweden!

    • A good, waterproof parka: While I said that Sweden in winter isn’t that cold – it still is pretty freaking cold. Pack for it appropriately. I love winterwear from The North Face because they guarantee all their products for life and will fix or replace literally anything you send to them. Their down jackets aren’t cheap, but they’re a great investment if you’re looking for a winter coat that will last a lifetime. This is the parka I own and I’ll use it for life. If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money on a new winter jacket, you can also buy a down jacket liner like this one and layer it between your winter coat and your other winter layers.
    • Thermal layers: While a good winter jacket will give you a lot of warmth, you’re fighting a losing battle unless you have warm layers underneath. I can’t wear wool or I get insanely, tear-off-all-my-skin itchy, but if you can tolerate wool then something like these merino wool leggings paired with a cashmere sweater layer will serve you very well. since I can’t wear wool, I am obsessed with these 32 Degrees thermal layers and wear them all winter long (I have about 5 that I rotate out). On bottom, I wear these fleece-lined leggings. With that plus a parka, you can wear basically anything over it.
    • Waterproof boots and warm socks: You don’t necessarily need proper snow boots if they are waterproof and have good traction. I first bought a pair of Blondo waterproof leather boots in 2008… which means I’m celebrating my 10-year anniversary with them this year. (Is this my longest relationship?) I’ve only had to get them resoled once, which set me back about $60, but for a pair of travel-friendly shoes that I’m completely obsessed with and wear all the time, it was 100% worth it. These are what I wore to Sweden and they held up great. However, if you plan on doing a lot of hiking in the snow, you may want a proper snow boot. The Elsa snow boot by KEEN is waterproof, insulated, and looks super cozy. Finally, no matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks. I invested in these Smartwool socks after much hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did. You don’t need that many pairs because you can actually re-wear them a few times before they get smelly because wool is so odor-absorbent and magical. And even though I generally can’t tolerate wool because of itchiness, I don’t mind them on my feet.
    • Camera plus tripod: It’s highly likely that one of the reasons why you are going to Sweden in the winter is to see the magical Northern lights. In that case, you’ll want to ensure you have a camera that is capable of manual settings. Most importantly, you need to be able to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I use a Sony A6000 and it works great. To properly photograph the Northern lights, a travel tripod is absolutely essential: you need the camera to be still for at least 5 seconds to get a decent photograph, and there’s no way you can eliminate camera shake for that long without a tripod. Personally, I use a simple, cheap 50″ Amazon tripod and it works just fine and fits in my carry-on sized bag.
    • Reusable water bottle: The tap water in Sweden is drinkable everywhere so make sure you bring a reusable water bottle. If you don’t already have one, try one from Klean Kanteen.
    • Moisturizer with SPF: The cold will destroy your skin. Be sure to bring a heavy-duty moisturizer to prevent dry skin. I use Aveeno moisturizer as I have sensitive skin. Make sure your moisturizer has SPF as the snow + sun combination can lead to surprise sunburns!
    • Finally, travel insurance. Yes, I know this isn’t something that you pack But it is just stupid to leave home without it. I think it’s extra important to have travel insurance in winter as the weather is unpredictable and you will be protected and reimbursed in case of trip cancellation in addition to illnesses or accidents. I recommend buying travel insurance as far in advance as you can, as it’s always cheaper that way. I always use World Nomads when I travel. The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, the excess/deductible is very low, and if you find yourself extending your trip it’s very easy to modify your insurance on the go.

What to Wear in Sweden in Winter

Layer, layer, layer!

Start with your base layers. Many people swear by wool, but I use a combination of a synthetic thermal top plus fleece-lined leggings. On top of my thermals, my next layer is just a simple sweater and jeans. I finish it off with wool socks, waterproof boots, a scarf, hat, gloves, and of course – a nice toasty jacket. That’s usually warm enough for me!

dogsledding in Abisko
If you’re cold, just add some puppies.

Here’s a quick packing list + product recommendations for what to wear for winter in Sweden:

    • 2-3 thermal tops: I swear by these 32 Degrees thermal layers and recommend getting 2 or 3 as they’re so warm they  can get kind of sweaty.
    • 3 warm sweaters to layer on top: Wool blends work great (and thermal layers make a nice barrier if you find wool itchy like I do). I love H&M for warm, acrylic winter sweaters.
    • 2 pairs fleece lined leggings: These are my favorite fleece leggings – so so so warm!
    • 2 pairs jeans: Wear these over your leggings.
    • 1 heavy jacket: I recommended the North Face parka above, but any warm jacket will work. Look for something that is lined with down, has a hood, and is waterproof and windproof.
    • 2 bras: Regular or sports bra – it doesn’t matter under all the layers.
    • 7+ pairs of underwear: However much you think you’ll need for your trip, so you don’t have to do laundry at your hotel, which would inevitably be super expensive in Sweden.
    • Bathing suit: Many hotels, guesthouses, and even hostels in Northern Sweden have their own saunas. Don’t forget your bathing suit or you’ll feel left out!
    • Sandals/flip flops: For the sauna or walking around in your hotel if you don’t want to put on your proper boots
    • 1 or 2 knit hats: I love fleece-lined knit hats like this one for extra warmth.
    • 2 pairs gloves: I recommend having two pairs, one lightweight pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves and one more heavy pair of waterproof gloves for things like dog-sledding and playing in the snow.
    • 1 super-warm infinity scarf: I love the scarves that you can wrap super close to your face, like this one. Never underestimate the power of a scarf for keeping you warm.

What to Pack if You Choose a Hostel/Dorm

There are a few special things you should bring if you are staying in a hostel or dorm in Sweden, which you can find below.

Stockholm in winter

    • 1 pair flip flops: I mentioned it above, but it goes double if you staying in a hostel!
    • 1 travel towelMost hostels in Sweden don’t provide towels and will charge a surcharge to give you one to borrow. Not worth it. Bring your own to avoid rental fees. This one is ultra-small and doesn’t take up much room in my bag.
    • 1 set of bedding (optional): Many hostels in Sweden require you to bring your own bedding or pay for renting it, which is annoying. If you want to save money and you have room in your bag, bring a twin-size sheet, duvet cover, and pillowcase. Otherwise, just suck it up and pay the rental cost (which is what I did).
    • 1 eye mask: I swear by this contoured eye mask as it doesn’t put uncomfortable pressure on your eyes but completely blacks out any light.
    • Some earplugs or good noise-canceling headphones: I love Hearos — they’re the gold standard for ear plugs. I’ve also been eyeing these noise-canceling headphones but haven’t made the plunge.
    • Travel-sized toiletries: Most hostels don’t provide shampoo, body wash, etc. so make sure you have these.
    • Combination locks: In Sweden, you’re probably at the greatest risk of theft from your fellow travelers. Prevent crimes of opportunity with simple measures like having a combination lock and keeping your valuables locked away. I always check hostels on Hostelworld to ensure they have lockers available because I travel with so many valuable electronic that it’d be idiotic to leave them unlocked.

What Toiletries to Pack for Sweden in Winter

Again, remember all your toiletries before heading to Sweden as you’ll pay a lot more once you arrive! Here’s what I recommend you bring.

When not seeing the Northern lights, dogsledding is a fun way to pass the time
Don’t forget the moisturizer!

    • ALL THE MOISTURIZER: Again, Swedish winter will chap the hell out of your skin. Make sure you use moisturizer to help with dry skin. I use Aveeno on my sensitive skin. Remember SPF for daytime!
    • Kleenex packets: I always seem to get a cold when I travel to cold climates so having Kleenex on hand is useful.
    • LUSH solid shampoo: Life-changing. Just trust me. Buy online or in store from LUSH and you’ll save serious money over Amazon.
    • Face wipesGreat for nights when you’re too lazy to take your make-up off properly or for a quick refresh.
    • Menstrual cup or your favorite tampon/pad brand, if applicable: If you have a specific brand allegiance, you may not find it in Sweden. I switched to a Diva Cup for travel and have never looked back. I highly recommend it.
    • Deodorant: I can’t rant enough about how much European deodorant sucks. I love Secret Clinical Strength and stash up on it every time I’m home… but then again, I am sweatier than most people are.
    • Basic medicine: You will be able to find all this in Europe, but trust me — you want to have the basics on hand in case you need them on the road. I carry Pepto-Bismol for standard stomach troubles, Imodium as a nuclear option (i.e. riding the bus when I am sick), some sort of painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches and minor pains, and some sort of motion sickness tablets.
    • Cold medicine: If you’re prone to getting sick, be sure to buy some cough or cold medicine before traveling to Sweden. They are really stingy with some of the ingredients over the counter in Northern Europe. That usually covers the bases for me — anything else I need I grab on the road.

Electronics to Pack for Sweden in Winter

The most important thing to remember about traveling in winter is that batteries drain extra quickly. You will want to bring extra batteries for everything and a portable battery charger. Trust me on this!

You’ll also want to bring a camera with the ability to change the shutter speed/aperture/ISO settings so you can properly capture the Northern lights. Cell phone cameras usually do a good job but they won’t be sufficient for photographing the Northern lights. Don’t forget a tripod!

Also, be sure to save some Swedish sayings and phrases to your phone before you go — a little Swedish will make a very positive first impression!

sweden in winter
Where it not for my tripod, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this!

  • Laptop, if necessary: I bring my Macbook Air everywhere but other people may prefer a tablet or an inexpensive netbook. I work on the road so a user-friendly, lightweight laptop is a must.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: Sweden is usually pretty good about having English-language books available but I still love having my Kindle as I can buy basically any book in the world as long as I have WiFi.
  • Travel camera: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, inexpensive, and a HUGE step up from a smartphone. If you are doing adventure activities like ice climbing or dogsledding, I highly recommend also bringing a GoPro. Whatever you bring, be sure to buy extra batteries, charge them up, and bring them alone.
  • Portable charger: Your electronics lose battery so much faster in the cold. Bring a portable charger with the ability to store enough power to complete 4 or 5 charges – it’ll save yourself so many headaches! Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use.
  • Adaptor, if necessary: Sweden uses the standard European adaptor, so bring one if you need it.

***

While this sounds like a lot, I was able to fit it everything on my Sweden packing list into my 44L backpack and my daypack by wearing my heaviest clothing on the plane and using my packing cubes to fit my clothes in neatly.

Is there anything I’ve forgotten to pack for Sweden in winter? Is there anything else you’re wondering if you should bring? Let me know in the comments!

10 Quirky & Stylish Hostels in Stockholm

Stockholm is one of my favorite cities in Europe, but it’s unfortunately also one of the most expensive. Prices all around the Nordic countries are generally quite high. Luckily, Stockholm won’t hurt the wallet quite as hard as, say, Copenhagen or Oslo, but it’s still not a cheap city by any stretch of the imagination.

If you’re visiting Stockholm on a budget, the easiest way to save money is by staying in a hostel, especially if you’re traveling solo (an Airbnb may also be a good call and work well for a group)

If you have a vision of nasty bunkbeds and stuffy rooms, rest assured. Hostels in Stockholm kick it up a notch thanks to that delightfully airy Scandinavian design you’ll find everywhere. As in, it seems to be a sin in Sweden to have bad décor.

I’ve broken down this post into some general tips as well as a breakdown of best hostels in Stockholm by neighborhood. Keep in mind that Gamla Stan is the Old Town and for the purposes of this post is considered the “center.”

Prices are highest in Gamla Stan and radiate outward, like in most cities. The next closest neighborhoods are Norrmalm and Södermalm; I would recommend staying in one of these neighborhoods unless you really have to have that Old Town experience.

General Budget Tips for Stockholm Hostels

A few things to keep in mind about Stockholm hostels, as they have a few unique quirks that you won’t find elsewhere.

1. Linens are often not included. For some reason, in Sweden, bed linen is not included in the price. This can add on another $6-10, which you’ll pay once. You can get around this by bringing your own linens from home, though if you’re doing a longer trip throughout Europe you probably won’t care to do this. Towels are often an additional fee as well, so consider bringing a microfiber quick-dry towel from home to save on towel rental costs.

2. Check to see if breakfast (or pasta dinner!) is included. Eating meals out in Sweden is extremely pricey — expect to spend around $15-20 USD without drinks for a basic meal, unless you’re just getting a hot dog off the street (and even that will be expensive). So you can get good bang for your buck if you find a place that offers breakfast or a pasta dinner.

3. Transportation costs are also quite high in Stockholm. It is, however, a very walkable city if you stay central. 2 one-way subway tickets will cost $9 USD (you can bring the cost down slightly by getting a transit card — then it’ll be around $6.50 per roundtrip with a one-time $2.50 card purchase).

Choosing a centrally-located hostel can end up saving you money if it means you have to travel less as you’re enjoying all the things to do in Stockholm. You can also buy daily passes if you ride the train a lot and if you buy a Stockholm Pass, transportation is included.

A Stockholm Pass may be a good idea if you are planning to spend 3 days in Stockholm or more. It depends on what you’re planning on doing, but if you’re a big culture vulture who loves visiting all the museums, a Stockholm Pass can definitely save you money.

Best Hostels in Stockholm: Norrmalm

Generator Stockholm

Generator is a chain of hostels in Europe with a reputation for sleek design. I’ve stayed at Generators in Dublin and Hamburg and always been really satisfied with the experience and vibe, always a good mix between social enough while being respectful of others. The modern design contributes to making the hostel atmosphere relaxed as well as welcoming.

I haven’t stayed at this Generator in particular, but generally (ha!) I think Generator hostels do a good job at catering to slightly more upscale travelers versus your minimal budget backpackers. It’s perfect for travelers who want to relax after a long day, but also want a social and inviting atmosphere with trendy design. It’s a newer hostel, having only opened in 2016, so it offers nice, up-to-date amenities.

Generator Stockholm has no curfew, their own 24-hour shop, an in-house bar, offers bed linen included in the price (rare in Sweden, for whatever reason),  and is just a 5-minute walk to some of the best historic sites in the city. However, there is no breakfast included, which can increase your daily costs as meals out in Stockholm are quite expensive.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

A walkway in Stockholm, near many Swedish hostels and restaurants.

City Backpackers Hostel

Having recently won an award for being the best hostel in all of Sweden, City Backpackers is truly an impressive hostel and one of your best bets for a hostel in Stockholm.

Boasting a free pasta bar for dinner, free traditional sauna in the evenings, bike rental, and even free ice skate rental in winter, the hostel focuses on giving visitors a traditional Scandinavian experience during their visit at a minimal cost. They also host excursions such as a guided bike tour, which is great if you want people to explore the city with.

They offer everything from 12-bed dorms to private rooms for up to 8 people, ensuring there is something for everyone, no matter their budget or rooming preferences. Linen is not included, nor is breakfast.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Red, green and yellow house in Gamla Stan, near hostels in Stockholm.

Best Hostels in Stockholm: Gamla Stan

Old Town Lodge

If you want a cozy, medieval feel, Old Town Lodge is your best bet. The building dates back to 1600 and even incorporates a portion of the old city wall from 1200 in its architecture, which is just insane.

The age of the building has not stopped Old Town Lodge from creating a modern and minimalist looking hostel, with a soothing white theme throughout the entire hostel. There are both private rooms and dorms to choose from, depending on your needs and comfort level.

Note that like many hostels in Sweden, bed linens are not included. As far as I could see, this was an additional 65 kronor ($8) which, while not a lot, definitely makes a difference for those just planning a short stay. Breakfast is free, though.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Church view in Old Town Stockholm, near the hostel

Castanea Old Town Hostel

With over 10 years in the top 5 rankings in the city, Castanea Old Town Hostel is known for being homey and welcoming while still being well situated within the city. The building itself dates back to 1747, making it incredibly cozy and personal-feeling.

The hostel is particularly friendly to budget travelers who want to stay in Gamla Stan with its twisty cobblestone streets, and has received favorable reviews from single travelers and families alike.

Neither breakfast nor bed linens are included in the price; however, there is a big spacious kitchen for those who like to cook for themselves.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Best Hostels in Stockholm: Södermalm

Skanstulls Hostel

Known as one of the quieter hostels in the city, this modern hostel caters to guests who don’t want the party hostel scene.

Tucked away in a the trendy Sofo district of the island of Sodermalm, it is still near enough to the largest attractions to provide the perfect mix of offbeat and touristy. Personally, Sofo is my favorite neighborhood in Stockholm, so in my opinion the location can’t be beat.

Breakfast is not included in the price, but can be pre-ordered for 75 SEK ($9 USD) or more if you order same-day. However, they do offer free pasta for guests to use. As you’ve probably guessed, linens are also not included, but the price is less outrageous than most places at 50 SEK ($6) plus an extra 20 SEK if you need to rent a towel as well.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

A man walking on a cobbled street. Sodermalm neighborhood is home to some of the best hostels in Sweden.

The Red Boat

The Red Boat is one of three themed hostels on this list, and undoubtedly one of the more unique. It spans two different houseboats and offers a one of a kind waterfront experience in a hostel in Stockholm.

It’s a boat (if you haven’t figured that out yet) so naturally the rooms are a lot smaller than you’ll find in other, well, non-boat hostels. But it is affordable and well-located near Gamla Stan and Södermalm, if you can stand the small, cramped quarters.

It also includes linen (yay!) although not breakfast.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

A design shop in Sodermalm, near some of the best hostels in Stocokholm

Langholmens (just outside Södermalm)

If you’re the kind of person who wants to stay somewhere a bit… strange, Langholmens is just for you.

A uniquely-themed hostel, Langholmens is situated in a now-defunct prison. Quirk-loving travelers can spend the night in old cells, spending time on the prison-like bunk beds. Fun?

Outside of the cells, a boutique, cafeteria, and an internet cafe offer all of the comforts of home — or at least, not prison. Other services available include a pub, restaurant, laundry services, and the ability to rent bicycles to explore the city. An attendant is on duty 24 hours a day (in case of any traveller riots, naturally).

Keep in mind that this is the cost for a bed only. In addition, you’ll have to pay for your linens (80 SEK/$10), breakfast if you choose to have it (98 SEK/$12), as well as a mandatory departure cleaning fee of 35 SEK ($4). Plus, it’s located on an island outside the center, so add on transportation costs to boot. Still, if you’re craving a unique experience — this certainly fits the bill.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

A statue in a harbor. Vasastan neighborhood has many Stockholm hostels.

Best Hostels in Stockholm: Vasastan & Kungsholmen

2Kronor

As the name suggests, the hostel is known for being budget-friendly; however, like other hostels in Stockholm, be prepared to spend an additional 70 SEK ($9) on bed linens. Breakast is not included, but there is a kitchen, and free coffee, tea, and pasta.

This is located in Vasastan, which is conveniently close to the Central Railway Station, but not so close to most of the touristy places in Gamla Stan. Whether that’s a pro or a con for you depends on your travel style. It is a very local neighborhood with lots of young people and students calling the neighborhood home, so that can be great for those who want to get a bit off the beaten path in Stockholm.

Keep in mind that reception is only open from 10 AM to 6 PM so it’s not a good option for those arriving late.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Houses in Sodermalm

Stockholm Hostel

Let’s hear it for bedsheets and towels included in the price!

This hostel is located a bit outside the center on the island of Kungsholmen, so as a result it’s more modern and spacious than hostels located in the Old Town. Again, you’re going to get a more local vibe here as a result, and more reasonably priced restaurants as you’re farther away from the tourist center.

Every room has a spacious and modern en-suite bathroom which for me is a huge plus — I hate cramped shared bathrooms.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Best Hostels in Stockholm: Near Arlanda Airport

Jumbo Stay

This is great for travelers who have a layover at Stockholm Arlanda or want a place to stay near the airport if they have an early morning flight. There’s a free airport shuttle and it takes just six minutes to get to the airport from the hostel and vice versa.

Another themed offering, the Jumbo Stay is the first and only hostel located within a Boeing 747-200. Maintaining many of the original airplane furnishings within the common area, the jet is also equipped with surprisingly modern rooms, offering a fun theme in addition to all of the comforts expected within a hostel.

Breakfast, linens, and towels are included in the cost, a nice surprise in pricy Stockholm. Breakfast starts at 3 AM which is perfect if you have an early morning flight but still want to grab something before heading to the airport.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking | HostelWorld

Have any other recommendations for Stockholm hostels? Leave it below in the comments!

13 Wonderful Things to Do in Stockholm in Winter

If you don’t mind a little cold, Stockholm in winter is one of Europe’s best destinations. This urban paradise in Sweden is the definition of coziness (though the Swedes would call it mysigt).

From exploring the museums, stopping for coffee breaks and Swedish pastries, visiting Christmas markets, and enjoying scenic boat rides through canals, there are countless things to do in Stockholm during the winter season. I first visited Stockholm in February and despite the winter weather, it was actually warmer in Stockholm than in New York, where I was coming from!

Still, while Stockholm isn’t that cold in the winter, it’s likely that you’ll want to spend some of your time indoors warming up and exploring the museums and indoor markets. If you have a few days in Stockholm, it makes the most sense to buy a Stockholm Pass, which gives you unlimited access to most museums and public transportation and allows you to skip the lines at popular attractions (although admittedly, one of the perks of visiting Stockholm in winter is the lack of other tourists!).

Stroll through the Christmas Markets in Stockholm


If you visit Stockholm in November or December, try to time your vacation around the Christmas markets. The Christmas lights and cheer somehow make the snowy, dark days feel a little brighter. Experience a genuine Stockholm winter by visiting the Christmas Market in the heart of the Old Town, Gamla Stan.

As a bonus, you can take an evening Christmas walking tours by lantern light — definitely not something you can do any other time of year!

Browse through the adorable red stalls that sell Christmas crafts and ornaments, as well as Swedish food and hot mulled wine. This is also the perfect place to pick up some Swedish souvenirs or creative Christmas gifts — there are tons of handicrafts and decorative ornaments for sale in the markets. With a dusting of snow on the ground, this couldn’t be a more magical place to get in the winter spirit in Stockholm!

Know Before You Go: The Stockholm Christmas Market in 2019 will run from November 23 to December 23. If you’re traveling outside the Christmas Market season, don’t fret – here are 12 other epic reasons to visit Stockholm this winter!

Explore the Vasa Museum in Stockholm

One of the most fun places to spend a winter day in Stockholm
Winter in Stockholm is best spent exploring awesome museums!

Let’s not beat around the bush: winter in Stockholm can be cold. You won’t want to spend that much time outdoors, so make the best use of your time by going to some of Stockholm’s coolest museums.

My personal favorite – and a must-see in Stockholm on everyone’s list – is the Vasa museum. This unique museum is named after the Vasa ship, which sank in Stockholm in 1628 – just mere minutes (yes, minutes!!) after taking off. After nearly three hundred years at sea, the Vasa was retrieved and preserved in a museum. It’s in fantastic condition because Stockholm has uniquely brackish waters, which basically fossilized the Vasa ship and kept it in excellent condition.

Nowadays, it’s the world’s only conserved 17th-century ship, and it’s a staggering 99% original! The museum offers guided tours and screenings in English regularly, included in the price of admission. The museum offers rotating exhibitions, a timeline of its preservation, activities for kids, a shop with souvenirs, and a restaurant (which is surprisingly good and well-priced for Stockholm, I should add). It’s an incredibly unique experience that can only be had in Stockholm, so make sure you add it to your itinerary.

Pro Tip: Admission to the Vasa Museum is free with the Stockholm Pass. If you plan on visiting a few museums and using public transit, the pass almost always works out to save you some serious money. You can also combine it with an Old Town & Djurgarden walking tour to make the most of it!.

Ski at the Hammarbybacken ski resort

Trying skiing in Stockholm during the winter!


Now, I’m not a skier (I hurt myself plenty without strapping myself to planks of wood and trying to fall down a hill, thanks), but Scandinavians love their skiing!

Hammarbybacken is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike during the winter season. Here you can find a snow park with numerous slopes to snowboard or ski. There are hotels as well where you can rent equipment, enjoy the cafes and restaurants, or even stay in if you want to get outside of the city a bit. The ski resort offers an incredible experience for all ages and levels on their slopes, while enjoying an astounding view of the city.

Read More: 10 Delightful Reasons to Visit Sweden in Winter

Not sure how to ski or just in the mood for something different? You can do a snowshoeing day hiking tour or an all-day ice-skating tour!

Visit the Skansen open air museum

Skansen is one of the oldest open air museums in the world, which has cute Scandinavian homes as well as animals originating from Scandinavia such as moose! The museum offers an outstanding view over the islands that make up Stockholm’s archipelago. In one day, you can learn a lot about Sweden’s history as well as its animals, goods, and handicrafts.

Bundle up and enjoy a brisk Stockholm winter’s day here — Swedes know how to do cozy, so it’s pleasant even in winter with fires roaring and hot beverages available to warm up your hands as you enjoy the museum. You can buy tickets online to spend less time in line on the day of, as this museum can get crowded, especially on weekends.

Note: Entrance to the Skansen Open Air Museum is also free with the Stockholm Pass.

Eat your heart out at a food hall

Winter in Stockholm calls for smoked fish
Smoked salmon is a must eat in Stockholm’s markets!

The Östermalms Saluhall is a great place to dine when in Stockholm. Head to the indoor market, where you can find a variety of Swedish meats, treats, and beverages. This place carries traditional Swedish dishes as well as prepared goods like salads, smoked fish, and other favorites.

Östermalms Saluhall is great any time of year, but it’s especially convenient in the winter, since it’s cozy and warm indoors so you can stroll around leisurely, searching for whatever snack you’re craving.

Hotorgshallen is another popular food market filled with vendors selling fresh fish, meats, cheeses, teas, and coffee. This place lies at the heart of Stockholm’s shopping district. Besides traditional Swedish goodies, it offers a wide variety of international snacks such as falafel, sushi, French cheeses, and more

Go on a Gamla Stan walking tour

Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s Old Town, which still preserves its medieval roots in great condition — one of the best in Europe, in fact. Stockholm was founded here allllll the way back in 1252, and you can feel the history in each one of its winding streets. As a bonus, in winter in Stockholm you will definitely find it to be much less crowded than in the summer.

The Old Town is touristy, surely, but it’s worth a visit. Full of restaurants, cafes, bars, and souvenirs shops, you’ll never run out of things to do in Stockholm in winter wandering around Gamla Stan.

It’s amazing to walk around the narrow streets and if you ignore the vendors, you can feel as if you’re still walking around the past. Several churches and museums are located here such as the National Palace, National Cathedral, and the Nobel Museum.

Sweat the winter day away

Did you know that in Sweden some hostels even have their own sauna? City Backpackers is one such hostel in Stockholm, with free sauna access included in your stay. Check out prices, ratings, and availability here.

When I was up north in the Arctic Circle, I stayed at another hostel with sauna access, Abisko Turiststation STF, which was perfect to warm up in before running outside in just my bathing suit to see if the Northern lights were out!

If you’re not staying in a hostel or a hotel with a sauna, you can find them around the city. Centralbadet (Central Bath) is one of the most beautiful, with Art Nouveau décor and plenty of saunas and heated swimming pools to choose from. However, it’s a bit pricy at about $30 USD for day access. There are cheaper options, starting at around $8 or $9 for a day pass.

Read More: Chasing the Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden on a Budget

Take a boat tour


Stockholm itself makes up 14 islands, joined by 57 bridges, which makes water such an important part of any trip to Stockholm – even in winter. There are several options for taking a boat through Stockholm, but the most practical is probably a hop off and hop on boat tour where you can experience as much or as little as you’d like and reduce your public transit spend in one swoop.

Money-Saving Tip: This is yet one more freebie included in the Stockholm Pass!

If you’re short on time, the boat tour will allow you to see places such as the Royal Palace, the Vasa Museum, Gamla Stan, the downtown area, etc. quite easily. While the subway is warm, a boat tour has it beat for offering a panoramic view along the way. If you’re keen on picking up a bit of history, you can also listen to the audio guide in a variety of languages.

The great thing is that you can stay on for as long or as little as you want — the boat has a warm indoors area with free WiFi, restrooms, and a café. You can see Stockholm at its best by cruising around, or hop off for a bit to explore by both foot and by sea.

You can also take this lovely winter canal cruise which takes one hour going through the beautiful quays of Stockholm’s islands. Check details and availability here.

Take advantage of museums affordably with a Stockholm Pass


If you have a lot of things on your winter Stockholm itinerary, you should consider investing in a Stockholm Pass. This pass allows you free entry to 60 popular attractions, museums, and tours, so that once you’ve paid you can quite easily hop to all the different museums and avoid the cold.

The pass also grants unlimited travel on the city’s hop-on and hop-off buses and boats, so you can save on transportation as well. The best part is that you don’t have to wait in lines in museums to obtain this pass; it’s far easier to purchase it online in advance and simply collect it in Stockholm. The only thing you need to do is carry it around with you and show it at the entrance of every attraction!

Visit the ABBA Museum

If you’re a fan of the Swedish musical group ABBA, you’ll have the time of your life dancing and singing your way through the ABBA Museum.

Not your average museum, the ABBA Museum is ultra-interactive with loads of photo opps and interactive experiences like making your own music video or ‘auditioning’ and recording your own songs. There are video and audio recordings of your trip that you can access from the website after you go home, so you can have the ultimate Sweden souvenir!

There’s also an audio guide you can rent that has the actual group members narrating stories from their lives – a must for huge ABBA fans.

The ABBA Museum is one of Stockholm’s most popular places to visit and as a result there are often lines – yes, even in winter! Tickets are available for the same price on GetYourGuide, so pre-book tickets here to skip the line.

Shop til you drop in Södermalm

Stockholm in Winter is simply magical

SoFo is one of Stockholm’s trendiest neighborhoods and a great way to spend a cold winter in Stockholm. Walk up and down the main street, Götgatan, and window shop… or actually shop, if you’re feeling flush, just remember that Stockholm is expensive and the exchange rate is rarely in your favor!

Swedish fashion is minimalist and focuses on quality rather than quantity — although you’ll often find Swedes in H&M, considering it was founded there! If you’re not that into fashion, there are tons of home décor houses that have mastered the art of Scandinavian design, which are nearly impossible to leave empty-handed from (I picked up a few cute mugs).

Fika your heart out

Winter in Sweden is much better with a fika break!


The Swedes are some of the biggest coffee drinkers in the world – the 6th biggest, in fact, if you care for fun facts as much as I do. They love coffee so much that they have a word which can’t really be appropriately translated into English: fika.

Fika can be used as a verb – “to have coffee”, but also implying snacking on pastries, enjoying coziness, and chatting with friends, but it can also be used as as a noun, as in “the act of having coffee and chatting together.”

So whenever you need a break from the cold, pop into a cozy café (they’re never far away) for a coffee and a pastry, preferably a cinnamon roll (kanelbullar)! Some of my favorite neighborhoods for fika are SoFo and Östermalm. Anywhere in Stockholm in winter, you surely won’t be the only one pausing for a fika break.

Go on a food tour

Until recently, Scandinavia wasn’t much known for its food – but that’s quickly changing as the world gets into the new Nordic food trend.

Stockholm offers a variety of culinary tours, which showcase Sweden’s traditional food in a short amount of time. While a food tour is a bit pricy, it can actually be quite economical as eating out in Stockholm can be rather expensive and you’ll get to try numerous dishes all in one go.

A walking food tour is a great way to spend a cold day in winter in Stockholm, since you will spend around four hours walking around, finding different shops and restaurants, snacking, and stopping for coffee. A typical walking tour will cover about 2 miles of walking distance and stop at 5-7 different stops along the way.

This tour can be quite popular, so pre-book here! If that tour sells out, there are other options, such as this food and wine tour.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be well-catered to in Stockholm. The food scene is quite veggie-friendly, and there’s even a vegetarian and vegan food tour as well so you don’t have to miss out on the fun!

Where to Stay in Stockholm in Winter

Budget: For a fun, trendy hostel that won’t break the break, check out City Backpackers Stockholm. It’s one of the more affordable options in the city, plus it comes with awesome freebies that will make winter nights cozy such as their free sauna – enough said. Plus free pasta in the evenings, saving you some money. Check prices, ratings, and availability of City Backpackers here.

Mid-range: Sweden is practically synonymous with excellent interior design, and it’s great to get a taste of awesome Swedish décor without paying a huge amount in a city that is generally very expensive like Stockholm is. The Scandic Upplandsgatan is surprisingly budget-friendly for Stockholm, especially if split between two people, with great perks and a central location. Check prices, ratings, and availability of Scandic Upplandsgatan here.

Luxury: If you are looking for the ultimate luxury experience in Stockholm, Grand Hotel Stockholm has the perfect location, a beautiful lobby, luxurious rooms — oh, and a restaurant with two Michelin stars. Swoon. Their afternoon tea is supposed to be outstanding if you’re in the mood to splash out and enjoy in style. Of course, it’ll cost you, but it is the nicest option in town. Check prices, ratings, and availability of Grand Hotel Stockholm here.

What to Pack for a Winter Trip to Stockholm

Despite what you may think of Sweden in winter, Stockholm’s climate is actually relatively mild. Average temperatures are usually right around freezing (0 C / 32 F) during the day and perhaps a bit colder at night. I didn’t find it to be much colder than New York or other North American cities that get cold in winter… and I actually find other European cities like Prague and Sofia, are often much colder in winter than Stockholm! Here’s what I recommend you bring (I also have a list of what to pack for 2 weeks in Europe that may be useful to use, as it has a dedicated winter section).

  • Waterproof boots. I just brought my waterproof leather Blondo boots that I have legit owned for 8 years (I did get them re-soled once). If you’re looking for a proper snow boot, Sorel and Keen are the two brands I hear recommended most often. Stockholm isn’t extremely snowy most of the time, so you should be okay with any basic waterproof boot — no need for anything crazy heavy-duty. However, do check that your shoes have good traction, as sidewalks can be icy.
  • A knit hat. Any beanie will do as long as the knit is fairly tight, but a fleece-lined knit hat will give you a bit of extra warmth (and the pompom will look cute on Instagram).
  • Thermal base layers. I personally can’t tolerate wool as it makes me feel like my skin is on fire, but if you know you can wear wool without issues, merino wool base layers are the standard recommendation for cold weather. However, fleece-lined layers work great for me. I have these 90 Degree by Reflex fleece-lined leggings for my bottom base layer and I wear a UNIQLO 32 Degrees thermal layer for my top base layer. I bought my 32 Degrees thermal top at Costco, by the way, and it was even cheaper than on Amazon. If you can tolerate wool, merino wool leggings from SmartWool are the gold standard.
  • Wool socks. Despite my previous screed against woolen clothing, I actually can tolerate wool if it’s just on my feet. I love SmartWool socks for cold winter weather and didn’t find them itchy at all. I recommend bringing a few pairs though because it’s nice to have socks to rotate out during the day.
  • Gloves. Gore-Tex waterproof gloves are the gold standard and got me through many a winter bike rides in NYC, and they did just fine in Stockholm in winter. I also have a cheap thin pair of gloves I used during the daytime that could work with my smartphone. I got mine from Target but this pair is similar.
  • An ultrawarm parka and also a thin ultra-light down jacket. Yes, I’m a total baby when it comes to the cold (it happens when you grow up in California). I live in my North Face parka every winter and consider it an excellent investment. There are cheaper down jackets you can buy for sure; just make it goes down to at least mid-thigh, trust me. I also layer my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket underneath at night or when it’s really cold. You can buy yours at Uniqlo but this jacket is really similar and cheaper on Amazon. They roll up really small so it’s not a pain to bring two jackets. Just wear your heavier one on the plane.

ONE FINAL NOTE: I always travel with travel insurance (I use World Nomads for every trip, as they are affordable, easily renewed or extended, and have good customer service from those I’ve spoken to who have made claims). It’s especially important when traveling in winter, as winter weather is quite unpredictable here and can help you with flight cancellations, luggage loss, etc. in addition to medical emergencies. Get a free quote today!

Stockholm in winter is a wonderful place to visit, with many things to do. Food tours, museums, walking tours, the Old Town... #wintertravel #sweden #visitsweden

How To Get From Stockholm to Abisko Without the Hassle

Kiruna in winter

If you’re planning to go from Stockholm to Abisko, let this be your guide as I completely and utterly failed doing it with information I patched together off the internet.

This tale of embarrassment and woe culminated in me dashing for the last train to Abisko, soaking wet in sub-freezing temperatures having just trudged my way through a giant snow drift, and just barely making the last train and avoiding a $200 taxi.

Read and learn from my (hilarious) mistakes below or skip ahead to quickly learn how to actually get from Stockholm to Abisko without nearly losing your sanity and your toes to frostbite.

How Not to Get from Stockholm to Abisko

When planning my Sweden winter trip, the plan was: land in Kiruna around 10 in the morning, take a taxi to the the train station to drop off our luggage (as my lovely friend Kristine may have overpacked just a bit), take a bus or a taxi 2 kilometers back to town to while away four or five hours before taking the 3:30 train to Abisko to see the Northern lights. It was nicely written out with bullet points — bullet points!!! — times, and costs. What could possibly go wrong?

Spoiler: Only everything. When we got to the Abisko train station, we arrived to a completely empty train station with not a single human to be found, which our taxi driver failed to warn us about.

It was utterly eerie, like a scene from Steven King’s The Langoliers, where the survivors of a Twilight Zone-esque time rip wander a deserted airport.

While we didn’t manage to find a living soul, we did find the promised luggage lockers. The problem: they only took 10 kronor coins and there was no one around to help us combine smaller coins or make change.

Luckily, Kristine managed to find one 10 kronor coin, and we were able to store her *cough* enormous *cough* suitcase, but there was no room for my heavy backpack or Kristine’s other bags. (She clearly hadn’t read my guide on how to pack for Sweden in winter!)

Abisko train station
For perspective.

Still, we could at least traverse the town at this point, so we gave up and brought the rest of our belongings with us. Then, we had to decide how to get back to town.

There was no one to ask about the bus schedule, and online information was scarce. There was also no taxi stand, nor anyone to ask to call a taxi, and neither of us wanted to rack up roaming charges.

So we decided to walk towards town on the icy highway and stick out our thumbs to any passing cars. About five or ten minutes into our walk, an official looking vehicle pulled over for us. My heart jumped to my throat for a second as I imagined the worst: hitchhiking is illegal and I just solicited a cop.

Lucky for us, our Good Samaritan ended up being a really really ridiculously good-looking fire ranger who drove us the 5 minutes to town and dropped us off at his favorite lunch place, Spis Mat & Dryck. We warmed up and enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch for about 90 SEK, a little under $11 USD. Highly recommended!

SPiS
Kristine enjoying some well-deserved coffee at SPiS

Kiruna is absolutely stunning in mid-February. The fact that the sun never gets that high in the sky means that basically every hour of the day is golden hour, when the sun begins its descent towards the horizon and casts a beautiful glow on the world.

We walked to the church and marveled at its interiors, visited a cute little design shop, and decided to fika at Cafe Safari. We asked them to call us a taxi to the train station, but they told us there was no need, that a free bus went from the town center to the train station every 20 minutes before the train.

Kiruna in winter
Kiruna around 2 PM in the winter

We found the bus station, only to find a friendly bus driver who told us that the one bus that was scheduled to take us to the train had already left a few minutes ago. OK, a taxi it is. We had 30 minutes to go 2 kilometers, which initially seemed like ample time.

Only when Good Samaritan #2 kindly called for us, every single taxi the town had was in use. Shit. We began to panic. We decided to walk towards the road and hitchhike again – it had worked the first time…. right? Right? The bus driver called us over again, telling us he had an idea. He pointed to a bus on the street and told us to get on that bus, and ask them to let us off “near the train station.”

He said it wouldn’t bring us all the way there, but it would be close. We boarded and explained to the driver that we had missed our bus to the train station. Good Samaritan #3 didn’t even ask us to pay, which would have been yet another kink in our terrible transit plan, as we lacked small bills and coins of all kinds.

With about 7 minutes to spare, my trusty blue dot on Google Maps indicated we were incredibly close to the train station, and I looked at the bus driver and asked if this was it.

By way of answering, he stopped the bus to let us off and pointed to the train station, about 500 feet in the distance. We started trudging as fast we could through the knee-deep snow in what only could have been someone’s backyard (another thing to be grateful for: Swedes lack the American trespass-and-I’ll-shoot mentality).

Kiruna church
Kiruna church in winter. Worth the subsequent snow drift maneuvering.

It was all going well, until the knee-deep snow suddenly became waist-deep snow. We had reached the end of the packed snow and entered a drift of completely loose powder. Each step in any direction just got us mired deeper and deeper in snow. A sort of animal energy crept into my blood, adrenaline pumping from the cold.

Motivated by the horror of a $200 taxi ride, I threw myself forward on my belly, scrabbling with hands (ungloved, mind you, because if the last thousand words haven’t convinced you, I can be a bit of a fool) and knees towards the highway. It was like the inverse of an oasis, seeking the one waterless spot in a sea of snow. Kristine wasn’t far behind me, Ironman that she is.

Hands tingling with cold, we threw ourselves over the final snow bank, bags first, then slid down on our backsides like penguins onto the highway. I never felt happier to be on solid ground. We skidded across the icy two-lane highway into the train station, collected Kristine’s giant suitcase, and boarded the train, laughing deliriously in our soaked clothing and blowing on our needling fingers to warm them up.

How to Get from Stockholm to Abisko by Train

If you’d like to visit Abisko with less hysterics and hypothermia, the easiest idea and the one I am kicking myself for not doing is by train.

While on paper, taking the train from Stockholm to Abisko seems rather expensive (around $100 USD for a compartment with a bed, depending on the exact exchange rate at the time and how far in advance you book) and time-consuming, there are a few things to keep in mind.

For one, you are traveling overnight, which means that you save on a night’s accommodation, which is no small impact on your Sweden budget. Another is that you don’t have to pay to get to the airport or to make the annoying connection between Kiruna Airport and Abisko, as the train will just drop you off straight in Abisko, making it the easiest option.

Swedish trains are quite comfortable, so it’s easy to do an overnight train and get a good night’s sleep and start your first day in Abisko off on the right foot.

The direct train leaves Stockholm at 6:11 PM and will reach Abisko the following day just before 11 AM. There are two stops in Abisko, Abisko Ostra (where most hotels and guesthouses are) and Abisko Turiststation (where the STF hostel and national park is).

Abisko Ostra
Abisko Ostra station

There are also non-direct trains with a transfer in Boden which leave at 9:12 PM, but they take longer and don’t get you into Abisko until nearly 4 PM the next day, meaning you won’t get any daylight that day if you are traveling in the winter, so I’d recommend taking the direct train instead.

How to Get from Stockholm to Abisko by Plane

On paper, flying may look like the cheapest way to get from Stockholm to Abisko. However, keep in mind that it can be a huge pain in the butt to get between Kiruna Airport and Abisko, so you may not actually save any money by flying.

While you will save time, it may not be much “active” time, as you’d likely just be sleeping a lot of the time that you’d be on the train anyway. So keep all those factors in mind when picking between the train and the plane for your Stockholm to Abisko journey.

There are two airlines which serve the Stockholm to Abisko route: Norwegian and SAS. I flew on each, one way on Norwegian and the other on SAS. Keep in mind baggage requirements, as this also may impact the cost of your journey and could be another point in favor of the train!

train to Abisko
Arctic circle views on the train from Kiruna to Abisko

Once you arrive at Kiruna airport, here are your choices for then getting to Abisko in winter.

1) Take a taxi from the airport straight to Abisko. This will cost you about $200 USD for up to 4 people. If you are in a party of four or can get four people together, this actually isn’t a terrible option.


2) Book a shuttle on abisko.net for about $45 USD per person. This is your best option if you are traveling solo and have no desire to see Kiruna. We took this on the way home from Abisko and it was super comfortable and convenient…. no snow drift navigation required.

3) Travel via Kiruna. Book a ticket online for the train (about $8 USD per person, more expensive if you buy on board) and take a bus ($13 USD per person) or take a taxi (about $35 USD for up to 4 people) to downtown Kiruna. We opted for a taxi because we were going to the train station first.

From there, you can stay overnight and catch a train in the morning, getting the chance to enjoy Kiruna and spend the night in the largest city in Swedish Lapland.

Or, you can just spend a few hours there if your timing allows, but be sure to give yourself lots of extra time to get back to the train station. It’s only 2 km away, but it takes about 40 minutes to walk because it’s basically a sheet of ice on a highway, so not the best place for speed-walking. You will want to figure out the bus to the train station or call a cab well in advance… unlike us.

dogsledding in Abisko
At least the next day would begin with puppies.

Have you been to Abisko? How did you get there?

10 Reasons to Travel to Sweden in Winter

Sweden’s climate is by no means tropical, but winter in Sweden doesn’t have to be as bad as you think.

Swedish winters can be downright enjoyable and magical, granted you pack the appropriate winter clothing. Stockholm’s average winter temperature hovers right around freezing, but in Northern Sweden, you’ll see more extremes, ranging from freezing to -30 C!

Even with the cold weather, there are still so many things to do in Stockholm, so just pack warm and enjoy the beauty of the city without the summer crowds.  With preparation and the right mindset, Sweden in winter is absolutely lovely — read on to learn why!

The obvious — the Northern lights are the most amazing thing you’ll ever see

The Northern lights are only visible from September to the end of March. In Abisko, which is considered by many scientists to be the best place in the world to see the Northern lights, we saw the lights 3 out of 3 nights — a definite must-add to your Sweden winter itinerary.

Granted, 2 of the 3 nights were rather cloudy, so we saw a few green streaks of aurora that quickly got covered by the clouds. However, our final night we had a cloudless night, and the lights were even more vibrant, magical, and amazing than I could have imagined.

sweden in winter

Seeing the Northern lights in Abisko is completely free once you get there. Just walk as far away as you can from the light pollution and stare up at the sky.

Don’t think you have to spend hundreds of dollars at the Aurora Sky Station or on a photography tour. With the proper weather conditions, you should be able to see the lights as soon as you walk outside and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.

I do recommend using the Sky Station’s live camera and running outside as soon as you see a flash of green. I thought that February was the perfect time to go, as you’re not subject to the “Polar Night,” where the sun does not fully rise for 28 straight days, right around the winter solstice.

When I went in mid-February, the sun rose just before 8 and set a little before 4, almost a solid 8 hours of sunlight.

Pro Tip: I highly recommend staying somewhere in Abisko where you can easily get away from light pollution – STF Turiststation is where I stayed. Abisko Mountain Lodge also comes highly recommended, but I can’t speak for it personally.

It’s not as cold as you think

Stockholm’s average high in February is about 30F, or -1C. On average, it’s a bit colder than other popular winter destinations, like New York or Paris, but not quite as cold as Montreal or Vermont, some popular North American destinations. The cold is no reason not to visit Sweden in winter!

Hotels in Stockholm are super cozy and many even have their own saunas to warm you up in the winter. In fact, even some Stockholm hostels (like City Backpackers!) have their own private saunas!

Northern Sweden’s winter, however, can be a totally different story. We were lucky and it was about 25F (-4C) during the day, and as low as 9F (-13C) at night. However, it can easily get down to -22F (-30C) at some points during the winter.

Luckily, if you’re staying in Abisko, one of the best places to visit in Sweden in winter, many hostels and hotels offer warm clothing rentals. These are often free if you book an activity with them. When I did dogsledding, I borrowed a super warm waterproof jumpsuit from the tour company, but I was fine in my regular layers all other times, even at night. The key to staying warm?

Three words: FLEECE. LINED. LEGGINGS. Worn as a layer under jeans or a second pair of leggings, these are amazing. Fleece-lined leggings saved my California pansy-ass many a time in NYC and stood up well in winter in Sweden.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of some woolly socks and an ultra-thin down jacket for layering under your standard winter jacket – the second layer of down really helps. Also, make sure you have waterproof shoes or snow boots, as nothing will make you feel colder faster than wet feet.

As the Norwegians say — there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. For the record, I totally disagree, but I also do know that packing well can be the difference between being cold and being miserable.

I’ve included a recommended packing list at the end of the post (and I have a full dedicated Sweden in winter packing list here!) so if you’re wondering what to wear in Sweden in winter I’ve got you covered!

Flying to Sweden in winter is cheap. Really cheap.

Sweden winter vacations are actually surprisingly affordable. Flying from New York? On Norwegian, you can find cheap flights as low as $315 roundtrip to Stockholm, regular price – no error fares needed.

From Oakland or LA, as low as $342 – again, roundtrip! With flights that cheap, I didn’t even bother using my airline miles from travel hacking.

Plus, since winter is the off-season in Stockholm, you’ll find that accommodations will be a tad cheaper (with the exception of right around Christmas-time).

Pro tip for Abisko: While Sweden is not as popular in winter as it is in summer, Abisko still books up quickly, so be sure to book well in advance. Be sure to book all Abisko lodgings well in advance – use a booking service with free cancellation like Booking.com to ensure your holiday runs smoothly, as places tend to book up literally months prior.

a lovely winter day in Sweden

Sweden really knows how to do winter activities

Dog-sledding through Abisko is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Although it was a bit pricy (my two-hour tour through abisko.net was 1200 SEK, about $144 USD, and included snowsuit, snowshoes, and cross-country ski rental for 3 days), I highly recommend it if you can make room in your budget for it —it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Even if you don’t do a dog-sledding tour, you can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis from most hotels and hostels for a very reasonable fee.

For the more adventurous, there are also numerous ski resorts — Björkliden is another famous one, just a few kilometers away from Abisko — where you can ski or snowboard. You can even ski just outside of Stockholm at Hammarbybacken! If you’re up North, ice-climbing and snowmobiling are two other popular winter sports, but you’re going to have to pony up quite a bit of cash to partake.

dogsledding in sweden in winter
Dogsledding is a Swedish winter activity that simply shouldn’t be missed. Photo credit Hassan at Abisko.net

A traditional Swedish sauna is an amazing reward for a day braving the cold

Many hotels and hostels in Northern Sweden, and even some in Stockholm, have free sauna access included — Winterday Hostel has a sauna and STF Turiststation does as well.

It’s especially fun to run from the sauna into the cold night air — splash a bit of snow on yourself or dive in if you’re brave. Even more amazing? When you run from the sauna into the snow and look up to see the Northern lights undulating above you.

Stockholm, Sweden in the winter is beautiful – even to this winter-hating New Yorker

In Stockholm, they don’t salt the living hell out of their sidewalks the way we do in the overly litigious United States. New Yorkers will rejoice to know that there are no giant slush puddles lurking at every corner! The snow is packed down well, so it isn’t really that difficult to walk on, but do be careful as it can get a bit icy from time to time. Snow shoes with decent grip will help.

There’s so much to do in Stockholm in the winter, it’s hard to get bored – from excellent museums to cozy coffee shops and tempting food halls, it’s a fantastic winter city.

Pro Tip: Stockholm has a well-deserved reputation for being an expensive city, but making some smart moves like buying a Stockholm Pass for museums and transit can save you a ton of money.

stockholm sweden in winter with frozen canals
You don’t get views like this in summer

Snowy days in Abisko National Park are magical

With snow-covered mountains everywhere, the landscape almost looks like a black and white photograph.

Black trees jut up from the snow — and that’s pretty much it, except for a wink of blue sky from time to time. The Kingsleden is a beautiful hike in the summer, but we loved walking to the frozen waterfall about 2 kilometers away from STF Abisko Turiststation.

frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park
Frozen waterfalls in Abisko National Park – must be seen to be believed

Fika is amazing, but it’s even better when it’s cold outside

Fika is the Swedish institution of dropping everything to sit with a friend and socialize for an afternoon coffee and pastry. There was nothing more satisfying than warming up our cold bodies in a coffee shop with a delicious espresso drink and a kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon bun), chokladboll (cocoa pastry ball coated in coconut) or prinsesstårta (Swedish “princess cake” composed of marzipan, sponge cake, pastry cream, and jam).

If you go between New Years and Easter, you’ll find semla, which are soft spiced buns filled with marzipan and whipped cream. Delicious!

You’ll miss the crowds if you travel to Sweden in winter

Stockholm was so quiet during our time there that it was hard to believe almost 2 million people live in and around the city. It wasn’t uncommon for us to walk for miles without encountering a crowd, even on the weekends.

As a bonus, hotel prices are much lower (with the exception of the period right around Christmas), meaning you can get some insanely good deals if you book ahead.

Gamla Stan in winter
Even the touristy heart of Gamla Stan is quiet in the winter!

More “golden hour” for beautiful pictures

Skilled photographers eagerly seek out the golden hours — the hours right before sunset and right after sunrise — when the sun low on the horizon casts a beautiful, magical glow on your pictures.

In Sweden during winter, the sun never rises that high in the sky for long, meaning that you have even more time during the day to capture the magic of golden hour. Also, it’s easy to catch the sunrise without having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn — something that my lazy self enjoys.

Kiruna Church Sweden
The beautiful Kiruna Church illuminated by the golden hour

kiruna church in sweden
Golden hour in Kiruna

Finally — Don’t forget travel insurance! Be sure you’re insured when traveling in Sweden in winter, especially if you’re doing any outdoor sports. I use and recommend World Nomads – they’ll cover you if you get unexpectedly sick, slip on ice, hurt yourself during a wintry activity, or have winter weather interfere with your travel plans. Get a free quote here.

What to Pack for Sweden in Winter

Even though Sweden in winter is not nearly as cold as you likely think, you should still pack smartly and bring all the necessary cold-weather clothes from home, as buying them in Sweden will be outlandishly expensive. Below, I’ve listed my top essentials and my recommended products. If you want a complete packing list, refer to the winter section of my two weeks in Europe packing list which will cover all your other packing needs.

  • Waterproof boots. I just brought my waterproof leather Blondo boots that I have legit owned for 8 years (I did get them re-soled once). If you’re looking for a proper snow boot, Sorel and Keen are the two brands I hear recommended most often. I’m planning on buying a proper pair of snow boots this year now that I live in Bulgaria so I’ll update this with my recommendation once I’ve invested in a proper pair of boots. But what matters most of all is that the boots are waterproof; unfortunately, using a mere waterproofing spray on other shoes isn’t enough.
  • A knit hat. Honestly, any beanie will do as long as the knit is fairly tight, but a fleece-lined knit hat will give you a bit of extra warmth (and the pompom will look cute on Instagram).
  • Thermal base layers. I personally can’t tolerate wool as it makes me feel like my skin is on fire, but if you know you can wear wool without issues, merino wool base layers are the standard recommendation for cold weather. However, fleece-lined layers work great for me. I have these 90 Degree by Reflex fleece-lined leggings for my bottom base layer and I wear a UNIQLO 32 Degrees thermal layer for my top base layer. I bought my 32 Degrees thermal top at Costco, by the way, and it was even cheaper than on Amazon. If you can tolerate wool, merino wool leggings from SmartWool are the gold standard.
  • Wool socks. Despite my previous screed against woolen clothing, I actually can tolerate wool if it’s just on my feet. I bought two pairs of SmartWool socks for this trip and was quite pleased with them! I recommend bringing three pairs though because it’s nice to have socks to rotate out during the day, as they often get wet from snow.
  • Waterproof snow pants (if you go to the Arctic Circle or go skiing/snowboarding) I didn’t have these, but I was really jealous of my friend who brought her snowboarding pants. These snow pants are well-reviewed but I haven’t personally tried them. I was okay with the combo of thermals and jeans but would have been way drier with some snow pants. Get a size larger than you think so that you can wear jeans and leggings underneath for maximum warmth. You don’t need these if you just go to Stockholm or stay in the south of Sweden, though.
  • Waterproof gloves. Gore-Tex waterproof gloves the gold standard and got me through many a winter bike rides in NYC. I also have a cheap thin pair of gloves I used during the daytime that could work with my smartphone. I got mine from Target but this pair is similar.
  • An ultrawarm parka and also a thin ultra-light down jacket. Yes, I’m a total baby when it comes to the cold (it happens when you grow up in California). I live in my North Face parka every winter and consider it an excellent investment. There are cheaper down jackets you can buy for sure; just make it goes down to at least mid-thigh, trust me. I also layer my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket underneath. You can buy yours at Uniqlo but this jacket is really similar and cheaper on Amazon. They roll up really small so it’s not a pain to bring two jackets. Just wear your heavier one on the plane.
  • Camera + tripod for capturing the Northern lights: I use and swear by my Sony A6000, which is an excellent and affordable option if you’re looking for professional-quality photos. If you’re going to try to photograph the Northern lights or take lots of sunset and sunrise photos, I recommend bringing a tripod as you’ll need it to stabilize your camera for long-exposures. Tripods can be very expensive but I just used a cheap-o Amazon tripod and it suited my purposes for this trip.

Want more winter travel inspiration?

How to See the Northern Lights in Abisko on a Tight Budget

northern-lights-budget

I’ve always traveled on a tight budget, and Sweden is rightfully notorious for being an expensive travel destination.

Even a dorm bed will easily cost 250 SEK, or $30 USD, per night. But even a girl on a budget’s gotta dream, and I was dreaming big: I wanted to see the Northern lights in Abisko, Sweden.

In true type-A fashion, I laboriously researched the best place to see the Northern lights in Sweden, and Abisko kept coming up as the best place.

Statistically speaking, scientists agreed that the Abisko Northern lights are among the most reliable in the world. Supposedly, there’s an 80% success rate of seeing the lights if you stay in Abisko for three nights.

Many people who had previously been to Iceland or other Nordic countries had failed to see the Northern lights; Abisko National Park seemed to have the highest success rate.

Personally, when I compare my times chasing the Northern lights in Abisko and Tromso, I found I saw way better lights in Abisko way easier, for a fraction of the cost of Tromso (though I did love Tromso in winter for many other reasons).

How to Save Money in Stockholm

With only six full days in Sweden, I decided that I wanted to spend three in the capital enjoying Stockholm in winter and three in Abisko, Northern lights spotting. It’s extremely rare to see the Northern lights in Stockholm, so I recommend heading up north to the Kiruna and Abisko area if you have your heart set on seeing the Northern lights in Sweden.

Stockholm is not a super budget-friendly place, and I visited Stockholm when I was working on saving up money to quit my job. So to save money in Stockholm, my two friends and I split an Airbnb three ways.

Since it was so expensive for a simple dorm bed in a hostel in Stockholm, an Airbnb made more sense.

If you do want to stay in a hostel, though, I’ve created a comprehensive guide to the most affordable and comfortable hostels in Stockholm by neighborhood, which you can read here.

In a private Airbnb, 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 when we could take advantage of deals, 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
A beautiful place, but you can rarely see the Northern lights in Stockholm

Budget Breakdown: Cost of Seeing the Northern Lights in Sweden

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
My share of a double room at Abisko Hostel: $35 per person (dorms available for around $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 plus additional $140 for dog-sledding (optional)

* Note: I paid to stay at Abisko Hostel & Huskies – however, at the last minute they had an issue with their property and re-booked me into STF Abisko Turiststation instead at the same price.

So I can’t give any personal insight into Abisko Hostel’s property, but I did love my dog-sledding trip that I did with them and just generally the staff was really fantastic at accommodating us given the mix-up with their property, giving us rides between STF Abisko Turiststation & the Abisko Hostel as needed and just generally being awesome.

STF was excellent as well, and so I highly recommend either option for Abisko. I’d say that Abisko Hostel is better for solo travelers or extreme budget travelers, whereas STF is better for families, couples, and groups of friends.

Why not try spotting the Northern lights in Abisko?
A view of Abisko’s famous Northern lights

Getting to Abisko from Stockholm

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.

However, since the overnight train will save you on paying for one night’s accommodation, if you prefer to travel by train it may be worth it. It’s up to you.

Kiruna is worth a few days exploring, as it’s a super cute and unique town if you have the time. But I was on a strict schedule, so I headed straight to Abisko immediately after having lunch in town and a wander through the shops.

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 (I believe it would have been about $200 USD), taking the bus/taxi to Kiruna and then taking the train to Abisko (about $11), 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. It didn’t work out for us when we visited in 2016.

Abisko Northern lights spotting is the best!
Be sure to use a tripod and a long exposure to shoot the Northern lights in Abisko

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 Abisko Hostel & Huskies; 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, because you truly can’t beat having all of Abisko National Park to yourself.

STF has 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, which is a fantastic deal for pricy Sweden.

Must see Northern lights in Abisko
A green sky in Abisko

The people at Abisko Hostel & Huskies were so lovely, and really helped us out with everything related to our stay… 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!

As a traveler who is hesitant to support animal tourism, I was able to see that the staff really value the dogs’ safety and wellbeing. They had an awareness of each dog’s personality and knew how to pair the dogs with other dogs they’d get along with.

Sled dogs aren’t like your average dog – while obviously domesticated, there’s still a touch of the wild in them. There’s a very clear hierarchy amongst sled dogs, and certain dogs need to be at the front of the line or else they get really upset.

I appreciated how the staff knew about this, anticipated it, and kept the dogs happy — they were literally howling with happiness, ready to run before we left.

At approximately $140 USD, a two-hour sled ride with the dogs is certainly an expensive treat, but it was 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.

However, 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

What to Pack for a Trip to Abisko’s Northern Lights

Despite being located north of the Arctic Circle, Abisko isn’t always as cold as you might think. Temperatures of -20°C / -4°F are common, and on rare occasions, the weather will reach as low as -40°C / -40°F.

However, when I visited in mid-February, the weather really wasn’t that bad. In fact, Abisko was warmer than the weather in NYC that I had left behind! We usually had temperatures of around -1°C/30°F during the day, and as low as -9°C / 15°F at night.

However, the weather is unpredictable, so you will most certainly want to pack accordingly. Here’s what I recommend you bring (for a more complete list, check out my winter in Sweden packing list)

Waterproof boots. I just brought my waterproof leather Blondo boots that I have legit owned for 10 years (I did get them re-soled once).

If you’re looking for a proper snow boot, Sorel and Keen are the two brands I hear recommended most often. I’m planning on buying a proper pair of snow boots this year now that I live in Bulgaria so I’ll update this with my recommendation once I’ve invested in a proper pair of boots. But what matters most of all is that the boots are waterproof; unfortunately, using a mere waterproofing spray on other shoes isn’t enough.

A knit hat. Honestly, any beanie will do as long as the knit is fairly tight, but a fleece-lined knit hat will give you a bit of extra warmth (and the pompom will look cute on Instagram).

Thermal base layers. I personally can’t tolerate wool as it makes me feel like my skin is on fire, but if you know you can wear wool without issues, merino wool base layers are the standard recommendation for cold weather. However, fleece-lined layers work great for me. I have these 90 Degree by Reflex fleece-lined leggings for my bottom base layer and I wear a UNIQLO 32 Degrees thermal layer for my top base layer. I bought my 32 Degrees thermal top at Costco, by the way, and it was even cheaper than on Amazon. If you can tolerate wool, merino wool leggings from SmartWool are the gold standard.

Wool socks. Despite my previous screed against woolen clothing, I actually can tolerate wool if it’s just on my feet. I bought two pairs of SmartWool socks for this trip and was quite pleased with them! I recommend bringing three pairs though because it’s nice to have socks to rotate out during the day, as they often get wet from snow.

Waterproof snow pants. I didn’t have these, but I was really jealous of my friend who brought her snowboarding pants. These snow pants are well-reviewed but I haven’t personally tried them. I was okay with the combo of thermals and jeans but would have been way drier with some snow pants. Get a size larger than you think so that you can wear jeans and leggings underneath for maximum warmth.

Waterproof gloves. Gore-Tex waterproof gloves the gold standard and got me through many a winter bike rides in NYC. I also have a cheap thin pair of gloves I used during the daytime that could work with my smartphone. I got mine from Target but this pair is similar.

An ultrawarm parka and also a thin ultra-light down jacket. Yes, I’m a total baby when it comes to the cold (it happens when you grow up in California). I live in my North Face parka every winter and consider it an excellent investment. There are cheaper down jackets you can buy for sure; just make it goes down to at least mid-thigh, trust me. I also layer my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket underneath. You can buy yours at Uniqlo but this jacket is really similar and cheaper on Amazon. They roll up really small so it’s not a pain to bring two jackets. Just wear your heavier one on the plane.

Camera + tripod for capturing the Northern lights: I use and swear by my Sony A6000, which is an excellent and affordable option if you’re looking for professional-quality photos. If you’re going to try to photograph the Northern lights or take lots of sunset and sunrise photos, I recommend bringing a tripod as you’ll need it to stabilize your camera for long-exposures. Tripods can be very expensive but I just used a cheap-o Amazon tripod and it suited my purposes for this trip.

Northern lights in Abisko are stunning
Abisko’s Northern lights are some of the best in the world

Other aurora trips & inspiration:

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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: I stayed at STF Turiststation and can highly recommend it.   Abisko Guesthouse also comes well-recommended, though the reviews aren’t quite as high as STF’s and I can’t personally vouch for it. If you’re on a tight budget, Abisko.net has the only true hostel in town (the rooms at STF are quadruples and have bunk beds, but you need to book the entire room; I’m not sure why) but they fill up very quickly.
Further Reading: Lonely Planet Sweden
Useful tips: 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.