Eternal Arrival
Kiruna in winter
Sweden

How Not to Get to Abisko; Or, Waist-deep in Snow by the Side of a Highway

My 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.

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 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. There are many hours of the mystical “ golden hour” photographers rave about, 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.

 

train to Abisko

Arctic circle views on the train to Abisko

 

Abisko Ostra

After a ridiculous day, we arrived safely in Abisko

If you’d like to visit Abisko with less hysterics and hypothermia, may I suggest the following possibilities in descending order from most to least expensive. These all presume you fly in, which is almost always the cheapest option from Stockholm, but if you’re coming in on the one of the Swedish trains from Stockholm (about $100 USD each way) or another destination further North, you may be able to make a more direct connection.

1) 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 isn’t a terrible option.
2) Book a shuttle on abisko.net for about $45 USD per person. Your best option if 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
  • Enjoy a few hours 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 might want to try to figure out the buses, call a cab, or hitch a ride to the station well in advance, unlike us.NOTE:
      An interesting bit of trivia on why the train station is so far from the town itself… Kiruna is home to the largest iron mine in the world. Unfortunately, extensive mining has resulted in a giant crack in the earth accelerating towards Kiruna at an alarming pace, and they are relocating the town, starting — inconveniently — at the train station.

    An hour or so of wiggle room would have saved us a lot of heavy breathing and near hypothermia…. but then we wouldn’t have met our many Swedish saviors, and the tiny glimpse of the Northern lights as we arrived at our hostel wouldn’t have been nearly as sweet.

    northern lights stf turiststation

    The lights that night were short but sweet

    dogsledding in Abisko

    At least the next day would begin with puppies.

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    Abisko, Sweden is the world's best place to see the Northern lights. But getting there isn't exactly straightforward - learn from my mistakes.

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