Sunrise in Abisko.

Abisko: a true Northern Swedish experience

Of course, there are many options to experience Lapland and see the northern lights, but I think it’s highly worth it to make a proper trip out of it. And from my own experience, Abisko is a great destination for this! Here’s what we did over our 4 days in the very north of Sweden.

The good, the bad and the ugly of a 17 h train ride

Yes, that’s correct, 17 hours straight on the train. And of course, we were on a student budget, so we didn’t get the sleeping cabins, instead we managed to make it there and back in seats that barely reclined and in a train compartment that never fully shut off the lights. But it absolutely wasn’t all bad, as we managed to get a table so we could all have our dinner (as the train left at 6 p.m.), play card games or just talk for the most part. At some point the lights did get dimmer and people took out their neck pillows and put on their sleeping masks to get at least a few hours of somewhat okay sleep.

Google map of Abisko.
This really shows how far up north we were. Adapted from Google Maps.

I found it really hard to fall asleep initially as it is just weird trying to sleep sitting up, but as time went on and I just felt the train moving and also my headphones helped a lot to quite out any background noise, I managed to get quite a few okay hours of sleep.

As it got close to 6 a.m., we saw the sun peaking through a landscape that had completely changed from the one we left behind in Stockholm. We saw lakes and mountains in the distance, all covered under a thick layer of snow; the perfect winter wonderland as you’d imagine. All the tiredness from the train ride started to slowly disappear as we got closer and closer to our destination.

Train ride to Abisko.
On the train to Abisko. Credits: Antonia.

We stopped at Kiruna, which is also a popular destination in the Swedish Lapland. It’s essentially a big mining city with plenty of winter activities for tourists as well. And another major massive factor, it has an airport, so in theory, yes we could have taken a short flight, but where’s the fun in that!

Must-do activities in Abisko

Walking and hiking

This one might be glaringly obvious, but there are many nice walks in the Abisko National Park that showcase the best of Northern Swedish nature. It’s also the starting point for one of most famous hiking trails in Sweden called Kungsleden. But on top of that there are many short walks and hikes around the area both in the winter- and summertime. So pack some comfortable boots and get yourself a nice backpack and you are good to go!

For our trip, we mainly covered ground on our own around the different trails (and somewhat off the trails). This was a perfect opportunity to see some of the wildlife, including moose, willow grouse and capercaillies as well as try to identify their different trails and tracks around the paths. It was incredible!

On top of exploring the paths on our own, we had signed up for a snowshoe hike organised by the local guides, so we got to experience the fun of just running through the snow without constantly getting stuck in the over 50 cm deep snow. Snowshoes (basically just large flat light-weight planks) are a great invention for off-road walks that help you avoid sinking through the deep snow and rather walk on top of it.

In many ways snowshoes are part of the everyday life in the snow-rich areas of the world and super useful as we learned the hard way on our way back from one of our walks that took us through some DEEP snow. One of the best things about snowshoes is that they can be adjusted to fit pretty much any type of boot or shoe, so minimal special equipment is required for this activity. As you can see, it was great fun to “run” across snow covered fields that would have otherwise taken us ages to struggle through, so I highly recommend giving it a go!

Ice climbing

The moment when we started planning the trip, my friends found that there was an option to try ice climbing, completely for beginners as they all were. I, myself, am afraid of heights, so I didn’t sign up, but the rest of them did. So one morning they geared up in front of an approximately 7-10 meter frozen waterfall in the canyon next to the hostel and set worth with their instructor to conquer this waterfall. And they all managed to climb it twice! 

It was insane to watch, I was scared the whole time, but they described it as exhilarating, so I’m guessing it really is worth a try! Unless you are like me and just the idea of climbing something where you’d need ropes is terrifying, not to mention the heights! Anyways each to their own as I did a short walk in the sun, before I made it back to play the photographer safely from the ground. But I’m very proud that they managed to conquer their fears and get up there!

Northern light “hunting”

Another must-do activity is to spend some time looking and waiting for the northern lights, as they are best seen from somewhere clear and dark enough. In Abisko Turiststation, it was pretty easy to find such a place, however that does not mean that there were northern lights every night. Oh no, we still had to rely on looking at the northern lights forecasts and webcams to go outside just before it’s meant to reach us. But these forecasts can change in an instant as well, so keep your eyes open whenever it gets dark enough.

For example, while a group of us was getting ready to make our dinner at seven, two of my friends were taking some time to relax in the sauna. So in-between sessions they went for a quick break and walked outside right at the moment when the northern lights appeared that evening. This was even before the app managed to notify us, so they literally just saw them starting. And for that evening, that remained the best sighting as when we went all together to the lake an hour later, we just saw a fraction of the initial ones, even though according to the app, that time was meant to have better odds for seeing the lights.

This might be a good time to mention that on pictures and videos, the northern lights look much more vibrant than by eye, so even if the pictures look bright green, the real life version might be more like slightly green-ish fog, so keep that in mind for when somebody shows you their pictures!

Another thing to remember when aurora hunting is to never give up as it might surprise you at the very last moment! For us this was on the train back from Abisko! We knew that it was meant to be quite good chances this evening, but we thought that as we are going south that the likelihood would get less and less with every minute. However, we ended up seeing the best northern lights experience of our lives as we saw clear colours and the light dancing around in waves, just as you have always thought it is meant to be! It really was magical and to see them at the last moment like this was a true cherry on top of an already amazing trip!

At the end of the day

All in all, what a wonderful trip this was! I highly recommend taking the time to experience the true Northern Swedish nature! For me it was also one major thing ticked off the Swedish bucket list! If you’d like to read more about what it’s like to travel up north, one of our previous digital ambassadors Lianne has shared her experience of a trip to Kiruna, which is just under 2 hours from Abisko.

Karolina - Translational Physiology and Pharmacology

Karolina - Translational Physiology and Pharmacology

I am Karolina and I am a digital ambassador and a blogger for the Master’s Programme in Translational Physiology and Pharmacology here at KI. I was born and raised in Estonia, but for the past five years I have lived in the UK where I studied biomedical sciences with a focus on pharmacology. Outside of school I like baking with friends as well as doing water sports. When the weather starts to get warmer, I look forward to kayaking through Stockholm's world-famous archipelago.


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