Abisko in Winter: A Complete Guide (2024)

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Considering a visit to Abisko in winter? Here’s everything you need to know!

Whether you’re visiting Abisko for a chance to see the northern lights or explore Abisko National Park, the winter is a wonderful time to visit this outpost in northern Sweden. 

I visited Abisko while on a longer trip through Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and it was absolutely one of the highlights. I loved getting to snowshoe and hike in the national park, especially the portions that I was able to reach because my group had a car. 

I saw the northern lights several times while I was in Abisko, usually from the front port of the STF Abisko Turiststation, where we were staying. It felt like nearly everyone there was using the My Aurora Forecast app, so anything there was a notification a swarm of people went outside to look into the night sky. 

One of my favorite parts of visiting Abisko was meeting the other travelers who made their way to the Arctic Circle. Many were on one-in-a-lifetime trips to see the northern lights, while others visited from nearby regions with their families. Nearly everyone I met was kind, welcoming, and open, which made for an overall positive experience. 

A snowy river scene in Abisko National Park in the winter
An icy, snowy river in Abisko National Park.

Things To Do in Abisko in Winter

Ready to plan your trip? Here are all of the top things to do in Abisko during the winter. 

1. See the Northern Lights

Probably the top reason to visit Abisko in the winter is to see the northern lights, so it simply had to be the first activity on my list. 

You can see the northern lights from various points in Abisko. The best way to spot the northern lights is to take a photo of the sky with your phone when you think there might be auroral activity. Your phone’s camera will pick up the light much better than your naked eye, so you can use it to tell where you should be looking. 

Green northern lights behind a wintery treeline in Abisko.
Northern lights in Abisko, Sweden.

2. Take a Northern Lights Tour

Although you can see the northern lights from the central areas of Abisko, you’ll have better luck if you join a tour. The tour will take you to spots with active auroral activity and reduced light pollution, increasing your chances of seeing vibrant colors. I’ve heard that the tours often take visitors to remote areas in northern Finland to see the lights. 

I’d especially recommend that you consider a northern lights tour if you only have a few days to see auroral activity. If you have plenty of chances to see the lights, you might not need to spend an hour in a bus chasing them, which can be rewarding but tiring. 

3. Have a Wintery Bonfire

One of the highlights of my trip to Abisko was attending a bonfire at the STF Abisko Turistation. There are bonfire pits along with picnic tables and dry wood set up near the lake, so it’s very easy to start a fire or join one that’s in progress. 

I brought a thermos with hot cocoa with me and was able to sip my cocoa while I watched the northern lights brighten the night sky. Bring plenty of warm clothes, snacks, and an insulated water bottle (so that your water won’t freeze) to best enjoy the bonfire and potential northern lights. 

People watch the northern lights near a bonfire in Abisko in winter
A view of the northern lights from fire pit at the STF Abisko Turiststation.

4. Snowshoe in Abisko National Park

I love to snowshoe, it’s one of my favorite wintertime activities. Many of the trails in Abisko near the Turiststation are packed down enough that you can simply hike along them. However, if you want to go out a bit further you’ll want snowshoes or cross country skis to manage the deeper snow. 

You can bring your own snowshoes or rent a pair in Abisko. The Turiststation has snowshoes available for rental, and they provide poles if you want them. 

A snowy cross country ski trail with snowy mountains in the background.
A cross country ski and snowshoe trail in Abisko National Park.

5. Go Cross Country Skiing

Another way to explore Abisko National Park is on a pair of cross country skis. Unlike downhill skiing, cross country skiing involves traversing the landscape – both climbs and descents – on a pair of skis. There are cross country ski trails in Abisko National Park, and many of them are gentle and suitable for beginners. 

Most people prefer cross country skiing to snowshoeing, so if you’re reading this post and trying to choose one, I’d say go cross country skiing. Just be sure to ask for a few recommendations about beginner-friendly trails. 

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    6. Visit a Traditional Sauna

    Saunas are an important part of Swedish culture, and they’re a great way to warm up. Many accommodations in Abisko have saunas available for guests, or you can book a session in a traditional smoke sauna. 

    The traditional smoke saunas are dark and heated with wood. You can alternate between sweating in the hot sauna and cooling off in the snowy outdoors – an invigorating experience. 

    There are often women-only saunas in Sweden, including at the Turiststation. You’ll want to shower before entering the sauna, bring a towel, and drink plenty of water before and during your session. Here are more answers to etiquette questions about visiting Swedish saunas, in case you’re interested. 

    After trying them in Sweden and Finland, I sought out some saunas in Ireland and it became one of my favorite things!

    A sauna in Abisko, Sweden
    A sauna at the STF Abisko Turiststation.

    7. Hike in Abisko National Park

    Despite the snow, it is possible to hike in Abisko National Park in the winter. You’ll want to carefully choose a trail that is packed down and suitable for walking, otherwise your feet will sink deep into the snow. 

    You can ask the staff at the STF Abisko Turiststation for recommendations for hikes in the area. There are several trails within a few minutes’ walk of the Turiststation lobby that you can access, especially if you’re looking for shorter trails. I thought the trails were easy to follow, but there wasn’t much fresh snowfall when I visited. 

    If you’d prefer to hike with a guide, consider a guided morning hike

    A view of Abisko National Park in winter, full of trees
    A trail in Abisko National Park.

    8. Enjoy a fika from a Cozy Indoor Spot

    There’s nothing better than enjoying a cup of coffee or tea by a fireplace on a cold day. In Abisko, one of the most comforting wintertime activities is to eat a chocolate treat while you watch the snowfall. 

    The best place to have a fika in Abisko is probably your hotel. At the STF Abisko Turiststation, you can find plenty of cozy nooks, where you can sip a warm drink, read a book, or quietly chat with friends. The store in the Turiststation sells coffee and hot cocoa for a few euros, along with some light snacks. 

    9. Ride a Snowmobile

    I included a section on dog sledding further on in this post, but if I were choosing between riding a snowmobile and taking a dog sled, I’d probably pick a snowmobile! I know they’re loud and carbon-emitting, but if you travel with a guide it’s a safe and fun way to see wintery Abisko. 

    There are tour companies in Abisko that will even lead northern lights tours on snowmobiles. They’ll also provide warm clothes, boots, and snacks so you can enjoy the lights while out on an adventure.  

    10. Watch the Sunrise

    The sun rises rather late in Abisko in the winter, so it’s not very difficult to wake up early enough to see the sunrise. In January, the sun rises around 10am, so you can leisurely wake up after a night of northern lights viewing to see the sun come up. 

    You can see the sunrise by stepping out of your hotel, but there are also guided morning hikes that you can join if you’d like. 

    11. Try Ice Climbing

    Abisko is full of frozen waterfalls. I saw them along the highways and when hiking – they’re very pretty and worth a quick trip to visit even if you don’t want to climb them. 

    Adventurous travelers, however, can try their hand at ice climbing with a certified guide. Beginners and experienced climbers alike can join a tour where a knowledgeable guide will teach you the basics of climbing Abisko’s ice sheets. The tour includes the use of any gear that you’ll need in order to climb. This tour includes hotel pickup and drop off. 

    All About Northern Lights in Abisko

    Abisko is a popular destination for people seeking to see the northern lights because the area is known for having especially clear skies. These clear skies earned the moniker, “the Blue Hole of Abisko.”

    If you’ve seen photos of the northern lights before, you might have noticed that there are usually very few clouds. Although you can see the northern lights with a few clouds in the sky, the ideal viewing conditions are as clear as possible. 

    I saw the northern lights most of the nights that I spent in Abisko. However, they were more faint than the lights that I saw from the city in Tromso or on the island of Senja in Norway. Some of that is luck – others have visited Tromso without seeing the northern lights at all. 

    To spot the auroral activity, download an app like My Aurora Forecast so that you’ll know when you might have a chance at seeing the lights. Then, when auroral activity is reported, use your phone’s camera to try to pick up on the lights. Sometimes my phone was able to capture the northern lights when I couldn’t see them with my bare eyes.  

    Should you join a northern lights tour?

    I didn’t join a northern lights chasing tour, nor did I visit the Aurora Sky Station on my trip. My reasoning was based on how long I was planning to visit. I was in northern Europe for about two weeks, so I figured that I had plenty of chances to see the northern lights and didn’t need to take a tour. 

    If I were visiting Abisko solely to see the northern lights and I only had a few days, I would definitely book a tour. The tour operators know the areas with less light pollution, and they are able to drive to more remote locations with better chances of seeing the lights. 

    The lights that we saw from the Turiststation in Abisko were faint and showed up much more prominently on my iPhone camera than what I was able to see in the sky. This wasn’t a problem for me, I was more than happy to just experience the phenomenon as it happened while I was in Abisko. 

    Weather in Abisko in Winter

    Given its location above the Arctic Circle, it’s no surprise that Abisko in winter is quite cold. January sees the coldest average temperatures in Abisko, with lows around 5° F/ -15° C and highs around 20° F/ -7° C. 

    Average temperatures in December are 25° F/ -4° C for the high and 11° F/ -12°C for the low. February average high temperatures are 21° F/ -6 °C and lows are 6° F/ -14°C. 

    Abisko starts to see snow in the late fall, followed by significant snowfall during the winter months. December is the darkest month in Abisko, when the average daylight is only 15 minutes. 

    Before traveling to Abisko, prepare yourself for the cold. You’ll be well above the Arctic Circle in icy and snowy conditions, so you’ll need to have the right gear. I bought most of my gear at REI in the US and at Decathlon in France, but there are plenty of well-stocked stores that sell outdoor gear in Kiruna if you forget something. 

    I wore a parka, snow pants, snow boots, and a warm hat in Abisko in the winter
    Stay safe by dressing warmly in Abisko.

    What to Wear in Abisko in Winter

    I was comfortable when I visited Abisko in the winter because I had the right gear. However, a friend on our trip later told me that he experienced frostnip – a milder form of cold injury than frostbite – while we were out hiking. So, be prepared and don’t take your chances with the cold. 

    I mostly dressed like I would for an especially cold day outside in the winter in the mountains in Colorado. You don’t need specialty gear like you might for an Antarctic expedition, but be prepared for very cold temperatures. I’d strongly recommend that you dress in loose layers – tight fitting clothing is less warm because the air doesn’t have room to circulate. 

    I wore a base layer, an insulating midlayer, and a waterproof/windproof shell. I also used small hand warmers and toe warmers for extra comfort. I had hats, gloves, and a neck warmer to insulate myself and stay warm.

    Here’s what I wore when I went outside:

    Base layers

    Liner gloves
    Liner socks
    Long underwear – top and bottom
    Neck warmer

    Mid layers

    Long sleeve shirt
    Patagonia sweater (loose)
    Nano puff Patagonia jacket (packed my daypack, in case I got cold – a midweight down jacket would have been even better)
    Leggings/pants
    Wool socks

    Shell

    Parka/waterproof, warm winter jacket*
    Snow pants
    Snow boots
    Wool hat
    Gloves

    *A warm shell jacket is essential. You could, however, wear a waterproof anorak over a heavy down jacket to achieve similar results. 

    My Honest Opinion About Dog Sledding 

    You might have noticed that I did not include dog sledding on my list of activities that you can try in Abisko. I actually did go dog sledding in Norway on the same trip that I visited Abisko, and I didn’t love it. If given the choice, I’d skip it again on my next trip to Abisko. 

    I wrote a separate post about riding horses when you’re traveling and all of the ways to ensure the animals are happy and well cared for, even if you’re not a horse person. I am not of the opinion that paid interactions with domesticated animals are inherently wrong, bad, or cruel. 

    Working dogs love to work, and active breeds like the huskies that pull sleds in Abisko are probably quite happy to have a job. When I went dog sledding in Norway, my partner and I were given a sled with four dogs and brief instructions before being sent out alone. Our first sled had dogs that were biting each other, getting tangled in the lines, and generally seemed miserable and very prone to injury. 

    It wasn’t a positive experience and it left me regretting my decision to try dog sledding. We were eventually switched to another sled with a more cohesive team of dogs, and it was much more pleasant. Still, I wouldn’t do it again. 

    Four huskies pull a dog sled in Norway
    A photo from my dog sledding experience in Norway.

    If you do want to try dog sledding, here are my tips

    You may read my disclaimer and decide that you still want to try dog sledding. Here are my tips for finding dogs that are well cared for and living happy lives. 

    Choose smaller, family-run operations with great reviews

    Small, family-run operations are more likely to treat their dogs with more care than larger sledding outfitters. Additionally, you’ll want to carefully read reviews and look through photos for red flags before choosing a dog sledding company to hire. 

    Ask what happens to the dogs when they retire

    You won’t have any way to verify the answers they give you, it’s worth asking what happens to the dogs when they inevitably retire. Some companies rehome the dogs, while others are culled (euthanized) at the end of their careers.  

    See how the dogs react to the handlers 

    Dogs that flinch, hide, or otherwise evade their handlers are probably not treated well. Avoid operations where the dogs seem nervous or scared of the staff. Dogs that seem neutral or indifferent towards their handlers are probably OK. 

    If you can, check the dogs for overall wellness

    Clear eyes, lively movements, and shiny coats are all indicators that the dogs are in good health. They shouldn’t be limping, bleeding, or missing fur unless it’s due to seasonal shedding. Water should be readily available. 

    How to Get to Abisko

    Abisko is a remote destination in northern Sweden above the Arctic Circle. Accordingly, it can be difficult to reach. There are no airports in Abisko, so you’ll need to make your way by train, car, or bus. 

    From Kiruna

    You can easily drive or take the train from Kiruna to Abisko. The journey takes about 70 minutes by car or an hour by train. 

    The train station and airport in Kiruna are far from the center of town, so give yourself plenty of time to get there. I’d recommend that you take a taxi or a bus, because it’s probably too far to walk with your gear. 

    When we rented a car, the company gave us the option to drop our car at the train station instead of the rental car lot. We were very grateful for this option, which made our lives a lot easier when we departed for Narvik. 

    From Stockholm 

    There is train service from Stockholm to Abisko. The journey takes about 18 hours, often with a transfer in Boden. You could also drive from Stockholm to Abisko in about 15 hours (without stops). 

    Our friends took the train from Stockholm and said it was comfortable but long. I’d recommend that you spend at least three days in Abisko/Kiruna so that the train ride feels worthwhile. 

    From Narvik, Norway

    You can easily reach Abisko from Narvik by train or car. The train takes about two hours, while driving takes about 70 minutes.

    We were warned that the tolls to enter Norway can be very expensive, so we decided to take the train into Narvik instead of driving. Be sure to have your train ticket handy – I saw a woman get apprehended while on the train to Narvik for traveling without paying her fare. 

    From Rovaniemi, Finland

    When I visited Abisko, I was traveling from Rovaniemi. I chose not to rent a car because it would have either been impossible or cost-prohibitive to drop the car in a different country after renting it in Finland. So, I was left with public transit options or I’d have to take a flight. 

    My travel companion and I decided to take buses from Rovaniemi to Kiruna, then rent a car and drive from Kiruna to Abisko. As a reminder, there is a direct train from Kiruna to Abisko; we rented a car because we wanted to be able to explore the wider area. You can take a series of buses from Rovaniemi to Abisko, but it’d be preferable to fly or drive, if possible. 

    Bus Route from Rovaniemi to Kiruna

    Frankly, the buses from Rovaniemi to Kiruna were difficult to navigate and quite unpleasant – it was definitely a budget backpacker-style adventure. This is mostly because, as we found out, locals either drive or fly between these areas when they visit. There is also no train service between these two towns, nor does any bus service cross the border into Sweden.

    The journey took a full day and was very taxing. For many hours of our bus ride in Sweden, the heat was inexplicably turned off and we were shivering for hours in the sub-0 temperatures. I asked a local about this in Kiruna and he assured me it wasn’t normal. 

    A selfie I took while very cold and riding a bus in Sweden
    A selfie I took on my freezing bus from Haparanda to Kiruna. I wasn’t feeling it.

    Anyway, if you still want to brave the Rovaniemi to Kiruna buses, you’ll need to take a bus to Kemi, Finland. Then, transfer to a bus to TornioHaparanda Matkakeskus. From TornioHaparanda Matkakeskus, you’ll need to walk across the border to Haparanda Station, then take another bus to Kiruna. 

    From Kiruna, there’s an easy train that you can take to Abisko. However, carefully plan your route so that you don’t get stuck in Kiruna if you arrive after the last train to Abisko. 

    A sign with a man doing a silly walk in Haparanda
    At least Haparanda had this fabulous sign in the bus stop.

    Getting Around Abisko

    Abisko is a rural location in the north of Sweden, connected by train to a few other destinations. If you simply want to see Abisko, you can get around on foot or public transit after you arrive. 

    On the other hand, if you want to explore deeper into the park or get further off of the beaten path, you’ll need to rent a car or join a tour. My group rented a car in Kiruna and drove up to Abisko. It was nice to be able to go grocery shopping, drive to further away trailheads, and get back to Kiruna on our own schedule. 

    Rent a Car

    The Laktatjakka train station in Abisko in the winter
    A train station in Abisko National Park.

    Where to Stay in Abisko

    I recommend that you stay in or very near the town of Abisko. There are a handful of accommodations in the area near train stops – these will be the most convenient for anyone traveling without a car. 

    📍 Budget/Mid Range accommodation: STF Abisko Turiststation
    I stayed in the hostel at the STF Abisko Turistation when I visited Abisko and loved it. The rooms were clean, there was a sauna for guests to use, and the kitchens were large and well equipped. There’s also a nice lodge area where you can sit and chat, enjoy a fika or a glass of wine, and plenty of other travelers so you won’t feel lonely. 

    There is also a hotel and collection of guesthouses to accommodate different groups and budgets. 

    A traveler reads on a chair in the STF Abisko Turiststation.
    The STF Abisko Turiststation lobby.

    📍 Best luxury accommodation: Abisko Mountain Lodge
    The Abisko Mountain Lodge is a warm and cozy accommodation in Abisko. The property has a sauna and cozy couches and chairs where you can read or chat when you’re not chasing the northern lights. There is a great restaurant onsite, Brasserie Fjällköket, where the menu is prepared using seasonal, local ingredients. 

    Is Abisko Worth Visiting in the Winter?

    Abisko is one of the most memorable winter destinations I’ve ever visited. I loved that it attracted so many adventurous people from around the world, most of whom went to see the northern lights. I’d say that Abisko is absolutely worth visiting in the winter. 

    The only caveat I’d include if you’re considering a winter trip to Abisko is that it did not have the most brilliant northern lights of my trip. I saw the northern lights many times in Abisko, but none were as brilliant as the displays in Senja, Norway. 

    A traditional Sami hut with fur pelts and a wooden door
    A Sami hut in Abisko National Park.

    FAQS: Abisko in Winter

    Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Abisko in winter. 

    How many days should I spend in Abisko?

    Three or four days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Abisko in the winter. You’ll have enough time to try a few different activities and explore Abisko National Park. 

    If you’d like to extend your trip, I’d add a day or two in either Narvik, Norway or Kiruna, Sweden. Both of these cities are a bit larger, with more restaurants and activities to choose from during the darker hours. 

    Is Abisko better than Tromso for Northern Lights?

    It really depends on your luck. I saw the northern lights more often when I was in Abisko, but they were much brighter and more vibrant in Tromso. Of all of the places I visited, Senja in Norway had the best northern lights. 

    Remember that the northern lights are a natural phenomenon, so there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be able to see them, regardless of where you go. 

    How many hours of daylight does Abisko get in December?

    December is the darkest month in Abisko. There is an average of 15 minutes of daylight in Abisko in December, though there is a period of twilight before and after. This is also the month with the coldest weather and greatest snowfall, so it’s ideal for the most adventurous travelers. 

    How many hours of daylight does Abisko get in January?

    Abisko gets between 0 and 5.5 hours of daylight in January, depending on when you visit. The earlier in the month you visit, the shorter the days will be. Towards the end of the month, the sun rises around 9am and sets around 2:45 pm. 

    I visited in late January and noticed that the days were quite short, but I was grateful to have visited when there was a pronounced daytime. 

    Is Abisko or Kiruna better?

    If you can only visit Abisko or Kiruna, I’d recommend spending time in Abisko. It is closer to the National Park and more unique. However, you’ll find more modern amenities and much better food in Kiruna. 

    Stejk Street Food in Kiruna was one of the best meals I had on my trip in early 2023. Stejk is known for serving reindeer meat, but they had great vegetarian and vegan options available. I had the vegan BBQ Oumph and I’m honestly still thinking about it. 

    Conclusion: Abisko in Winter

    Abisko is a wonderful place to visit in the winter. The landscape is beautiful when covered in snow, and there are activities that you can enjoy even if the weather isn’t clear. Best of all, you’ll have the chance to see the northern lights, potentially from the front door of your hotel. 

    Be sure to dress warmly and prepare for the elements in wintery Abisko. Be prepared with warm layers and waterproof gear so that you can stay safe in the cold. I often wore all of the layers that I brought while hiking or snowshoeing in Abisko, and I was grateful for my large, warm coat during my trip. 

    Remember, the daylight is extremely limited in December. In order to be able to enjoy both daytime and evening activities, I’d recommend traveling in November, the second half of January, or during February for the best overall experience.