Abisko, Sweden in the Middle of Winter

Red buildings from the window at Hostel Haverskog in Abisko, Sweden in JanuaryOkay, so – WHY exactly would I want to go to Sweden in the dead of winter (with minimal daylight) and call it a “vacation”?

Well, the main reason: stupid stupid cheap tickets. Like $440 round trip cheap from San Francisco to Stockholm. Not too bad, eh?

So, we went in January, and I was real worried that the lack of light would leave us bored to tears (when I looked online, it said it would only be light out from like 10AM-1PM), but I thought it was fine! It actually ended up being light from more like 9-2ish, and I had blog stuff to work on, so it wasn’t a huge deal. Plus we just had so much fun hanging out in our hostel, and met so many cool people!

It’s also not that bad walking around in the dark though, as long as you have a head lamp. However, if you still want to see the northern lights but want longer days, go during February!

Night view in Abisko, Sweden outside Hostel Haverskog and Winterday in winter in January
[We walked about 5ish minutes behind Hostel Haverskog, where we stayed (although the Winterday Hostel is right next to it); this is also a great spot to check out the Northern Lights!]
And also the promise of the northern lights. So, northern Sweden was definitely on my radar – specifically, Abisko, since it has some weird ‘blue hole’ in which the cloud cover seems to dissipate no matter the weather around.

And for some reason I’ve always been fascinated by the Arctic (I mean I’m like 1% Norwegian according to my grandma so that’s probably why, no big deal or anything) even though I’m a total bitch when it comes to the cold. But I was willing to be brave to experience a TRUE WINTER. 

View from Stornabben in Abisko, Sweden on a snowy winter day in January
[A pretty view on my up to Stornabben, the hill behind my hostel]
And brave I was, since there was a storm our first night there and we thought it would be a GREAT IDEA to go look for the lights in the middle of a frozen lake. Spoiler alert: we did not see the lights. But I did about half freeze to death – luckily Hostel Haverskog (and Hostel Winterday!) is a short walk from a sauna that we were able to use afterwards to defrost 🙂

View from Scandic Hotel of snowy Narvik, Norway in winter in January
[Pretty view from the Scandic Hotel in Narvik, Norway]
But anyways – Abisko was my favorite, I think, of our whole Scandanavia trip.

The cute red houses.

The supermarket that pretty much only sells meat and candy.

The stunning scenery.

The relaxed and very chill vibes.

The freezing cold that made me want to find a dog named Toto and let him know that we definitely weren’t in California any longer.

View of a fjord from the Scandic Hotel in Narvik, Norway in the dead of winter in January
[Another view from the Scandic Hotel of Narvik, Norway; see the fjord?!]
I loved all of it, and wished we had at least a couple more days there (we stayed for 3 nights and 4 days – for those of you who are more city people, you may be a little bored, but I absolutely loveddd the scenery!).

Would I want to live there? Ummmm probably not although it is super beautiful (and also in the summer! I’m dying to do Kungsledden, or King’s Trail – it takes about a month and the pictures of the scenery look gorgeous!).

I couldn’t hang with all the snow and lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. But ahhh there is something sooo magical about it.

SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, DUH

Northern Lights in snowy Abisko in Sweden in January
[The lights!!! They look sick AF in this picture, but I can assure that they most definitely were not in real life]
Or don’t, in my case. I mean, my camera saw them. But I didn’t.

There was like a verrrry faint green cloud and people lost their shit. Apparently they do dance, though (although I have yet to believe anything I’ve heard – guilty until proven innocent).

But ahhh, I suppose I shall have to come back! I also did a tour through our hostel – it was roughly $100/per person, and probably not so worth it if you’re on a budget (you can just run out to the back of the hostel or the frozen lake and see them; Lights Over Lapland has an Aurora Webcam that they post photos from online so you know when to run outside), although the tours do take you to a much darker area.

Northern Lights Tour in Abisko, Sweden
[Our Lavvu – or what I think was supposed to be a Lavvu, anyway, but I’m not educated enough on the subject to make such a claim]
We hung out in what I THINK was supposed to be a Lavvu (structures that the native Sami people used to protect them during harsh northern weather) with a fire in it for a few hours, and drank lingonberry tea (really juice) and had a cardamom bun snack thing. Our guide was pretty knowledgable and fun to talk to, as well!

However, I wish we had been given some history behind Lavvus and The Sami people. To be fair, I didn’t ask, either. Looking back I really wish I had! I also highly doubt that the people running the tour were native Sami, so now it feels a little like cultural appropriation, unfortunately. What do you think?

ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET AT TURISTATION

A pretty and snowy view from the Turistation in Abisko, Sweden in January
[View from inside the Turistation; so cozy, no? Plus you can have this view while eating your yummy Swedish food and that is soooo traditional and perfect and fun and pretty!]
It was only about $12 USD/person, ALL YOU CAN EAT, and the food was traditional Swedish style and pretty fuckin’ bomb, actually. I’d highly highly recommend it!

If you’re vegetarian/vegan, they also have lots of options (I had this fake meat called Oumph! which was super tasty, plus they have lots of yummy sides). The Turistation is also super cozy, and has a great view of the frozen lake and surrounding areas.

It takes about 30 min to walk to from the hostel, although it took us much longer because we went the wrong way twice and had to keep asking people lolol.

FROZEN WATERFALLS ARE JUST AS COOL AS THEY SOUND

Frozen Waterfalls and a snowy landscape in Abisko, Sweden in January
[AREN’T THEY COOL??? And see the ice climber on the left waterfall? Ahhhh sooooo awesome]
Which you can totally go ice climbing on! We didn’t, but they were super cool to look at. And fun to watch the people that actually were ice climbing.

WALK ON THE FROZEN LAKE

Frozen Lake and snow around a yellow building in Abisko, Sweden in January
[You can see the lake in the distance! I wish I got a better, closer picture of it – but we only went there one night in the dark]
Check with someone working at your place of accommodation (don’t want to be blamed if the ice is unusually thin that year or something LOL but not really because falling into freezing water would suck), but it was super cool! Especially because I’d never been on a frozen lake before.

Apparently it’s like 4 inches thick and a car can drive over it, so we knew we were chill (although I was still slightly terrified). There’s a really cool trail you can do that was recommended by one of the hostel workers, but we didn’t get a chance to do it because of the crazy wind from the storm.

WALK TO THE STORNABBEN VIEWPOINT

Views of the frozen lake, snowy landscape, and red houses from Stornabben in snow covered Abisko, Sweden in January
[The view was sooo pretty! And this was at about 10AM, the sky was still pretty pink!]
It was really close to our hostel, and soooo beautiful and serene and amazing. It didn’t take that long either – maybe like an hour.

The signage isn’t that great, so just repeatedly ask someone working at your accommodation how to get there in great detail, like I did. They loved me 🙂

Views of the frozen lake, snowy landscape, and mountain from Stornabben in snow covered Abisko, Sweden in January
[More breathtaking views]
I also like only kind of knew where I was going most of the time, but you pretty much just walk straight up the hill behind Hostel Haverskog until you reach a brown cardboard arrow pointing left. Follow it, and you’ll make it to the top!

DAY TRIP TO NARVIK

View of the snowy city and fjord from the balcony at the Scandic Hotel in Narvik, Norway in January
[The prettiest view from the Scandic Hotel’s balcony]
Eeeeek if you’ve never been to Norway before, hurry over to Narvik! It’s about a 2 hour train ride each way, and if you’re just doing the day trip you’ll be there for like 3 hours, but it was soooo worth it! The train ride alone is absolutely beautiful, and you can see fjords right out the window.

Once we got into Narvik, we didn’t exactly have a plan so I asked a lady walking her dog where we could get the best view (always ask people with dogs! They’re usually nice, most likely local, and will probably know good spots since they’re always walking aorund), and she suggested the Scandic Hotel. I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS!

View of buildings on a snowy hill from the Scandic Hotel in Narvik, Norway in January
[The interior of the Scandic Hotel’s top floor; look at that beautiful view out the window!]
We went up to their top level (just ask the front desk if you’re not sure) and had lunch. THE VIEWS WERE SOOOO LOVELY. I’d highly highly recommend it. But – know that there is crazy weather in Abisko sometimes, so the trains do get cancelled.

WATCH THE SUNRISE AND SUNSET

Pink sunset in Abisko, Sweden on a winter day in January
[Sunset outside of the Tursistation around 2PM]
I don’t know what it is about the arctic, but the sunrises and sunsets there are soooo pretty. At least when we were there – I don’t know if we just got lucky, but they were seriously gorgeous.

CHOOSE FROM AN ARRAY OF TOURS

Reindeer in snowy Abisko, Sweden
[Normally, you have to pay to see the reindeer (and it’s usually included in the Sami Tour, I believe), but we got to see them for free! A storm was coming, and I guess the guy driving our shuttle worked with the reindeer and had to do something before the storm came in, so he had to stop by and we got to hang out with them for like 20 mins! Still not sure how I feel about it, though – I know they are essential for the Sami people, and they do get to roam free, but I’m not exactly sure why these 2 are tied up. :(]
There are a shit ton of tours you can do, too. Check with your accommodation, but they pretty much all offer the same ones. They include ice climbing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, dog sledding, a tour to learn about the Sami way of life, etc.

Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden behind Hostel Haverskog in January
[More northern lights! These were viewed right behind our hostel. Although again, they looked more like little faint green clouds]
And to those people who were wondering why the hell I wanted to do this trip – why I’d want to go to northern Sweden in the dead of winter and half freeze to death – do you now see why it was so worth it?

Snowy Fjord in Narvik, Norway in January
[Fjord as viewed from the train to Narvik, Norway]

HOW TO GET TO ABISKO

Snowy train station in Abisko, Sweden in January
[The train station in Abisko; the walk through that tunnel underneath is how you get to the supermarket, and also awful because it was soooo cold from the wind]
From Stockholm, you can either take an overnight train (17 hours!) or a plane. We flew, because it was actually cheaper than the train, and only takes about 1.5 hours.

The train goes straight into Abisko, but the plane flies into Kiruna, and then you can take a train or a shuttle to Abisko. Or hitchhike like one guy we met did!

However, the trains sometimes get cancelled due to bad weather (that happened when we arrived in Abisko; we were going to take the train back BUT our flight left before the train did). So, we ended up taking the shuttle each way. It’s a little expensive – about $50 USD – but very comfy and takes about an hour. And, like I said, the way there was worth it since we got to see Reindeer! However, that was only because the guy driving our shuttle had to tend to them before the storm.

WHERE TO STAY

Red Buildings surrounded by snow in Abisko, Sweden in January
[Pretty red buildings in Abisko; photo taken from the view out my hostel’s kitchen window]
I stayed in Hostel Haverskog, but you can also stay in Winterday, which is a little cheaper (they are owned by the same company and basically right next to each other). They have private rooms and rooms for multiple people. Winterday has a sauna that you can use from 9PM-10PM – it’s amazing after you’re freezing to death from looking for the northern lights! You can also stay at the Turistation or the Lodge, both of which are more expensive.

OTHER THINGS TO NOTE

Supermarket surrounded by snow in Abisko, Sweden in January
[The red building on the right is the supermarket]
There’s one supermarket in Abisko, a lot of which is meat and candy. LOL. They have other things, too – it was easy for me, as a vegetarian, but my friend, a vegan, had a bit of a difficult time and ended up eating dairy while we were there.

They also don’t sell hard alcohol, just beer. There aren’t any bars/clubs in Abisko, either. Just FYI if you’re tryina get your party on.

Also, the trains/transportation in general can be cancelled due to weather, so keep that in mind, and feel free to ask the person working at your accommodation what the status is.

The only restaurant (that I know of) was the one at the Turistation (which was actually really good!), and a little food truck that was located right outside the supermarket (I never tried it though – not much for vegetarians).

You’ll probably do a bit of walking, so be prepared for that! Or, you can rent a snowmobile. Have fun! Abisko is an amazing place, and I miss it so much!

View from the Scandic Hotel in Narvik, Norway in January
[View from the Scandic Hotel’s balcony – sorrrrrry I’m obsessed!]

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