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Northern Lights In Abisko: Self-Guided Or Joining A Tour?

Are you going to Abisko for the Northern Lights?

Abisko in Sweden is an excellent choice because the odds of spotting this incredible natural phenomenon are indeed in your favor in this small town. This is because of the unique location of Abisko.

The town is protected by the Scandinavian Alps from the dominant western winds. Clouds usually gather at the other side of the mountain and dissipate as soon as they cross the mountain range.

Residents of Abisko call this meteorological phenomenon the blue hole because there’s often a patch of blue sky while all surrounding towns experience a grey cloudy day.

Do you want to take advantage of the blue hole to see the northern lights? Here we share everything you need to know.

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In A Hurry? Here Is The Most Important Information About Seeing The Northern Lights In Abisko

What are the Northern Lights?

The original inhabitants of Lapland didn’t quite know what happened when all of a sudden dancing green shadows appeared in the sky. They attributed the phenomenon to the gods and were afraid of it.

Thanks to extensive research there’s now an explanation for the Aurora Borealis.

It originates in the sun, where gas molecules escape and collide with each other.

The protons and electrons that are the results of such a collision can sometimes escape from the magnetic field of the sun.

If they do they are likely picked up by the solar winds and blown towards the earth.

They travel about 3 days to reach our planet and as they get closer they will be pulled towards the northern and southern poles by the earth’s magnetic field.

This explains that this phenomenon can only be seen in the North and South Poles.

The Northern Lights are known as Aurora Borealis in the north, and Aurora Australis in the south.

It’s then, when they enter the earth’s atmosphere, that they produce the auroral colors as we see them.

The most common aurora color is green, it’s the result of oxygen particles that are located around 60 miles above our planet.

However, the aurora can also come in other colors. They’re a lot less common though and if you actually see them you should consider yourself very lucky.

If you search the internet you may find pictures of red, blue, and purple colors witnessed in the sky.

Variations in colors are produced by particles at other altitudes or composed of another mass such as nitrogen.

Northern Lights
The magical Northern Lights

What Is The Best Time To See The Northern Lights In Abisko

The winter season is typically a good period to see the Northern Lights because of the long nights and short days.

In Abisko they usually can be seen starting in September to early April.

Most people tend to plan their visit around Christmas or in January, February, or March.

Here’s what you can expect in the various months.

September – Oktober – November

Early September is not a good time to see the Northern Lights as there is no real darkness during the night.

The twilight makes it hard, if not impossible to see the aurora.

It’s only from mid-September that there are real sunsets and sunrises. Still, nights are short and you will need to pull an all-nighter if you want to have a chance to see the lights in the wee hours.

Oktober and November are better. Starting from October there are almost 7 hours of complete darkness and by the end of November, this has become more than 12 hours.

Oktober and November are great months during which you can see the aurora as well as the autumn colors.

The lakes aren’t yet completely frozen and this can make for some stunning photographs with the reflection of the aurora in the placid waters.

December – January

A visit during December can be an extraordinary experience because you will never see the sun.

It does get a little bright between 10 AM and 2 PM but there’s no sunrise and sunset.

At around 2 PM the sky turns magically blue, a natural phenomenon that the residents call the “blue hour”.

December might be perfect to see the Northern Lights but the short days mean that you cannot really do anything else.

Days start to lengthen again in January which makes this month slightly better if you want to include some other activities in your trip.

February – March

We would recommend planning your visit in February or early March because the days are already somewhat longer but there is still a long period of darkness.

This allows for some activities during the day and good opportunities for Northern Lights hunting during the evening and night.

Northern Lights seen from our hotel Camp Alta Kiruna

What Else There Is To Know About The Best Time To See The Northern Lights

Scientific research has shown that aurora activity is usually at its best around midnight.

We did see it earlier during the evening and we share some tips on apps you can use that show the aurora forecast for the current and the upcoming days.

Another discovery that researchers have made is that the activity is cyclic with peaks every 11 years. According to their research 2024 should be a splendid year for aurora hunters.

There’s no need to wait till 2024 though.

We had wonderful auroras during February 2022 and, although not guaranteed, chances of spotting the Northern Lights in Abisko are always good.

Tip: Do provide three days at least, so that your happiness does not depend on that one day. Despite the blue hole, we did experience several cloudy days during our stay.

Abisko Northern Lights Forecast

We already explained how the Northern Lights are a result of the solar wind that carries gas molecules to earth. When the solar wind is very active this is called a Geomagnetic storm.

The more active the solar wind is, the more particles collide with our planet’s magnetic field, and the better your chances to see a truly spectacular aurora.

The Geomagnetic activity is represented in the KP Index, a scale from 0 to 9. A higher number means a more active aurora, it also means that it will be visible further from the earth’s poles.

In general, to see the Northern Lights in Abisko, the KP Index should be at least 3.

The good news is that you can find the KP Index forecasts on several sites on the internet as well as some apps for your phone.

The Aurora App

We used the Aurora app. (Google Play – Apple Store)

In the app, you can see the current KP index for your location along with the viewing opportunity and the cloud cover. It also shows the KP index for the coming hours and days.

At the bottom of the page, you find some graphs about solar wind. It shows the speed (the higher the better), and the density (the number of particles per cubic centimeter, more particles are better).

The bottom 2 graphs show the BZ and BT values.

The BZ value shows the direction of the solar wind, the more negative this value is the better. The BT value is the solar wind strength, a higher figure shows more strength and is better.

As a summary, for good chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you want:

  • A high KP-index
  • No, or very few clouds,
  • A high solar wind speed
  • A high solar wind density
  • A negative BZ-value
  • A high BT-value

There are forecasts about the KP index and the cloud cover. You can also calculate your own forecasts based on the solar wind data.

All this data is coming from the ACE satellite which is 1.5 million kilometers away from our planet.

If you know the distance of the satellite from our planet, and the solar wind speed, you can calculate when the wind will reach the planet. Here’s an example where the solar wind speed is 500 km/sec:

1500000 (satellite distance) /500 (speed) / 60 (seconds in a minute) = 50 minutes

If the solar wind travels at 500 kilometers/second the wind will reach our planet in 50 minutes.

Lastly, the app also shows some satellite images of the sun where you can see solar flares.

Looking at the graphs you will see that the wind speed as well as the other aspects fluctuate wildly and vary from hour to hour.

Long-term forecasts are therefore not very reliable. To have the best chances of spotting the aurora you will need to check the app regularly to see if the conditions have changed.

Camping underneath the Northern Lights

Abisko Northern Lights Webcams

Seeing the Northern Lights is a matter of patience.

And since it is often high on the bucket list, many don’t mind spending a few hours outside staring at the sky.

Nights can be cold though, and the cold will eventually drive even the bravest inside to warm up.

When you’re cozying up indoors, warming up by the fireplace, or drinking a hot chocolate, the Aurora apps can help you find out when it’s a good time to get outside again.

Another good reference is the 2 aurora webcams that Abisko counts.

If you don’t quite make sense of the data in the app, you can view the real-time images from the webcams.

Check the images of the Abisko Northern Lights webcams here:

Admiring the Northern Lights

How To See The Northern Lights In Abisko

There are many ways to admire the Northern Lights in Abisko. Here we give you an overview.

Self-Guided

Of course, the obvious way is to get out and about on your own.

While you can suffer from light pollution in Kiruna, that is much less in Abisko.

If conditions are good, seeing the Northern Lights can be as easy as walking out of your hotel or guest house.

However, the best experience and the most beautiful pictures are taken in a slightly more remote place, away from civilization and surrounded by nature.

A walk or a short car ride can lead you to a beautiful spot where you can enjoy this beautiful phenomenon undisturbed.

If you want to take home memories of your experience, you should bring a good camera and a tripod.

So you don’t really need more than a camera, a tripod, and a little luck to return home with beautiful pictures of the aurora.

Read Also:

If you don’t have a tripod, have a look at our selection here. In this post we mention the best tripods for hiking but they are also great  for shooting the Northern Lights.

However, we recommend that you also take a look at the alternatives below. They can only improve your experience.

The base station of the chairlift to the Aurora Ski Station

The Abisko Aurora Sky Station

The Aurora Sky Station is perched atop Mt. Nuolja. A chairlift takes you to a viewing platform 900 meters above sea level.

The ride to the top offers incredible panoramic views any time of the year and while you may not be able to see those distant views after dark, the 20-minute ride under the starry sky at night is a truly unique experience.

In addition to the large outdoor viewing platform, the Sky Station also has a lookout tower and an exhibition where you can learn more about the aurora.

A guided tour of the exhibition, including a presentation about the Northern Lights, is included with your visit.

While you won’t necessarily see the aurora any better from the Sky Station than from anywhere else in the park the complete package with the chairlift ride and the exhibition including the informative session from the knowledgeable guides can be a reason to visit the Aurora Sky Station.

You can pimp your experience even more by adding a four-course dinner to your visit.

Opinions about the diner differ and some find it overpriced.

In any case, it is a unique setting and if you are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights while you enjoy your dinner with your loved one, it will truly be an evening to remember.

Admiring the Northern Lights

Joining an Abisko Northern Lights tour

Another option to chase the Northern Lights is to join an Abisko Aurora tour.

Tours come in all kinds of styles.

Here’s what you can expect from the various tours, further down we will discuss the tours we did in more detail.

The “Regular” Abisko Aurora Tour

This tour can be great for those who don’t have a car or don’t want to worry about driving themselves.

The tour pick you up at your hotel and will head to a nice Aurora spotting location. In some cases, you might go to various locations over the course of the tour.

There’s usually a cabin or tent at the spotting location where you can warm up, waiting for the Northern Lights to appear.

To ease the wait, some snacks and drinks are usually provided as well.

The guide can tell you more about the park, the Northern Lights, and the Sami.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Tour Abisko

The Abisko Northern Lights Photography Tour

This tour is for you if you want good pictures of the Northern Lights but you don’t have the right equipment. Or maybe you already have a camera but you don’t have too much experience with the more advanced options.

The mobile phone has gradually dethroned the classic photo camera.

It’s a lot smaller, easier to carry, and the quality of the pictures is almost the same. But there are some areas where photo cameras are still superb.

With traditional cameras, there are more settings that you can fine-tune and that is exactly what you need for those stunning pictures of the northern lights.

You need the right shutter speed, aperture settings, and ISO to capture the green dancing shadows of the northern lights, something that you cannot do with a mobile phone.

During a photo tour, you will be provided with a tripod and a camera that is preset with the correct settings.

The guide will also be happy to help those with their own gear with the settings of their camera.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Photography Tour

Snowmobile Banff Golden Canada
Snowmobiles are a common mode of transport in Lapland

A Northern Lights Snowmobile Tour

It is also possible to combine 2 epic activities in 1 tour.

With the snowmobiles, you will drive to some scenic spots to spot the Northern Lights.

En route, you may come across wildlife such as moose and reindeer.

It’s never 100% sure whether you will see the aurora but with this tour, you’re certain that you will experience driving a roaring snowmobile.

Each participant has his own snowmobile or you can choose to share one and take turns driving.

Participants who don’t want to drive themselves can also join in a sled pulled by a snowmobile.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Snowmobile Tour

Ice fishing Underneath The Northern Lights

We already said that chasing the Northern Lights is sometimes not so active as it may sound. At times it is just a waiting game.

So instead of just waiting for the dancing lights to appear why not partake in a typical local activity such as ice fishing?

It’s an ideal combination, while you wait for the aurora to appear you can become a pro at ice fishing and learn all the tricks of the trade.

Note that this Northern Lights ice fishing tour leaves from Kiruna and will take you to the Torneriver where you can catch Grayling, Perch, Trout, and more.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Ice Fishing Tour

For a more detailed guide about the best Northern Lights Tours in Abisko, click here. 

Is A Northern Light Tour In Abisko Worth It?

A tour is certainly worth it, it can improve the experience of your Northern Lights adventure, as long as you pick the tour that suits you.

A regular Northern Lights tour is maybe not what you need if you have a car and don’t mind going out on your own. Some tours take you to places that you can’t reach with your own car but you will be able to find scenic places of your own.

Our Northern Lights photography tour, on the other hand, was a great experience. Even as someone comfortable with using my camera in manual modus I found the trip worthwhile. The guides have much more experience photographing the northern light in the various weather conditions. They can help you set up your camera in advance. This way you avoid having to spend a lot of time testing different configurations.

The aurora may only appear for a few minutes and you may not get a second chance. This means you want your first pictures to be as good as your last ones.

A snowmobile or ice fishing tour gives you the assurance that even if you don’t see the northern lights, you will still have a good time. Most people only spend a few days in Lapland and chasing the Northern Lights on a snowmobile is one way to make the most of your limited time.

Northern Lights tour with dinner: Our reindeer meal being prepared

How Much Does It Cost To See The Northern Lights In Abisko

Tours range anywhere from 110€ to 180€ per person depending on the type of tour and the time of the year.

If you don’t want to spend that much on a tour, here’s how to see the Northern Lights in Abisko on a budget.

Start by installing the Aurora app that we mentioned earlier in this article and familiarize yourself with the information about the KP-index and the Solar Winds. Activate the alert service so that you get alerts when there are good chances of seeing the Aurora.

When you arrive in Abisko ask the hotel or the guest house for a nice scenic spot within walking or driving distance. They’re familiar with the region so they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Lastly, leave plenty of time in your agenda, and track the app closely, so that you’re ready when the aurora appears in the sky.

Our photography tour: Cameras ready, hoping for better weather to come

Detailed And Honest Review Of Our Abisko Northern Lights Tours

The Ultimate Northern Lights Photography Adventure in Abisko National Park

We took this 4-hour Northern Lights photography tour on a snowy day.

As a result, we left with low expectations. We ended up not seeing the aurora but still liked the tour.

We spend most of the time in a heated tent together with our chatty guide who told us a lot about the National Park, the Sami, and the Northern Lights.

The camera gear we got was in good condition and the guide was clearly knowledgeable about the camera settings and how to optimally use your camera in cold weather conditions.

Because the cloud cover did not disappear we ended up doing some photography tricks such as light writing. It’s not the same as a photo of the Northern Lights, but it’s still a nice memory of our trip.

This tour comes highly recommended!

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Photography Tour

The Longest Northern Lights Tour In Abisko With Dinner

With over 390 5-star reviews and just a few 4-star reviews (and nothing below that), I can honestly say this Northern Lights tour delivers on what it promises.

The good reviews were the reason we booked this tour.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get lucky on this tour either.

The skies were clear this day but there was not enough solar activity. We enjoyed our reindeer meal and the informative stories about the Sami.

After our meal, we drove in 2 mini-vans to a cabin near a frozen lake hoping for the best. However, the northern lights did not cooperate that day, so we had to go back to our hotel empty-handed.

Check prices and availability:
Northern Lights Tour Abisko

Sylvia setting up her camera

Our Favorite Northern Lights Tour

From the 2 tours, we did we liked the Northern Lights photography tour the most.

In our experience, the guide made a lot of difference.

The whole experience was much more interactive with our guide regularly checking up on everybody and telling a whole bunch of interesting stories about the region and the aurora.

She also took the initiative to make some light writing pictures, although it is just a consolation prize compared to the real thing, we thought it was a great gesture nevertheless.

The photography tour is shorter than the dinner tour but the actual time you spend outside, chasing or waiting for the aurora, is almost the same.

There are numerous places in Abisko and Kiruna where you can enjoy great reindeer meat.

You can enjoy a great reindeer meal at the Abisko Mountain Lodge or the TuristStation, or reindeer street food at Stejk in Kiruna.

Lofoten Northern Lights Norway
The Northern Lights seen in the Lofoten

FAQ You May Have About Seeing The Northern Lights In Abisko

How Likely Are The Northern Lights In Abisko

Nothing is certain except death and taxes. You may have heard this expression before and this also applies to seeing the Northern Lights in Abisko.

Thanks to the blue hole there is a greater chance of seeing the aurora in Abisko but it is not a given.

They often say that if you spend 3 days in Abisko you have an 80% chance of seeing the aurora but we have spoken with people who stayed for 7 days and had cloudy skies during their entire stay.

We ourselves did not see the aurora in Abisko, but already earlier during our trip in Kiruna.

If we hadn’t seen it already we might have put in more effort, stayed up later, and checked the app more often, during our stay in Abisko, but we were pleased with what we had seen in Kiruna.

The 3-day/80% rule is a guideline that you can use to plan your trip but you will have to take the weather as it comes.

Is Abisko The Best Place To See The Northern Lights

We haven’t seen the Northern Lights in Abisko but rather in Kiruna.

However, who am I to argue with a weather pattern that has proven itself over and over again.

There are several pictures showing the blue hole and just because we weren’t lucky the week we were there doesn’t mean that the blue hole is a scam.

All Northern Lights tours from Kiruna go to Abisko for a reason.

Abisko or Kiruna for Northern Lights

Abisko is the better option for several reasons. Less light pollution in Abisko makes it easier to see the Northern Lights on your own, certainly without a car.

If you join a Northern Lights tour in Kiruna it will take you to Abisko to benefit from the blue hole.

This makes the tour longer and more expensive. The two-hour round-trip means you will hit the sack an hour later, making your trip more tiring than it needs to be.

Abisko or Tromsø for Northern Lights

Tromsø is located a little further north. This makes it a little easier to see the northern lights. The aurora can be seen with a KP index as low as 1, still, if you want a nice spectacle overhead, you will need a KP index of 3 or more. The same as in Abisko.

On the other hand, Tromsø has more light pollution.

To see the aurora you will need to head further out of town.

You will need a car or join a guided tour where in Abisko a short walk is enough to find a deserted place without any light pollution.

Tromsø, being closer to the sea, is also the one with the most unpredictable weather.

The changing weather patterns can be a good and a bad thing.

The cloud cover can suddenly disappear in a matter of minutes, but it can come back just as quickly as it disappeared.

The Abisko Canyon in winter
The Abisko canyon in winter

Is Abisko Expensive

Abisko is a small village with few accommodations and restaurants. It is therefore not cheap, but we also did not feel that we were being exploited here as a tourist.

The biggest budget will go to the overnight stay.

You have to book this well in advance, ideally around a year before your travel date. We stayed in the Abisko Turiststation and loved it. Here you can find more info on where to stay in Abisko.

The tours are not more expensive than those you find in Kiruna. Northern lights tours are even a little cheaper.

Restaurants are not cheap either but the food you get is delicious and in our experience absolutely worth the price.

Since there is only 1 supermarket in Abisko, we recommend that you buy some snacks in advance. There are several supermarkets in Kiruna and they have much more choices.

Is Abisko Worth Visiting

There is the Northern Lights, the many fun winter activities, and the beautiful national park.

Moreover, visiting the remote little town of Abisko is an experience in itself. It’s one of the smallest settlements we have ever been to. Being able to walk outside, right in nature, gives an incredibly free feeling.

Conclusion

Abisko is a place that should not be missed on your travel itinerary. Not only because of the Northern Lights, but also because of the many fun winter activities in Abisko.

Thanks to the blue hole, there is a good chance that you will see the aurora here.

But even if you are unlucky and are stuck in Abisko with bad weather, you will still have a good time. You can go cross-country skiing, explore the snowshoe trails, ride a dog sled, or discover the region on a snowmobile.

Enjoy your winter trip to Swedish Lapland, just make sure to book your hotel well in advance.

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