A dream come true - my northern lights experience and tips
The Aurora Borealis, more popularly known as the northern lights can be seen in regions beyond the Arctic circle. There is of course a super cool scientific explanation to it - Google it! But what it is no understatement that it is a must see and experience in one's life! To watch the dance of the magical lights just can't be explained.
The top spots to see them are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Greenland... You catch the drift... The closer you get to the Arctic, you would be watching it all-day! A lot of people dream of seeing the Northern Lights and a trip up north to see them is kind of the most magical thing ever, but I also know that a lot of people are put off by the expense. A Northern Lights trip doesn't exactly sound budget friendly. Seriously though, why do the Northern Lights have to dance over some of the most expensive countries in Europe? I think seeing the Northern Lights on a budget feels especially difficult because if you want the best chance of actually seeing the aurora, you'll want to make your trip as long as possible. That's not cheap.
But there are ways to make it experience cheaper than advertised by many, without compromising on anything! That's why I think Abisko might actually be the best place to see the Northern Lights on a budget, because thanks to its micro-climate giving the village more clear nights than anywhere else under the aurora oval, you're almost guaranteed to see the Northern Lights if you stay for just 4 days.
My experience was in Sweden in Abisko National Park which is the place from where aurora activities are monitored. The two main spots that are just incredible to view the lights in an open sky are the helipad and a lake (which will be frozen duh).
We reached the hostel one early evening. And had scheduled our return the next evening!!! Kind of pushed our luck... But guess we were the lucky ones. We first up went and checked the lake and helipad. Late evening, it started snowing. People in the hostel gave up since it wasn't stopping at all and went for the Finnish spa. We waited on - for some reason. Our roommates had come all the way from Us and had signed up for the photo tour. They came back at 11.30pm with no luck and cussing the waste of money. At about 11.45pm, it appeared like the snowing stopped. We took our chances and rushed off to the helipad for one last chance.
Like a dream, at the stroke of midnight, the sky went berserk - yellow, turned green, turned blue and purple!!!! It was crazy for 10 minutes and we had no one around us... Trust me, your heart skips a beat!! We later got cursed by the American friends though... A word of caution - one night may be a gamble for the huge amount that one spends getting there.
A pointer - they also organise a special tour with options which is quite expensive. For all those who would prefer to experience it for free, you don't need to sign up for the tour to see the lights - the sky is open to all - it's free after all! The main aspects - clear sky, no rain, no clouds, no snow. However, what everyone sees in their wallpaper is the beauty and ability of the camera to capture the tail. With your naked eyes, you can still see the colours shifting, changing and dancing! My personal experience - we saw the northern lights at the helipad and it was just gorgeous - the sky lights up in surreal shades!
Best time to see the lights
The best time of the year to see the northern lights ideally is Nov (towards the end) till March. This is my opinion. There is a website which gives you the aurora activity and level. http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
How to get there
There is a train to Abisko from Kiruna. You can fly into Kiruna from Stockholm or take the trains (at times flights can be cheaper). There are buses within Kiruna. Check timetables and confirm in advance several times. They can be moody or cancel last minute the buses and trains.
Kiruna has a really good Airbnb (Tommy's House - there was just one which was also advertised as a hostel too). Really cosy with supplies stocked in. Not too expensive.
Abisko has one hostel and a hotel. The hostel (Abisko Fjallturer Hostel) is kinda cool with really helpful people. By European standards it is steep. But during the peak season, you can watch the northern lights standing in its backyard. They also have an awesome Finnish spa. You would meet loads of travellers from around the world.
Cost of Seeing the Northern Lights in Sweden
Flight from Stockholm to Kiruna: $61.65 on SAS (Contrary to what you might think, flying is actually usually the best way to start a cheap Northern lights holiday. The train from Stockholm to Kiruna is closer to $100 each way and takes 17 hours, and time was a luxury we did not have, and most people on short weekend breaks will not either) Flight from Kiruna to Stockholm: $59.19 on Norwegian Airlines My share of food and drinks: $24 My share of a double room at Abisko.net Hostel: $35 per person (dorms from $30)* Taxi to Kiruna train station from airport: $20 per person (split two ways) Train from Kiruna to Abisko: $11 Return shuttle bus direct to airport: $45
These are the most typical costs that travellers would incur when trying to see the Northern lights on a budget in Abisko. It's definitely not cheap, and well over my typical budget. But for a natural phenomenon this majestic, it's hard to not go over the budget. You must see it at least once in your life. But yes, it's not just another European backpacking trip - you have to save more!