If it was not for hunting the aurora, we would have never known Kiruna & Abisko which are two extremely small and remote towns in the northernmost of Sweden and would never have had one of a kind experience in our life.
Located on the Arctic circle with very little annual rain, Kiruna and Abisko are mentioned to have more clear and cloudless nights than elsewhere in Northern Europe. The tall mountainous terrain mingled with isolated position have made its light pollution almost zero. These elements are the perfect conditions for aurora watching. In addition, Kiruna is famous for its Ice Hotel and Sweden’s highest mountain, while Abisko village and Abisko national park are the center of the typical winter amusing activities.
In only 5 days there, I achieved my own record of doing many things I had never done: the first time seeing snow then experiencing a blizzard; the first time riding a snowmobile and fishing on a frozen lake, the first time trying a dog-sledding, the first time seeing reindeer and the first time admiring the northern Aurora.
Amused by sparkling Ice hotel in Kiruna
After 3 days with layers of emotion in Copenhagen, though it was winter, I hadn’t yet seen snow. We took a night flight to Kiruna. Opening my eyes after a quick nap and walking out of the plane at 11pm, my dream of snow came true. The small Kiruna airport was fully covered by snow. The strong wind with a drizzle made me awake. I rushed out to take a picture at that moment to remember the first time seeing snow.
The next morning was a heavy snowy day. For a person who hadn’t seen snow like me, the scenery was amazingly spectacular. Ignoring the crazily freezing cold, I ran out to the yard and played with snowflakes. They were so beautiful and surprisingly perfect that I had thought were only created by Walt Disney artists.
ICE HOTEL located around 30 minutes drive from Kiruna airport is truly a unique, sophisticated and expensive masterpiece. The entire hotel is made by ice, partially melted in the summer, and is newly rebuilt every year in the winter with spectacular architecture and sculptures created by many artists around the world.
We were amazed by the wonderful combination of the ancient Eskimo Igloo architecture, modern adhesive technology and the sophistication of contemporary sculptures in the hotel. The main hall shimmered with huge columns and chandeliers weighed several hundred kilograms. The snow-covered dome corridors looked amazing. Each room in ICE HOTEL had a unique design and icy arts.
The ice bar is a creative highlight of Ice Hotel. The entire space became sparkling when the lights were reflected through all of its icy materials, from the walls, decorative frames, to the bar, tables and chairs, glasses and cups.
We were guests staying at the hotel, hence we could visit it for free. The hotel has many types of room, from normal warm rooms to ice rooms. Room rates range from 300 – 1000 USD / night for 2 people. If you are not staying there, you can book a guided tour for about 38 USD.
Abisko – Hunting Northern Aurora and snowy amusing activities
After a day of playing with beautiful snowflakes in Kiruna, we took a taxi to Abisko , a tiny northernmost village in Sweden, about 1 hour and 30 minutes away. Although it is a remote village with only 85 residents, Abisko attracts a large number of tourists every year, especially in the winter to hunt and admire the northern lights.
This was the only place that we had to book a tour in our journey of 17 days strolling through extreme cold Scandinavia. And that was a wise decision for those who had no experience in Aurora hunting like us. We were really lucky to see the northern lights on the first night of the 5-day-4-night tour. Experiencing the freezing cold at -15oC on long nights waiting for the Aurora, witnessing a snowstorm and enjoying lots of snowy activities were unforgettable memories in Abisko.
I have never understand the meaning of the word “Moment” as clearly as such. When the magic green lights of the northern aurora began to dance in the dark sky, nothing was really matter, but only a huge streamer of colorful lights floated behind the trees on a snow-covered front-ground. And that was my moment in the journey of chasing the Aurora – a magical beauty.
Read more about my one of a kind experience in hunting the Aurora in this article.
Dog-sledding – Fun but will not try again
Experience new things for the first time always giving me a feeling of thrill and curiosity mingled with excitement. There are things I want to do more after that first experience. However, there are also things that I only do once and immediately realize that I don’t want to try anymore. The reasons sometimes are not quite the same, probably because of being too scared, or too dangerous, or merely being anxious (not to the point of feeling guilty). Riding a dog-sled in the snow is one of the first experiences to fall into the last group.
I was very happy and excited to play with the 4-legged guys who are handsome and friendly. I was impressed by the snow-covered winter landscape, the haunting scenery when the sun tried to shine a few weak glimmering rays through the gray cloud. But at the same time, I constantly felt anxious when 4 healthy people enjoying the working efforts of 12 dogs.
Although I was told that the dogs would prefer to run in a dog-sled (rather than being locked up in the camp), they considered those rides as playing time. And I also saw with my own eyes how excited they were when running, always wanted to rear forward. However, it was still not strong enough to dispel my anxiety.
One try to know, and that’s it.
This below video clip will show you more details about this experience.
Let’s fish and run a snowmobile on a frozen lake
I have never ever liked fishing, partly because I don’t have the patience to wait for a fish to bite the hook, partly because I feel guilty when seeing the fish writhing in the hook. I tried several times with my friend when I was a student, but I didn’t like it at all. Visiting the cold Scandinavian countries where fishing on frozen lake is a fairly popular activity, I decided to participate with a “trying” mood.
Departing in a winter day of endless snowfall in Abisko National Park, the wind whistled on the vast frozen Tornetrask lake – one of the biggest lakes in Sweden. We learned how to drill holes through 1-meter thick icy surface, then sit down and waited for fish to bite. I wondered which animals could have survived under this thick freezing frozen ice. Uhm???
After waiting for about 30 minutes, we didn’t see any fish, but 4 bears (as we were) were about to freeze due to the extreme cold. We tied the fishing rod into the chair and found some snow activities to warm us up, like swimming in the snow, sliding down the snow or riding a snowmobile.
Despite its huge shape, snowmobile is quite easy to control, like riding a big motorbike that you never fear to fall. However, the surface of a frozen lake was quite undulating and slippery, so it was difficult to turn the snowmobile sometimes. Although no fish was caught, it was a fun and exciting experience.
See below clip to learn more about this experience.
Visit Sami village to play with reindeer
Perhaps you won’t believe that I used to think reindeer is a fictional animal, partly because images of lovely reindeer have always been associated with Santa Claus, who brings miraculous but surreal things, also partly because I have never seen them exist in real life. And then a few years ago, I accidentally saw a picture of a reindeer herd in a freezing winter migrating with some nomadic tribes in Mongolia. It looked wild and pridefully liberal. Since then I knew that reindeer is real and wished one day to see them with my own eyes.
A brief visit to Sami village in Rautas, north of Abisko, Sweden, could not be called a full experience of living a nomadic life and understanding reindeer herding culture in the Arctic. It just gave me a glimpse of their world, little knowledge about the harshness of the wild nature and why the tribes of the world have no longer been enthusiastic to preserve this ancient tradition.
Of course I was able to see reindeer, but only a few grazing in a small yard, not a big herd with thousands of them migrating from one place to another. I tried a ride on a traditional sled behind a reindeer, but it was very short, just around the yard. I also had lunch and coffee beside a fire in a traditional tent of Sami nomads, the tent that they themselves no longer used as regularly as before.
Sami Village in Rautas today is quite modernized. They are not wandering around tomorrow, and the reindeer herd in the deep mountains seek food for the cold winter. They now have a couple of reindeer farms away from the village, going back to take care of them by snowmobile.
For Sami people, reindeer is not a pet, but a tool of working and popular like cattle and buffaloes in Vietnam. They feed reindeer for meat, milk, reindeer to pull cars, transport furniture to dangerous terrain and harsh cold weather.
Although the trip was not up to my expectation, the first time seeing reindeer with big, gentle eyes and magnificent horns, touching their silky thick coat and feeding them was an interesting experience by itself.
How to get to Kiruna and Abisko?
Kiruna and Abisko are located in the northernmost of Sweden, all of the public transportation to those places will mainly go through Stockholm.
- By Air: the most convenient and fastest way, there are many daily flights from Stockholm to Kiruna with a flight time of about 90 minutes.
- By Train: there is daily night train from Stockholm to Kiruna with a time of 15 hours, plus another 2 hours to continue to Abisko
- By Bus: There are several weekly buses from Stockholm to Kiruna with the time of 19h, an extra hour and a half to continue to Abisko
- By Car : You will have a long drive of more than 1200km from Stockholm to Kiruna, another 120 km to reach Abisko.
Transportation in Kiruna & Abisko
As they are remote towns, there are a few public transport facilities in Kiruna and Abisko. The best way to travel in the area is to hire a self-driving car from Kiruna airport or book a tour for the above activities (like us). Even taxis are only available in Kiruna, not in Abisko and must be reserved in advance.
- Kiruna: In addition to Ice hotel, there are many accommodating options in Kiruna with different prices
- Abisko: There are only 2 big hotels, 1 small hostel and a guesthouse. We stayed at STF Abisko Mountain Lodge – one of the 2 beautiful hotels in the region as per tour arrangement
Traveled on Feb, 2019