Abashiri is best known as the site of the Abashiri Prison, a Meiji-era facility used for the incarceration of political prisoners. The old prison has been turned into a museum, but the city's new maximum security prison is still in use. It is an important local port city and railroad terminal.
As of 2003, the city has an estimated population of 42,548 and the density of 90.36 persons per kmē. The total area is 470.88 kmē.
Abashiri is located in the eastern part of Abashiri Subprefecture, about 50 kilometers east of Kitami. There are no tall mountains, but there are many hills.
Abashiri's sister city is Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. Each year many students participate in student exchange programs between the two cities.