Trek in snowshoes, rev up a snowmobile, husky-sled, or look up at the aurora borealis from the comfort of your bed. Here's how to get a unique and stylish view of the northern lights in Lapland...
It's been much imitated, but the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, north Sweden is probably still the coolest hotel to use as a base to see the northern lights from. Not only will you have a night like no other, bedding down on a frozen divan and reindeer skins amid a gallery of snow sculptures, you can join the ICEHOTEL’s northern light safari. Walk out to Camp Aurora, gaze at the green illuminating the dark sky, listen to an expert explain how they appear and the folklore surrounding the lights before returning to the IceBar to celebrate your viewing in style with a cocktail or two.
Another of the most famous igloo hotels in the world is Norway’s Kirkenes Snowhotel. Melting into the fjords every spring, this hotel is brought back to life every year, with expert ice sculptures from all over the world carving 20 magical rooms. From here you can hunt for the northern lights in a way that best suits you, find the lights by dogsled, take a bus ride away from all light pollution, or chase down the aurora on your own snowmobile.
In the remote town of Harads, the Swedish Treehotel offers a clear and unpolluted position to view the northern lights from. The seven individual tree houses stand beneath a clearing, so you can see the lights directly above you. The simple and accessible wooden house is connected to a mountain by a bridge. Alternatively, opt for a stay in the UFO, where this futuristic shelter balanced in the trees with a sauna close to hand will make your overnight camp feel out of this world.
Well worth the splurge, the most exhilarating way to explore the frozen north is by puppy-power, either as a passenger to an expert musher, or by driving your own team of dogs. For those who are short on time, go on a dog-sled adventure that lasts just a couple of hours, like Lapland Wilderness Tour’s Northern-lights dog-sledding tour in Sweden. Watch the aurora borealis flash up the sky above you as you're pulled by Alaskan huskies for 13km through the wilderness. Short excursions also run from many Lapland lodges, including Sweden’s ICEHOTEL, which offers airport transfers by dog-sled.
Perhaps the best husky-aurora combo is to join a multi-day safari, mushing your own pack between stove-warmed wilderness cabins, far from light pollution and other people, ensuring that – if the lights do come out – you see them undiluted and without the crowds. Located just 15 minutes from the famous ICEHOTEL is a kennel offering an eight-day dog-sledding adventure in the wilds of Swedish Lapland, where you will learn to work closely with a team of Siberian huskies. For the best chance of seeing the northern lights, go during December and February. These long hours of darkness, along with lower temperatures will make for a magical light-filled tour you’ll never forget.
For those after a longer trip, but are nervous about controlling the huskies, head to Norway. You can be picked up in Tromsø – Norway’s northern light capital – and pulled through Tamok valley, where the cold, dry climate maximises the chances of seeing the natural spectacle. So you can sit back, let the huskies do the work and enjoy the show in the sky.
Some northern lights safaris use buses and jeeps to take you away from towns and position you in the best aurora spots. Perfectly fine, but not as much fun as roaring across frozen lakes and glistening tundras on your own snowmobile.
This way you get to drive out to the darkest, clearest spots, perhaps stopping somewhere remote to drink a hot berry juice while you wait for the lights to show; if they don’t, at least you’ve had a thrilling ride. Just be sure to wrap up warm (balaclava essential) and select a machine that has heated handlebars. Alternatively, join a snowmobile-pulled sleigh excursion to be whizzed into the wilds by someone else.
Many of the top hotels will organise these adrenaline-filled snow dashes for you. Norway’s Kirkenes Snowhotel provides guests with an expert guide, teaching you to drive your own snowmobile into the artcic wilderness and watch the phenomenom up close from the heights of the Sandnes mountain. Although all are welcome on the trip, it’s a perfect shared experience for couples who can take it in turns to drive and has also been known as a magical place to propose.
Don’t fancy freezing outside until the wee hours, waiting for the lights to appear? Then watch the aurora from the comfort of your own bed. Lapland has accommodation options that offer warm and lazy gazing via see-through, frost-free, steam-proof roofs. They come at an extra cost, but if you’re lucky enough to watch a long display from under a duvet – you won’t regret a penny.
Finland’s Hotel Kakslauttanen is a village of glass-topped igloos, well spaced to ensure the privacy of those lying inside. Also available are the Kelo-Glass igloos, which are cosy log chalets with glass roofs overhead, providing the best of both worlds. There is even the option to warm up in a private sauna before retiring to bed and drifting off to the sight of the northern lights dancing through the transparent ceiling above you. Also in Finland is Nellim Wilderness Hotel, where guests can stay in one of three aurora bubbles that come with an extra comfort of heating.
If you’re in Norway, head to Svinøya Rorbuer. The island consists of 38 old – and some more recently built – traditional rorbu cabins. Not only will you get incredible views over the water and the mountains, the cosy, comfortable inns are also a great base to see the northern lights without having to step outside. To understand more about the magnificent aurora sightings, head to one of the lectures and learn more about the phenomenon.
For those more active, take the option of getting out of bed and hiking to spot the aurora. Guided night walks using easy-to-master snowshoes will lead you away from any street or lodge lights to clear views of the northern lights. Being on the move will also keep you warmer than standing out in the cold, providing you with a greater length of time to keep a hopeful eye on the sky.
Northern Lights Village in Finland offers the chance to snowshoe your way to the lights. During the two hour trip, hear the snow crunch under foot, breaking the silence of the forest, and warm up with the fire by the fell, before gazing upwards in reward of the green lights waving among the moon and star-lit night sky.
Snowshoe adventures are also available through Lynden Lodge in Norway. No matter your age, fitness, or sporting ability, the staff will happily guide you to the lights. Snowshoe your way through the darkness to the peak of a mountain, before warming up around the open fire, sipping on a glass of mulled wine and enjoying the evening’s entertainment.
For some of the darkest skies – and thus the finest aurora canvas – get away from land entirely. Unlike being on the ground, where light pollution is common, there is little to no light pollution out at sea, meaning your northern lights experience will be brighter, clearer, and all the more spectacular. Many cruise ships in Arctic regions will have onboard northern lights experts and regular aurora lectures, increasing your chances of seeing and truly appreciating the sight.
Hurtigruten cruises which run daily along the Norwegian coast offer the chance to see the display multiple times in different locations, allowing you to see them from all angles from the ship's observation decks. Travellers who are more sensitive to the cold needn't worry about missing out, as passenger announcements let inform when the lights have been spotted, meaning you don’t need to spend hours in anticipation in the cold.
If you fancy the off-shore views, but don’t want to be on a boat the whole time, head to Finland where a catamaran boat awaits your arrival. Head out along the river Kemijoki and Ounasjoki in the evening and let the boat float you towards the aurora borealis. If the lights show, you’ll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of the lines of green floating in the night sky.
When it comes to capturing the northern lights in a photograph, of course you can get a picture on your own. But for best results, you might want the help of a pro. There’s more to think about than you might first imagine. First you’ve got to choose a night that’s not only dark but clear. Then there’s the case of setting up your camera to ensure you get the best shot you can, as well as correctly focussing your lens, having the right equipment and even checking the aurora activity.
Lappland Media offer specialist aurora tours through Abisko National Park in limited small groups to ensure all travellers in hope of getting the perfect shot of the lights are provided with the best expert guidance from their professional photographer, as well as indoor tutorials to improve photography skills.
Another great setting is Norway’s Lyngen Lodge. Away from the city – and more importantly, the city’s lights – the lodge offers a black sky canvas to capture your memory of the aurora in a photograph. Any equipment needed, as well as in-house photography assistance and two hour evening photography sessions, means you’ll receive all the help you need in snapping that photo of the lights. As if that wasn’t enough, the staff can also offer advice on post-production editing, so you can maximise the impact of your images with a little computer wizardry.
To find a trip to the northern lights most suited to you, have a look at our Tripfinder.