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Northern Lights, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

The best places to see the Northern Lights

Spectacular holidays to see the aurora borealis

Insiders tips from our Northern Lights experts

Article content

10 August 2020 by Saija Kokkonen

A short break holiday to Norway, Lapland, Iceland or western Greenland to view nature's celestial spectacle the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is an increasingly popular choice for travellers. Sightings can never be guaranteed, but you can bolster your chances by knowing when and where to go, and winter 2019-20 promises some of the best Northern Lights viewing for many years. With so many great destinations and amazing excursions on offer, Northern Lights holidays are fast becoming an essential part of the travel calendar. Below, we pick out the best Northern Lights holiday destinations across Norway, Lapland, Iceland and Greenland.

What are the Northern Lights?

The displays are caused by solar winds - streams of particles charged by the sun – hitting the earth's atmosphere. Pulled in all directions by the earth's magnetic field, they stream and billow, arc and flicker like a magical curtain waving through the air. Displays vary in their intensity from a greenish glow to a multi-coloured arc of dancing lights sweeping across the night sky.

Where can I see Northern Lights?

Seen just occasionally from northern Britain and points further south, the lights are undoubtedly at their best in the Aurora Zone within the Arctic Circle, between 60° and 72° North, a curve that extends across northern Scandinavia, Iceland and southern Greenland. Most displays occur at a height of 100km above the earth, so on a perfectly clear night the same event can be seen from many different locations on the ground. The lights are strongest and most frequent between November and March, and are best viewed between 6pm and 2am. The displays occur practically every night during this period, but sightings depend on clear skies and minimal light pollution. The further away you are from the artificial lights of human settlements, the greater your chances of catching a display. Regions further inland normally have more cloudless nights, though the eastern winter winds regularly create clear conditions along the coast.

Northern Lights holidays in Norway

A city break to Tromso is a great introduction to Northern Lights viewing. The capital of Northern Norway, Tromso is a pretty seaside town right in the centre of the Aurora Zone, with many great restaurants and cultural sights, from where you can take a night safari by sled or snowmobile to maximise your viewing opportunities. You can even stay overnight in a traditional Sami tent away from all artificial light in a wilderness camp at nearby Lyngen or head to Malangen Resort located just over an hour outside of Tromso and framed by spectacular fjords and mountains. Journeying still further north, Alta, the northernmost city in the world, boasts more sightings than any other place on earth, and here you can spend the night in a 30-room designer igloo. A little way down the coast from Tromso lie the Lofoten Islands, a stunning archipelago with dramatic mountain peaks and vast fjords nestling close to idyllic fishing villages. A popular excursion is a Hurtigruten Northern Lights Cruise. These are often get booked up early, so plan now for next winter.

 Read our blog: 24 Hours in Tromso

Lyngen Lodge Arctic Norway
Try your hand at ice fishing at Lyngen Lodge and enjoy the warmth of an open fire

Northern Lights holidays in Sweden

Swedish Lapland has some of the most striking accommodation you can choose for a Northern Lights holiday. The original ICEHOTEL is sculpted to a new design each winter, 200km north of the Arctic Circle in the remote village of Jukkasjärvi. You can also experience nature's great spectacle from the fantastical Treehotel nature retreat in the forest of Harads, where themed treehouse rooms include The Mirrorcube, The Bird's Nest and The UFO. Lapland is a winter wonderland where animals are the main transport, and during a Highlights of Lapland experience, you can go moose spotting on horseback, and take sled rides powered by both reindeer and huskies.

UFO Treehotel Harads Swedish Lapland
The UFO, Treehotel, Harads

Northern Lights holidays in Finland

Hotel Harriniva in Finnish Lapland is a cosy retreat set deep within the Arctic Circle. The pine-clad wilderness hotel boasts saunas, outdoor jacuzzis, snow igloos, spa treatments and a working husky farm – with action-packed days exploring the snowy wilderness of western Lapland by husky sled and snowmobile. Optional activities range from husky safaris and reindeer sleigh rides to ice fishing trips and snowmobile excursions in search of the Northern Lights. And be sure to make use of the free toboggans that the hotel provides – guaranteed fun for all the family. At the appropriate time of year there are also trips to see Santa, a personal encounter that begins with a ride through the snowy forest on a snowmobile sled. Individual families will then be met by an elf and guided up a candlelit path to meet Father Christmas in his private log cabin.

Hotel Harriniva Finnish Lapland
Hotel Harriniva

Northern Lights holidays in Iceland

Iceland's capital Reykjavik has a vibrant nightlife and a rich cultural and arts scene, but for superior Northern Lights viewing, you need to escape the city. Include a night or two in nearby Hvalfjordur (‘Whale Fjord'), where you can watch the lights from the steamy comfort of a geothermal hot tub. Other nature spots to head for to view the lights include the lava fields, creeks and craters around Lake Myvatn, and Vatnajökull Glacier, Europe's largest ice cap. You can combine a fully-pampered wellness weekend at the Blue Lagoon with off-road night tours in search of the Northern Lights, or go for the full 4x4 experience with a SuperJeep expedition through snow and rivers and across mountain glaciers and volcanic sands.

Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern Lights in Iceland

Northern Lights holidays in Greenland

The UNESCO World Heritage town of Ilulissat, where giant icebergs at the mouth of Disko Bay, offers a dramatic backdrop for viewing the Northern Lights. Daytime and midnight sailing among the icebergs are a must, while you can also step on the Eqi glacier, visit the pre-European settlement of Sermermiut, and take a dogsled expedition over frozen fjordlands.

Sailing in Ilulissat, Greenland
Daytime sailing, Ilulissat

Northern Lights holidays to Canada

While Scandinavia and Nordics grab many of the auroral headlines, there are also plenty of options across the Atlantic, with Canada's northern provinces offering some of the finest Northern Lights viewing around. And, given the sheer scale of the country, it's easy enough to find a slice of dark sky all to yourself for some truly spectacular displays. Best of all, there's plenty of opportunities to add something extra to your holiday – it's a longer flight, after all – so why not combine your Northern Lights experience, perhaps at a wilderness ranch in the Yukon, with a winter road trip through Alberta or even a luxury rail journey aboard the iconic Rocky Mountaineer. Alternatively, head to spectacular Manitoba and the town of Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay for the chance to see the Northern Lights and spot polar bears on one, unforgettable adventure.

Northern Lights Ranch & Spa, Yukon

Northern Lights holiday excursions

Whether you have a run of perfectly clear nights, or catch only a glimpse of the lights during your visit, an extraordinary range of snowbound activities and excursions guarantee memorable adventures. Snowmobile safaris, reindeer or husky sled rides, or night-time horse riding are among the exciting options for Northern Lights viewing throughout the region, along with encounters with the indigenous Sami people where you can learn about their spiritual connection to the spectacular phenomenon. Why not receive practical photography lessons from an expert? They are enthusiastic and helpful, and will help you hone your skills so you can take back some seriously spectacular photos to share. 

Northern Lights (aurora borealis) photography lessons
Photography lessons is an excellent way to help you enjoy the auroras even after your holiday ends

Practical tips:

  • Take plenty of warm clothing, as you'll want to stay out long into the Arctic night. Wearing multiple layers including thermal underwear is strongly advised for night excursions.
  • If you're taking a camera, don't forget to pack a tripod, as for best results you'll be using long exposures. See our guide on how to photograph the Northern Lights for more information on capturing this elusive phenomenon on film.
  • In the cold, dry Arctic, the life of camera and video batteries is cut in half, so take spares and chargers.
  • Check the lunar calendar before you book, as a full moon can lessen the intensity of the spectacle even more than city light pollution.

Related offers

Northern Lights over Tromso, Norway (Credit: Truls Tiller)

Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway

4-day tailor-made break from £1,115 pp incl. flights

Our most popular Northern Lights break, this city stay in Tromso, which includes an aurora safari, is the ideal introduction to Norway's Arctic delights. Expect wonderful restaurants and bars and easy access to a host of winter adventures.

Northern Lights at Malangen Resort (Credit: David González Foto)

Tromso & Malangen Resort

4-day tailor-made break from £1,075 pp incl. flights

With its incredible setting on the shores of a quiet fjord, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, Malangen Resort is a hit with our staff and clients alike. This trip combines a stay here with a night in Norway's capital of Arctic adventure – Tromso.

Northern Lights, Lyngen Lodge, Norway

Lyngen Lodge & the Northern Lights

5-day tailor-made holiday from £2,620 pp

This luxury winter break begins with a night in Tromso before a stay at remote Lyngen Alps where included husky and snowmobile adventures are complemented by delicious regional dining and cosy nights spent around roaring fires.

Northern Lights at Malangen Resort (Credit: David González Foto)

A Winter Escape to Malangen Resort

4-day tailor-made break from £1,110 pp incl. flights

Making the most of a new direct transfer from Tromso Airport, this tailor-made break includes three nights at Malangen Resort, a Northern Lights watch and half-board dining throughout.

Levi Igloo, Utsuvaara, Finnish Lapland

Finland's Glass Igloos & Northern Lights

5-day tailor-made winter holiday from £1,870 pp incl. flights

This winter break includes a memorable stay in a glass igloo in the heart of Finnish Lapland. Watch as the Northern Lights swirl above your heated, glass-domed roof before swapping over to the cosy and characterful Hotel Ylläshumina for three days of Arctic-circle adventure.

ICEHOTEL 30 | Art Suite Ruossut | Design Anna Ohlund & John Pettersson | Photo Asaf Kliger | © ICEHOTEL www.icehotel.com


4-day tailor-made holiday from £975 pp incl. flights

With its mesmerising sculptures and thrilling excursions, a stay at Sweden's original ICEHOTEL is a truly unique experience. This classic short break includes a night in an Ice Room with two nights in warm accommodation.

ICEHOTEL 30 | Art Suite Warm up | Design Aleksandra Pasek & Tomasz Czajkowski | Photo Asaf Kliger | © ICEHOTEL www.icehotel.com

Tromso & the ICEHOTEL on Arctic Circle Explorer

5-day tailor-made holiday from £1,225 pp

Pair two Scandinavian icons on one unforgettable adventure. You'll begin with Tromso's dazzling Northern Lights displays before a cross-border train ride brings you to Sweden's world-famous ICEHOTEL.

The polar Northern lights in Norway Svalbard in the mountains

Svalbard Polar Night Adventure

4-day tailor-made break from £1,240 pp incl. flights

Travel to the ultimate Arctic destination, Svalbard, on this action-packed winter holiday. A Northern Lights snowcat tour and a thrilling evening at Camp Barentz are included in the price.

Northern Lights Resort & Spa

Rocky Mountaineer & Yukon Northern Lights

15-day rail journey and tour from £7,500 pp incl. flights

Combine the world's most scenic train ride with a stay under the aurora borealis at a wilderness timber lodge, with a rare chance to experience them in summer. You'll enjoy included excursions throughout, from helicopter rides to trips onto mighty glaciers.

Northern Lights in the Yukon

Northern Lights in Yellowknife & the Rockies

12-day tailor-made holiday from £2,395 pp

This tailor-made winter holiday sees you travel to north to the remote city of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories and Canada's most reliable location for spotting the Northern Lights, before a road trip through the Rockies for stays at Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper.

Northern Lights, Muotkan Maja, Lapland, Finland

Winter break at Wilderness Hotel Muotka

5-day tailor-made break from £2,180 pp incl. flights

On this short break, you'll enjoy the very best of winter in Finnish Lapland, staying in a remote log-cabin hotel and enjoying a host of included activities. Just remember to watch out for the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Romantic Iceland & the Northern Lights

5-day tailor-made holiday from £1,560 pp incl. flights

From the drama of the Golden Circle to visiting a geothermal spa and spotting the Northern Lights from an outdoor hot tub, this is Iceland at its enchanting best.

Kirkenes Snowhotel

Kirkenes Snowhotel Break, Norway

4-day tailor-made holiday from £1,750 pp incl. flights

Journey to the frontier town of Kirkenes in northern Norway where you'll spend four days exploring this stunning winter wilderness on the shores of the Barents Sea near the borders of Finland and Russia.

Hotel Fjallet, Bjorkliden

Highlights of Swedish Lapland

7-day tailor-made holiday from £1,610 pp

Swedish Lapland is a magical place to visit at any time of the year, a vast expanse of mountains, rivers, valleys and coastal islands that make up Europe's last great wilderness.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

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