A gloriously playful light display which dances across the planet’s northernmost skies, the famed Aurora Borealis is truly a sight that has to be seen (in person) to be believed. Thankfully, as long as your timing’s right, it’s actually not too difficult to catch the Northern Lights in full flight. In fact, with so many places from which to experience this stunning natural phenomenon, the hardest decision can be deciding on just one. Whether you’ve been trying to find the perfect vantage point or you’re just looking for things to do on your next far-northern excursion, this list can help you plan your perfect trip.
The Lapland region of Sweden is a great place to experience the Northern Lights, with the city of Kiruna providing the perfect combination of modern comfort and down-to-earth adventure. Stay in one of the area’s boutique lodges or alpine hotels – or for an even more memorable stay, book a night at the city’s famous ICEHOTEL – then take a guided tour by car, snowmobile or dog sled to experience the celestial showcase worlds away from the city’s lights. Once you’ve had your fix of natural wonders, Sweden’s the perfect place for a high-end getaway. Head south for the world-class fashion, art and architecture of Stockholm – home to H&M, Acne Studios, Ikea and more – and you’ll soon see why the country’s capital city is renowned as a mecca for cool cosmopolitan types worldwide.
The northern tip of Finland is also known as Lapland, which happens to be an outstanding place to enjoy the Northern Lights. As well as the requisite tours, including guided snowshoe hikes if you’re feeling traditional, the region boasts numerous unique accommodation options that provide perfect vantage points in themselves – from igloos to tepees to gorgeously modern glass-fronted cabins, there’s a stay for any taste. After you’ve seen the lights, hit the slopes at one of Finland’s renowned ski resorts – the country’s home to more than 75 in total – then visit the historic and extremely tourist-friendly capital city of Helsinki for market shopping, seaside cycling and one of Europe’s most exciting up-and-coming restaurant scenes.
If you’re willing to go a little further afield to ensure that absolutely perfect aurora moment, a trip to Tromsø could be exactly what you’re after. Situated on the island of Tromsøya, about 350km north of the Arctic Circle and more than 1000km from Oslo, it’s a destination that takes a bit of forward planning, but one well worth the effort – as well as great vantage points for the show in the sky, Tromsø is home to the world’s northernmost golf course, and a round there is guaranteed to boost your bragging rights back in your home clubhouse. For an even more unforgettable experience, take the famous Hurtigruten coastal cruise – sailing the entirety of the country’s gorgeous west coast, for a voyage that takes in everything from historic port villages to untouched fjords, it’s a leisurely and highly comfortable way to see this incredible sight.
Taking just a slight detour from the Scandanavian peninsula, the ruggedly beautiful island nation of Iceland is another suitably memorable setting for light-spotting. Capital city Reykjavik boasts a handful of good viewing spots, although for the ideal experience, again you’re best to head as far north as possible. Tours by boat, car and jeep are popular, but if you’d like to get a true taste of Iceland’s famously warm hospitality – not to mention the unique local cuisine – we’d recommend trying out a farmstay. No matter how or where you decide to see the lights, though, don’t leave Reykjavik without taking a dip in the city’s famous hot springs – when the weather’s cold, there’s nothing quite like it.
Moving outside of Europe entirely, Alaska (and its surrounding waters) is widely considered one of the absolute best places to take in the Northern Lights. With numerous regular cruise routes operating both out of Alaskan ports and further down the USA’s West Coast, as well as stunning scenic train tours and luxury lodge options within easy reach of the state’s capital Anchorage, Alaska is a worthwhile standalone destination and an ideal add-on to your next USA or Canada trip. Make the most of your trip north and take advantage of some local knowledge – from relaxing and rewarding ice-fishing trips to incredible tours of Denali and the breathtaking Alaska mountain range, there’s no shortage of outstanding local-guided activities to keep travellers of any inclination entertained.