Best Places To See The Northern Lights
The lure of witnessing the elusive Aurora Borealis is strong, particularly as winter approaches. I’ve always wanted to travel to Scandinavia for a chance to see them but still haven’t quite made it – one day. But I have found the best places in Europe where you might just glimpse them.
The Northern Lights are said to appear on more than 200 nights a year in Finnish Lapland. So wrap up warm, pack your bags and take a flight to Ivalo, the closest airport to Inari. Some airlines fly direct but if flying from the UK, you’ll probably have to fly to Helsinki then hop on a connecting flight to Ivalo. We’d probably choose to drive from Helsinki to Inari (12 hours) so we could get a good look at the rest of the country, but long car journeys aren’t for everyone, especially if time is limited.
Inari sits in the north of Finnish Lapland and is located right underneath the Aurora oval, meaning the chances of seeing the Northern Lights are high (but sadly never guaranteed). When you’re not being dazzled by one of nature’s most incredible sights, you can discover more about the intriguing Sámi people, the only officially recognised indigenous people in the EU. You’ll also find nature at every turn, wilderness as far as the eye can see and plenty of outdoor activities. That means sleigh rides, cross country skiing, snowmobile tours and husky dog adventures. Thermals required.
Sleep in a glass-domed igloo at the enchanting Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, just an hour away from Inari. This stunning family-run resort is located right in the middle of the Arctic wilderness and is the stuff of dreams. Gaze into the night sky in a cosy pod under the stars, embark on a husky adventure or take a trip to Urho Kekkonen National Park, one of Finland’s largest national parks.
From September to April, the Aurora Borealis can be seen in and around Akureyri, a charming city filled with brightly painted wooden houses that sits at the base of the Eyjafjörður Fjord in northern Iceland. It’s more off the beaten track than Reykjavik, so head here if you want to escape the crowds and enjoy an authentic Icelandic experience – hopefully with a Northern Lights sighting thrown in.
While you’re waiting for the elusive lights to appear, you might want to visit the Botanical Gardens, bathe in the geothermic pools or peruse the areas’s museums and art galleries. Plus, there’s ice climbing, ice fishing, skiing and whale watching to entertain visitors.
Berjaya Akureyri Hotel offers family rooms with an authentic Scandi feel. It’s an excellent base to explore this fascinating region. When all the sight seeing gets too much, you can relax in the hotel’s garden huddled around the fire pit with cosy furs and rugs to keep you warm. Perfect.
Just north of the Arctic Circle sits Abisko in Swedish Lapland. The area is home to the Abisko National Park, Abisko Mountain Station and Aurora Sky Station – it’s the perfect spot to seek out the Northern Lights. Flights take you to Kiruna airport; if flying from the UK, you’ll probably have to fly to Stockholm and get a connecting flight from there.
Abisko is in the middle of nowhere, which makes the area all the more alluring if you’re looking to get lost in the wilderness. Once you’ve seen the Northern Lights, why not try an exhilarating snowmobile ride, dog sledging or explore the vast mountain ranges and frozen lakes.
I’ve stayed in lots of hostels on my travels and they (nearly) always offer good value for money, authentic travel experiences and fabulous facilities. The STF Abisko Mountain Station is worth considering if you’re looking for good value for money, excellent food and knowledgeable staff who can help you arrange everything from a Northern Lights tour to Nordic skiing. If travelling as a family, ask for a private family room when booking.
If your budget won’t stretch to Scandinavia, why not stay in the UK and head to Scotland instead? Shetland is one of the best places in the British Isles to see the Northern Lights and retains a real Scandinavian feel. You’ll find excellent food and drink (the area is famed for its fresh seafood) and can also experience wonderful walking and wildlife, visits to historical sites and outdoor-focussed pastimes.
The natural beauty of Shetland is worth the trip alone; there are 15 inhabited islands and over 100 in total, so there’s plenty of exploring to do. Take note: the Northern Lights were spotted as recently as last month – so hop in the car and seek them out.
Accommodation in Shetland is comfortable but basic, so if you’re looking for more luxury, high-end options, it’s probably not for you. Lerwick is a good base for families and there are lots of reasonably-priced self catering options on Booking.com or Home Away.
Image credit: Shetland.org/David Gifford
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