Luxurious arctic winter adventures may seem like an oxymoron, we admit, yet with these epic ways to see the Northern Lights, you’ll view all the action (without all the freezing!) Read on to discover how.
The Northern Lights rate highly on most globetrotters’ bucket-list, yet if you’re anything like me (infected by serious wanderlust yet blessed with a pinch of princessy tendencies), you may also be wondering if the spectacle of the Aurora Borealis really is worth enduring all that eyeball-freezing cold.
Want to see the Northern Lights? Then north you must go!
Back in the days of Arctic explorations, esteemed adventurers like Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir James Clark Ross had to put up with a fair deal of arduous challenges to follow their dreams. Yet in the 21st century, the most epic ways to see the Northern Lights dish up all the spectacular highlights minus all the eye-watering suffering. So, whilst we can all spare a collective thought to those hardy humans who enriched our knowledge, we can also sit back in our private heated transparent igloo and watch the kaleidoscope of lights dance right above us. Because what’s the use of human evolution if not to take full advantage of it?!
About the Northern Lights
Most people erroneously believe that, as long as one travels far enough north for a few days in winter, one is guaranteed to see Northern Lights, but that’s simply not true.
Here a few tidbits you ought to keep in mind when planning the best way to see the Northern Lights.
- The Northern Lights occur all the time: winter, summer, daytime and nighttime. For obvious reasons, however, you need pitch black darkness and clear skies to see them, hence the reason dedicated tours are only run in the Arctic winter and in specific places which don’t suffer light pollution from civilization.
- Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are dictated, primarily, by sheer luck. Even state-of-the-art predictions and forecasts (which are often most precise) can simply get it wrong. Last-minute climatic changes like cloud cover give Mother Nature the upper hand, each and every time. The uncertainty, however, really adds to the excitement of a trip and when people say ‘pack your thermals and cross your fingers’ they are absolutely right!
- The region of our planet which boasts the highest chances of good Northern Lights sightings is called the Auroral Zona, between 66 and 69 degrees north. It encompasses the northernmost pockets of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia. The Auroral Zone can expand ever so much depending on the level of solar activity at any given time and that’s why, every few years, you’ll see reports of Aurora Borealis sightings further south than usual.
- Depending on where you choose to see the Northern Lights, plan your trip between September and March.
- Heightened Northern Lights viewing occurs at 11-year intervals and, although we are currently on the waning side of the graph, it doesn’t mean that this coming winter will be bad for viewing, overall. It simply means the number of nights of spectacular activity will be fewer. Keep your eyes peeled on the Space Weather Prediction Centre website for last-minute predictions, as accurate as they can possibly be.
Places to See the Northern Lights
The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is one of the world’s most distinctive accommodation choices and arguably the most luxurious way to see the Northern Lights. With its thermal glass igloos offering sensational sky viewing and insulated interiors that keep you warm and toasty, this place is both an indulgence and a genial convenience for those who dread the cold.
Located in the heart of the dramatic Finnish Lapland wilderness, the Kakslauttanen offers igloos (with and without private sauna) and traditional wooden cabins — which are perfect if you plan to bring the whole family along — as well as a host of super cool daytime activities including husky safaris and snowmobiling. An in-house restaurant and bar complete the impressive picture, which offers a truly stupendous travel experience in what is a remote and unforgiving place.
Head to Fairbanks, Alaska, on any given night in winter and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve actually landed in the middle of summer. The Aurora Borealis, this far north, are simply that bright. With an excellent viewing chance of four out of five nights, Fairbanks is your best bet to see the Northern Lights in the US, and the popular town even boasts a geophysical institute that releases forecasts on the viewing conditions.
Although ‘camping’ might not seem like the ideal way to soak up the wonders of the brutal Alaskan winter, the Borealis Basecamp will prove to you that not all camping experiences are created equal. Snuggle up with your dearly beloved in the luscious comforts of the camp’s fiberglass domes and delight in the otherworldly show merely a half-hour drive out of Fairbanks.
With self-catering amenities and exceptional services, including fabulous meals and snow gear rental, the Borealis Basecamp is not only outstanding but also hassle-free and ideal if you just have a few days to spare. The camp hosts night tours which you can join even if not staying overnight but your ‘into the wild’ experience will be infinitely enhanced with an overnight stay. This gorgeous place is brand new, so we expect more stellar services to be added this year. Go there before everyone else does!
Apparently, some people’s idea of a stellar Northern Lights vacation is not indulging in some magnificent sightseeing whilst holding a camera in one hand a cup of steaming hot gluhwein in the other. Who knew?!
For the active traveler and the intrepid explorer, the adventurer who loves adrenalin-pumping action and the one with ants in their pants: a thrilling dog-sledding expedition combines the magnificent experiences of ice, dogs and Northern Lights, a winning combination that’s hard to resist.
Dog-sledding tours are offered in various locations, including Finland, Sweden and the US yet in Greenland you can score a once-in-a-lifetime experience led by traditional Inuit hunters. Because if you’re going for epic you may as well go for a home run. Husky-led tours aren’t for the faint of heart, mind you, and you’ll need some considerable stamina and fitness, even though the dogs will be doing all the running around.
Sound like you? Then check out Albatross Arctic Circle tours, which offer options from 2-hour intro tours to kickass, 3-day long expeditions.
Fancy yourself a bit of a cruiser? Then the best way for you to see the Northern Lights is, without a doubt, aboard a fancy-pants expedition ship cruising the frigid Arctic waters in winter. No matter whence you hail, you’ll find a departure port nearby, be it in Norway, Iceland or Greenland.
For this stellar option, my money’s on the wonderful island of Spitzbergen on the remote Svalbard archipelago, a slither of ice-covered gorgeousness that separates Norway from the North Pole. Administered by the former but eliciting dreams of the latter, Spitzbergen is polar bear central and Northern Lights capital, where winters are ruthless but unforgettable. Expedition cruises depart here all year long, with the winter schedule aimed at soaking up the lights which can actually be visible by lunchtime.
Your options for cruising below the Northern Light are seriously limitless so check out this brilliant article on the Best Northern Lights Cruises for drool worthy inspiration.