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You’ll find the Northern Lights – or the aurora borealis – on many peoples’ bucket lists. And for good reason; spotted in select locations in the northernmost corners of the world, they’re famous for their striking green colours and hypnotic, “dancing” movements. In this post, we’ll take you through some of the best European destinations to go aurora hunting. Wrap up warm, grab your camera, and let’s go.
Iceland’s capital is one of the most popular places in the world to see the Northern Lights. The official season runs from October until March and visiting during these months will give you the best chance of seeing the lights – but it’s worth noting that they’re never guaranteed. The visibility of the aurora depends a lot on the darkness of the sky and how clear the night is.
There are many different ways to spot the Northern Lights in Reykjavik. For a more active experience, head out on a tour – the expert guides will know the prime places to go to give you the best chance of seeing the lights. In good, clear conditions, you might even be able to see them on a midnight walk.
Reykjavik has plenty of other attractions to enjoy during your trip. Relax in the Blue Lagoon, hike across volcanoes and stroll streets lined with colourful and pretty buildings.
You can visit Reykjavik on our Iceland & Ireland Cruises.
Head into the Arctic Circle and visit the Norwegian island of Svalbard. It sits between the 74th and 81st parallel, making it one of the northernmost points to see the aurora. Generally speaking, the more north you are, the better chance you have of seeing the aurora, so Svalbard rarely disappoints.
The season here tends to run between November and February, and during your visit, it's also likely you'll see rare wildlife such as polar bears, reindeer, and walrus. Head to Svalbard between November and January to experience another popular natural phenomenon – the Polar Night. During this time, the island of Svalbard is completely without natural daylight, and a mythical blue haze hangs in the air at all hours of the day. There are often perfect aurora conditions at this time.
Svalbard is accessible by a 3-hour flight from Oslo – you’ll arrive into Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main hub.
Located 200km north of the Arctic Circle, the small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi is most famous for its unique Icehotel. Made completely of ice and snow, the hotel offers approximately 150 beds (warm as well as cold, don’t worry). An ice church, ice bar, and sculpting studio can also be found on the site. What better base for your Swedish Northern Lights adventure?
Take a night flight from Jukkasjärvi to witness the majestic spectacle from the skies, or head to Esrange Space Centre if you’d prefer to stay on the ground. During your time here, make sure to free up some hours to try out snowmobiling and dog sledding – or even get hands on and create your own ice sculpture.
Jukkasjärvi is accessible from Stockholm by flight, and you can also take an overnight train. There are few experiences quite as magical as waking up to a twinkly, snowy landscape.
Fancy seeing the Northern Lights a little closer to home? Few people know that during certain times of the year, northern Scotland’s dark skies are perfect for glimpsing the aurora borealis, as they’re positioned on the same latitude as Stavanger. The best time to see the lights here is between the months of October and February, and they tend to be the most active in the early hours of the morning. Destinations such as Shetland, Orkney and the coast of Caithness are all good bets (in fact, Caithness was one of the best destinations in the world to see the lights in 2016). A Northern Lights trip without breaking the bank? Yes please.
During your time in the highlands, make sure to visit Shetland’s Jarlshof, a prehistoric site encompassing 4000+ years of history.
Heading over to Finland now, and to Kakslauttanen, a remote resort in Lapland. Cosy igloos are submerged in the snow, providing a unique and unforgettable way to view the lights. It’s a little more comfortable and luxurious than the traditional aurora hunting experience, as you can also opt to stay in a private log cabin complete with blankets, hot chocolates and roaring fire.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to see the lights during your trip, there’s still plenty to do in Kakslauttanen. Go snowshoeing in the wild Urho National Park, or head out on a reindeer safari. To reach Kakslauttanen, you’ll need to fly into Helsinki before getting the train or flying into Ivalo.
If it’s time to cross the Northern Lights off your bucket list, check out our Northern Europe cruises.
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