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5 ways to see the Northern Lights

Lorna Cowan / 05 December 2016

There are lots of ways to see the Northern Lights from sailing on a cruise to simply heading up to Scotland. We list the top 5 ways you can experience them.

The  Northern Lights
Experience the Northen Lights on a cruise

The Northern Lights or aurora borealis that light up the sky in the northern hemisphere is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world. 

And many of us are eager to witness the dancing display of green, pink and blue lights at some point in our lifetime.

There is no guarantee, however, the elusive Northern Lights will put in an appearance as and when we want, but fortunately there are plenty of holiday options to enjoy while you wait. 

Choose a cruise, a ski trip, a city break, a glamping adventure, or head up to the north of Scotland.

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On a cruise

It’s a long way to the Arctic Circle - among the best places to catch glimpse of the Northern Lights - but one of the easiest and more enjoyable ways to get there is on a cruise. 

On a Scandinavian cruise you’ll sail past magnificent mountains and sparkling fjords and stop at some fascinating destinations.

Bergen, a colourful city on the west coast of Norway, is home to Bryggen, a medieval waterside settlement that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The cruise ship also docks at Åndalsnes, a small town and the gateway to the rugged wilderness of Romsdalsfjord. From here it’s a short trip to the impressive Trollveggen, or Troll Wall, which at 6,000 feet is Europe’s highest vertical cliff face. 

Then it’s on to Tromsø, lying 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle and the base for 19th-century Arctic expedition explorers.

Next on the cruise itinerary is Alta, and at 70 degrees North you’ll find heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures every winter. On a clear dark night, the sky can also become the arena for dazzling Aurora Borealis displays. 

It’s here too, that you can visit the world’s first Northern Lights Observatory, finding out more about geophysical and meteorological research.

While on board a Northern Lights cruise, you can also tick off other goals on your bucket list. Want to see whales? Representatives from ORCA, the foremost European whale and dolphin conservation charity, will be holding regular whale-spotting sessions on deck. 

Fancy a reindeer sled ride? A Saga excursion will take you by reindeer to meet Sami hosts.

Cruise goers will even get the chance to spend the night looking up at panoramic views of the sky from a fur-lined bed in the remarkable Igloo Hotel. Made entirely of ice and snow, it only welcomes guests from January to April – as the temperature rises the hotel melts.

On a ski trip

Keen skiers who also want to see the Northern Lights may want to consider a winter skiing holiday in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, offered by ski companies such as Crystal and Inghams.

What could be better than whizzing down some slopes during the day, and staring up to the sky at night time? Though, be warned, you won’t want to stay outdoors for long when the temperature drops below -20°C.

That said, skiing in Levi, a snow-sure resort only a 10-minute transfer from Kittila airport, is an experience you’ll never forget. 

With uncrowded slopes – geared mainly for intermediate skiers (there’s not many beginner pistes and only one challenging black run) – you’ll traverse pass pine trees heavily laden with snow. 

It’s a magical, almost mystical sight, especially when skies are often a deep hue of pink, purple and blue.

Cross-country skiing is a popular pastime in this part of the world as well, and Levi has an excellent network of cross-country trails, covering over 140 miles.

Many of the slopes, both downhill and cross country, are floodlit, to compensate for the fact that during the winter months the sun rises late and sets early, meaning there are only around six hours of sunlight. 

However, that also means ski runs stay open longer and don’t close around dusk as they do in mainland Europe.

If you’re not a dedicated skier, or you simply want to rest your legs, you’ll find plenty of other things to do. 

Hop aboard a snowmobile and go on a safari, meet some husky dogs and then allow them to whisk you on a sleigh ride across a frozen lake, or try your hand at ice fishing. Just keep your eye on those unpredictable Northern Lights.

On a city break

In recent years, Reykjavík has become more and more popular as an exciting city-break destination, and with good reason. You can fly to the Icelandic capital in just over three hours from London with airlines including British Airways, EasyJet, Icelandair and Wow.

Once in the city, there is plenty to see and do. Wander around the downtown area with its quirky shops and imaginative restaurants, then pop in to Reykjavík’s cathedral, Hallgrímskirkja, one of the tallest buildings in the country. 

If you fancy taking a dip, then venturing a little out of the city to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa must be on your wish list (note that construction work is taking place until the end of April 2017).

Going slightly further afield, but accessible in a half-day tour, an interesting tourist route follows The Golden Circle. At Gullfoss you’ll get up close to an amazing waterfall, tumbling enormous amounts of water into a deep gorge. 

And a stop-off at the Geysir geothermal area will allow you to watch the liveliest geyser in Iceland in action.  

If you’re fortunate, you may be entertained by the Northern Lights in Reykjavík itself – a good spot is Öskjuhlíd, a hill in the centre. Alternatively, take a tour and escape the bright city lights. 

Face the sea beside Grótta Lighthouse, or travel to Þingvellir National Park – any pitch black place will do. Then wait…

On a glamping adventure

If you don’t want to risk missing the spectacle that is the Northern Lights, then maybe you shouldn’t go to sleep. Or if that’s asking far too much, then increase your chances by looking up to the sky as you lie in bed. 

We know it’s far too cold to be camping in this neck of the world, so how about you do something far more cosy and comfortable – glamping.

Aurora Dome gives guests the chance to watch the Northern Lights performing from the unique vantage point of their own Aurora Dome, a purpose-build tent that looks a bit like an igloo. 

Not only is there a wood burning stove to keep you warm, you can snuggle up in bed looking out across the landscape. And it’s the perfect location - near the shores of Lake Torassieppi in Muonio, Finland, far from any light pollution. 

Alternatively, consider staying in a glass igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä, Finland. Newly built Kelo-Glass igloos are also available. You can enjoy all the comforts of a log chalet, with that all-important log fire, but still sleep in a bedroom with a glass room. Enjoy a night under the stars.

On the coast of Scotland

Sometimes you don’t even need to leave the UK to see the Northern Lights. 

In October this year, they made an appearance in the skies above the island of Skye. And in March, much of Scotland enjoyed a truly magnificent display, with social media posts excitingly announcing sightings south of the border too, in Newcastle, the Lake District and even Oxfordshire.

The Met Office claimed it was a ‘lucky combination’ of conditions that allowed this to happen, including the fact 2016 was the peak of the sun’s solar cycle, which occurs every 11 years. 

However, sometimes the cycle takes up to 15 years, which means 2017 could still be a great time to be outside looking up to the heavens.

You have the best chance of spotting the Northern Lights on a dark clear night, usually in the first few months of the year. But there is speculation that the spring and autumn Equinoxes, around 20 March and 20 September, bring greater solar activity. 

It’s simply a case of keeping your fingers crossed and, who knows, you may get the thrill you were hoping for.

If planning a holiday in Scotland to coincide with some aurora watching, then head north to the county of Caithness on the east coast. 

Residents in Aberdeenshire and the Moray Coast also witness the Lights more often than most, as do those living in the Outer Hebrides, including Lewis and Harris.

Not able to travel so far north? Then go to Galloway Forest Park, the only Dark Sky Park in Scotland

Over 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from the Forest Park, and often you’ll catch glimpse of the Milky Way too. On the right night, you may also witness the Northern Lights. Good luck!

Ever wondered what causes the Northern Lights? Discover more about the science and history behind one of the world's most natural phenomenon here

Booked your holiday? Protect it from the moment you buy Saga's Travel Insurance.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.