Now the days are shrinking and darkness has descended in the northern hemisphere, chances of seeing the aurora borealis are increasing – and shows look set to be some of the best in a while.
Every 11 years, the sun’s poles reverse, causing bursts of solar activity resulting in northern lights. Scientists predict the next solar maximum will occur at the end of 2024, meaning the next few years will be a time for the lights to shine.
Already, the aurora has been seen as far south as Scotland, and early season autumn trips to Scandinavia and the Nordics are growing in popularity.
“We have seen in excess of a 10% increase post-pandemic, where people have specifically enquired about an autumn aurora break and are booking,” says Sue McAlinden from specialist operator Best Served Scandinavia, who lists warmer weather and less crowds as two key advantages to travelling at this time of year.
Of course, every season has its charm and winter breaks also have their appeal, offering a chance to husky or reindeer ride through landscapes blanketed in white. Whenever you choose to travel, here are a few good options to consider…
A treat for two
Few things can be more romantic than snuggling up with a loved one on a cold night. Despite being in Rovaniemi – the undisputed home of Santa – the adults-only Beana Laponia hotel is a gift for couples. Bathe in a hot tub surrounded by a snowy landscape or sizzle in a sauna before cooling down by rolling in the snow. The hotel also has its own husky farm where it’s possible to play with the excitable sled dogs.
Shift to the Golden Crown glass igloos, a 1.5-hour drive north in Kittila, to search for the northern lights without having to go outside. A motorised bed can be shifted into different positions to maximise viewing opportunities. During the day, snowshoe through the wilderness where snow clinging to trees creates a menagerie of frozen monsters.
How: The four-night Extraordinary Finnish Lapland itinerary costs from £3,100 per person (two sharing), including full board accommodation, flights and transfers. Visit scottdunn.com or call 020 8682 5030.
An other-worldly experience
Iceland can be a notoriously expensive destination to visit, but there are ways to keep costs down – especially if you go early in the season. “The autumn months are a great time to hunt for the Northern Lights for a multitude of reasons,” says Liz Cairns, head of product and partnerships at Flight Centre. “Not only is travel more affordable during these months, the region is also less crowded than in the summer and less chilly than in the winter.
“For more scientific reasons, blanket cloud cover is reduced during the autumn, which means visibility is improved, and increased geomagnetic activity at this time of year means a more likely chance of seeing spectacular auroral displays.” Longer daylight hours also leave more time to explore steaming hot springs and volcanic black sands.
How: A five-day Land of the Northern Lights trip costs from £1,125 per person (two sharing), including accommodation, activities and flights. Visit flightcentre.co.uk or call 0208 296 0407.
Space age delights
Used by Facebook as a base for their servers, the Lulea archipelago in northern Sweden has also become a hub for northern lights tourism. Secluded by birch trees overlooking a peaceful bay, Brandon Lodge is a playpark for wilderness fanatics. Spend half a day in the forest learning essential skills for surviving in the Arctic, kayak through a maze of 800 islands, or come back later in winter when ice fishing and skating are possible. Every night, there’s always a chance to see lights in the sky without having to move too far.
Realise more childhood fantasies a short drive away in Harads at the Treehotel, where rooms suspended between branches have been designed by some of the world’s top architects. Stay in a UFO, a Mirror Cube or a Biosphere covered in bird boxes.
How: A five-day Autumn Adventure trip costs from £1,910 per person, including half-board accommodation, activities and flights. Visit best-served.co.uk or call 0203 318 6898.
All round success
Seasons change quickly in northern Norway and daylight hours disappear rapidly with every day that passes, meaning more time to see the northern lights. Glorious at any time of the year, Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge sits alongside the Alta River and is backed by forested hills. It claims to have the northernmost igloo in the world, built every year with 250 tonnes of ice and 7,000m3 of snow and open from December 20 to April 7. At other times of year, it’s possible to stay in a comfortable lodge with lakeside views.
In the autumn, take a riverboat tour, hike, electric bike or horse ride through the wilderness. In the winter, snowshoe, take reindeer sled rides, or harness up a team of huskies for a race across the pristine landscape. Throughout the year, you can fish for king crab, a prized Norwegian delicacy. Sitting underneath the aurora oval, far from light pollution, it’s an excellent place to spot northern lights.
How: A four-night Best of Arctic Autumn trip costs from £3,160pp (two sharing), including full board accommodation, activities, flights and transfers. Visit sunvil.co.uk or call 020 8758 4722.
Turn a northern lights hunt into a true adventure by combining planes, trains and cruise ships on a tour. After spending a few days in Oslo, take advantage of Scandinavia’s scenic train network with a journey through the heart of Norway on the Dovre Railway. Nicknamed the ‘trail of the troll’, the route winds through lakes and valleys where musk oxen graze on the tundra.
A brief stay in Viking capital Trondheim is followed by a four-day cruise trip with Havila across the Arctic Circle to the Lofoten Islands, passing through narrow fjords and traditional red rorbuer fisherman huts tucked beneath spikey mountains. If the lights fail to show up, there’s a chance to catch them in Tromso, The North Cape and Kirkenes.
How: A 10-day Northern Lights on a Winter Arctic Cruise costs from £2,495 per person (two sharing), including flights, transport, activities, accommodation and some meals. Departs February 2, 13 or 24 in 2024. Visit greatrail.com or call 01904 521 936.