Venture out in the dead of winter to witness the natural wonder of the Northern Lights
If watching the aurora borealis is on your bucket list, we’ve got the lowdown on how you can maximise your chance of a sighting from the best spots on the planet!
Why you should go?
Few natural wonders rival the Northern Lights, in which the sky lights up in hues of neon green and red when electrically charged particles collide with nitrogen and oxygen.
The explanation may sound dry, but when seen live, there's nothing like it – at their brightest, the Northern Lights provide as much light as a full moon. And the best place to get a ticket for a show is in Finland's Lapland region, located within the Arctic Circle.
Lapland’s airports are located in Kemi, Rovaniemi, Kittilä, Enontekiö and Ivalo, with flight times from Finland's capital Helsinki varying between 1 and 1½ hours. Or, you could take the scenic train ride from Helsinki to Kemi, Rovaniemi, Kolari or Kemijärvi, which takes an average of 12 hours.
Where to stay?
Up north, Lapland towns like Saariselkä, Rovaniemi, Kilpisjärvi and Inari are among the recommended towns to stay in, having several cabins, B&Bs, hotels, and even ski resorts in some. You could stay in the much more urbanised Helsinki and view the Northern Lights just outside the city limits, but it only happens about 20 nights a year – so chances are you'd just be drinking hot chocolate and staring into the night sky, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, really.
Preparing for Lapland
The Northern Lights are very unpredictable: Sometimes it shows up, sometimes it doesn't. Some displays may last 20 seconds, or if you're lucky, for an hour.
Thankfully, there are ways to maximise your chances of catching one in the Finnish Lapland where the Aurora appears 200 nights a year, with late autumn, the winter and early spring (September to March) being the most favourable times for catching one. If you are coming to Lapland to admire the Northern Lights, you should reserve at least a week if you want to be sure to see the spectacular lights.
And of course, be prepared for the freezing cold weather. In Lapland, the average temperature for the winter months (January to February) is approximately -13.5°C, and dives to a freezing -45°C to -50°C during the dead of winter. If you can't stand the cold, your best bet is the late-autumn months of September, where the average temperature would be below 5°C.
What else is there to do?
As beautiful as the Northern Lights are, it would be ridiculous to spend an entire week there just to watch a 20-second light show (if you're lucky). For skiers, there are dozens of ski resorts around Finnish Lapland, with Ylläs having 61 slopes. The town of Rovaniemi also houses Santa Claus Village, the fictional home of St Nick that counts watching “the very busy elves working at the Santa Claus Main Post Office” as one of the attractions.
Main photo credit.