Top 3 Best Places to See Northern Lights in Scandinavia
Scandinavia is, arguably, the best place on Earth to observe the northern lights, a fabulous natural phenomenon that attracts more and more visitors every year. And the reasons for that are not limited solely to the geographical location with the region’s long winters, but also include the prime-quality infrastructure and a number of tourist attractions. Besides, tourist companies also provide a large variety of supplemental exciting tours on top of aurora borealis safaris.
In this article, we are going to examine three particular destinations for northern lights safari: Norway’s north, Swedish Lapland, and Finnish Lapland. While the price of such a holiday tends to be, more or less, the same in each of these destinations, we are going to describe other features of these locations. Specifically, we will consider the following criteria:
- Convenience: how easy is it to reach that place
- Comfort & facilities: hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and other available on-site facilities that will make your stay more comfortable
- Activities: special activities and tours that are available in the select region.
Hopefully, this guide will help you plan a perfect trip to the Scandinavian north.
Northern Lights in Norway: Tromsø and Alta
Tromsø, which oftentimes is regarded as the capital of Norway’s north, is a major cultural hub and one of the largest Norwegian cities. Myriads of tourists come to this Norwegian city every winter in order to embark on an aurora borealis safari.
Indeed, Tromsø, a vivid and lively city, is an ideal choice for observing the Northern lights. In winter, locals oftentimes go to their schools and jobs while it is still dark in the morning and they happen to witness aurora borealis. While for them is just an ordinary routine, many tourists flock to Tromsø to experience this phenomenon.
On the other hand, Alta is a small Norwegian town located within a 7-hour drive from Tromsø. Traveling to Alta would be a good option if you prefer to avoid large crowds of tourists. Yet, this serenity comes at a price: the selection of hotels, restaurants, facilities, and tours is much more modest in this town, compared to Tromsø.
Among the three reviewed alternative destinations, Norway’s north is the most easily accessible region. Keep in mind that if you are going to stay in Alta, you can easily reach it from Tromsø in three ways: by car, bus, or plane. There are at least 3-4 daily flights from Tromsø to Alta.
On the other hand, SAS and Norwegian, two Scandinavian airlines, have at least a dozen of daily direct flights from Oslo to Tromsø in winter. Otherwise, you can fly to Tromsø from other Norwegian cities (daily flights are available from Bergen, Stavanger, and Trondheim) and other capitals (daily flights are available from Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and London).
Alternatively, you may embark on a Hurtigruten cruise and reach Tromsø in that way. Considering that Hurtigruten operates 365 days a year and oftentimes offers discounts during the winter season, this may well turn out to be a decent bargain.
Comfort & Facilities
Travelers in Tromsø may enjoy greater comfort than those who travel to Alta or alternative destinations. First of all, the number of hotels in Tromsø is overwhelming and it’s the best choice you can get in this region. Secondly, there are at least a few dozen bars, pubs, and restaurants in Tromsø, which is another advantage.
And, indeed, there are other tourist facilities available, which may make your stay more enjoyable. For instance, Tromsø is famous for its vulkana spa, which combines sauna, bathing, Arctic nature, and excellent food. Staying in one of the fishing villages near Tromsø may be a good idea for avid fishermen. Besides, you shouldn’t miss such attractions as Tromso’s Polar Museum and the Arctic Cathedral.
On the other hand, Alta has only 4-5 hotels and just a dozen restaurants. But you can turn your stay in Alta into something more exotic: Igloo Hotel is a hotel made completely of ice that gets rebuilt (around December) in Alta every year, and it features quite noteworthy ice sculptures. Other points of interest include the Norther Lights Cathedral and Alta Museum.
While the tourists will not experience a lack of activities in Alta, the variety of activities is definitely far greater and more diverse in Tromsø. Basically, Tromsø is all about water activities (such as fishing and whale safari tours), but not limited only to them. These are the usual activities you can experience in Norway’s north:
- Dog sledding
- Reindeer sledding
- Cross-country skiing (there are the following levels: 2 km easy, 5km intermediate, and 8km advanced)
- Snowshoeing (very easy)
- Ice fishing
- Whale watching
- Aurora camping.
Note: you can also read our complete guide to winter activities in Tromsø.
Whale safari. This is a special tour that you can’t find in Finland’s or Sweden’s Lapland, and you can observe the whales near the shore and witness them being fed. December is the month when you are most likely to enjoy a successful whale safari tour in Tromsø. If you want something truly special, this is the tour that beats all the alternatives in Tromsø.
Ice fishing. Tromsø is a hotspot for fishermen from all over Europe – especially those who are interested in fishing during the winter season. The Gulf Stream makes winter in Norway’s north much milder than in Sweden and Finland, making it a better fit for a comfortable vacation. Besides, there are combined aurora borealis and ice fishing tours available.
So, while the variety of activities is not as great in Norway’s north as in Finland’s Lapland, this is a definite place to go for fishing and whale safari enthusiasts.
To sum up, this is what differs a journey to this region from the alternatives:
- Milder winter weather in comparison to the Lapland
- All types of water activities are available
- The location is easy to reach from all over Europe
- The variety of hotels, restaurants, and facilities is much ampler than in Finland’s and Sweden’s Lapland.
Northern Lights in Finland: Rovaniemi & Ivalo
Rovaniemi, the capital of Finland’s Lapland, is widely known as the official residence of Santa Claus. This, among many other things, makes the aurora borealis safari in this region so special. That results in generally higher prices on hotels and plane tickets, which we recommend you book well in advance.
Ivalo, on the other hand, is a Finnish village, which serves as a gateway to Finland’s southern Lapland. While there are not many tours and facilities available, travelers can rent cabins for observing the northern lights – there are even glass cabins, which, nevertheless, tend to be quite expensive.
Currently, Finland’s Lapland is far more difficult to reach than Norway’s Finnmark. There are direct flights only from Helsinki, London, and several other Finnish cities to Rovaniemi. Despite that, there are at least 6-7 direct flights from Helsinki to Rovaniemi per day, operated by Finnair and Norwegian. You may also book train tickets from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, but it takes around 9 hours to reach this city.
Likewise, Finnair and Norwegian also fly from Helsinki to Ivalo – you can’t reach Ivalo from Rovaniemi by plane. Yet, there are 3 direct daily flights on average. Another way to reach Ivalo is to drive there by car.
Comfort & Facilities
Finland’s Lapland can definitely be praised for its second-to-none tourism infrastructure. Start with Rovaniemi. There are more than 15 hotels that can accommodate tourists in this city. But if you want a top-notch experience, you may rent either a wooden cottage house or a glass cabin – an ideal way to observe the Northern lights. Although, while the price of one night in ordinary hotels is around 70 Euro, the rental price of wooden cottage houses and glass cabins may rise up to 300 Euro per night and even above that.
There are also at least a few dozen restaurants in the city – most of them serve traditional Finnish meals. But what attracts travelers to this city is, actually, the Santa Village – the “official” residence of Santa Klaus. That is the reason why so many families come exactly to this Finnish region on their winter vacations.
Ivalo, on the other hand, is a small Finnish village with a few hotels and around a dozen restaurants. Travelers come here in order to stay in cottage houses and glass cabins, which are situated far from civilization, offering them moments of serenity and tranquility. And while there are many activities available, there is basically almost nothing to see in Ivalo (perhaps, except the Wild Spirit Park).
Finland’s Lapland is a region that offers the greatest variety of activities. While it does not offer whale safari tours, there are plenty of other exciting tours and activities on offer. Besides, dog sledding, snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are all available in this region, too.
On the other hand, here you can pre-order activity packages, which typically include an activity (or several activities) and 3 meals per day. This makes it much easier to enjoy your vacation. As you can see, the list of other activities (apart from the ones listed above) is pretty impressive here:
- Icebreaker tours
- Ice climbing
- Snow golf
- Horseback riding
- Photography tours
- Zoo tours
- Finnish sauna.
Icebreaker tours. Step on an icebreaker ship and head to the Arctic waters to see how the powerful vessel deals with the ice that lies in its way. During this tour, you will get down to the engine rooms of the ship and get a great chance to step on the Captain’s bridge.
Ice climbing. Feel what the alpinists usually experience when they have to overcome fragile yet threatening glaciers. Learn the basics of ice climbing with an experienced local guide.
Floating. Get dressed in a floating suit and relish the experience of floating in frozen waters. Don’t worry, the suit will keep you warm and your clothes dry.
These are the specialties of staying in Finland’s Lapland:
- Glass-roof cabins for aurora borealis safari are available
- The Santa Claus village is a major attraction for children and families
- There is a far greater variety of activities and tours for visitors
- You can pre-book activity packages with meals.
Northern Lights in Sweden: Kiruna & Abisko
Kiruna, which was previously known as the coal capital of Sweden, tends to attract more and more tourists nowadays. Today, this is a great place to observe the northern lights in Sweden. The city is pretty large and has plenty of accommodation options, yet reaching it is much more troublesome than reaching Tromsø or Finland’s Lappland.
Abisko, on the other hand, is a train station, located around 95 kilometers away from Kiruna. Some travelers prefer to enjoy the northern lights in this place, whereas it has fewer tourists. There are only a few accommodation options available, but budget travelers tend to embark on the aurora borealis safari in this settlement. The proximity of wild nature is, perhaps, another reason why some visitors prefer Abisko over other places.
And while these are the best places for the northern lights safari in Sweden’s Lapland, this region wouldn’t be suitable for everyone. If you expect to combine your aurora borealis experience with a variety of other winter tours, the other two destinations (Finland’s Lapland and Norway’s Finnmark) might be more suitable for that. But if you are ready to stand a bit of a hassle (Sweden’s Lapland is most difficult to reach), this region, indeed, may surprise you!
Between these three alternatives, getting to Sweden’s Lapland is the most troublesome process. The easiest way to get to Kiruna is to take a train from Stockholm. Also, you can take a train either from Oslo or from Stockholm to Abisko. There are also around 4 daily direct flights from Stockholm to Kiruna.
If you are in Kiruna and would like to go to Abisko, you may reach it by train, taxi, or car. Keep in mind to check the train schedule when you fly by plane to Kiruna – you might not succeed to get on the train in time.
Comfort & Facilities
Kiruna is a relatively large city, and you can expect to find there at least a few dozen hotels and three dozen restaurants. Particularly, this city is known for the Kiruna Ice Hotel, which is, indeed, a special experience (you must book it well in advance). The room prices typically start from 150 Euro per night.
Abisko, on the other hand, has only very few accommodation options and no hotels, which is, given its remote location, not surprising. Likewise, there are only a few places where you can eat something. And obviously, there are no tourist attractions in this town.
And while there are not so many activities in comparison to the alternative destinations, there is likely to be an activity that you may like. Just like the previous destinations, this region offers dog sledding, reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing tours. What’s unusual, though, is that you can try ice climbing in Abisko.
Additionally, this region offers the following activities to visitors:
- Northern Lights Phototour
- Moose safari
- Cave adventure.
And even though there are not many outstanding tours and activities, there is some variety of what this region has to offer. If you are going to embark on a northern lights safari tour in this region, consider combining it with other activities.
Northern Lights Phototour. An experienced local guide and photographer will take you to the best spot for shooting aurora borealis photos in Kiruna. During this tour, you will learn the basics of northern light/night photography, but be sure to bring up warm clothes and gloves.
Moose safari. Do you imagine yourself on an Icelandic horse hunting for pictures of moose in the woods? That’s something that this unusual tour has to offer to you – there are no similar tours in Norway’s north and Finland’s Lapland. At the end of the tour, you will have a warm lunch at a local farm.
Cave adventure. Find your way through one of the longest cave systems in Sweden, which is called Kåppasjåkka.
These are the region’s specialties:
- Railway connection available
- Kiruna Ice Hotel is quite an unusual place for a stay and a memorable experience
- There are moose safari tours available to visitors, which are not available in Norway’s Finnmark and Finland’s Lapland.
Thinking of other inspirational ideas to spend a winter vacation in Norway? Check out our thoughts on the best ways to spend winter holidays in Norway.
Regardless of which destination you will choose for your aurora borealis adventure, you can be sure that these are prime spots for observing the northern lights. This article reviewed the difficulty of reaching each destination, as well as their facilities and activities. But one can surely say that the northern lights safari is a memorable, utterly exciting experience, no matter which area you will choose for your aurora borealis winter trip.
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