Skip to content

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. In addition, tourist companies also provide a large variety of supplemental exciting tours on top of aurora borealis safaris.

Besides, if you are interested in embarking on a Northern Lights Safari Tour, check out our Arctic Dreams multi-day tour that comes with a Northern Lights safari.

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

Northern Lights Safari in Norway

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.

Getting There

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 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 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, other tourist facilities are available too, which can 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 attractions like 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 entirely of ice that gets rebuilt (around December) in Alta every year, and it features pretty noteworthy ice sculptures. Other points of interest include the Norther Lights Cathedral and Alta Museum.

Activities

Dog Sledding in Norway

Dog sledding is the favorite activity among customers who book combined tours

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
  • Snowmobiling
  • 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 unique 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 exceptional, this tour beats all the alternatives in Tromsø.

Aurora Borealis Tours in Norway

Norway is, perhaps, the best location for an aurora borealis safari

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

Northern Lights Safari in Finland

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 unique. 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 that serves as a gateway to Finland’s southern Lapland. While there are not many tours and facilities available, travelers can rent cabins to observe the northern lights – there are even glass cabins, which, nevertheless, tend to be quite expensive.

Getting There

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 getting to the city this way takes around 9 hours.

Likewise, Finnair and Norwegian also fly from Helsinki to Ivalo – you can’t reach Ivalo from Rovaniemi by plane. Yet, there are three direct daily flights on average. Another way to reach Ivalo is to drive there by car.

Comfort & Facilities

Finland’s Lapland can 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 a wooden cottage house or a glass cabin – an ideal way to observe the Northern lights. Although 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 serve traditional Finnish meals. But what attracts travelers to this city is the Santa Village – the “official” residence of Santa Klaus. That is the reason why so many families come 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 to stay in cottage houses and glass cabins, which are situated far from civilization, offering them moments of serenity and tranquility. And while many activities are available in Ivalo, there is almost nothing to see in this town (perhaps, except the Wild Spirit Park).

Activities

Winter Icebreaker Tours in Finland

Icebreaker tours are quite unusual and tend to be extremely popular in Finland

Finland’s Lapland is a region that offers the most tremendous variety of activities. While it does not provide 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 also available in this region.

On the other hand, here, you can pre-order activity packages, which typically include an activity (or several activities) and three meals for a 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
  • Biking
  • Zoo tours
  • Floating
  • Finnish sauna.
Santa Claus Village in Finland

A visit to the Santa Claus Village in Finland is a great way to spend Christmas with your family

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 ship’s engine rooms and get a great chance to step on the Captain’s bridge.

Ice climbing. Feel what the alpinists usually experience when overcoming 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

Northern Lights Safari in Sweden

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 from Kiruna. Some travelers prefer to enjoy the northern lights in this place, whereas it receives fewer tourists. Only a few accommodation options are available here, but budget travelers tend to travel to this settlement to enjoy an aurora borealis safari. 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 various 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!

Getting There

Getting to Sweden’s Lapland is the most troublesome process among these three alternatives. 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 four daily direct flights from Stockholm to Kiruna.

If you are in Kiruna and want to go to Abisko, you may reach it by train, taxi, or car. Remember to check the train schedule when you fly by plane to Kiruna – you might not succeed in getting on the train in time.

Comfort & Facilities

Ice Hotel in Sweden

Ice hotel in Sigtuna must be booked well in advance

Kiruna is a relatively large city, and you can expect to find at least a few dozen hotels and three dozen restaurants there. Notably, this city is known for the Kiruna Ice Hotel, which is, indeed, an exceptional experience (you must book it well in advance). The room prices typically start from 150 Euros per night.

Abisko, on the other hand, has very few accommodation options and no hotels, which is not surprising given its remote location. Likewise, there are only a few places where you can eat something. And obviously, there are no tourist attractions in this town.

Activities

And while there are not so many activities compared to the alternative destinations, there is likely to be an activity you may love. 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 Photo Tour
  • Moose safari
  • Cave adventure.
Ice Climbing Tours in Sweden

Even though there are not many activities in Sweden, ice-climbing tours are among the most exciting ones

And even though there are not many outstanding tours and activities, there is some variety of what this region offers. If you 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.

Share this post:

Google+
Pinterest
LinkedIn