by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, November 8, 2017
Our fascination with nature’s grand illuminations never wavers. An Arctic Circle cruise not only brings the Northern Lights within reach, but also offers a holiday that’s enjoyable in so many other ways, not least through participation in some truly out-of-the-ordinary excursions and activities.
Here is my pick of the 10 best Northern Lights cruise itineraries for 2017-2019.
1. Norway, Greenland and Iceland
How often does the chance arise to see three far-flung countries in one trip? Norway (Spitsbergen), eastern Greenland and Iceland all feature on an Aurora Borealis voyage offered by the Small Cruise Ship Collection (small-cruise-ships.com). Expect to see autumn colours on guided shore hikes, plus, if you’re lucky, some of the world’s best light displays.
The 14-night Spitsbergen, North-east Greenland, Aurora Borealis cruise costs from £4,635 per person excluding flights, departing Sept 5 2018.
Best excursion: Visit an Inuit settlement and meet the people of Ittoqqortoormiit.
2. France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Norway
This 20-night trip ticks plenty of sightseeing boxes as it travels to Norway via France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Departure is in 2018, from Bristol, and the itinerary takes in medieval Rouen, Rotterdam and the Belgian city of Antwerp, before travelling north along Norway’s stunning coastline in search of the Aurora Borealis. In Rouen there are excursions to Monet’s house and garden at Giverny and the stunning Gothic cathedral. The cruise on board Magellan returns to Tilbury (Bristol transfers available).
Best excursion: In Trondheim, to Nidaros Cathedral, the restored Archbishop’s Palace and the Stiftsgarden royal residence.
3. Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney and Iceland
Cruise & Maritime Voyages (cruiseandmaritime.com) has a good choice of departures – but they do sell out. A Norway cruise early next year has a waiting list, but a few places are left on a more unusual option to Iceland with an overnight stay in Reykjavik. The cruise is a round-trip from Tilbury on Magellan, taking in the Faroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands.
The cruise line’s dark-sky cruises to Norway start again in Oct 2018. The 12-night Land of the Northern Lights to Iceland costs from £1,019 per person, departing March 4 2018.
Best excursion: An after-dark trip from Reykjavik into the countryside.
4. Snowshoe hiking in Norway
Hurtigruten (hurtigruten.co.uk) ships sail up and down the coast of Norway all year. A cross between a cruise ship, local ferry and cargo boat, they offer a more intensive voyage, with 34 ports on the full trip from Bergen to Kirkenes near the Russian border. Several voyages are accompanied by an astronomer. To spend all your time in the Aurora zone, take a four or five-night Arctic Highlights break from Tromso to Kirkenes and back.
From £849 per person including flights from six UK airports. Departures in Feb/March 2018.
Best excursion: A snowshoe hike from Tromso to see the Aurora.
5. The Article Circle with film-maker Doug Allan
The Telegraph is working in partnership with Hurtigruten on a one-off itinerary this winter on board the MS Nordkapp. Sailing north from Bergen along the Norwegian coastline, the ship will be joined en route to the Arctic Circle by Doug Allan, one of the most celebrated photographers and film-makers who has filmed Frozen Planet and Life in the Freezer with Sir David Attenborough. Allan will join readers on an exclusive photography expedition, and will give a Q&A session.
The 11-night cruise costs from £1,450 per person departing on Jan 17 2018.
Best excursion: A visit to the Kirkenes Snowhotel in the spectacular Gabba Reindeer Park.
6. Wildlife in Greenland
On a late-summer expedition cruise around Greenland and Spitsbergen, the main focus is on landscapes and wildlife, including whales. Quark (quarkexpeditions.com/en) has an Arctic Express: Greenland’s Northern Lights voyage that tours eastern Greenland on the 78-passenger Ocean Nova. There’s a chance of seeing polar bears, whales and musk oxen.
The nine-night cruise costs from £5,100 per person including charters flights between Iceland and Greenland. Various departures in Sept and Oct 2018.
Best excursion: To spot polar bears.
7. A luxury Northern Lights cruise
Viking Cruises (vikingcruises.co.uk) joins the Northern Lights circuit in 2019, when the stylish 930-passenger Viking Sky departs London Tilbury for Bergen. Itineraries will call at Bergen, Stavanger, Bodo and Narvik with stays in Tromso, Alta and Bergen.
The 13-night In Search of the Northern Lights cruise costs from £4,495 per person and includes an excursion in every port, Wi-Fi, drinks with meals, and flight. Six departures from Jan to March 2019.
Best excursion: Trip to the Saltstraumen Maelstrom to learn about the tidal phenomenon.
8. A Northern Lights Christmas
A glimpse of the Aurora Borealis on Christmas Eve would make the festive season extra-special. Fred Olsen (fredolsencruises.com) offers the chance to view the aurora on Dec 24 2017 as it sails towards Alta, arriving there on Boxing Day for an overnight stay. It is part of a 15-night voyage on Black Watch from Southampton. A similar cruise takes place in spring on Balmoral, when there will be more daylight hours to enjoy the cruise.
The In Search of the Northern Lights cruise costs from £2,699 per person, departing March 10 2018.
Best excursion: Rug-up for a sleep over at the Igloo Hotel near Alta, made from ice and snow.
9. Dog-sledding in Northern Norway
Saga (travel.saga.co.uk) is sending its smaller ship Saga Pearl II up to Northern Norway twice early next year, both round-trips from Portsmouth. The itinerary is notable for its excursions. There are overnights in Tromso and Alta but an unusual port of call is Kalvag on the island of Frøya, a former herring fishing town. A campfire aurora excursion is also included.
A 15-night Bright Lights in Norway cruise costs from £2,745 per person, departing Feb 14 2018; a 16-night Northern Lights trip costs from £3,269 per person, departing March 1 2018.
Best excursion: A dogsled ride to an indigenous Sami community.
10. A scenic railway and Northern Lights break
P&O (pocruises.com) has been cruising to the Northern Lights longer than most lines. Two of its 1,800-passenger ships will share three round-trips early next year, departing from Southampton on the same itinerary: Andalsnes, with its stunning mountain backdrop, an overnight in Tromso, a two-night stay in Alta and a port call at Stavanger. The ships offer plenty of entertainment and dining options.
A 12-night Norway and the Northern Lights cruise costs from £1,499 per person departing on Feb 25, March 21 (Oriana) and March 9 (Aurora). All are in 2018.
Best excursion: Ride the scenic Rauma Railway to the towering Troll Wall.