Jane Dunford, The Guardian, November 2, 2015
Iceland offers some of the most wallet-friendly options for northern lights trips (apart from less-reliable Scotland). Short breaks to Reykjavik, the world’s most northerly capital, can be good value. Thomson has a new three-night trip, with a northern lights tour and a Golden Circle excursion taking in some of the island’s most spectacular sights, from geysers to waterfalls, for the bargain price of £374pp B&B, including flights, departing 28 February. Because the lights are brightest in the remotest corners of the most expensive countries in Europe, aurora spotting rarely comes so cheap.
Glacier hiking near Reykjavik, Iceland
An exhilarating off-road super-Jeep aurora hunt, crossing a magical frozen landscape and glacial rivers, is included on a new three-night Reykjavik & the Northern Lights break with Taber Holidays, with options of glacier hiking and snowmobile safaris, too, from £830pp including flights.
Photographers can learn how to capture the phenomenon on camera while staying at a new “travelling hotel” based at Jökulsárlón glacier, with Tatra Photography. Guests are driven to the best locations by Super-Jeep and given tuition. A four-day full-board trip with flights and tuition costs from £1,395 – departures in January and March.
Wildlife fans can combine a trip to see killer whales with aurora hunting with Wildlife Worldwide. Its five-day Orcas and Northern Lights break, staying in Grundarfjordur, costs from £1,148pp, with flights and full-board.
The converted oil tank at Skrova island, Norway
Bathing in Arctic waters (in a flotation suit, of course), watching the northern lights from a remote lighthouse or mountain top and spotting local fauna on a wildlife safari by boat are available on a new trip with Sunvil Discovery, which combines the beautiful island of Senja and the city of Tromsø, with its historic wooden buildings. The six-day trip costs from £1,616pp, including flights and most meals. Or stay in the city and go whale-watching with a marine biologist on a new three-night itinerary with Simply Sweden from £950pp, including flights.
Norway’s Lofoten archipelago is particularly spellbinding in winter, and direct charter flights to Evenes in northern Norway make a short break with Inntravel quite doable. Guests stay in a traditional fisherman’s cottage on an island close to the Lofotens’ capital, Svolvaer, and explore the coast and wildlife by boat (spotting sea eagles, whales and porpoises) and snowshoe, then hunt for the aurora borealis by night. A four-night trip costs £1,185pp, with half-board, flights and car hire.
Reine, a town near the tip of the Lofoten archipelago, 80 miles west of Svolvaer
For independent northern lights hunters, a quirky and surprisingly cosy converted oil tank on Skrova island, off Svolvaer, is available through cabinly.co.uk (sleeps seven, €1,470 a week). Inside it’s a modern retreat over three floors, with a new mirrored annex reflecting the snowy surrounds and a hammock on the roof for sky-watching. Or join the Aurora Addicts, a family of six – the aptly named Aurora, aged 12; Oceanna, 10; Lyrica, 5; and Caspian, 3; and their parents, Chris and Becki – to chase the lights along the north coast in Sortland. The company offers a variety of trips, which range from three- to seven-night stays. The three-night Green Eye Tour, the cheapest package, starts at £720.79 half-board or £623.03 self-catering, excluding flights.
A husky safari, visit to a reindeer farm and trip on a spacecraft simulator at the Andoya Space Centre are on the itinerary with the Aurora Zone’s four-night trip – from £1,615, with meals and flights.
Inghams also has new trips to northern Norway, including the Narvik Polar Express Adventure, with a ride on the Polar Express train, husky sledding and a trip to the Polar Wildlife Park. Three nights cost £799pp, including flights and excursions.
Norwegian cruise operator Hurtigruten is introducing new expedition-style voyages in January, with additional hikes and daily lectures on subjects from flora and fauna to polar history and climate offered on some ships. New excursions being offered on all ships include a “mountain hike with husky” in Kirkenes (£80) to a reindeer sleighing trip with overnight stay in a Sami tent near Tromsø (£308). The company’s seven-day Classic Voyage North trip costs £689pp, full-board, excluding flights.
The northern lights seen from Jukkasjarvi. Photograph: Getty Images
The original Icehotel in the village of Jukkasjärvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, is 26 this year but has plenty of new experiences to offer. There will be artworks in the Art Suites (including a lifesize ice elephant and flying sheep), and a new three-hour traditional Swedish sauna and ice plunge, in a restored 18th-century sauna, followed by a dip in a frozen river. A Winter Survival Introduction covers nature navigation, flint fire-making, and a “clean eating” Arctic feast, with smoked reindeer consommé and cloudberry soup on the menu. Discover the World’s Arctic Living break includes all these experiences, plus cross-country skiing and options from a horseback northern lights tour to husky sledging – though it costs £1,533pp for three nights’ B&B, including flights.
One of the cabins at the Treehotel near the Aurora Safari Camp
The Luleå archipelago is a beautiful place for a northern lights adventure, with the Aurora Safari Camp offering luxury traditional lavvu tents with log-burners and Arctic sleeping bags to keep you warm. Explore by fatbike (mountain bikes with over-sized tyres), try ice go-karting or board a hovercraft around the frozen islands. Nearby is the Treehotel, with its incredible treehouse accommodation, including a Mirror Cube suspended above the ground, and horse-drawn sledge rides, Segway tours, treehouse saunas and photography lessons on offer. Discover the World features both options, with three nights in the archipelago, including a night at the Treehotel, from £1,289pp, with flights and most meals.
Boffins wanting to learn more about the science behind the lights should head to the first ever Aurora Festival (15-17 January, prices tbc) in Bjorkliden, northern Sweden, which will hold expert talks, experiments to recreate the phenomenon indoors, evening trips searching for the real deal and photography classes. Off the Map Travel is running a three-day trip to the festival for £899pp, including full-board in four-star accommodation and activities but not flights. Other new experiences the company is offering in Bjorkliden this year include staying overnight in ice-fishing huts on a remote frozen lake.
View from an Aurora Dome at Lake Torassieppi, Finland. Photograph: Jarven Rannalla
Glamping doesn’t get any cooler than in the new Aurora Dome. The igloo-shaped tents, on the shores of Lake Torassieppi in Finnish Lapland, have one transparent wall facing north for prime sky-gazing. They come with a wood-burning stove, a double bed and space for two extra singles (toilets are 50 metres away, if you’re wondering). The tents are close to Torassieppi Winter Village, which was originally a reindeer farm but opened last year as a small snow and ice hotel and restaurant. This can be added to itineraries to Torassieppi, Harriniva or Jeris with Aurora Zone (from £115pppn). A seven-night Lakeside Auroras trip to Torassieppi with sleigh ride, ice fishing, snowshoe hike and husky safari costs £1,490pp, including dome supplement.
Another fun new place to stay, from Magnetic North Travel is an Aurora Cabin on skis, which can be towed by snowmobile to the best spot to see the lights on Lake Inari. The 3,000 sq km frozen lake, way up in the Arctic Circle, is a long way from any light pollution, so conditions are ideal for snuggling up and watching the sky through the glass roof, or keeping warm outdoors in a mobile hot tub and sauna. A three-night trip costs £845pp, including flights, two nights in Hotel Kultahovi in Inari village, one night in a cabin and most meals.
Northern lights near Fairbanks, Alaska
For long-haul aurora hunting, the Yukon in north-west Canada is among the best bets. Roughly the size of France, the territory is 80% wilderness, with little light pollution. The Northern Lights Resort and Spa near the city of Whitehorse has a new seven-day Best of Yukon’s Aurora trip, including five guided light hunts with photography tuition and a dog-sledding trip, plus optional activities from ice fishing to snowmobiling. It costs from £980pp, with accommodation and most meals but not flights.
Another favourite is Alaska. On Intrepid’s new eight-day Alaska Northern Lights trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, guests get to snowshoe through Denali national park to look for moose, wolves and bears (with an optional flight over Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America), walk among reindeer in Fairbanks and unwind in natural thermal waters at the Chena hot springs. The hunt’s on for after-dark sky action, too, with snowcat tours into the wild. The trip costs £1,831pp, including most meals and activities, but not flights (this price includes a 10% discount for bookings made by 15 December to travel in 2016).
Or just stay at home …
Husky racing in the Cairngorms national park, Scotland. Photograph: Alamy
Scotland is obviously the best place in the country for aurora gazing – the further north, the better. Good spots are Shetland (598 miles north of London but just 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle), the Caithness coast and the Orkneys – and January is usually the best month to take a chance. With a heated campervan you can go lights chasing whenever activity is predicted. Aurora Watch UK offers free text-message alerts. There are even huskies on show at the annual Aviemore Sled Dog Rally in January. With depots in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bunk Campers has vans with between two and six berths, which can be taken on ferries. Four days’ hire from £145.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Jane Dunford from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.