The Aurora Borealis –or Northern Lights– is a unique phenomenon that backpackers and adventure travellers from all over the world wish they could watch, if only for once in their lifetime. In order to see this breathtaking show courtesy of Mother Nature, one should travel up north to the regions that are closest to the Magnetic Pole. This can be done during a solo trip, a honeymoon, an escape with family or friends or joining specific tours on your own or as a group. If the main aim of your trip is to see the Northern Lights, choose your dates wisely: to appreciate this spectacle in all its splendour, you must visit the northern regions where it takes place between September and April, thus taking advantage of the longer polar nights too.
Not everywhere close to the north magnetic pole is ideal either; sightings of the Northern Lights have been reported in certain parts of Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Sweden, Finland and Norway. It is recommended to go far away from towns and cities –that is, away from artificial lighting- so as to be able to watch them, which is the reason why many travellers stay near lakes or the coast. Also, bear in mind that most people who have witnessed the Aurora Borealis state that photographs simply don’t do it justice, so you may want to put your camera aside and just enjoy the privilege of living such a beautiful experience.
In this post, we have selected three places from which you will get the chance to watch the Northern Lights: Tromsø in Norway, Ivalo in Finland and Yellowknife in Canada. In the tree cases, you will need to take a road trip or fly from major airports in each country to reach these less populated areas up north. For example, a flight departing from Oslo Gardermoen will take you to Tromsø in about two hours; flights to Ivalo from Helsinki airport last one hour and thirty minutes approximately, and it will take two hours and a half to fly from Calgary to Yellowknife. Read below for accommodation tips.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Norway: a trip to Tromsø
The Skansen hotel in the heart of Tromsø, conveniently located a 15-minute drive from the local airport and just 150 metres from the Polar Museum, provides cosy rooms with heating, free WiFi, cable TV and private bathroom. Additionally, guests enjoy complimentary coffee and a daily buffet breakfast.
Ten minutes from Tromsø airport by car, the Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora is a recommended accommodation for travellers who want to watch the Northern Lights in Norway. Boasting an exceptional situation in a pedestrian zone and within short walking distance of the cruise terminal, it features cosy and spacious rooms with living area, a gym, an outdoor Jacuzzi and an onsite restaurant serving meals throughout the day.
Aurora Borealis experience in Finland: Ivalo
Backpackers who wish to watch the Northern Lights in Finland are advised to consider the Wilderness Hotel Nangu, 20 kilometres outside Ivalo; this charming accommodation provides guests with cabins affording nice lake views and displaying traditional decor, where they can enjoy basic amenities, breakfast, lunch and complimentary airport shuttle services, or even enrol in their own organised tours.
The Hotel Ivalo is located a short stroll away from the beach and 10 minutes by car from the airport. In the style of most Finnish hospitality establishments, it offers sauna facilities, an indoor pool, private parking spaces, typical Lapland dining and WiFi. During their trip, guests stay in fully-equipped rooms and are given the chance to gather with other travellers around the fireplace in a communal lounge.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Canada: Yellowknife
The Narwal Bed and Breakfast in Yellowknife’s Old Town, Canada, provides affordable rooms with shared bathroom and a complimentary continental breakfast every morning. Adventure lovers particularly value this place as the Aurora Borealis can be seen without even leaving the accommodation. Besides, they can join boat and fishing trips and spend time reading books at the onsite lounge while they wait for the magic hour to come.
The Quality Inn & Suites in Yellowknife is another recommended place to stay if you want to watch the Northern Lights in Canada. Its guest rooms are ample, comfortable and feature free wireless internet plus -even when it has a traditional restaurant inside its facilities- it is also located next to a shopping mall and surrounded by a diverse array of coffee shops and eateries. The establishment provides free airport transfers, which take only 7 minutes.