Top 3 Places to See the Northern Lights in Scandinavia

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Scandinavia is, arguably, the best place on earth to observe the northern lights, a fabulous natural phenomenon that attracts numerous visitors every year. And, the reasons for that are not limited solely to the geographical location with the region’s long winters, but also the prime-quality infrastructure and a number of tourist attractions.

In this article, we examine three spectacular 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 describe other features of these locations such as convenience, comfort and facilities, and activities.

Hopefully, this guide will serve you as a decent associate in traveling to the Scandinavian north!

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1. Northern lights in Norway: Tromsø and Alta

Tourists amidst mountains watching green lights in the night sky
Tromsø has a milder coastal climate than other destinations at the same latitude

Tromsø, often regarded as the capital of Norway’s north, is a major cultural hub and one of the largest Norwegian cities. Yet myriads of tourists come to this Norwegian city every winter in order to embark on an Aurora Borealis safari. Indeed, Tromsø is an ideal choice for observing the northern lights. In winter, locals often go to work while it is still dark in the morning and get to observe Aurora Borealis. While it is an ordinary routine for them, 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 would prefer to avoid large crowds of tourists. However, this serenity comes at a price — the selection of hotels, restaurants, facilities and tours is much more modest in Alta.

  • Getting there

Among all 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 by car, bus and/ or plane. There are at least 3 to 4 daily flights from Tromsø to Alta.

On the other hand, two Scandinavian airlines, SAS and Norwegian, have at least a dozen of daily direct flights from Oslo to Tromsø in winter. You can also fly to Tromsø from other Norwegian cities (Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim) and other capitals (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and London).

Alternatively, you may embark on a Hurtigruten cruise to reach Tromsø. Considering, Hurtigruten operates 365 days a year and offers discounts during winter, the cruise might be a good bargain.

  • Comfort and facilities

Travelers in Tromsø may enjoy greater comfort than travelers in Alta or any alternative destinations. First, the number of hotels is overwhelming. Second, there are at least a few dozen bars, pubs and restaurants in Tromsø, which is another advantage.

Tromsø is also famous for its vulkana spa, which combines sauna, bathing, arctic nature and excellent food, while attractions like Tromso’s Polar Museum and the Arctic Cathedral shouldn’t be missed.

Alta, on the other hand, only has 4 to 5 hotels and just about a dozen restaurants. But your stay in Alta can be made special. For instance, Igloo Hotel, an ice hotel that is built in Alta every December, features quite extraordinary ice sculptures. Other noteworthy places include the Northern Lights Cathedral and Alta Museum.

  • Activities
Whales swimming in water near mountains and tourists on boat watching them
In Norway, you can find whales most commonly along the Vesterålen coast in the summertime
A couple sitting on frozen, snowy lake with fishing rods in hands
Ice fishing gear is highly specialized, more so than normal fishing gears

While the tourists will not experience a lack of activities in Alta, the variety of activities is far greater and more diverse in Tromsø. Basically, Tromsø is all about water activities (such as fishing and whale safari tours) but is not limited to them. The usual activities you can experience in Norway’s north such as dog sledding, reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing (very easy), ice fishing, whale watching and aurora camping.

2. Northern lights in Finland: Rovaniemi and Ivalo

Green and yellow lights in the sky reflecting on the river below
Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by the solar wind

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 quite special, thus resulting in the generally higher prices on hotels and plane tickets.

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 normal or glass cabins in order to observe the northern lights.

  • Getting there

Currently, Finland’s Lapland is far more difficult to reach than Norway’s Finnmark. Direct flights to Rovaniemi are only available from Helsinki, London and other Finnish cities. You may also book train tickets from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, but it takes around 9 hours.

Likewise, Finnair and Norwegian also fly from Helsinki to Ivalo. However, you can’t reach Ivalo from Rovaniemi by plane. Another way to reach Ivalo is to drive there by car.

  • Comfort and facilities
A girl viewing the forest from her hotel room's slanted glass ceilings
The Glass Igloo hotel has a special alarm service to make sure that their guests won't miss out the appearance of the northern lights

There are more than 15 hotels that can accommodate tourists in Rovaniemi. But if you want a top experience, you may rent either a wooden cottage or a glass cabin — an ideal way to observe the Northern lights.

There are also at least a few dozen restaurants in the city — most of which serve the traditional Finnish meals. But what attracts travelers to this city the most is the Santa Village believed to be the “official residence of Santa Klaus” which is the reason many families visit this Finnish region on their winter vacations.

Ivalo, on the other hand, with its few hotels and around 10 restaurants, is famous for its wooden cottages and glass cabins that are situated far from the civilization, providing serenity and tranquility. And while there are many activities available, there is almost nothing to see in Ivalo (except the Wild Spirit Park).

  • Activities
Many husky dogs pulling a sledge on snow
Assembling a dog sled team involves picking leader dogs, point dogs, swing dogs and wheel dogs.
A person riding a snow mobile
Snowmobiling requires snow and ice and mostly covers open terrain or trails

Finland’s Lapland is a region that offers the greatest variety of activities. Aside from activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing that are available in this region, travelers can also partake in activities such as Icebreaker tours, Ice climbing, snow golf, horseback riding, photography tours, biking, zoo tours, floating and Finnish sauna. Moreover, here you can pre-order activity packages, which typically include an activity (or several activities) and 3 meals per day.

3. Northern lights in Sweden: Kiruna and Abisko

Multicolored lights in the sky above a forest
Most auroras occur in a band known as the "auroral zone", which is typically 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° in longitudes

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 from where to observe the northern lights in Sweden. The city is huge with enough accommodation options, yet reaching it is much more troublesome than reaching Tromsø or Finland’s Lappland.

Abisko, on the other hand, is a small village, located around 95-kilometers-away from Kiruna. Some travelers prefer to enjoy the northern lights in this place where 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, one of the reasons for this.

While these are the best places for the northern lights safari in Sweden’s Lapland, this region wouldn’t be suitable to everyone. If you expect to combine your aurora borealis experience with a variety of other winter tours, the other two destinations mentioned above might be more suitable for that.

  • Getting there

Getting to Sweden’s Lapland is somewhat of a hassle. The easiest way to get to Kiruna is to take a train from Stockholm. You can take a train either from Oslo or Stockholm to Abisko. There are also around 4 daily direct flights from Stockholm to Kiruna.

You can also take the train, taxi or car from Kiruna to Abisko. Do check the schedule of trains when you fly by plane to Kiruna – you might not get to your train in time.

  • Comfort and facilities

You can expect to find at least a few dozen hotels and three dozen restaurants in Kiruna. This city is especially known for the Kiruna Ice Hotel, which is a special experience but must be booked well in advance.

Abisko, on the other hand, has very few accommodation options and there are only a few places where you can eat.

  • Activities
A man wearing climbing gears and harness and climbing icy, rocky mountain
Climbers also prefer mixed climbing, which is an ascent involving both ice climbing and rock climbing

While there are not as 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 can offer 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, get a northern lights photo tour, go on a moose safari or rush in for a cave adventure.

There are various places to see the northern lights but regardless of which destination you choose for your aurora borealis adventure, you can be sure that these are the prime spots for observing the northern lights in Scandinavia. There is no doubt that the northern lights safari is a memorable, utterly exciting experience in each of these destinations. 

Published by Kate Haley, updated on June 15, 2023
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