Here at House of Coco, we’re all about ticking top moments off our travel bucket list – one of which has to be witnessing nature’s greatest display, The Northern Lights. But with busier schedules than ever, dwindling holiday-days and with the elusive nature of the Aurora itself, is it possible for today’s millennials to be in with a chance of seeing this magical phenomenon in just 72 hours from London? We sent our girl Beth to find out…
“Light it up!” our guide shouts, waving his arms at a star-filled yet distinctly Aurora-less sky. It’s -20°C, fast approaching midnight and we’re 350 miles north of the Arctic circle in deepest Finnish Lapland. We’ve driven from Ivalo to get here, careering down ice-packed roads with our guide Janne at the wheel, but with a thick fog minimising our chances, we are downcast.
“You tell the sky what you want”, Janne insists, his enthusiasm so infectious we soon find ourselves joining him, shouting skywards. We wait, jogging on the spot to get the feeling back in our toes. Gradually, we pick out green-tinged streaks through the stars until all of a sudden, plumes of neon set the sky alight, rippling over us in some surreal celestial dance, an out-of-this-world experience and one I’ll never forget.
With just 72 hours in Finnish Lapland to make seeing the lights a reality, we knew we had to make the most out of our time. Here are our top tips on how to see the Northern Lights:
Choose your destination carefully: We chose Finnish Lapland as this is one of the best places on Earth to spot the Northern Lights – they appear on more than 200 nights a year – but generally the further North you are, the more chance you have of seeing them.
Fly direct: Starting last December, Finnair now runs a direct seasonal route departing on a Thursdays from Gatwick Finland’s northernmost airport Ivalo. Return flights on Saturdays go via Helsinki while Sunday flights are either direct or via Helsinki.
Time your trip: If you’re planning a trip it will need to be in Winter as you need darkness for the Northern Lights. You’ll also need clear skies, which are generally more likely between December and March.
Hire an Aurora Hunter: “The Northern lights don’t come to you, you go to them” – this local saying couldn’t have been truer for us, as we had to drive to a vantage point to escape the surrounding fog. Other companies pulled in and left the same spot but our guide’s local expertise meant we hung tight and ended up with an unbelievable show. If you’re near Ivalo, Janne at Northern Light Riders is your man.
Where to stay: We chose to stay in igloo hotels for all the nights we were there – both to maximise the chance of seeing the lights and just for the novel experience. While you’ll have probably seen *those* Insta-famous igloos at Kakslauttanen, we recommend the igloos at their lesser known (and less expensive) neighbour Muotka Wilderness Lodge. Not only are Muotka’s igloos much more spacious and include a shower and your own sauna, but we just loved the charming feel of this family-run hotel, the cosy communal spaces, family-style dining and sharing a drink with the staff. They are also able to organise activities with the best local suppliers directly and offer snowmobile trips leaving directly from the site to maximise your time. Wherever you choose to stay, make sure they offer a service which wakes you up should the Aurora appear while you’re sleeping.
Download the My Aurora App: Aurora activity is dependent on solar winds. The My Aurora Forecast app measures the magnitude of these geomagnetic storms, allowing you to find out how likely you are to see the Northern Lights depending on your location- it will even send you a notification if the lights are expected in your area.
Don’t let not seeing the lights ruin your trip: The Northern Lights are an elusive natural phenomenon and sometimes, luck just won’t be on your side. But there are so many more activities to enjoy in Finnish Lapland. Husky sledding was our absolute favourite, but you can also try snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice-fishing, reindeer sledding and horse riding through the magical snowscape.
Practice your photography: Research what equipment you will need to photograph the Northern Lights before your trip so that when you see them, you aren’t distracted trying to work your camera. Essentials include a tripod, and knowing your way around the option for long exposure on your camera. Read our article here for some top tips.
Get the right gear: If you’re planning an Aurora trip, odds are you’ll be standing outside for extended periods of time. While most activities provide you with a snowsuit that will make you look like a blueberry, you still need to have a good down waterproof jacket, thick hat, lots of layers, gloves and a good pair of snowshoes – trust us on this one!