Complete Guide to Northern Lights (And The Most Exotic Place to See Them) 

Trying to plan where to go for the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights is probably overwhelming you.  There’s a lot of marketing hype out there, but don’t fall for it!  Here are many reasons why Finland is the best place to see the Aurora Borealis, and how to view them.

Northern lights Finland LaplandPicture by Konsta Puukka/Visit Finland

Why is Finland the best place to see the Northern Lights?

Finland’s geography, culture, and infrastructure make it the best place to see the Northern Lights.

It’s common to have conditions to see the Aurora 200 nights per year.

Geography

Finland is right in the middle of what’s called the “Aurora Zone” – latitudes between 66 and 69 degrees north where conditions for Aurora formation are prime.  If you’re any further north, or any further south, you chances of seeing the Northern Lights aren’t as good.

Finland also has fewer coastal areas in the northern region of the country.  Its position inland means that you’re less likely to encounter coastal fog and clouds that could obstruct your view of the Northern Lights.

Northern lights in Finland

Infrastructure

Finland’s northern Lapland region has plenty of resorts, villages, and small cities to keep you busy during your visit to Finland.  But in between these populated centers are plenty of wild spaces.  Open spaces and national parks, where you’ll be able to find total darkness for viewing the Northern Lights – and then head back to the city when you’re done!

Because of Finland’s excellent Northern Lights opportunities, there are plenty of tour operators that specialize in hunting the Aurorae.  You won’t have to set up your own travel, accommodations, and make guesses about where to go.  Finland’s businesses already have all of this set up for you.

And best yet, you won’t have to fight the crowds.  Finland is still relatively “undiscovered” compared to other Northern Lights viewing destinations like Iceland, meaning you’ll have a much more personal experience when you witness this magical event.

Northern Lights in Pallas LaplandPicture by Riku Pihlanto/Visit Finland

Other activities

Northern Finland is all about the Northern Lights, but it’s not just about the Northern Lights. You may find yourself overwhelmed with all of the activities available to you in Finland.  Don’t forget to make time for the Northern Lights! While you’re there, book a snowmobile tour, a husky sleigh ride, visit churches and museums, tour the national parks, hit the slopes, and so much more.

 

Coming to Finland on your honeymoon?  A child conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good luck and beauty, according to Asian cultures. 

 

What are the Northern Lights?

Humans didn’t always understand what caused the Northern Lights, but with science we have a pretty good grasp on it now.  It wasn’t until the 18th century that serious scientific attempts were made to explain the phenomena, by scientists with names like Halley and Celsius.  And then it took all the way until the 1950s to completely understand how the Aurora formed.

Finnish Northern Lights Picture by Miikka Niemi/Visit Finland

Solar Origins

Every now and then the sun will spit out a concentration of electromagnetic matter; this is called a Coronal Mass Ejection.  We more commonly refer to it as solar wind.

This solar wind travels 92 million miles until reaching Earth’s magnetic field.  Once these solar particles hit the magnetic field, they’re deflected around Earth.  Except near the poles, where the solar wind follows the magnetic flux lines deeper towards the poles.

This solar wind, traveling closer and closer to Earth near the poles, eventually hits our atmosphere and starts to react with atmospheric gases.  The interaction makes the particles energized, and as they become energized they emit photos, or light.

Northern lights FinlandPicture by Daniel Ernst/Visit Finland

Colorful Displays

We usually see the Aurorae as green for two reasons.  First, the human eye registers green easier than reds or blues. 

Second, the solar particles more commonly react with concentrations of oxygen between 60 and 150 miles above Earth, and this reaction produces green light.  Purples and blues occur at lower altitudes with nitrogen, and occasionally yellow and reds occur with reactions to oxygen at higher altitudes.

The Aurora look close – sometimes it seems like you might be able to reach up and touch them.  But they’re much further away; as mentioned earlier they most commonly occur between 60 and 150 miles above Earth.

It’s difficult to get bored watching the Northern Lights.  They’re always different, and it’s like watching a new movie every time you see them.  Sometimes the sky just turns a glowing green, sometimes a large arc will make its way across the sky, and the most spectacular is when giant sheets of light dance across the sky like curtains blowing in the wind.

Finland northern lightsPicture by Hannes Becker/Visit Finland

 

Can you hear the Northern Lights? Don't worry, you're not going crazy! The recent studies prove that the Northern Lights create crackling sounds as near as 70 m above the ground which means that human ears can indeed hear them. The origin of these sounds is still a bit of a mystery.

 

Can the Northern Lights be predicted?

You may have heard about Aurora prediction services.  While they can be reasonably predicted within an immediate time frame, it’s very difficult to predict long-term forecasts for the Northern Lights.  Their erratic nature makes it very difficult.  After all, they have to travel 90 million miles and arrive to the perfect magnetic conditions!

Aurora Borealis FinlandPicture by Miikka Niemi/Visit Finland

Solar Cycles

On a most basic level, scientists have discovered that Aurora activity is tied to cycles of solar activity, with peaks roughly every 12 years.  Right now, in 2018, we are on the backside of a peak that occurred in 2013-2014.  The lowest point will happen in 2020 and activity will start to rise after that, peaking in 2026.  These peaks correlate to the presence of visible sunspots, a phenomenon first noted in the 17th century.

Even with the predictable nature of these cycles, the intensity of the cycles is difficult to determine.  There have been periods of a hundred years where there was no solar activity, followed by long periods of extreme solar flaring.  The late 1950s saw some intense solar activity, stronger than what we’re seeing now.

Northern lights Lapland FinlandPicture by Visit Finland

 Aurora Predictions

There are two types of Northern Lights predictions: statistical and real-time.

Statistical predictions are based on data compiled over decades of observations.  Based on all of this data you might see that the Northern Lights will be visible in a certain town every fourth night.  This is just an average though; don’t expect to see the Aurora every fourth night.  You might see it every night for a week there, or stay a month and not see it.

You can still use statistical predictions to plan travel, but you’re better off using the more immediate real-time predictions.  This will give you a better way to determine if tonight is the night you should go Aurora hunting or just hang out in the sauna.

 Revontulet järven yllä

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a “space weather” page where you can watch an animation of predicted Aurora activity for the next 24 hours.   

The Finnish Meteorological Institute has a very useful website called “Auroras Now!”  You can watch sky cams of Aurora and look at magnetic disturbance charts.  All of this data can be used to alert you by email when Aurora activity is high.  This forecast is based on an observation station in southern Finland though; when southern Finland is lit up you can certainly expect the northern region to have a great show. 

There are also, of course, apps available for your smartphone.  One popular Northern Lights app is called “My Aurora Forecast and Alerts”.  This app contains statistics, forecasts, push alerts, and a list of Northern Lights tour operators in Finland.

 

Karaoke fan?  Don’t be shy.  Karaoke bars are just as popular as the Northern Lights in Finland.

 Finnish Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights in mythology 

Many cultures around the world have various ancient explanations for the Northern Lights.  Cave paintings in France dated to about 30,000 years ago likely depict the Northern Lights.  The Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Celts, and American Indians all have their own explanations.  The explanations range from spooky to violent to mystical and optimistic.

The Finnish word for the Northern Lights is revontulet.  This word literally means “fox fire”.  The story goes that as the revered fox would run through the snow, he’d sweep his tail back and forth and the sparks created by this would rise into the sky.

The Sámi culture in Lapland also had a few other explanations for the Northern Lights.  One simple belief is that the Aurorae were plumes from a whale’s blowhole.

Northern lights Lapland

Another belief, one that aligns with Northern Lights myths from around the world, was that the Aurorae were physical manifestations of the souls of the dead.  This was a time to respect the Northern Lights, because anyone who showed disrespect during the Aurorae was also disrespecting the dead, and this person would be struck with bad fortune.  People stayed inside and children kept quiet just in case.

It is also a bad idea to whistle at the Aurorae.  Whistling at the Aurorae will call the energies to you, and if they get close enough, they’ll grab you and take you up into the sky, never to be seen again.

On a more positive note, it is also believed that the power of the Aurorae can help resolve conflicts.  Strong shows of the Northern Lights are great times for mediation.

 

Do you see the dead playing football with the head of a walrus?  That’s how some Inuit tribes describe the Aurora.

Norhern lights Ruka Finland  

The best time to see the Northern Lights

There are some great general rules for the best time to see the Northern Lights, but beyond that, it’s a lot of luck.

As mentioned earlier, in 2018 we are in a decline in solar activity that won’t pick up again until 2020.  This means that the solar winds will be lighter, but it doesn’t mean that the Aurora will disappear.  There are still some fantastic Aurora shows happening right now.

Looking at the best months to view the Northern Lights, winter is the best for a few reasons.

September through March start to see some longer nights, and the longer the sky is dark the better your chances of seeing the Aurora.  You won’t see the Aurora in the middle of summer when the sun is above the horizon at midnight!

Northern lights in LaplandPicture by Visit Finland

So between dusk and dawn is really the best time to view the Northern Lights.  This gives the Aurora more chances to form, more time for you to get to a better viewing spot, and more time for obtrusive clouds to clear.

The other reason why winter is the best time is because of the weather.  The nights are generally clearer, except when snow falls.

If you decide to view the Aurora in September-October, you’ll be viewing the Aurora in slightly warmer weather with no snow underfoot and a variety of autumn activities available.  Accommodations are usually cheaper, and if you really want to save money and have a wilderness experience you can camp in the many national parks in northern Finland.

Northern lights over the house in Finland

November through February will give you longer nights but this is also when more snow falls.  You’ll have to be patient with the clouds, and if a big storm is moving through, you may not see the night sky for days.  It is also blustery cold, especially in January.

Late February through March can be a beautiful time to view the Aurora.  Snow has already fallen and you’ll usually be treated to clearer skies.  The vast snowscapes will reflect the Aurora and the snow will radiate bright green, lighting up the entire landscape in a surreal glow.  This also coincides with the peak of skiing season, and the northern region can become crowded with tourists.

One other note on timing: try to plan your trip during a new moon.  A full moon, as beautiful as it is, will light up the sky and make the Aurora look dim.  If this isn’t an option for you, try to at least go out before the moon rises or after it sets, if the sky is dark at those times.

 

Did you know that Santa Claus lives in Finland?  Really.  When children from all over the world write to Santa, the post office delivers them to Santa’s Village in Rovaniemi.  They’re even opened by Santa’s “elves”.

 

 

The best place to see the Northern Lights in Finland

There’s a good thing to remember when you’re wondering where to go to see the Northern Lights – the further north, the better.  It’s all in the name, right?

Lapland

The northern region of Finland, called Lapland, is the best place to see the Northern Lights.  The southern edge of Lapland lies right at the southern edge of the Aurora Zone, and the northern border of Finland is right above the other edge of the Aurora Zone.  The whole of Lapland lies right within prime Aurora territory.

You may still be blessed with an Aurora show in Helsinki, on the southern coast of Finland, but travel to the other end of the country to Utsjoki and your chances are exponentially higher.  When the next period of solar activity peaks in 2026, the Northern Lights will be more reliably visible throughout all of Finland.

 Picture by Visit Finland

Viewing the Aurora

There are a few very important things to take into consideration for the best views of the Aurora Borealis.  We’ve already looked at timing and general geographic location, but let’s now take a look at more specific locations.

First, you want to get away from light pollution.  This is another reason why Lapland is one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights.  There are wide stretches of wilderness without a single village throwing light up into the sky.

In some areas it doesn’t take long at all to get away from the city lights – even a 30-minute drive can get you far enough away from the lights to find a dark sky.  If you’re restricted to a village or city, try walking to a park or outskirts of the village where it will be darker.

Aurora Borealis in Finland

Second, you’ll want to find unobstructed views of the night sky.  There are plenty of open areas where you can view the Northern Lights without being obstructed by trees or terrain.  Tour operators and even locals will be able to point you in the right direction.

You can also try going to the top of a hill where you’ll be able to look down on the landscape, with the Aurora more or less right in front of you.  Again, talk to the locals.  They just may tell you about their favorite secret spot.

Large bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, and even the ocean, can be a popular spot to view the Northern Lights.  The reflection in the water makes the experience that much more magical.

There is a drawback to viewing the Northern Lights near the water, however.  This is especially true on very cold nights.  When the warmer water hits the cold air, steam fog will form, and this will obstruct your view.  Sometimes this phenomenon can create thick, long-lasting clouds near coastal areas.  You can try driving inland if this happens.

Northern Lights Finland

Should You View the Aurora from Inside or Outside?

People have different tastes and different levels of adventure.  Some would like to view the Aurora from the comfort of luxurious hotel with giant glass windows, while others would prefer snowshoeing to a campsite and viewing the Aurora from outside.  Fortunately there is something for everyone in Finland.

Details about some of these locations are described below.   

 

There are more saunas than cars in Finland.

 

Specific Locations in Finland to View the Aurora

Utsjoki

Northern lighst Utsjoki FinlandPicture by Visit Finland

Utsjoki is the farthest north you can go in Lapland to view the Northern Lights.  There is plenty of infrastructure available to guide you in your hunt for the Aurora.

The Sámi indigenous people live in the Utsjoki area, and this is often a highlight for tourists visiting the region.  The Sámi is an interesting culture that revolves around the reindeer.  You’ll most likely see them herding reindeer with snowmobiles instead of skis these days, but you can still find some traditional demonstrations.

Utsjoki makes a great base from which to explore, but viewing the Aurora from within Utsjoki is less than ideal.

The heat generated from Utsjoki, and the large waterways nearby, have a tendency to generate a lot of fog on cold nights.  This, combined with the light pollution, mean you’ll want to explore outside of town.

There are some wonderful cottages on the outskirts of Utsjoki near the River Teno.  They’re far enough away from the village where light pollution shouldn’t be a problem.

Getting to Utsjoki: Utsjoki is very remote.  The easiest way to get to Utsjoki is to fly into Ivalo and then take a bus to Utsjoki. The drive is approximately 2.5 hours.

 Northern Lights FinlandPicture by Miikka Niemi/Visit Finland

Kilpisjärvi

The westernmost location to view the Northern Lights in Finland is Kilpisjärvi, very close to the borders with Norway and Sweden.  Kilpisjärvi has some wonderful hiking trails if you’re there before the snow falls, otherwise you can hit the ski slopes, go out with a dogsled team, or take a snowmobile tour.  It has one of the highest rates of Northern Lights viewing in Finland.

Kilpisjärvi doesn’t have much for indoors Aurora viewing, so you better be comfortable with the cold here.  There is a wide range of accommodations here, with rooms ranging from rustic huts to modern apartments.   Concierges will help you determine where to hike, snowshoe, or take a dog or power sled to view the Aurorae. 

Getting to Kilpisjärvi: You can take a train or plane to Rovaniemi, and then travel to Kilpisjärvi by bus.  Alternately, you can fly into Kittilä, which is closer, and take a bus for the remainder.

Northern Lights in Levi FinlandPicture by Visit Finland

Nellim

The rustic, adventurous types will love Nellim.  This remote village is on the south side of Lake Inari and close to the Russian border.  History buffs will also appreciate the rich history of the area, from the Stone Age all the way through WWII and present.  There are plenty of winter activities in and around Nellim.

You’ll have plenty of lodging options near Nellim.  Depending on availability, you can choose from luxury apartments, rustic log cabins, glass “Aurora bubbles”, and basic Finnish-style Kota cabins with glass ceilings.  This area makes a great base for further wilderness expeditions.

Getting to Nellim: Did we mention this was for the adventurous types?  There is no public transportation to Nellim.  You’ll have to fly to Ivalo and then drive an unpaved road to Nellim.  Make sure you have the appropriate car & skills for winter driving.

 

The Finns drink more coffee per person than anyone else on Earth – 26 pounds per year.

 Northern lights in Saariselkä FinlandPicture by Riku Pihlanto/Visit Finland

Saariselkä

Really just one main road with a gas station and grocery store, Saariselkä is a wonderful location to view the Northern Lights if you don’t mind the solitude.  Nearby you’ll find skiing, and Urho Kekkonen National Park.  The larger town of Ivalo is a few minutes north and has more accommodations, but terrain and light pollution make viewing from Ivalo more difficult. 

Saariselkä is home to dozens of cabins with domed glass roofs.  This gives you the perfect opportunity to watch the Aurora dance above your head as you lay in bed.  There’s also a bar & restaurant made entirely of ice.

Getting to Saariselkä: The airport in Ivalo has direct flights from Helsinki.  You can then take a 20-minute bus ride to Saariselkä.

Aurora borealis Levi Finland

Levi

Levi is a ski resort town in western Lapland.  There are a lot of activities to do here, including some fun nightlife, so if you get restless this may be a great place to visit and base your Aurora expedition.  Large Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is immediately west of Levi.

Levi is also close to the Sammaltunturi meteorological station in Pallas.  According to the World Health Organization, this measurement station records the cleanest air in the world.  Finland is among the top three countries in the world for clean air.

You’ll find some comfortable glass igloos near Levi.  These give you a 360-degree panorama of the night sky from the comfort of a heated glass cabin.  An upscale restaurant on-site will treat you to delicious Scandinavian food with the Northern Lights. 

Getting to Levi: There are many ways to get to Levi because of its status as a popular Finn vacation spot.  The nearest airport is Kittilä, just minutes south of Levi, and buses run between the airport and Levi.  You can also either fly or take a train into Rovaniemi, then continue to Levi via bus.

 

The term Aurora Borealis was coined by Galileo in the early 17th century.  Aurora is the goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology, and Borealis is the name of the Northern Winds in Greek.

 Northern lights Ylläs LaplandPicture by Miikka Niemi/Visit Finland

Ylläs

Ylläs is another ski resort town southwest of Levi and on the south end of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.  Despite being one of the most popular ski resorts in Finland, Ylläs is Aurora-friendly.  All of the exterior lights turn off at 10pm from November to February to reduce light pollution. 

There are some very nice fully-furnished cottages within town and easy walking distance of the few amenities you’ll find in the village.  You’ll also be within walking distance of great Aurora viewing locations.

Getting to Ylläs: Take a flight into nearby Kittilä and then a bus or rental car the remaining 25 miles to Ylläs.  Bus service also runs between Ylläs and Rovaniemi.

Northern lighst in Luosto Finland

Luosto

Luosto is right in the center of Lapland and is another popular winter destination with its ski resort, reindeer sleigh rides, snowshoeing, and snow mobile tours.  The resort is very conscious of the Aurora and will literally sound the bells when the Aurora is going on.  They’ll take the watch for you.

Die-hard Aurora hunters will enjoy another one of Finland’s glass-igloo hotels in Luosto.  There is a restaurant on site and the hotel concierge will be more than happy to help you find the right winter activity, some of which are run through the hotel.

Getting to Luosto: Rovaniemi is the closest transportation hub to Luosto.  You can take a plane or train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.  From there you can take a bus or taxi to Luosto.

Northern lights in Rovaniemi Finland

Rovaniemi

The furthest south you’ll probably want to go to view the Northern Lights is Rovaniemi.  This small city has a lot going on, but it also has a lot of light pollution at night.  It is Lapland’s transportation hub and would make a great base for your excursions.  Don’t miss Santa’s village.

Even though it’s on the southern edge of the Aurora Zone, there are still some fun options for viewing the Aurora in Rovaniemi.  One hotel is ideally situated to the north of Rovaniemi, across the river Kemijoki, allowing you to get away from the lights of the city.  You’ll enjoy a view of the Aurora from elevated cabins with giant glass walls looking north.

Getting to Rovaniemi: You can find direct flights from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.  Rovaniemi is also a major railroad hub, so you may also want to see the landscape via train.

 

Do you want to see the Northern Lights directly from the side instead of below?  Astronauts on the International Space Station are at the same altitude as the Aurora and watch them from a different angle.

 Finnish northern lightsPicture by Riku Pihlanto/Visit Finland

Photographing the Northern Lights

You’re probably going to want to have some photographs of the Northern Lights to remember your amazing trip to Finland.  You won’t be able to take photos with just any camera though, and there is definitely a method to getting good photos of the Aurora.

Gear

First of all, you’ll need a tripod.  You won’t have to keep holding your camera, but more importantly, it will keep the camera stable during the long exposures.

That brings us to camera requirements.  You’ll need a camera capable of taking long exposures.  Even though the Northern Lights can be very bright, the exposure time you’ll need for good photos will be longer than what most cheap point-and-shoot cameras can do.

It’s also a good idea to have some kind of remote shutter release, either wireless or cable.  This will help minimize camera shake.

It will be cold and camera batteries don’t last long when they’re cold.  Keep them warm in your pocket when you’re not using them.

Northern lights FinlandPicture by Miikka Niemi/Visit Finland

Technique

Your camera won’t be able to focus well in the dim light.  If you can, turn off autofocus, and then manually focus on an object in the far distance.  Don’t touch the focus after that.  It’s best to do this during the day when you have maximum contrast.

Set your aperture to 1-2 stops above maximum.  So if your lens maximum aperture is f/2.8, set it to f/4.  This will help with focus and ensuring the lens is close to its sharpest aperture.

After that, you’ll be changing ISO and shutter speed throughout the night.  A very dim, fast-moving Aurora will require a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed, like 5 seconds at most.  You can use a longer shutter speed, like 20 seconds, and a lower ISO for a slow-moving Aurora. 

There are no hard-and-fast numbers, so you’ll have to experiment with your specific camera.  Try to stay away from extremely high ISO numbers, like above 6400, as this will degrade your image.  And don’t overexpose the scene.  Dark is good!  You can always make the picture brighter afterwards.

Northern lights Levi Finland

Don’t forget to plan your shots.  Get away from city lights and try not to point your camera towards even the smallest village.  Long exposures will amplify the orange glow coming from the ground.

Aurora photos are pretty by themselves, but if you can plan to get some interesting foreground and background subjects the photos will stand out that much more.  So think about location.  Is there a body of water or snowscape, or some other interesting subject in the scene too?

 

Don’t bother with the Aurora Australis.  You pretty much have to be at the South Pole for that, and that’s just miserable.

  

What happens if you miss the Northern Lights?

Aurora Borealis in FinlandPicture by Thomas Kast / Visit Finland

There could be a few reasons why you can’t see the Northern Lights.  But if that’s the case, don’t worry, there are plenty of other things to do in Finland in the winter!

Missing the Northern Lights

If clouds are blocking your view of the sky but the forecast is calling for a high probability of Aurora formation, try going to a different spot.  Some hotels offer transportation to take you around to various nearby viewing locations in search of clear sky.  If you have a rental car you can try going somewhere else on your own.

If the sky is clear and the forecast indicates that the Northern Lights are very likely to show up, but they haven’t shown up yet, be patient.  The Aurorae are very erratic.  The sky could be pitch black one minute, then glowing green the next. 

Unfortunately there is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights every night, or at all, while you are visiting Finland.  Being in Lapland does give you the highest chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Europe.  But sometimes both space weather and terrestrial weather will prevent Aurora viewing.

Northern lights over the cottagePicture by Matti Koutonen/Visit Finland

Alternative Activities

Going on a snowshoe hike is one of the best ways to experience Finland’s wilderness.  You’ll be surrounded by peace and quiet, breathe in Finland’s crisp, fresh air, and be treated to beautiful winter scenery.  Not to mention the health benefits of winter hiking.  You can rent snowshoes almost anywhere.  Locals can tell you some of the best places to go snowshoeing nearby.

Dogsledding is another fun way to see the Finnish countryside.  A team of ambitious huskies will pull you through Finland’s wilderness, saving you the effort.  These dogs can move faster than you’d think – it’s guaranteed to give you an unexpected rush.  Dogsledding is a popular activity throughout Finland and is available in almost any village.

Northern lights in Lapland FinlandPicture by Antti Pietikäinen, Harriniva, Torassieppi/Visit Finland

If you want to see the countryside on fast, heavy machines, snowmobile tours are also very widespread in Finland.  Driving a snowmobile is easy, and if you’ve never done it before, don’t worry.  You’ll get a quick lesson on the brake and throttle then be on your way.  Experienced snowmobilers can rent the machines and go out on their own.

What if it’s already dark and you just want to unwind after missing the Northern Lights?  Some resorts and smaller upscale hotels have what they call ice bars.  Yes, they’re bars made entirely of ice.  They’ll be sure to keep your drinks cold.

If you’re seeking warmth, you can’t go anywhere in Finland without finding a sauna.  There are even saunas inside the gondolas at Ylläs ski resort!  There are an estimated 2 million saunas in Finland – they’re that much of a part of Finnish culture.  To enjoy a sauna like a Finn, remove all of your clothes, sit and relax until your stress is gone, then jump in the river, lake, or powdery snow.  Repeat.

 

Even prisoners are allowed to use the sauna in Finland – but only once a week!

 Finnish northern lightsPicture by Visit Finland

Traveling to Helsinki to see the Northern Lights

Helsinki Airport is approximately 30 minutes from the city.  It is a major international airport and considered one of the best in the world.

New York has nonstop flights to Helsinki, but these flights are more expensive than flights that make one stop.  Direct flight time is nearly 8 hours.  Norwegian will probably be your best bet.

Flying into Helsinki from London direct takes close to 3 hours.  Finnair, Norwegian, and British Airways have the most services.

Nonstop flights from Paris to Helsinki take approximately 3 hours.  These flights are made by Air France, Norwegian, and Finnair.

Northern lights in Syöte FinlandPicture by Visit Finland

Beijing has many flights to Helsinki, but nonstop flights are rare.  Air China, Aeroflot, and Finnair are the common carriers.  Travel time can take anywhere from 8 to 14 hours.

You won’t find any direct flights from Johannesburg to Helsinki.  Expect a long travel day, from 16 to 24 hours.  Lufthansa operates flights in partnership with other carriers.

Many different airlines service Helsinki from Tokyo.  Finnair, Japan Airlines, and British Airways have direct flights that last just over 10 hours; other airlines offer the flight with travel times lasting up to one whole day.

 

If you really want to view the phenomena of the Northern Lights as far away from anyone else as possible, you’ll have to go to Venus.  Their Aurora looks the same.  Travel may be difficult.

 

Important considerations before coming to Finland for the Northern Lights

One of the characteristics that makes Finland the best place to see the Northern Lights also makes Finland not suited for everyone.  This is the wild, remote nature of the country.  Finland’s average population density (46 per square mile) is half that of the United States, and that’s mostly concentrated around the cities and villages.

Even though Finland does offer some luxurious accommodations for viewing the Northern Lights, visitors should still have an outdoorsy spirit and sense of adventure.  Just getting to these hotels can be a journey in themselves.

Dress warm.  The average temperatures in Lapland during Aurora season range from 3F (-16C) to 37F (3C) with periods of cold as low as -22F (-30C).  You should also be prepared for snowfall from October to May.

Northern lights Ylläs FinlandPicture by Taipale Brothers/Visit Finland

You should be ready for contingencies in this remote place.  Look into travel insurance, to include evacuation insurance.  If you are renting a car, please be sure that you have the skills to drive in winter and that the car is equipped with emergency supplies in case you break down in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t forget to plan some variety in your trip.  There is so much to see besides the Northern Lights.  If desolate wilderness is your thing, consider spending a day or two in a resort town to mingle with the locals.  And vice-versa, if you’re a resort person, make sure you set aside some time to see Finland’s beautiful national parks.

Hiring a tour agency to do all of the work for you will make your trip less stressful.  Just about every tour operator in Lapland has vast experience with the Northern Lights, and you should take advantage of that.

 

Though extremely rare, the Northern Lights have been sighted as far south as Cuba.  Don’t hold your breath though – it’s only happened a few times.

Northern lights Levi Finland Picture by Visit Finland

About Finland as a whole

Finland is one of the most sparsely-populated countries in Europe with a population of 5 million.  Three-quarters of the country is covered in forest.  Finland has more lakes and islands within its borders than any other country in the world.

Finland is a relatively new country, declaring independence from Russia in 1917.  There were brief periods of fighting before and during World War II as well.

A variety of polls and studies hold Finland near the top in many different rankings, including education, one of the best places to grow up, least government corruption, and environmental sustainability.

One of Finland’s most notable legal concepts is called Everyman’s Right, or “the freedom to roam”.  Unless land is held for government or military purposes, everyone is free to transit and/or shelter anywhere in the countryside.  You must still treat the land and other people’s property with respect.

Northern lights FinlandPicture by Markku Inkilä/Visit Finland

Finland has a very reliable network of public transportation.  Modes of travel include buses, taxis, and rail.  With the exception of taxis, fares are generally cheap, and you’ll find that you can get to almost any town one way or another.

There are 40 national parks in Finland, covering a surface area of almost 4,000 square miles.  The first national park was established in 1938 followed by many more after WWII.  Finland based their model on that of the United States, that the national parks serve to preserve natural heritage and provide a source of well-being for its citizens.

One of the more interesting cultural aspects of Finland is the Sámi people.  This culture, which revolves around reindeer, has been more or less the same for thousands of years.  In recent years, however, their culture is under threat of extinction.  Much of their land was destroyed in WWII, and today the younger generation is tempted to leave their traditions in favor of modern jobs.

Aurora borealis FinlandPicture by Markku Inkilä/Visit Finland

Start planning your trip to Finland now

If you weren’t sold on coming to Finland for the Northern Lights before, we hope that you are now.  We can’t wait to see you!

 

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