Have you always dreamed of seeing the northern lights? With the aurora season ramping up, Best Served Scandinavia’s top Northern Lights agent, Maddie Eleini, gives her top 5 tips for planning a Northern Lights holiday.
1. Book far in advance to get the best price/availability
Particularly if you want an unusual hotel (like an ice hotel or glass igloo, see below), dates can get snapped up quickly much earlier in the year than you may realise – as early as August some of the ice hotels go on sale for the entire following winter. You can take the pressure off yourself to remember by calling a travel agent and telling them you’re interested; then when the particular places that you’re looking to book become available, they can let you know and secure you a spot (sometimes they even get information before sale opens to the general public).
2. March/Spring is an amazing time to go
The snow is slowing, meaning less cloudy skies – and there is beautiful daytime weather, so it can be a great time to do more summery activities. You can also enjoy popular hotels and lodges without crowds, which can be great for families looking for a bit more elbow room and shoulder season prices. Early in the season (November or even October) can also be a good time with reasonable prices, in part because the snows don’t tend to come that early (so if you’re not looking to try dogsledding or snowshoeing or other snow sports, it makes a lot of sense).
3. Visit a destination with no/little light pollution
If you opt for a city stay do book northern lights excursions that take you outside the city. Yes, this can add to the cost of the trip, but it is important to ensure you see the aurora clearly. Also, it is best to plan for a few nights, because cloud cover can make the aurora very difficult to see. One mistake travellers often make is trying to quickly jet away for a weekend; if the weather doesn’t cooperate or you need to add travel time to get away from city light, you’ll want a minimum of a three-night stay.
4. Always layer your clothes
Even though northern Scandi in winter can be bitterly cold, you’ll want to be able to adjust your outfit throughout the day. You’ll want to be able to remove layers when you go indoors, as buildings tend to be well-sealed and quite cosy. Light layers also mean that you trap pockets of air between your clothes, which is excellent insulation when you’re outdoors.
[Read more about clothing in Melanie’s blog for Cotswold Outdoor.]
5. Enjoy the food!
Scandinavia has so much more to offer than IKEA meatballs (though a good Swedish meatball can be the star of the meal!), and I always encourage travellers to go a bit outside their comfort zone to try klippfisk (dried salted cod in Norway) and brunost (Norwegian brown cheese). In northern Sweden it is worth trying reindeer, and in Finland I recommend bear. These local dishes not only teach you about the culture, but they are often just the thing to warm you up after a chilly day, and they draw on the freshest ingredients.
And remember… Travel agents know more than you may realise
A lot of people don’t realise just how much information a travel agent can provide, and how often we can beat prices you’ll find elsewhere. We are able to hold seats on airlines while you consider the best routing, sometimes for months, before you have to pay. And we often have special relationships with hotels, airlines and excursion providers, so that a flight or accommodation marked as “sold out” online may actually have some extra space reserved just for our clients. Particularly when you’re planning a trip around something as finicky as the Northern Lights, and when you want to maximise your time, it is worth it to use the expertise of a specialised agent – we’ve seen it all, and made it work!
By Maddie Eleini
Best Served Scandinavia
Pictures courtesy of Best Served Scandinavia and the Levi Igloo, Utsuvaara, Finnish Lapland.