Plan a winter trip to remember with an action-packed adventure in Lapland including trips to see aurora borealis.
When you go on holiday, you want to enjoy new experiences as you get a feel for the place, the people and the culture. There is no shortage of entertainment or aurora hunting destinations wherever you go in Lapland. The unspoiled towns and villages in Northern Europe welcome travellers with a rich offering of cultural experiences, exciting snow-based activities, Northern Lights tours in Lapland and an impressive landscape.
About the Northern Lights
The mystical allure of the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) has long since intrigued and bewitched people. It is a must-see for many world travellers who want to catch a glimpse of the famous auroras. This captivating light show is created when a stream of electrically charged particles from the sun interact with the earth’s powerful magnetic field. These particles collide with gas molecules in the earth’s atmosphere releasing energy and creating striking waves of coloured light in the sky. Northern Lights photography in Lapland has captured some incredible images of these vivid colours. This beautiful phenomenon is a natural one and, therefore, unpredictable but our experienced guides know when and where to go.
The earth’s atmosphere is composed of approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. The charged particles can collide with the molecules of these gases. Energy is released during these collisions and some of this energy is in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. You can often see the beautiful results on an aurora borealis trip in Lapland.
Red, green and purple
Collisions with high-level oxygen result in a reddish glow but this is less common. Collisions with lower level oxygen create a more familiar greenish colour. If the charged particles collide with nitrogen molecules we will see reddish and bluish patterns. There may also be collisions with other gases. For example, collisions with helium atoms produce a purple aurora but this is not always in the visible part of the spectrum.
The beautiful lights of the aurora can stretch from 80 kilometres (50 miles) to as high as 640 kilometres (400 miles) above the earth. A golden-green is the most common auroral colour. It is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Red auroras created by high-altitude oxygen (heights of up to 200 miles) are considered to be the rarest.
Listen out for the Northern Lights
The lights are not just beautiful to look at. Is it possible that the aurora borealis make singing and popping sounds? Yes, according to Mamie Williams from Alaska. When she was 14 years old, she maintains she heard distinctive noises from the auroras, including a drumming sound on one occasion.
Other witnesses are also convinced they have heard the lights crackling and hissing. It is a noise that is described as being similar to radio static. Auroral sounds have been dismissed by many who believe it is simply the stuff of folklore. However, scientists have a more researched explanation. The sounds are associated with charged particles trapped in a layer of the atmosphere that gradually builds up during chillier winter nights. When these particles discharge and collide with the earth weird sounds erupt and a distinctive crackling noise accompanies the spellbinding light show to create a theatrical performance in the sky.
Sightseeing tours are one way to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Guides use their local knowledge and years of experience to help you witness this magical sight. Finnish Lapland is considered to be one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. You are also treated to an authentic snapshot of Lapland that is home to the indigenous Sámi people and, of course, Santa Claus. Other tourist highlights include exploring the unspoiled scenery, sweeping ski slopes and photogenic snow-covered mountains and forests. Northern Lights tours in Lapland take you to the heart of the action.
History: Lights, camera, action!
German astronomer Otto Rudolf Martin Brendel is credited for taking the first photograph of the aurora borealis on 5 January, 1892. The black-and-white photo was shared with the public when it was published in ‘The Century” magazine in October 1897. Catching the lights on camera has been a passion for many people ever since. Almost 130 years later, the latest sophisticated cameras and a reliable tripod can capture some incredible shots. Northern Lights photography in Lapland is not just a favourite pastime for professional photographers. Check out the features on your smartphone. Some have a “live photos” feature and settings that can snap the unpredictable bursts of lights of the auroras.
Finding a great Northern Lights destination
Aurora hunters have spotted the lights as far south as New Orleans, although you have a much better chance of seeing them closer to the Arctic Circle. Head to an observation spot with panoramic views and a clear, night sky. This sets the scene for a natural light display. High-latitude regions are prime spots. Aim to head away from the light pollution of the bigger towns and cities. Lapland in Northern Finland, above the Arctic Circle, is home to plenty of suitable, wide open spaces, well away from the artificial lights of nearby villages and ski resorts.
Five prime locations that offer the best Northern Lights tours in Lapland
- 1. Levi: If you can get to the top of Levi fell and you’ll be perfectly positioned within the Aurora Zone to see the auroras providing the weather is right. The Scandinavian Travel Group organizes a range of Northern Lights tours in Lapland including a trip to Polarman’s Camp just outside the village of Levi in Finnish Lapland. The camp has an unobstructed Northern horizon view with no light pollution.
- 2. Rovaniemi: The classic Lapland experience can be enjoyed in the popular city of Rovaniemi, located at the Arctic Circle. You can enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and buzz of the city then simply escape to the quieter outskirts where the darker skies make it easier to see the Northern Lights.
- 3. Ylläs: This northerly location in the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland offers plenty of perfect night skies from late autumn onwards if you are thinking about planning an aurora borealis trip. Street lights are turned off after 10pm to help give you the darkest sky view. There is no guarantee you will see the Northern Lights but it is a beautiful place in which to try.
- 4. Luosto: This picturesque place is nestled in the heart of Lapland. There is so much to do within walking distance of your base from snowshoe trails to great spots for viewing the lights. Local guides are on hand to show you the prime viewing spots.
- 5. Saariselkä: This charming resort village is another popular place for organized trips to see aurora borealis. Described as the northernmost ski resort in Finland, it has some accommodation specifically designed for viewing the Northern Lights.
Where else can you see the magical lights? Northern Norway and North Sweden also offer some peak aurora viewing places as do places north of Siberia. You could also catch an auroral display over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland. If you are in North America, head to the northwestern parts of Canada. You might get lucky in the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska.
Time it right to see the lights
When is the best time to plan an aurora borealis trip in Lapland? While there are no guarantees that you will see the lights at a specific time, the winter season in the north is the best time of year to go aurora hunting. The longer, dark nights, especially with those clear wintry skies, create more chances to see the Northern Lights. Don’t go to bed too early! Prepare yourself for a nighttime adventure. From around 22.00 to 02:00 is thought to be a good window of opportunity but it also greatly depends on where you are and the weather conditions.
7 illuminating facts about the Northern Lights
- 1. Capturing the auroras on camera
Northern Lights photography in Lapland is a must. Blink and you might miss the auroras. On some occasions, your eyes might simply not be able to pick up the subtle nuances of the colourful light show. This is where you need a camera to hand. A long-exposure setting makes all the difference to getting a memorable shot. However, the conditions need to be right. A clear, dark sky provides the perfect backdrop when you’re taking pictures of the Northern Lights. Timing is everything too. So always be prepared and take some test shots of the stars first to make sure the photo will be in focus.
- 2. You can see the aurora borealis from space
It is not always a case of looking up at the Northern Lights. It is possible to look down on this natural wonder too. This different perspective has been experienced from space thanks to a video shot by astronauts on the International Space Station in 2012. NASA shared incredible images of the earth’s magnetic field in action. The images capture the brilliance of the aurora borealis.
- 3. Colour and patterns
The Northern Lights offer a vivid display of colours including green, violet, blue and even shades of red and pink. When charged particles streaming from the sun’s surface collide with the earth’s magnetic field colourful things happen. Electrically charged sub-atomic particles continuously stream from the sun’s surface. This is called the solar wind. This stream meets the earth’s magnetic field. Some of the charged particles build up in the ionosphere, mostly above the earth’s magnetic poles.
- 4. Auroras on Jupiter and other planets in the solar system
Images of auroras have been taken on other planets. Space probes Voyagers 1 and 2 successfully captured pictures of brilliant auroras on Jupiter, Saturn and even Uranus and Neptune. The Hubble Space Telescope has also taken pictures of them. Auroras on both Jupiter and Saturn are noticeably much larger than the ones spotted on earth due to the differences in these planets’ atmosphere and poles. On Uranus, auroras look more like bright single spots rather than bright rings as seen on the other planets. This is largely to do with Uranus’ magnetic field being oriented almost vertically with the planet rotating on its side.
- 5. The Northern Lights go south
The Northern Lights are usually associated with those places closest to the Arctic Circle. However, they can be visible much further south during periods of high solar activity. Occasionally as far south as New Orleans. Auroras once made an appearance in Oklahoma and Atlanta in 2011. Go back much further to 1862, the year when many soldiers wrote in the diaries about seeing the northern lights during the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. These days, artificial light pollution from American cities makes it much harder to see the auroras compared to a century ago. The powerful city glow simply washes out the colourful effect of the aurora in the night sky, even if there was a significant auroral storm.
- 6. Below zero
The fiery brilliance of the Northern Lights suggests that you could feel the shimmering heat surrounding them. However, this isn’t the case even though the upper atmosphere can reach thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. Where the auroras occur at 60 miles up and further, the density of the air is so low that a thermometer would register a good bit below zero.
- 7. Being in the right place at the right time
Perhaps the fact that there is no guarantee you will see the Northern Lights is what makes this natural phenomenon all the more exciting. The wonder of magnetic fields and a mass of charged particles ejected from the sun don’t run to a schedule. However, you can receive some warning to help you get to the right place at the right time to see the auroras. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produces an online map that gives you a better idea of auroral activity and where and when you are more likely to catch the lights.
Campfire tales on guided tours of Northern Lights in Lapland
The Scandinavian Travel Group organizes trips to see aurora borealis. The tours are carefully planned to maximize your aurora hunting experience. While you are waiting for the Northern Lights to (hopefully) make an appearance, you can easily fill the time with some of the most popular tales that have stood the test of time over the centuries. Our guide has many stories to share with you while you sit around the campfire enjoying hot drinks under the night sky.
Goddess of the dawn (Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis)
The shimmering glow of the lights occurs near the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. In Roman mythology, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn. Aurora borealis means “dawn of the north” or northern dawn while aurora australis means “dawn of the south”. The origin of the term “aurora borealis” is generally attributed to the Italian astronomer Galileo in 1619.
Myths and legends of the Northern Lights
Myths and legends surrounding the Northern Lights have entertained and terrified people for thousands of years. In Norse mythology, the Vikings shared superstitions and legends of the auroras. Stories of gods and warriors inspired many of the tales. It was believed female warriors called Valkyries caused the magnificent nighttime illuminations. The Valkyries escorted fallen heroic warriors to their final resting place after heroic battles. Glowing reflections from the swords and shields of these feisty female warriors were said to unleash the beauty of the Northern Lights.
- - Good fortune and vivid dreams
Wherever ideas of fear and war are attributed to auroras, there are also tales of love and good fortune. One of the more lighthearted myths in Japanese and Chinese culture is that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will always be blessed with good fortune. More fun theories inspired the plot in the US comedy-drama television series, Northern Exposure, which is set in a fictional town in Alaska. In one episode, the Northern Lights and the full moon cause strange dreams among the residents of the town.
- - Sámi and the soul birds
The Sámi word for aurora borealis is guovssahasat. It is derived from a word that means “morning light”. Guovssahasat also means Siberian Jay. This lively Lappish bird was called the “soul bird” in a time gone by. Ancient Finns believed that the soul of a hunter passes on to a Siberian Jay. According to myths, killing a Siberian Jay would bring bad fortune to a hunter. In folklore, auroras, like the Siberian Jay, have forever been associated with spirits of the dead.
- - The Fire fox of Finland
Revontulet is the Finnish word for the Northern Lights. It translates literally as “fire fox”. According to folklore in Finland, Arctic foxes were the ones behind the beauty of the Northern Lights. Supposedly, these mythical foxes would race and chase each other across the night sky and their large, furry tails would create sparks that became known as the lights of the aurora.
- - Lights of the spirit world
Some believed that the Northern lights in Lapland were the shimmering spirits of the dead. These associations with the spirit world were also believed in the Southern Hemisphere where Australia’s Aboriginal people and the Maori of mainland New Zealand associated the southern lights with fires in the spirit world.
- - Gates of the north
In the 19th century work of poetry, “Kalevala”, which is regarded as one of the most significant works in Finnish literature, the Northern Lights are referred to as the gates of the north. You may also hear the auroras called “fiery pillars”, which refers to the gates.
- - Fear and respect
Every memorable legend carries elements of intrigue, fear and respect. The tales surrounding the auroras certainly do. In the north, the auroras often appear as a shimmer of green. It is thought that this eerie colour led people to believe that the vivid lights in the night sky belong to the dead. The Inuits of Greenland whispered that the greenish lights symbolized the souls of dead children playing in the sky. Regardless of haunting spirits and fear surrounding them, the auroras have always commanded respect by those in the North.
- - Gift from the Gods
The aurora was often taken as a sign of good news in Sweden. In years gone by, many believed the lights to be a gift from generous gods who wanted to provide warmth and light in the north. Other parts of Sweden saw the lights as a reflection from shoals of herring, which was interpreted as a good sign by local fishermen. The farming community associated the lights with a good harvest ahead.
- - Omens and spirits in the sky
The vivid beauty of the Northern Lights has not always been celebrated as a natural wonder. In the past, ancient Greeks perceived the auroras as a bad omen. Elsewhere, the Inuit people believed the lights to be spirits at large in the sky. Some tribes told their children not to play outside at night because there was a real fear they might vanish along with the aurora once the light show was over.
- - Red flames in the sky
Sometimes the auroras are vivid enough to show up in southern Europe. When this happens, the lights tend to be a rich red. This probably explains why the French, Italians and Greeks in ancient times regarded the auroras as signs of blood to be spilled. The war theme was continued by native groups in the north who said the red flames in the night sky were caused by fallen soldiers battling with giants.
Tales have also been inspired by the Franco-Prussian war in 1870–1871. Spectacular red auroras were said to be reflections of battlefields soaked in blood. Similar themed stories date back to the American Civil War, the French Revolution and the Greater Wrath in Finland (1714–1721).
Book Your Northern Lights tours in Lapland with the Scandinavian Travel Group. Our trips include:
- • Northern Lights Tour in Levi with a visit to Polarman’s Camp
- • Northern Lights Hunting by Car
- • Night Snowmobile Safari
- • Snowshoeing at Night to Hunt for Aurora
- • Aurora reindeer safari
- • Into the night husky safari
- • Photography tour
- • VIP mountain bus to the top of Levi
You can book your Northern Lights tours in Lapland and other activities directly from us.
Simply book online or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org and our travel agent will be in touch. Or call/WhatsApp/Viber +358 400 514 530 if you have any queries regarding tours and prices.
All our tours are meticulously planned so that you make the most of your aurora hunting experience. We take care of all the details so you can enjoy all the suspense and excitement that comes with chasing and seeing the Northern Lights in Lapland, an astronomical phenomenon that feels out of this world.