Northern Lights in Finland

NORTHERN LIGHTS IN FINLAND


KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES

Named by the Italian polymath Galileo – after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas – the Aurora Borealis have fascinated observers since time began and the indigenous Laplanders, the Sámi, are no exception.
Traditional Sámi tales have long included the colourful natural phenomena with generations passing on the myths and legends associated with the lights in the sky; the most common of which is that the lights are the souls of the dead. Anyone witnessing the Northern Lights in Finland is therefore required to watch with reverence and behave in a manner befitting a solemn occasion. Making too much noise is most definitely discouraged and it’s also said that whistling attracts the souls of the departed closer to the earth which may also result in whistlers being whisked off to join them.

Scientists remain somewhat inconclusive as to what the Northern Lights are. Charged particles from a fluctuating solar wind monkeying with atoms in the magnetosphere, is pretty much the gist of it; although Professor Brian Cox may have more to say on the matter.

Whatever your beliefs, witnessing the Northern Lights firsthand has become one of the top reasons to visit Finland. If you’re looking for more suggestions on the locations, accommodation, activities and the best time of year for success then here is where your quest begins.

Locations


The best place to watch the Northern Lights in Finland is as close as possible to the Arctic Circle in Lapland. National parks, such as Pallas-Yllästunturi, Lemmenjoki and Urho-Kekkonen, are ideal, with organised tours taking you deep into remote, forested regions where a lack of light pollution and localised vantage points provide the best chance of sightings. Lapland’s lakes are also wonderful locations to watch the Northern Lights with Lake Torasjarvi, in the west, and Lake Inari, in the far north (especially the village of Nellim), providing incredible lakeside viewing platforms. Finally, Luosto, in Pyhä-Luosto National Park, is one of central Lapland’s top spots for sightings; this relatively untouched and remote region is just a 90-minute drive from Rovaniemi airport.

Accommodation


Where you stay can really enhance your viewing chances with wilderness hotels (with rooms featuring north facing widows) and awesome Aurora Bubbles (basically, glass igloos) both worth booking around the frozen shores of Lake Inari. Staying at a reindeer farm within Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is another great way to immerse yourself in the snow covered wilds of Lapland with cosy, yurt-like cocoons with north facing Perspex walls offering a unique alternative to cosy guest rooms. Due to the remote locations, wilderness hotels often operate on a full board basis.
Outdoor activities take place close to the accommodation or provide a means of getting from one hotel to the next, perhaps by snowmobile, dog sled or on cross country skis. Nearly all lodgings within the Aurora zone, no matter how remote, will include an outdoor sauna that’s free of charge for guests. If you’re really up for a wild experience, try a traditional kota for a night or two. It may not come complete with sauna but will include a shed stacked with wood for cooking sausages and keeping warm by the fire.

BEST TIME TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN FINLAND


Although December and January are the darkest months in northern Finland and great for seeing the Northern Lights, it is tricky to make the most of the days as the sun barely rises above the horizon. You really want a tour to include plenty of things to do during the day before setting your Aurora alarm. December is also a very popular time for families heading to Lapland to see Father Christmas, which pushes up prices and accommodation can get booked out.
October and November can be cloudy, so keep this in mind if you’re thinking of an autumnal Aurora experience. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Finland is February and March, as well as the end of September, when more light allows for lots of things to do during the day and clearer skies conjure up a higher chance of a successful sightings by night. The highest chance of a sighting occurs between 10pm and midnight, although lights can appear anytime between 6pm and 4am.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES


Although your prime objective maybe watching the Northern Lights, they do only come out at night, so do build some winter activities into your itinerary. National parks such as Hossa are full of forest trails and lakeside tracks, with snow shoes and cross-country skis just a couple of ways to negotiate snow covered routes. Of course, if you feel the need for speed then a ride on a reindeer drawn sleigh could do the trick, although standing behind a team of huskies might well prove more exciting as you fly through frozen wilderness areas traveling between 25 to 40km in a day.
These sorts of activities can take you ever deeper into Finland’s forests, to overnight wilderness camps and purpose built Aurora accommodation. Snowmobiles are also a speedy way to whisk you from one point to the next with fat biking, on chunky tyres, another activity to add to your Christmas list. Make sure you’re fit enough for the challenge, though, or else you might end up sleeping no sooner than you’ve left the saddle – and missing the nightly show!
Photo credits: [Top box: Jaanus Jagomagi] [Locations: Tero Laakso] [Accommodation: Man Ng] [Best time to see the lights: Carsten Frenzl] [Dog sled: Guillaume Baviere]

Written by: Chris Owen
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