Whether you know them as the northern lights or as their scientific name, the aurora borealis, nature’s most famous light show is something to be experienced at least once in your lifetime. Luckily, hopping on a tour to see the northern lights is easy to do and well worth the effort.
Unless you are lucky enough to live in a country that is high in the northern hemisphere, you will have to travel to experience the lights. (Fun fact: The natural phenomena can also be experienced far down in the southern hemisphere, but is more commonly enjoyed in northern countries.) Wherever you enjoy them, there is unexplained magic to the dance of color in the sky against the dark of night.
While it is possible to see the northern lights with extensive planning on your own, a guided tour is the perfect way to see them without the hassle. Tours are offered only in the best seasons, and traveling with an experienced guide is a great way to ensure you have a memorable experience.
Where to Go
Canada might not be your first thought when mentioning the northern lights, but it is a destination you should consider. Canada is an immense nation with borders reaching far into the northern hemisphere. Because of this fact, there are tours that allow you to camp and enjoy the northern lights in places like the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory. The winter months from October to March are the best times to visit since the northern lights are most active during this time.
Like Canada, Finland’s northern-reaching geography makes it one of the global hotspots for seeing the northern lights. Unlike Canada, however, the entire country is located high in the north. This means that a tour to see the northern lights in Finland does not have to include traveling a far distance. Similar to other northern lights destinations, the lights in Finland are best experienced during the winter season of November to March.
Iceland’s tourism has been booming in recent years -- and this is largely attributed to their wintertime tourism focus around experiencing the northern lights. Iceland has a well-developed industry around tours to see the lights. The tourist season for those interested in seeing the northern lights picks up steam in the winter months from late August to April.
As with many of the other Nordic countries, Norway benefits from being located far up in the northern hemisphere. Tours beginning in the south in cities like Oslo or Bergen will take you up north to experience the lights against a dark winter night. You can enjoy the northern lights -- along with the many other natural wonders that Norway has to offer -- during the winter months from October through March.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Northern Lights Tour
When looking for a tour to discover and enjoy the northern lights, there are many details to consider. You should look for a tour duration with activities that suit your unique budget and travel style. Another thing to consider is add-on expenses. Many tours cover basic accommodations and guided excursions to see the lights. However, often there are add-on excursions that will allow you to experience the local areas even more. Of course, these options can be costly but usually allow for a more enriching experience.
Average Northern Lights Tour Cost & Length
The average length of a northern lights tour can vary depending on the country you are doing the tour in. For example, a typical 4-night tour from Whitehorse, Yukon, in Canada can cost around $800. However, while a tour in northern Canada might be less expensive than in other places, you will need to account for the costly flights to get to where the tours begins.
By contrast, a tour in Finland might start from the capital, Helsinki, and take you into the country’s northernmost region of Lapland. These distances aren’t nearly as far as in Canada. Depending on the type of accommodation and the tour length, a typical tour in Finland can cost around $2,000.
A tour in Iceland can be as simple as an overnight excursion or a 5-day trek that includes winter camping. This experience can start at $50 for a basic night viewing tour and increases to around $1,800 for a 6-day tour around the whole country.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Because the northern lights are almost exclusively experienced during the cold winter months, it’s important to pack warm clothing. Having the right outdoor gear for prolonged excursions or time outside is extremely important to your safety and comfort while out in the cold.
Whether your adventure is a one evening tour or a multi-day tour, your tour company and guide should provide you with recommendations of things to bring so you are well prepared.
When traveling to a new country to see the northern lights, you should consider if you'll require a travel visa to be a tourist in the country.
Often times, it is common practice to tip your guide if you consider their service and knowledge to have been excellent and if you find that they have provided you with a safe and memorable experience.
Qualifications & Training
There aren’t too many qualifications required for a tour to see the northern lights. If you want to prepare in any way, it is a good idea to tune up your level of fitness. While some tours don't involve much walking, longer tours can involve hiking and other snow-based activities that are best enjoyed when your physical fitness level aligns with the intensity level of these activities.
There are some risks involved with a tour to see the northern lights. Since most tours occur during the winter, it is essential that you are prepared for prolonged exposure to the cold. Many of the northern areas of countries also have a diverse wildlife population, which you should respect and observe from afar unless instructed otherwise by your guide. Other related activities that you may choose to partake in -- like glacial hiking or dog sledding -- come with additional risks.
Dressing appropriately for winter-time travel is essential for your safety and security. While out on tour, never venture far from the path or viewing area unless otherwise specified by your guide. Never venture onto any frozen bodies of water unless you are specifically instructed that it is okay to do so.