The Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle (Piriya Photography/Moment/Getty Images)
Exciting things are happening up north. This week marks the best time to see the aurora borealis as it begins its colorful dance across the night sky. Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek word for “north wind,” borealis, this phenomenon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It occurs between August and April when electrically charged particles are blown from the sun down to Earth in the “solar wind.” When the particles collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere, they illuminate the skies with colorful bands, rippling curtains, and shooting rays. Each eye-catching color is determined by the type of atom and the altitude of the collision. The best place to see the northern lights is between 66 and 69 degrees north, areas that are close or near to the Earth’s magnetic north pole. This sliver of the world includes northern Alaska, Canada, bits of Greenland, northern Scandinavia, and northern Russia. As we head into peak viewing season, we want to share the coolest ways to take in this mystical display.
1. From a rolling hotel
Tundra Lodge (Photo: Natural Habitat Adventures)
The subarctic tundra can be a brutal spot to visit. On the flip side, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences, with sights of polar bears during the day and the aurora borealis at night. Natural Habitat Adventures has found a way to make the venture thrilling and cozy with a stay at the Tundra Lodge, a hotel on wheels located in the middle of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area in Canada. Similar to a train, the lodge consists of a dining car, a lounge car, and a few sleeper cars. Outdoor viewing platforms provide a safe space for 24/7 bear and sky watching. Thinking of heading north after January? You’ll be right in time for the new Aurora Pod. The one-of-a-kind structure, featuring a glass roof and waist-up glass walls, is designed to provide 360-degree views of the northern lights. A heated interior and reclining seats offer sightseers a warm and comfortable vantage point on the night sky.
Cost: The seven-day Tundra Lodge Adventure runs $6,995.
2. From an igloo
Camping out in hopes of seeing the aurora borealis is one thing, but gazing up at the colorful night sky from your own private glass igloo is an unparalleled (and seriously dope) experience. The Igloo Village of Hotel Kakslauttanen in Finland boasts 20 thermal glass igloos that allow visitors to enjoy incredible views of the northern lights from the warmth and comfort of their own hut. Each glass igloo is fitted with thermal glass walls and ceilings, which insulate the interior to keep it warm and cozy at night. The glass also contains a frost preventative, maintaining crystal-clear panoramic views even when temperatures outside drop to 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
Cost: Winter rates for glass igloos range around $500 per night.
3. From a hot spring
(Photo: Denise Ferree/Chena Hot Springs Resort)
Watching the northern lights is an exhilarating experience — dampened only by the freezing cold and fatigue. Both of which become a nonissue when you’re gazing at the sky from a hot spring. Chena Hot Springs Resort in Alaska has a hot spring lake that is not only a relaxing spot but also a healing one, infused with a mix of natural minerals. It is believed that bathing in the water can help alleviate muscular pains, arthritis, skin issues like psoriasis, and bronchial disorders. Heal yourself while taking in the natural wonders — we’re in! Chena’s Best of Aurora package includes a three-night stay with unlimited access to the hot springs.
Cost: The trip costs $1,420 (single occupancy without air travel).
4. On a dogsled expedition
(Photo: World of Greenland - Arctic Circle)
Sledding along Greenland’s snowy landscape generally doesn’t lend itself to stargazing. At least we didn’t think so until now! World of Greenland offers a three-day expedition, where a pack of sledding dogs leads the way from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. This region has an average of 300 clear-sky days per year and offers aurora hunters an unfiltered view of the sky.
Cost: The expedition runs about $1,400 per person.
5. On a heated chair
(Photo: Aurora Village)
In the late 1980s, Yellowknife, Canada, became a popular destination spot for seeing the northern lights because of its climate and latitude. While similar views can be seen in Greenland, Russia, and Alaska, Yellowknife’s temperature is warmer and makes it a more comfortable viewing location. That said, it still can get pretty darned chilly. And a heated seat helps when it’s 40 degrees below 0. So where can you find one? Aurora Village is a tepee campground where sky watchers can lounge in specially designed, heated viewing chairs, with guides offering background on the lights in various languages.
Cost: Admission runs $120 per person.
6. On a steamer ship
(Photo: Hurtigruten USA/Facebook)
There’s nothing like staring up at the vast sky from the open ocean. It’s where the Earth and the heavens meet — and the views are incredible. So, it makes sense that one of the best places to see the aurora borealis is aboard a boat. The Norwegian Coastal Steam Hurtigruten offers a 12-day Astronomy Voyage between the months of September to March, the peak viewing season. Onboard, passengers are able to gaze up at the sky while getting an astronomy lecture. The sail also includes a tour of the 34 ports along the Norwegian coast and a stop at the Northern Lights Planetarium in Tromsø.
Cost: Prices start at $1,964 per person.
7. From an ice hotel
(Photo: The Aurora Zone: Searching for the Northern Lights/Facebook)
While clouds can be the death of aurora spotting, there is one spot in Sweden that eludes them: Abisko. Nestled in the mountain region of Scandinavia, this village sits dead center in the auroral zone. With sweeping winds and a perennially cloud-free sky, it is considered one of the best places to see the northern lights. Travelers are transported via chair lift and greeted with a four-course dinner before watching the colors come to life in the night sky. Visitors can also opt to sleep over at Aurora Sky Station, located at the top of the mountain.
Cost: Four-day trips start at $3,000.
8. From a plane
(Photo: Carlos Fernandez/Moment Open/Getty Images)
While watching the aurora borealis from the ground is captivating, it can also be brutally cold. One way to see the lights in comfort is in a warm cabin — on a plane. Omega Holidays offers nightly flights that go in search of these heavenly lights. The evening starts with a one-hour talk on the ground from a guest astronomer. Travelers then board the plane and set out on an unforgettable three-hour experience. The flights, which depart from a variety of European airports, head northward and go over Aberdeen and the Shetland Islands in Scotland to a point in the North Atlantic between U.K. and Icelandic airspace. The chance of seeing an aurora is 80 percent.
Cost: The flight costs $320 per person and must be booked 28 days in advance.
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