YOUR GUIDE TO ORGANISING A NORTHERN LIGHTS HOLIDAY FROM GENEVA
by Sarah Scaddan
Catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights requires nothing more than a dark, clear night in the Polar Regions, and a pinch of luck. It is as simple as that. The magical curtains of colour that streak across the northern night sky are the result of solar wind – a stream of particles from the sun that collides with oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere. These collisions produce the haunting greens and magentas as the earth’s magnetic field draws the wind towards the polar regions.
Iceland is the obvious place to witness the aurora borealis but it’s by no means the only option. Northern Norway, Finland and Sweden also have some magical lodges in the wilderness that we can get to from Geneva without too much stress. Between late September and late March, it is only light for a few hours around the middle of the day, so the celestial ballet of light dancing across the sky is a common phenomenon.
A typical northern lights adventure, wherever your chose to go, includes snow shoeing, husky sledding, snowmobiles, reindeer sledding, artic fishing and you could always throw in a visit from Santa Claus if you are so inclined.
This is a once in a lifetime experience, not a budget holiday. I have not put a price to each option, let’s just say ‘not cheap’ covers them all. Here are five ideas of Northern lights excursion, all of which can be done in one amazing short trip.
SWEDISH LAPLAND – KIRUNA
Northern Sweden is an excellent place to see the Northern Lights because it lies under the auroral oval and enjoys clear skies more often than many coastal regions. The town of Kiruna is situated 145 km north of the Arctic Circle.
Flights – fly to Kiruna via Stockholm with SAS. 5h10 total flight time. A slightly cheaper and much more adventurous option would be to fly to Stockholm and then take a night train from Stockholm to Kiruna. You could have your own berth and wake up to magical snow laden scenery.
Hotels – A short transfer from Kiruna is the original ICEHOTEL; the world’s first hotel made of ice and snow. The hotel recommends one night in a cold room and a couple of nights in a warm room as ideal, as it gives you time to join wilderness excursions on the days when you have a warm room to return to in the evening.
NORVEGIAN LAPLAND – TROMSO
Tromso is a lively Arctic coastal city and the capital of northern lights adventures. It is possible to stay here and enjoy day tours to the surrounding countryside and retire to the city at night. Due to the gulf stream the climate on the Norwegian coast is milder, the average winter temperature is a balmy -4 degrees. Cruises go around the coast from Tromso where it is possible to see porpoises, dolphins and if you are lucky, whales. There are orcas and humpbacks swimming around the fjords looking for herring and a selection of tour operators to choose from. Do choose an ethical operator that does not chase whales.
If you don’t want to stay all nights in this epicenter of Norwegian winter life, you could combine your trip with many fabulous rural lodges around.
Flights from Geneva to Tromso with SAS or Finnair with one stop. 5h55 flight time.
Hotels – Tromso has a lot of choice. One winner is the Clarion Collection Hotel With.
FINNISH LAPAND – KILPISJÄRVI
Kilpisjärvi is the most north western point of Finland, the bit that looks like an arm. From Tromso airport (Norway) it is a 3.5 hour journey but although this is a long transfer, it is worth it to be totally in the wilderness and away from artificial light. The landscape is amazing. Great to combine with a night or two in Tromso.
Flights from Geneva to Tromso with SAS or Finnair with one stop. 5h55 today flight time.
Hotels – Stay at The Vasara Reindeer Ranch, a glass-igloo concept perched on the shores of a frozen lake. The setting is spectacular and home to herds of free roaming reindeer. There are only four secluded stylish glass-domed cabins each with ensuite bathrooms. In the short daylight hours enjoy the view across the valley and in the dark hours, lie in bed and enjoy a private display of the northern lights.
FINNISH LAPLAND – NELLIM
The village of Nellim by Lake Inari lies amidst stunning Lappish scenery and has the advantage of being a short transfer from Ivalo airport and once you are there, all the classic arctic activities are on your doorstep. At nights, guides will lead you through the forests, across snow covered trails and frozen lakes to find the perfect place to spot to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Flights from Geneva to Ivalo with Finnair, one stop in Helsinki. 5h20 total flight.
Hotels – Stay at the Nellim Wilderness Hotel which offers a range of accommodation including log cabins, aurora bubbles and a wilderness camp. Delicious Lappish cuisine is served.
Although Reykjavik is a great city and definitely worth a visit, staying here you are less likely to view the northern lights due to street lighting. Combining one or two nights here and the rest in wilderness is a good option. Alternatively staying in Reykjavik and organising day tours from your hotel.
Flights: Geneva to Reykjavik with Swiss/Icelandair via Frankfurt. 5h50 total flight.
Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre offers complimentary admission to Aurora Reykjavik – Northern Lights Center, only 500 meters from the hotel. Also evening dining on the roof terrace whenever Northern Lights are visible.
Hotel Alda. Stylish contemporary hotel located in Reykjavik’s shopping area. You can book an extensive range of tours here to take in all the nearby natural wonders, whale watching and 4×4 northern light spotting.
Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel. Less than an hour away from the capital, set against the backdrop of vast lava fields, this hotel looks pretty special. It has a great restaurant, a spa and all sorts of crazy adventures to go on, but you can also just lie in the hot tub and stare at the light show.
Hotel Ranga. Apparently one of the best hotels in the world to see the northern lights from. This is a very remote Alpine lodge in south west Iceland where you can watch volcanoes explode, see Northern Lights and eat like a Viking. It is in a great position for exploring South Iceland’s delights including Jökulsárlón lagoon, glaciers, volcanoes, and the Golden Circle (although you may need to hire a car). Food is fabulous – the best in the area. It is one and a half hours by car from Reykjavik airport. Prices from CHF290 a night.
Hotel Glymur. If sitting in a geothermal hot tub watching the Northern Lights sounds heavenly, check yourselves into the bright-red Hotel Glymur, one of Iceland’s most popular hotels. Just 45 minutes outside Reykjavik, it’s perched on a hillside by the sea in Hvalfjordur – and, again, it’s gloriously remote. Delicious fresh Icelandic food is served in large portions. This hotel is more homely than chic.
The Northern Lights Inn. Visitors to the Northern Lights Inn are provided with detailed aurora forecasts and enjoy commanding views from the panoramic windows of the hotel’s restaurant. The inn is just a short walk from the hot-springs of the island’s famous Blue Lagoon, open until 8pm in the winter months. If you’re lucky, you can bathe in the waters of the spring and watch as solar winds trail ribbons of green light through the thermosphere. It is 45 minutes drive from Reykjavik.