If you’ve always wanted to see the magical northern lights dance across the sky, this winter is going to be your best chance for another decade. The aurora borealis, to give the lights their proper name, occur on an 11-year cycle, and 2016 will mark the end of that cycle’s peak period.
If the thought of dark nights and freezing temperatures still fills you with apprehension, our advice is to travel like a true Bravoleb by booking into a strategically located luxury hotel that helps take the hard work out of aurora spotting.
1. Kakslauttanen, Finland
Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy Kakslauttanen
Finland is already having a bumper year for northern lights spotting, with the aurora visible as far south as Helsinki in September. It’s the northernmost region of Lapland that offers the best opportunities, however, and Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä (Europe’s most northerly vacation resort) that offers the most luxurious experience. The aurora appears in winter months here every other clear night and you can watch from the comfort of a heated glass igloo with glass roof for optimal aurora spotting. New for this season, the resort also offers 16 kelo (Lappish pinewood)-glass igloos with fireplaces, private saunas, and kitchenettes.
If you want to get out into the Finnish nature, book an evening husky, reindeer, or snow mobile safari for an incredible ride through the wilderness while hunting the lights.
2. Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, Iceland
Photo: Courtesy of Design Hotels
Many travelers have made the mistake of booking a ticket to Iceland expecting to see the aurora magically appear from the comfort of their downtown Reykjavík hotels. While that’s not totally unheard of, the impact of light pollution in the country’s capital city does make your chances rather hit or miss.
Make sure to spend at least a couple of nights of your Icelandic trip outside of Reykjavík to greatly increase the chance of northern lights spotting — most visible in Iceland from October to April. Ion Luxury Adventure hotel is located in a rural area, 40 minutes outside of the capital and far from its bright lights. You can await the nighttime light show from the outdoor, 32-foot hot tub, or with a cocktail in hand at the aptly named Northern Lights Bar where large picture windows offer optimal viewing when the lights come out to play.
3. Chena Hot Springs Resort, Alaska
If soaking in a hot tub on a cold winter night sounds heavenly, imagine yourself in the mineral-rich healing waters of Chena Hot Springs resort while the aurora dance above you. It’s an experience the resort is so confident can be replicated that it even has a dedicated “aurora testimonial” page on its website.
Sixty miles from Fairbanks, the resort is located directly underneath a very active band of northern lights and far from the light pollution of city lights. There is a longer window of opportunity here, too, with the lights most frequently visible from August all the way to May. The resort recommends taking a nap until 10 p.m. and then staying up until 3 a.m. for the best opportunity to see the lights... but, if you are staying in one of their Moose Lodge rooms, staff will kindly give you a wake up call when they appear.
4. Ice Hotel, Sweden
If you are braving the cold in search of a nighttime light show, why not go all out and stay in a hotel actually made of ice. Though Sweden’s Ice Hotel, in Jukkasjärvi, is not the only such hotel in the world — Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway is another good bet for northern lights hunters — it was the first. And thanks to its far northern location, above the Arctic Circle, is still one of the best for aurora spotting.
Each year, a team of artists crafts the hotel out of ice harvested from a nearby river, creating fabulously intricate and fantastical themed suites with solid ice beds topped with toasty reindeer skins. While the chances of seeing the northern lights from the hotel are already high, the hotel also offers excursions to the nearby Aurora Sky Station in Abisko, reached via chairlift, which is renowned for intense and long-lasting sightings.
5. Hotel Arctic, Greenland
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Greenland — Mads Pihl
Greenland’s Hotel Arctic has the distinction of being world’s most northerly four-star hotel. The hotel is located at the edge of an ice fjord in the western town of Ilulissat, where the population of sled dogs comes close to the number of people, and the chances of aurora spotting are among the highest in the country.
Hotel Arctic offers the opportunity to stay in an aluminum igloo, set right at the edge of the fjord. The igloos are available for rent from May through September, which slightly overlaps with the town’s peak northern light season (late September through mid-April). Visiting in winter? Check into an Umiaq Suite, decorated with cool Nordic design and work by Greenlandic artists, and offering fantastic views of the sea and the icebergs... not to mention nature’s greatest light show.
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