Lapland, Finland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. This region sees the Northern Lights 200 out of 300 nights in a year! Those are pretty incredible odds! Sure, the probability is skewed more towards the winter months and depends on a few additional factors (listed below). But there is no denying that Lapland is one of the best places on Earth to witness the Aurora Borealis.
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are one of the most stunning, natural spectacles that we’ve ever experienced. I can only describe this display of dancing lights in the night sky as unearthly, and surreal.
Northern Lights in Finland
We spent over a week in Lapland during late December, and early January, and were among the extremely fortunate. The Northern Lights danced for us three nights in a row! Had it not been for bad weather, we would have seen the lights on the other nights too.
The first time I saw the Northern Lights, I thought it was smoke billowing from the woods. But then I quickly noticed how the “smoke” was like a band across the sky, hardly moving. Within the next hour, the dull smoke cloud became brighter, and that’s when it became clear to me. This wasn’t any cloud, this was the Aurora Borealis!
Once the lights become more prominent, they go from dull to bright, to super bright; changing shapes and flowing. Sometimes it looks like a train in the sky, and sometimes it looks like keys on a piano. But at all times, it looks surreal!
Best Time To See Northern Lights In Finland
The Northern Lights are visible between September to March in Lapland. In northern Lapland, the chance of seeing the lights is about every other clear night. In southern Finland, they are visible on about 10-20 nights a year. The lights would usually make their appearance around 8 PM and stay till 3 AM.
But also keep in mind, that September to March is the peak tourist season. Accommodation runs out quickly, and prices are high. So book well in advance.
Best Place To See Northern Lights In Finland
Northern Lapland is the best place in Finland to see the Northern Lights. Most tourists will make their way up to Rovaniemi or Kakslauttanen at most. If you happen to be in Rovaniemi, definitely book a Northern Lights tour and head out into the wilderness.
Unlike Rovaniemi, Kakslauttanen, Saariselka (a 2-hour drive north) has little to no light pollution. So, you probably don’t have to go too far to find a secluded spot to catch the northern lights. Unfortunately for us, it snowed heavily throughout our stay in the Kilopaa Fell Centre in Saariselka.
But I would highly advise those of you who want to see the Northern Lights to go further north! However, there is a reason why many tourists don’t venture beyond Saariselka. And that is because of the freezing temperatures. While we were in Rovaniemi, the temperature never dipped below -4 °C (25 °F), which was very tolerable. However, it was -30 °C (-22 °F) our first night chasing the lights in Ivalo. It was brutal but worth it!
Ivalo is accessible by road and air. This small town serves tourists who fly in from Helsinki to go to Kakslauttanen. However, I would highly advise you to save your money and stay in Ivalo. At 68.66° N, Ivalo is 2° north of Rovaniemi. The odds of seeing the Northern Lights are good in Ivalo.
It was here that we saw the Northern Lights right outside our accommodation – Guesthouse Husky! It was spectacular. We didn’t need to go into the wilderness or book a tour. We just stepped out after dinner and were left speechless.
Hotel deals in Ivalo
Inari is the northernmost point we visited while in Lapland. It’s a 45-minute drive north of Ivalo. We stayed at the Wilderness Hotel Inari, which quite literally is in the middle of nowhere. With no light pollution around, we ventured out onto a frozen Lake Inari to witness the dazzling spectacle of the Northern Lights.
We set out in a group on snowmobiles and made our way to a spot with a couple of cottages. While we stood on a frozen lake at -20 °C (-4 °F), we were served hot beverages which made our night truly memorable.
So if you ask me – what’s the best place in Finland to see the Northern Lights? I would say anywhere north of Saariselka. The further north you go into Lapland, the better your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. But keep in mind the temperature also drops drastically. Also, go into the wilderness – there’s plenty of that in Lapland. Stay away from artificial lights.
Hotel deals in Inari
One would expect that the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi, would offer spectacular viewings of the Northern Lights. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
But unfortunately, Rovaniemi’s draw as the largest city in Lapland is also its drawback. The light pollution makes it difficult to enjoy the Northern Lights from the heart of the city. Visitors must often drive a great distance to get away from light pollution to enjoy the dancing lights!
So, if you wish to see the Northern Lights in Rovaniemi, we highly recommend that you book a guided tour.
Hotel deals in Rovaniemi
Can you see the Northern Lights in Helsinki?
Sadly, no. Helsinki is too far south and has a lot of light pollution. However, if there is a period of intense solar activity, the Northern Lights can become visible as far as Helsinki.
Should You Book A Guided Tour?
Let’s be honest, few visitors go north of Rovaniemi. And if you want to see the Northern Lights in Rovaniemi, you must book a guided tour. Your tour group will take you to a secluded spot to catch the lights. We noticed that all hotels in Lapland offer Northern Light excursions. If your accommodation is in the middle of a city/town, I would highly advise signing up for a guided tour.
However, even if you’re not in a big city, it’s still a good idea to book a guided tour. We booked one while we were in Inari and Ivalo. And honestly, we’re glad that we did!
The tour took us to secluded spots from where the lights were even more magnificent! Just look at the photos below.
Should You Book Glass Igloos?
Yes, if you can afford them.
There’s no denying that spending a night in a glass igloo is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For many, it’s a bucket list item. There’s a romantic essence associated with gazing at the stars, and the Northern Lights, from the comfort of your bed. Because, let’s face it, standing in -25 °C cold for a long time is pure torture!
Many hotels in Lapland offer glass igloo accommodation in addition to traditional rooms. Of course, the most publicised and sought-after glass igloos are the ones at Kakslauttanen. However, we also saw glass igloo rooms at the Wilderness Hotel in Inari and the Arctic SnowHotel in Rovaniemi.
To stay in a glass igloo is a personal choice. If you ask me, I loved chasing the light with nothing between me and the sky. But that may not be the case for you. Also, there is a possibility that the Northern Lights don’t occur directly above your glass igloo. In this case, you will be forced to step out.
Best Glass Igloo Hotels in Finland
Prices vary according to the season, and location. You can check the pricing by clicking on the links below:
- Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort – Igloos and Chalets
- Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi
- Arctic TreeHouse Hotel, Rovaniemi
- Wilderness Hotel Inari
- Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos, Rovaniemi
Northern Lights FAQs
Here are answers to some questions that we’ve been asked many times.
How To Dress For The Northern Lights?
Keep in mind that you’ll be standing in sub-zero temperatures for a long time. Sooner or later, that cold is going to reach your skin. Layer up! Ask your hotel, or tour guide to provide you with overalls, and snow boots. Get a few hand, toe, and body warmers and strap them onto yourself. Wear mittens, not gloves. Mittens are designed to keep your hands warmer. Don’t stand still for too long. Walk around to keep the circulation flowing.
Prime Factors For Northern Lights
Your chances of sighting the Northern Lights primarily depend on these factors:
1. Solar winds
Thanks to research conducted since the 1950s, we know that electrons and protons from the sun are blown towards the earth on the ‘solar wind’. These charged particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles to emit light. Each reacting gas emits a different coloured light. Atomic oxygen is responsible for the two main colours of green and red. Nitrogen causes blue and deep red hues.
High solar activity (or a solar storm) means higher chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
2. Clear night (with or without the moon)
A cloudless, starry night is a prerequisite to the Northern Lights.
If it hadn’t been for the clouds, we would have seen the Northern Lights even at Saariselka. And that would have made it four nights in a row for us.
Of course, a clear night with a full moon isn’t ideal. If the Northern Lights aren’t bright enough, the moonlight can wash away some colours. Fortunately for us, on the 3 nights we saw the Northern Lights, a full moon hardly affected their intensity. Also, one of our guides made a great point – the moonlight exposes the snow-covered landscape, making for some exceptionally beautiful pictures.
3. No light pollution
To get the best viewing of the Northern Lights, stay as far away from cities and towns. City lights can ruin your Aurora experience. Cities such as Rovaniemi have light pollution. The only way to see the Northern Lights is to get away from the city.
What is the KP Index?
While checking the forecast for the Northern Lights, you’ll often see the term KP Index. In short, the KP Index is a scale (imagine horizontal lines across the Earth) from 0 to 9. With 0 being closer to the North Pole, and 9 being closer to France. The scale determines where you need to be located to see the Northern Lights.
To put it another way, the KP Index is a scale of geomagnetic activity – the higher the geomagnetic activity, the higher the KP Index. KP0 means very weak or non-existent Aurora Borealis. KP9 means a major geomagnetic storm with the Aurora likely to be seen in France and northern Spain.
Lapland falls between KP1 and KP3, which means that there is always a high probability of seeing the Northern Lights.
In our experience, the KP Index wasn’t always reliable. An easier way to keep track of the Aurora forecast is to download an app for your smartphone.
Northern Lights Forecast Apps
I used an app called My Aurora Forecast for my Android (there is also an iOS version) to check the visibility of the Northern Lights. The app didn’t always alert us when the Aurora became visible. But here is what I relied on, and it worked. The app shows a map with your location and the position and movement of the Northern Lights. The moment I saw the lights move close to our position on the map, we stepped out.
Luckily, the app always alerted us just before the lights reached their brightest.
So, speaking of smartphones.
Can you shoot the Northern Lights with your smartphone?
Technically yes, but given the small sensor sizes, don’t expect DSLR-like photo quality.
But here are a few tricks to help to capture better photographs with your phone:
- Switch to manual-mode (if your camera app allows) and then change with the following settings.
- Play with the exposure setting; try something between 2–5 seconds
- The ISO should ideally be between 100 and 400. Anything higher might result in a lot of grain.
- Don’t handhold your phone. Find something to rest it against or prop it up.
I hope this guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Lapland proved helpful. Please feel free to share it on the social media network of your choice. And don’t forget to check out my Northern Light photos.