Northern Lights

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Looking into trips to see the northern lights next winter. Trying to decide between tours to Iceland or Finland. Would like to hear from other travelers about the pros and cons of these destinations, and your suggestions. We are thinking of 7-9 days, to have a better chance to see them and would also want to have nature or cultural activities in their short daytime hours. We are two curious retired ladies. Thanks in advance.

We went to Iceland in March of 2017 on an independent trip. During our 7 night stay, we saw the northern lights one evening during an excursion from Reykjavik that we booked with This was on the second evening of our trip. We did not see them again while traveling the Golden Circle. When I researched the trip, both March and September were deemed the best months to go due to solar activity during those times. Other activities included on our 3-day tour of the Golden Circle included ice caving, glacier hiking, visiting the geyser hot springs, seeing many waterfalls (Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss), looking at icebergs in the Jokulsarion Lagoon, and seeing the basalt rock formations on the beach among other things. We also went to the Blue Lagoon and toured Reykjavik on our own. We booked our 3-day trip with Extreme Iceland. Iceland is gorgeous in winter. The glacier hiking was very easy, and the ice cave exploration was otherworldly. The Blue Lagoon is not to be missed - so much fun! We saw Icelandic ponies many times throughout the week, too.

Go to neither Finland or Iceland. Two good reasons; they're very crowded, and the viewing you get is in close proximity to centers of population and you get significant light pollution. A good place to go is Churchill, Canada. First, because it's a lot cheaper to go to Canada than to either Iceland or Finland, and second, and most important, Churchill is not a major population center and you get significantly less light pollution. Unfortunately, there's limited accommodations there, and you need to book early, and even now, it may be sold out for January 2020. Natural Wildlife has a trip to Churchill on several dates in the winter. They run a large dome outside of town where there is no light pollution and is heated, and in consideration that the temperatures can be quite low( -10- to 20 degrees Celsius ) in January, that is a big plus. the dome is constructed so if you want to take pictures, the refraction is minimal and is about the same as if you were standing on the outside, although many people do that anyway. I'm sure there are a couple of other companies that you can book a trip to Churchill from. But if you want to photograph them, you'll need good equipment; an iPhone or a simple compact camera won't be good enough. You'll need a good ILC or DSLR with a tripod, as you're going to be taking pictures using manual exposure for a minimum of 5 seconds. A cheap way to see the lights is to take a Hurtegruten trip up to coast of Norway, as there'll be a number of lights where the lights are visible, but you won't get the lights with the majestic curtains you will in Churchill. We took that trip a couple of years ago and I got some decent photographs of the lights. We also took the Natural habitat trip to Churchill to see the polar bears a year ago November, and while the lights are not visible there at that time of year, I lucked out on one night. We've been to Iceland and were unable to see the lights, but we didn't go there for that purpose. I do intend to go back to Churchill possibly in January 2021 for the specific purpose of seeing the lights. I wouldn't go anywhere else, unless I hired a guide and went up to the high Arctic on my own.

Seeing the Northern Lights depends upon 3 main factors: solar activity, weather and light polution. We went on a Northern Lights cruise and found, as previous posters pointed out, that one needs a good quality camera on a tripod for an extended exposure. When we saw them they were not strong enough for the eye to see them in color, rather a swirling white appearance like fog. If one of the other passengers hadn't had his camera set up so we could see the magnificent colors I would have thought that the guides' assertion that we were seeing the Northern Lights was a hustle. Good luck, you'll need it where ever you go.

I had thought of taking a Viking cruise in January that goes up the coast of Norway. Has anyone tried that?

First of all, heed the advice that you may not see the lights if conditions aren't right; don't count on it. But it's fun to be awakened in the middle of the night by a trip leader or hotel personnel saying Northern Lights are visible. Then you bundle up and gather photo equipment and ENJOY THE WONDER of it all until you get too cold. We've had wonderful experiences with Natural Habitat Adventures, including their Churchill polar bear trip on which we did not see the aurora borealis. I highly recommend that company. (The experience of the polar bears quite made up for anything missed.) Last year we traveled with OAT to Iceland in Winter with the possibility of seeing the lights, but clouds dominated the entire trip so we saw nothing at night. Some years ago we traveled with Road Scholar on a winter trip to Alaska that went above the Arctic Circle and we did see the northern lights 3 nights of that trip. It appears that RS no longer offers that trip, but I did notice one titled "Into the Arctic Skies - Aurora and Astronomy in Churchill" that I would look into if I were thinking of going now.

Thanks all for responding to my post with good suggestions. I had forgotten about Churchill where I wanted to go see the bears when my kids my kids were growing up . I am going to look into the Aurora and Astronomy trip. If not, I like Janet's suggestions for Iceland. I wish I could do both! Thanks.

I second Amy's comments about Natural habitat. I took that trip a couple of years ago in November to see the bears; I wouldn't go anywhere else to see them. Far better than a cruise to Svalbard. when I booked, I was told not to expect to see the Lights in November because it was too hazy that time of year. The freezing bay causes too much haze. But I lucked out one night, but saw them by luck not design. However, natural habitat runs a trip to Churchill in January specifically to see the lights. I understand they have a dome a bit out of town you can set up equipment in which is relatively warm, and is angled so as to not present any photographic problems with refraction for photographing the Lights. And don't take the Viking trip up the coast of Norway; you can book directly with Hurtegruten or with Vantage for less. Vantage actually uses the Hurtegruten ships and charges less than if you book with Hurtegruten. I took that trip in November, which was billed as seeing the Northern Lights, and I did indeed see them, but not nearly as elaborate as in Churchill. But it's considerably less money. Regardless of where you go, leave your iPhone and point and shoot cameras at home; they're useless. You'll need real DSLR's or ILC's and a tripod with a good fast lens.