Enter our fantastic competition to win a luxury villa holiday for four worth £7,000 in collaboration with The Real Greek and Searocks Villas Exclusive Resort in the Mani. 

By Sarah Marshall, journalist for The Telegraph

Feature in the Telegraph on 24 April 2023. Copy written by Sarah Marshall, holiday ideas provided by Sunvil.

Dancing across the night sky to a score of undulating rhythms, the aurora borealis has captivated civilisations for centuries. Arriving unannounced after dark, this mysterious phenomenon can take several forms. Most commonly, bands of green arc the horizon, slowly rippling like waves until they crest and fall with such ferocity the darkness of space is swept away by a tsunami of colours.

This mesmerising light show has given rise to multiple myths and legends, with different cultures developing their own explanations. In Norse mythology, the bifröst was a flaming rainbow bridging middle earth and the gods, or the reflections of light bouncing from shields belonging to the Valkyrie fallen angels. Referring to the aurora as aksarnirq, the Inuit believed displays were the souls of their dead ancestors, while Finnish Sami folklore tells the story of a magical fox running across the sky and sweeping snow with his tail. Even today, Japanese people believe that a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be blessed with good fortunes and good looks.

Science has its own interpretation. Simply speaking, aurora displays occur when charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere around the magnetic poles. These explosive flashes of light change colour depending on whether ions hit oxygen (creating a green or red glow) or nitrogen (giving off blue light). Different strengths of activity are measured by a Kp index on a scale from 0 to 9, with 3 and above promising good displays.

Aurora Borealis, Tromso, Northern norway

What makes the Northern Lights so special, though, is the beauty no two shows are ever the same. From late August until April, when dark nights return to the northern hemisphere, aurora hunters devote hours to chasing these magical performances which everyone should witness at least once in their life.

Whether cruising along frozen coastlines, hiking through snow-dusted forests or driving across borders in pursuit of clear skies, searching is part of the adventure. Aware focussing on the lights alone is a gamble, creative operators and hoteliers have come up with clever ways to incorporate other activities. Beyond dog sledding, snowmobile rides and reindeer safaris, many new itineraries are emerging. Sail on a fishing boat whale watching for orcas; dip into geothermal pools surrounded by spruce trees; or even take to the skies on a hot air balloon ride.

The choice of accommodation has also become more varied, offering much more than a wooden cabin or a Sami lavvu tent. From stargazing in a glass-roofed igloos to luxuriating in an extravagant spa suspended in a river, everything is geared towards seeing the aurora. While there’s never any guarantee these fickle dancers will pirouette onto their electric stage, it’s possible to maximise your chances with some careful planning and research.

Where to go

Using science as your guide, the places with the highest probability of Northern Lights sit beneath the aurora oval, an invisible belt wrapping around the Earth’s magnetic poles at higher and lower latitudes. These halos are packed with electrons leaking from magnetic field lines, which collide with the atmosphere to cause the Northern Lights. When solar winds are strong, the band expands to cover a wider area.

The best places to see the northern lights

In the northern hemisphere, the core of the oval covers latitudes between 60 and 75 degrees in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Canada. One of the key spots is Tromso, in Norway, slap bang in the middle of the band. The city itself has a bit too much light pollution (displays are only visible when activity is strong), but the surrounding areas offer excellent opportunities to hunt for clear, dark skies.

A favourite destination for photographers, thanks to its captivating landscape of steep mountains, snaking fjords and pristine beaches, the Lofoten islands lie further south but still within a sphere of aurora activity. The draw here is a combination of raw nature, a lack of light pollution and the chance to be completely alone.

Although the scenery is often more dramatic for photographs, coastal areas do have one complication: frequent cloud cover. Inland destinations such as Ivalo in Finland, where the weather tends to be more stable – but much colder – could be a safer bet. Sheltered by a bowl of mountains, where a micro-climate produces prevailing winds, Abisko in Sweden sits below a ‘blue hole’ of clear skies and has more cloud-free days per year than many places in Lapland.

Of course, sightings aren’t guaranteed, but one way to avoid disappointment is by combining winter activities with aurora hunts.

Photo tour at Camp Ripan, Swedish Lapland, Sweden

When to go

Across the northern hemisphere, it’s possible to see the aurora as soon as darkness returns in August right through until April – although peak viewings are usually between November and March. The most rewarding – and ironically less crowded – periods are the shoulder seasons. Autumn is much milder, while March is regarded as having some of the most vibrant and colourful displays.

Alternatively, peg a trip to one of several festivals: The Kiruna Snow Festival (featuring the snow blower world championships) runs from January 25-29; while the jazz, classical and electronic Northern Lights festival runs in Tromso from January 27 to February 4.

Aurora Borealis, Swedish Lapland

Insider tips

It’s almost impossible to plan ahead for good weather. But once in a destination, local weather websites are an invaluable tool for finding cloud-free pockets if you have the flexibility to move around. Try yr.no, served by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, for Scandinavia.

Set at the summit of Noulja Mountain in Abisko, the Aurora Sky Station research centre is both a brilliant vantage point for Northern Lights viewing and a good place to enjoy a gourmet meal. The scenic 20-minute chairlift ride to the high-rise restaurant also adds to the sense of adventure (auroraskystation.se).

The best packages

A four night stay at Lapland Guesthouse
Having witnessed one of the strongest aurora displays in recent years at the Lapland Guesthouse in Kangos, Sunvil's destination specialists can confirm that this wonderful family-run property enjoys optimum conditions for a sighting of the northern lights. Away from artificial lights, surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and with a natural gateway to the landscape, plus multiple excursion offerings and personal service, this takes some beating.

A four night stay at Brandon Lodge
Ice roads across solid rivers lead to wilderness activities such as dog sledding and snowmobiling across the Barents Sea. Wander through rows of 400 bright red cottages in the Unesco-listed old town, Gammelstad, and stay a one of Sunvil's most highly-praised winter lodges.

Northern lights holiday in Abisko
Rapidly becoming one of the world’s top aurora spots, Abisko’s mountain-wrapped wilderness promises high success rates. Combine a trip to the Aurora Sky Station with an overnight stay in Kiruna’s original Icehotel, where suites are crafted with ice freshly harvested from the River Torne.

Havila Voyages
Havila Voyages is so convinced passengers will see the aurora on their 12-night journeys, they’ve launched the promise of another cruise for free if they don’t. Powered by electric batteries, vessels glide silently through the water, as guests recline on chairs set below a glass roof indoors. Off ship, excursions include king crab fishing in a frozen fjord, dog sledding in the Arctic wilderness or snowmobiling across the North Cape Plateau. Book your cruise and onshore extensions with our destination specialists.

Northern lights short break in Tromso
High above the Arctic Circle, right below the Aurora Oval, Tromso is an easy base for reasonably priced hotels and leisure attractions. Stay at the waterfront Hotel Edge, close to the Polar Museum and the Northern Lights Observatory. Hunt for the lights on a guided night-time excursion outside the city and fill remaining time with dog sledding, snowmobiling and more.

A three night stay under the stars at Apukka Resort
Whether fierce and fleeting or long and lingering, there’s no chance of missing displays in a glass-roofed cabin at the Apukka Glass Igloo Resort. Drift off under the stars and take a snow train excursion to a cosy camp for more chances of capturing the lights in a different setting. Husky rides, snow-shoe hikes and reindeer safaris can also be part of the plan.

What to pack

A head torch is essential for walking safely through dark forests at night in areas where there are unlikely to be any streetlights. It’s also helpful to wear one when adjusting camera and tripod settings if you plan to photograph the northern lights.

Most properties and excursion providers will provide thermal suits and boots. These will be reconfirmed by Sunvil's specialists - But it’s still worth having your own warm footwear.

Photographing the northern lights is straightforward once you’ve mastered a few techniques, but the long exposures required mean a tripod is necessary to avoid any blur. Pick up a carbon fibre model to reduce weight in your luggage.

Keeping hands and feet warm on long nights is a challenge. Allowing air to circulate, mittens are the best option

Arctic Panorama Lodge, Tromso, northern Norway Arctic Panorama Lodge, Tromso, northern Norway
The Lofoten Islands, northern Norway The Lofoten Islands, northern Norway
The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

3rd September 2023



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

Sunvil's holidays are designed by passionate travellers just like you. Our reservations experts and product teams, many of whom have been with us for many years, are passionate about our destinations and, through their personal, first-hand knowledge can answer any questions that you may have. They are well qualified to advise and recommend, based on your own holiday criteria. We can point you to those special, little-known places, some not found even in guidebooks.

Related Holidays

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8568 4499

We're open tomorrow at 9:15 AM

Make an Enquiry

Please use this form to request further information about a Sunvil holiday or destination.

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
  • Marketing: 020 8758 4731

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify

Details

Preferred departure date *
Duration *
Preferred UK departure airport *
Party size *

Back

  • Adults(12+ yrs)
  • Children(2 to 11 yrs)
  • Infants(Under 2 yrs)
Budget range
Other comments:

Email newsletters

 

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
  • Marketing: 020 8758 4731

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify
Booking reference number *
Alternatively, please enter your query in the box below:

Email newsletters

 

Thank you for your enquiry

Thank you for your enquiry. A member of our specialist reservation teams will be in touch shortly.

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774

Your details have been saved

Feel free to continue to browse the site and add to your enquiry. Don't forget to send the enquiry before you leave!

My Suitcase

We understand that so much choice can be overwhelming which is why we have developed 'My Suitcase'. This facility allows you to save and compare your favourite holidays, and even allows you to return to your selection at a later stage.

Why not use 'My Suitcase' to compile a wish list of your future Sunvil holidays?

 

Sign in


New to Sunvil?

Create Account

 

Already have an account?

Password reset

Back

Close

Close