“Put your jackets on and come outside. You don’t want to miss this!” Those were the only words we needed from our host, Johan Stenevad. We left behind the cozy dining table at the Lapland Guesthouse in the Swedish Lapland miles above the Arctic Circle to scurry outside wearing far fewer layers than we needed in the bone-chilling night air. We gasped as the aurora borealis gracefully danced across the sky in shades of green, pink and purple. A mesmerizing sight, the show lasted several minutes earning every ooh and aah exclamation.
There’s a reason the northern lights find a place on so many bucket lists. Viewing this natural phenomenon provides unforgettable moments. If viewing the aurora borealis sits near the top of your bucket list, these destinations just might deliver that checkmark you seek along with a bounty of winter wonderland delights.
The Swedish Lapland
At the Lapland Guesthouse in the village of Kangos–one of my favorite places in the world–the search for northern lights is never far away. Johan surveys the skies each evening making sure everyone knows when the lights arrive. Some evenings he attaches a sled to his snowmobile and takes guests on a northern lights safari. Other times, like the aforementioned evening, the lights put on a dazzling show just outside the house.
Spending time at the welcoming Lapland Guesthouse delivers more than northern lights viewing. Traverse the frozen landscape to experience hand-feeding reindeer. Then share a hearty lunch of hot soup or grilled burgers served fireside in a snowbank blanketed with reindeer skins.
For active adventures, don’t miss dog sledding on a frozen lake. Or spend a morning ice fishing. If you’re lucky enough to reel in a fish from the icy waters, the chef at Lapland Guesthouse will happily prepare your prize catch for dinner. Don’t worry, your evening meal is certain to be delicious even if your fishing expedition comes up empty.
After a day filled with winter delights, warm up with time in an authentic Swedish sauna. Then top off the evening with a nightcap at the onsite bar aptly named the Tilted Reindeer. Skål! www.laplandguesthouse.com
Fairbanks sits in the aurora oval, a ring-shaped area around the North Pole, making it one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. They’re often visible from August to May, becoming more intense between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. While there are many places to experience the northern lights in the Fairbanks area, one of the most intriguing is the Borealis Base Camp.
Situated on 100 acres in the snowy boreal forest just 25 miles outside of Fairbanks, Borealis Basecamp feels as if it’s worlds away from civilization—in a good way. Guests stay in geodesic domes with expansive clear ceilings that provide unobstructed views of the night sky and if you’re lucky, the northern lights. The best part: all of this is visible without ever leaving the comfort of your warm and cozy bed. Considering that the temperatures in the region frequently dip as low as -35 or more, the ‘not leaving the warm bed part’ is especially enticing.
Although this lunar-like landscape remains off the grid, that doesn’t stop the chef from whipping up delicious cuisine. Served in a stunning yurt with floor-to-ceiling windows, our three-course meal included the choice of flat iron steak, Alaska sockeye salmon or Alaskan king crab. www.borealisbasecamp.net
At the north end of the aurora oval, Wiseman—population 14—is worth the daring Ice Road Truckers drive up the Dalton Highway. Northern Alaskan Tour Company offers tours from Fairbanks with lodging at Coldfoot Camp—a place built for truckers serving the needs of the workers on the Alaskan Pipeline. They’ll drive you up the icy highway and fly you back to Fairbanks for a bird’s eye view of the frozen tundra.
When the northern lights forecast seems promising, guests are transported from Coldfoot Camp to Wiseman—a tiny village just 30 minutes away. Here you’ll meet Jack Reakoff, a true Alaskan character. Jack happily shares information about the lights along with entertaining tales of life in Wiseman. He also provides photography tips along with tripods. A warm cabin with a fire burning in the hearth, hot beverages and cookies keep everyone comfy and cozy. www.northernalaska.com
When a community procures the moniker “Town of the Northern Lights” it deserves a spot on any aurora borealis chasing itinerary. Situated 375 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark, the 15,000 residents of this picturesque fjord town seem to have won the location lottery. Surrounded by mountains and benefiting from the Gulf Stream’s warm air which finds its way to Norway’s coast, Alta doesn’t have the extreme bone-chilling temperatures of other far north locales. You’ll still need to bundle up, but it’ll be worth it to take in the glorious lights dancing overhead.
The world’s first observatory dedicated to the study of the northern lights sits above the town on Mount Haldde. And in the town center, the bold design of the Northern Lights Cathedral with its coiling body and spire clothed in rippling titanium sheets celebrates the beauty of the aurora borealis.
When you’re not chasing the lights, add a few extra layers and spend a night at Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel on the banks of the Altaelva River. Carved entirely from snow and ice, the hotel opens in January and returns to the river as it melts in springtime. www.visitnorway.com