Lights dance in technicolor across the sky, bursts of neon green, chartreuse and violet piercing the seemingly endless expanse of black. This spectacular sight is brought down to earth by a rather violent interaction between electrically charged particles and oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere that creates the aurora borealis — a profoundly beneficial cause-and-effect relationship, at least for those who have the opportunity to look up at this natural phenomenon.
Thankfully, that number is growing. What was once a bucket-list item checked off by only a select few is today enjoying broad popularity among luxury travelers.
“The Arctic region is now more accessible than ever, prompting travelers with a sense of adventure to book a vacation,” says Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel, a U.K.-based luxury travel company. “It’s a magical experience that really does have to be seen to be believed.”
The growing popularity of northern lights trips has impacted more modest travel plans, thanks to low-cost airlines like WOW Air that have quite literally put Iceland on the map for those who may never have considered such a jaunt because of budget constrictions (the company’s hub is in Reykjavik). However, for luxury seekers, these bare-bones flights don’t even muster consideration.
“The requests we are receiving are for trips that cater to the luxury traveler who might have been to the Norwegian fjords in the summer and who wants to go to Iceland in the winter,” says Cammie Burke of luxury tour operator Scott Dunn Travel. “Maybe those travelers have just been on safari or to Spain, and this is next in line. It’s incredible, the demand, and it’s something for couples and for families who want to be disconnected and step into the natural world with an unpredictable, spiritual, stunning experience that few people have had.”
That unpredictability can make spotting the northern lights challenging, but there are ways to boost your odds: Go at the right time, generally September to March; pick the right spot (the farther north, the better); and then hope for a clear sky.
“As with anything in nature, nothing can ever be guaranteed,” says Cooper. “The northern lights are as much a natural experience as wildlife spotting — all you can do is increase your chances. The intensity of the light will depend on how strong the solar activity that causes the northern lights is, and travelling north above the Arctic Circle is your best bet, as this is where the magic happens.”
An advantage of bespoke trips organized by a luxury travel outfit is being able to build in contingencies that further promote your chances of seeing the lights. Even in a spot known for near-nightly viewing, there is still the possibility of inclement weather. “Our trips can include private guides for northern lights safaris,” says Burke. “They’ll find clear skies 40 or 60 Norway’s Funken Lodge offers prime northern lights viewing as part of the Aurora All Day Experience from Off the Map Travel. miles away and take guests on a northern lights hunt in a Super Jeep. Imagine being all bundled up in a snowsuit with hot chocolate and snacks, and stopping to see the lights for as long you want.”
Or, you can simply ask your northern lights “concierge” to keep watch after you’ve snuggled into bed. “When guests go to sleep, they have the option to let the front desk staff know if they want to be woken up should the lights appear,” says Burke. “Someone will tap on their door with a warm drink to awaken them.”
This is just one of the indulgent experiences that awaits today’s northern lights explorer — experiences that don’t end when the sun comes up. Some of the most in-demand luxury trips are designed to incorporate once-in-a-lifetime daylight experiences that capture the spirit of the setting.
Want to snowmobile on the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland? Snowshoe through a completely silent forest? Take a dip in the Bay of Bothnia in the northern part of the Baltic Sea in a drysuit? That last activity comes courtesy of Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finnish Lapland — where you can also hunt for lights by husky or snow tank sleigh. Oh, and stay in a glass igloo, with nothing but a clear pane separating you from the sky.
Luxury northern lights holidays include everything from “the chance to stay in the original ICEHOTEL in Sweden, stay in a traditional Sami tepee used by the indigenous people of Finnish Lapland, stay in a mobile glass cabin on skis or even sleep in a mirrored box suspended in the trees,” says Cooper. “The Wolf Lodge in Norway delivers a luxury lodge built in an enclosure full of native Arctic wolves, and the Tree Hotel in Sweden has spectacular cabins, the latest of which includes a new level of luxury and space 10 meters in the canopy of the trees.”
Despite the diversity of these luxury accommodations and their singular locations, a common thread weaves them together: the desolation. And when it comes to viewing the northern lights, the more desolate, the better. Like city lights obscure the stars, so, too, do they dull the aurora borealis.
“You won’t find the light pollution of large hotels here,” says Burke. “Aurora Safari Camp in Sweden is in a totally remote area with no artificial light when the camp is set up. It offers an amazing opportunity to see the lights, with incomparable activities like viewing them from the middle of a frozen lake or relaxing in a sauna on a float on a frozen river. It can even be set up with snacks and Champagne. Deplar Farm in northern Iceland is an incredible, luxurious place to view the northern lights, and Logger’s Lodge is Sweden’s answer to a private northern lights getaway that is ideal for a romantic interlude. It’s private use, ideal for couples, with a full staff who stay nearby. You can do amazing activities by day and are in a prime location to see the dance of the northern lights by night.”
By Jaymi Naciri
This story originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine.