The Northern Lights are a must-see on any bucket list, and Torunn Tronsvang, Founder of Up Norway, shares her top family holidays to see the Northern Lights and experience one of nature’s greatest wonders.
If spotting the aurora borealis is top of your to-do in 2023, Norway is one of the best locations to see this spectacular celestial display. Even better, now is the perfect moment to book a trip – NASA is predicting a bumper few years of solar activity, which means the Northern Lights will be more intense and more frequent than ever. Here’s exactly where and when to go for your best chance of seeing them.
What exactly are the Northern Lights?
Named by Galileo after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas, the otherworldly spectacle of shimmering, multi-hued lights dancing across the night sky has inspired wonder and awe for centuries. The science behind the phenomenon is just as captivating. Those beautiful patterns of lights are actually the result of energised particles from the sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph. Our planet’s magnetic field redirects the particles towards the poles. During this process they interact with our atmosphere and deposit energy, causing the glowing phenomenon we see lighting up the night sky.
Where and when can I see them?
November – February is peak season for Northern Lights viewing as the nights are longest at this time, but a visit anytime between September and March gives you a good chance of spotting them. Northern Norway is one of the top places in the world to spot the Northern Lights, but it’s essential to book through a specialist travel company.
With its coastline, islands, fjords, glaciers, mountains and plains, the Arctic Circle Region requires insider knowledge to ensure a seamless trip. Up Norway removes all the worry about travel logistics, with a top team of experts giving families invaluable advice, access to the best guides and tailoring every trip to make it truly memorable. Its clever digital travel guide contains everything from tickets to maps and is designed to make your trip as smooth as possible. Raring to go? Founder Torunn Tronsvang has picked her favourite places below for you to explore Northern Norway in Anna and Elsa’s footsteps and have your own Frozen family fairytale…
A Frozen Fairytale at Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge, Alta
On the banks of the shimmering Alta River in Norway’s high Arctic, each of the 24 rooms in this remote wilderness lodge boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can view the Northern Lights from your cosy, Scandi-chic bedroom. For a real Arctic adventure, you can also book a night at the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, the northernmost igloo in the world.
Open from December 20th to April 7th, it’s built from scratch every year by a local team of experienced builders and artists, who choose a different theme each winter. Stepping inside its sparkling walls is a magical experience, with delicate ice sculptures and soft lighting creating an otherworldly atmosphere.
Family rooms are ideal for travelling with little ones – each comes with insulated mattresses and reindeer hides to ensure you stay snug. Don’t miss the amazing range of wilderness activities on offer, from ice-fishing and snow-shoeing to Sami reindeer sledding and storytelling beneath the Northern Lights.
Finding Kos at Hattvika Lodge, Lofoten
A beautifully-restored collection of 150-year old fishermen’s cottages in Norway’s dramatic Lofoten archipelago, this family-run retreat combines traditional charm with modern comforts. If you’re hoping to see the Northern Lights, book one of the striking, newly-built cabins at Hattvika Hillside.
Boasting huge picture windows and roof skylights for watching the dazzling displays – you can even book an excursion with a local professional photographer to capture once-in-a-lifetime images of your kids with the aurora.
Afterwards, warm up in the sauna and outdoor hot tub before feasting on locally-sourced seafood at Restaurant Fangst, with seasonal tasting menus (including one just for children).
Off grid at Manshausen Sea Cabins, Steigen
Cantilevered over the water, gazing towards immense snowy peaks, these futuristic award-winning cabins are an architectural treat that will delight kids and adults alike. Owned by polar explorer, writer and photographer, Børge Ousland, this unique hotel lies on a 55-acre private island and is only reachable by boat.
Describing itself as ‘where the sea and mountains meet’, there is no light pollution out here to dull the mesmerising glow of the Northern Lights – best admired through the vast glass walls of the cabins. Outside, adventure awaits: sea kayaking, hiking, skiing and simply absorbing the pristine landscapes unfurling before you.
Take a look inside the Manshausen Cabins.
Magical Northerns Lights at 70 degrees North at Bjørnfjell Mountain Lodge, Alta
Inspired by Norwegian cabin culture, this luxurious timber-and-stone Alpine lodge lies just 20km outside Alta but feels blissfully tranquil. On your doorstep lie the family-friendly downhill ski slopes of Sarves Alta, along with snaking trails for hiking, snowshoeing or fat biking.
Opt for one of the hotel’s five detached cabins, with cosy window ledges delivering knockout views over friendly sheep, pine forests and craggy peaks. Be sure to book a spot on the Polar Night Bonfire trip – children will love listening to stories by firelight at the top of the mountain, with the chance of seeing the Northern Lights flickering in the skies above before sledging down.
Tucked away in sweet-scented pine forests, this collection of snow-dusted chalets is a magical base for a family dog-sledding adventure. Around 60 Alaskan huskies live on site, with guests donning thermal suits before being instructed on how to drive a dog sled.
After racing across glittering frozen landscapes, enjoy freshly-baked pizza from Trasti’s stone oven and Nordic tasting menus at the cosy restaurant.
Keep the teens happy at Glød Explorer Domes, Alta
Travelling with hard-to-please teens? These super-cool canvas domes will win them over. Much of the dome is transparent, so if the Northern Lights make an appearance you can gaze up at them while snuggled in bed. Underfloor heating and a wood-burning stove mean the dome stays wonderfully warm – there are even electric blankets and all-important Wi-Fi. Only fifteen minutes from Alta airport, the domes lie within a peaceful pine forest threaded with cross-country skiing and fat-biking trails.
Make sure you sign up for a thrilling guided expedition to chase the aurora, with expert photographers on hand to help you snap memorable pics. You’ll enjoy hot chocolate and homemade sweet treats, mørlefse, to keep you going.
Coastal adventures at Norwegian Wild, Senja
Amid the pristine scenery of Senja, Norway’s second largest island, lies Norwegian Wild. We would recommend The Lighthouse, with hypnotic 360 degrees views from the circular bedroom reached by a floating spiral staircase. It’s the perfect place to play spot-the-aurora.
There are plenty of back-to-nature activities on offer, with the glorious coastal landscapes and fjords of Ånderdalen National Park on your doorstep. One of Norway’s 18 National Scenic Routes lies close by and is well worth taking a spin, weaving its way past fjords backed by sheer mountains and tiny fishing communities.
Capture your memories on camera at Marmelkroken, Andøya, Vesterålen
This rustic guest house has a stellar location, right on the Andøya National Scenic Route. Skirting the west side of Andøya Island, in the Vesterålen archipelago, it’s one of Norway’s most staggeringly scenic drives – it’s not unusual to see seals, whales and eagles from your car window, along with sweeping views of pale sandy beaches, jagged peaks and the wild ocean. Marmelkroken makes a snug base, with its simple but comfortable apartments. Wide-open views mean it’s a great spot for seeing the Northern Lights, with photographer-led excursions on offer for guests (look out for elusive moose, too).