You won’t find a more beautiful place than the Nordics in winter. Stunning scenery and a white Christmas are already guaranteed, but throw in exploring ice caves, snowmobile tours, whale spotting and tracking down the real Santa, and you’ve suddenly got the adventure holiday of a lifetime on your hands.
The good news is that hunters of aurora borealis can find new and exciting ways to go out this winter. We have collected the top expeditions for those who can brave the cold. These include a night-flight in a hot air balloon in Sweden or stargazing with an Icelandic astronomer.
Lights and action – or get a free cruise to try again
Light show: The aurora borealis above the snowy islands of Lofoten, where fishing villages are found in magnificent fjords
Take a trip on Bergen’s funicular, pictured above, on a tour with travel firm Hurtigruten
Unfortunately you can’t guarantee an aurora sighting, but if they don’t show up on this 15-day expedition up the Norwegian coast to North Cape, travel firm Hurtigruten will give you another seven-day trip free of charge.
You can avoid the hassle of flying by starting and ending in Dover. And there are a number of included outings, such as a ride on Bergen’s funicular, a visit to one of the Lofoten islands where fishing villages are found in magnificent fjords, and a coach tour of the dramatic scenery of Senja.
This journey ends with a stop at North Cape with its impressive plateau high above Arctic Ocean.
Book: Fourteen nights’ full-board costs from £2,999pp (hurtigruten.co.uk).
To get the best Northern Lights view, look up.
A morning hot-air balloon ride over Sweden will take you above Rane Valley Valley’s frozen lakes, forests and mountains.
Pictured is one of four cosy tents at the Aurora Safari Camp, which is a good base to spot moose, red fox and reindeer
The view of the Northern Lights from the ‘cone room’ at the Aurora Safari Camp. Three nights’ full-board with airport transfers costs from £2,219pp
To see the Northern Lights from a new perspective in Sweden, take a hot-air balloon tethered up for unimpeded views. You can also take a ride above Rane River Valley’s frozen forests and lakes.
The Aurora Safari Camp has four comfortable tents that guests can rent for flights. They are available from February to March. You can use fat bikes, which are mountain bikes with large tyres, Nordic skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiling.
Book: Three nights’ full-board with airport transfers, but not flights to Lulea, costs from £2,219pp. Balloon experiences cost £199pp to £510pp (discover-the-world.com).
Norway is known for its beautiful forests, skiing trails and spirit.
Norway’s Rondane National Park, pictured above, is ideal for cross-country skiers, who can tackle the trails in the park’s pine and birch forests
Skiers have the option to follow the seven-mile loop from the Spidsbergseter Hotel.
A communal area at the Spidsbergseter Hotel. Seven nights’ full-board with flights costs from £1,195pp with inntravel.co.uk
The untouched wilderness that is Norway’s Rondane National Park is the perfect place for cross-country skiers. Skiers who are beginners can take a 7-mile loop from the Spidsbergseter Hotel, which is located near the park. More experienced skiers will be able to use the trails within the pine or birch forest.
There’s an indoor pool, sauna and steam room to unwind in after a day’s skiing, as well as 140 varieties of the Norwegian spirit aquavit available in a former goat barn.
Book: Seven nights’ full-board with flights costs from £1,195pp (inntravel.co.uk).
Sleep in a bird’s nest or plunge into an icy river
The camouflaged Mirrorcube, pictured, is one of seven Treehotel cabins in the pine forests of Harads
Head to the pine forests of Harads to stay in two of Swedish Lapland’s design gems.
First up is the Treehotel, with seven cabins that include the camouflaged Mirrorcube, The UFO and The Bird’s Nest.
Then it’s on to Lulea River and the incredible Arctic Bath hotel and spa. Once guests have warmed up, they can then relax in the sauna and take a dip in an ice-cold spa. They will also be able the sleep in wood or stone cabins that were built on top of the ice, or nearby.
Two-hour Spa Treatment is Included. Additional activities, such as wildlife photography or ice-fishing at Treehotel, are charged an extra.
Book: Two nights at the Treehotel followed by one night at Arctic Bath, both half- board, cost from £1,868pp with flights (best-served.co.uk).
On a schooner, you can see orcas and humpback whales.
The final day of the 7-night Gane/Marshall Arctic cruise will be spent on Sommaroy (pictured).
On a 7-night Arctic cruise, you will find orcas and humpbacks whales as well as aurora. A schooner that sleeps just 33 people will take you from Tromso, Norway, to Senja Island. This island is famous for its stunning fjords and mountainous scenery.
The ship will then head towards the Arctic Circle, following the whale-attracting herring shoals. You will spend the last day on Sommaroy where you can climb Mount Hillesoya and spot the Northern Lights.
Book: Seven nights’ full-board costs from £1,812pp, which includes shore excursions but not international flights (ganeandmarshall.com).
Take the Arctic Express with you to the Aurora Sky Station
The Arctic Circle Train trip is an amazing adventure. This is the Abisko Olstra Station train.
The Northern Lights are elusive, so to maximise your chances of seeing them visit Sweden’s Abisko National Park, home to the Aurora Sky Station.
Take the chairlift up the Sky Station to enjoy a four-course dinner at the restaurant, while you wait for the lights to come on. The adventure includes a ride on the Arctic Circle Train starting from Kiruna. Two nights are spent in Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city.
Book: Four nights costs from £1,480pp including flights, B&B in Kiruna, otherwise full-board (regent-holidays.co.uk).
Iceland is the country of fire and ice. Join us as a television star!
Enjoy Iceland’s amazing sights, including the Gullfoss waterfall (pictured), on a group trip with omegabreaks.com in search of the Northern Lights
Join Pete Lawrence from the BBC’s The Sky At Night on a group trip in search of the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Two nights spent in Hella in remote locations. Pete will then give you a lecture on the aurora and take you outside to view the night sky.
You’ll also get to enjoy Iceland’s amazing sights, including the Gullfoss waterfall and the exploding waters at Geyser, as well as the place where Europe’s and America’s tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart.
Book: Five days costs from £799pp, including flights, two nights’ half-board, one night’s B&B in Reykjavik and one night at the airport (omegabreaks.com).
The environmentally-friendly way to go whale-watching
The city of Tromso, pictured, will be your base on an eco-conscious trip in Norway with wherethewildis.co.uk
You will stay in Vengsoy Rorbuer for two nights during the Norway tour.
Two nights at Vengsoy Rorbuer cabin for the wherethewildis.co.uk tour includes aurora viewing.
The short stay in Norway may be the perfect choice if you want to travel eco-conscious. You will travel in Tesla electric cars from Tromso to snowshoe through the fjords during the day, and search for the Northern Lights nightly. A hybrid electric catamaran can take you whale-watching.
Two nights at Vengsoy Rorbuer are followed by three nights in Tromso. This is the perfect place for aurora activity and inner peace.
Book: Three nights’ B&B plus two nights’ self-catering, with transfers and excursions, costs from £1,240pp (wherethewildis.co.uk). These flights are not included.
A snowmobile tour and a walk through the glacier
The Torfhus Retreat’s 25-room wood and stone guesthouses are located in Iceland. Each retreat boasts a complimentary mini bar for a toast should the Northern Lights show up
To explore the impressive ice caves beneath another glacier, step onto the Myrdalsjokull Glacier.
You can then take your snowmobile to Torfhus Retreat, in an unspoiled part of the country. There you will find the geothermally heated open-air pool.
There are 25 stone- and wood-built homes, as well as suites. The rooms have turf roofs. Mini bars and complimentary toasts will be provided in case the Northern Lights appear. You get two snowmobile trips and a guide jeep ride.
Book: Four nights’ B&B with flights costs from £4,520pp (wixsquared.com).
Snuggle under reindeer skin during an Icehotel stay
The Icehotel has been created in the Jukkasjarvi village in the north of Sweden every year since 1989. This is the 2020 version.
Rooms themed on a Dickensian Street, The Great Gatsby and the somewhat more confusing ‘To Bed With Chickens’ will be part of this year’s Icehotel, which has been created in the Jukkasjarvi village in the north of Sweden every year since 1989.
The temperature in each room is below 5C. However, the beds have thermal sleeping bags and reindeer skins.
Book: Three nights’ B&B with one night in an ice room and two nights in ‘warm accommodation’, plus a husky-dog sled tour, an encounter with reindeer, a sauna ritual and a Northern Lights snowmobile tour with dinner, and flights, costs from £1,874pp (sunvil.co.uk).
Santa Claus is waiting for you on this ultimate holiday adventure
Take a journey to Pyha, Finland with Canterbury Travel and try husky-mushing.
Log cabins, which can sleep up to six persons (pictured above), are one of the options for accommodation.
Let the grandchildren or children go on a Christmas adventure looking for Santa.
Let the grandchildren or children go on Christmas adventures in search for Santa.
Don’t be tempted to take a day trip, which involves a hideously early start, and instead make it a mini-break to Finland’s Pyha.
Learn how to husky-mush, take a ride on a snowmobile through pine forests, and get into a reindeer carriage. The best bit, though, is going to Santa’s house for a chat with the big man himself, before a celebration dinner.
Log cabins that sleep up to 6 people are one of the options for accommodation.
Book: Three nights’ full-board in December with flights costs from £1,580 per adult in the cabins, and £1,480 per child (canterburytravel.com).
See the stars at the top of the world – from your bed
To see the Northern Lights’ celestial dance, lie down on your back and stare through the window of your Aurora Village chalet in Ivalo in Finnish Lapland.
The stay is part of a ten-day guided group trip which then crosses into Norway, where you can toast reaching one of Europe’s most northerly points at North Cape with champagne and caviar. There’s the chance, too, to meet husky-dog racer Trine and her puppies in Alta, and to visit an ice bar.
Book: Ten days costs from £3,450pp on a B&B basis with six dinners (three with wine) and included experiences, flights and coach transfers, plus UK door-to-door airport transfers (insightvacations.com).