If seeing the Northern Lights is at the top of your bucket list, an Arctic Circle cruise is one of the most enjoyable ways to tick off this spectacular natural attraction! The aurora borealis is formed by solar plasma and winds, creating a uniquely shifting light show illuminating the sky. As well as the main event, you’ll also visit quaint fishing villages and even get out for a cross-country skiing or dog sledging excursion. Enjoy the quiet beauty of the frozen north, while basking in the glow of these legendary lights.
Norway, Northern Lights
Iceland, Northern Lights
Greenland, Northern Lights
Ireland, Northern Lights
Sweden, Northern Lights
Follow in the footsteps (or boat wake) of Vikings in Norway. This Scandinavian destination is blessed with natural beauty, from its famous fjords to its city parks. Head to Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum to learn about its legendary former residents, or to Bergen to have a wander around Bryggen wharf. Admire the northern lights overhead in cities like Tromsø, before getting out into the countryside to explore the fjords.
It doesn’t get any more dramatic than Iceland, a land of fire and ice with its snow-capped mountains, gushing geysers and active volcanoes! Start your tour in charming Reykjavik, where you can visit the National and Saga museums, and be sure to have a soak in the tranquil Blue Lagoon. Thingvellir National Park is a must-see with its volcanic landscapes and waterfalls, or you can explore the glaciers of Vatnajokull.
Get away from it all in the remote wilds of Greenland, where you can go dog sledging by day and see the Northern Lights by night. This wild expanse gives you the chance to travel from fjord to glacier on your adventures – why not give sea kayaking or rock climbing a chance? Greenland’s villages are brightly painted fishing settlements, or you can head to the capital of Nuuk Town to learn more about daily life here.
Famous for its breath-taking landscapes and folktales, modern Ireland offers scenery that seems to come straight from a postcard! This North Atlantic island nation boasts sights like the stunning Cliffs of Moher and Ring of Kerry, along with the attractions of its cosmopolitan capital city, Dublin. Sample a pint of Guinness, tour Trinity College and visit Dublin Castle before enjoying the live music in Temple Bar.
You’ll see water at every turn in Sweden, a beautiful Scandinavian country featuring thousands of islands and lakes. Gothenburg is dotted with pretty canals to explore, and the picturesque capital city, Stockholm, features 14 islands alone! Tour Gamla Stan old town or the outdoor Skansen museum to learn about Sweden’s traditions, or get out into its lush countryside in pristine areas like the Abisko National Park.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of a certain time and place where you’ll be treated to a sighting of the Northern Lights. In general, the aurora tends to show itself during the winter months, particularly on clear evenings between the months of October and March. You’ll have the greatest chance of seeing them around the Arctic Circle, particularly during the spring and fall equinoxes when skies are extra clear. There’s also a solar cycle to take into account – some years are brighter than others. But no matter the year, the winter is definitely the best time to go!
The main highlight of a Northern Lights cruise is clearly the light show overhead, but there’s plenty more to see and experience along the way! Most cruises pass through the northern reaches of Norway, with highlights like the port of Tromso with its Arctic Cathedral and cosy pubs. Bodo is a must-visit for its Nordland Museum, showcasing an overview of Norway’s history and cultures, while the Vesteralen Islands show off life in the Stone Age with well-preserved architecture. Some itineraries include a stop in Iceland, where you can visit the geothermal Blue Lagoon steam baths or soak in the culture of Reykjavik.
You can expect the seafood to be top-notch in these northern reaches of the Atlantic, from Norwegian wild-caught salmon dishes to shrimp and halibut in Greenland. Yet there are plenty of tasty treats to be found on land as well, including reindeer and moose which roam the countryside. Look for reindeer steaks or stewed meat and potatoes to fuel up your next excursion. Wild berries, fresh cheeses, and fusion food like sushi using local ingredients brighten up the typical menu once you get to the Arctic Circle. And don’t forget to try each country’s take on simple pancakes, a warm way to start the day!
I have been lucky enough to have seen the Northern Lights a few times. We have some amazing trips that take in the opportunity to view this fantastic sight.
There are so many options now where you can try see the Aurora Borelis ‘Mother Nature’s ultimate light show’ and it seems to be on people’s bucket list nowadays.
Wondering how the aurora borealis got its name? This dates back to the 17 th century, when Galileo Galilei is thought to have named it after Roman goddess of the dawn ‘Aurora’ and Greek god of the north wine ‘Boreas’. Together, the name means ‘dawn of the north’, although proper scientific research into this solar phenomenon didn’t begin until a century or two later!
Although technically the Northern Lights take place throughout the year, there’s a defined season because we can’t see them during the summer months - the Arctic sky is simply too light for them to stand out.
There are many legends about the Northern Lights, many of which you’ll hear about during your cruise. For example, the Vikings believed that they were reflections of Valkyrie armour leading warriors in the sky. Native Americans believed they were a communication pathway to speak to their ancestors, while European fishermen believed they were an indicator of giant schools of herring! Some Northern Lights cruises will travel through the Northwest Passage, a famous route taking you through the northern reaches of Canada on to Alaska and the borders of Russia. This is a spectacular journey allowing you to see polar bears and walruses, requiring icebreaker expedition ships.