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When you plan a trip up around the Arctic Circle, there are a few things you immediately want to see and do. They’re the kind of iconic experiences that places like Lapland in Finland are famous for. One is going for a sled ride with huskies. Another is glimpsing the majesty of an aurora, a.k.a. the northern lights. So you better believe that witnessing the northern lights in Finland was high on my bucketlist when I travelled to Scandinavia years ago. What I didn’t realise was just how much dumb luck was needed to see them.
A Rovaniemi Northern Lights Tour
To experience Lapland and get a taste of up north, one of my first stop on my trip through Scandinavia at the tail-end of winter was the city of Rovaniemi. After an already awesome day out husky sledding, I decided to fill my last evening in Rovaniemi with a tour like this to hopefully see the northern lights in Lapland.
Despite spending some of my childhood in Sweden, I’d never been far enough north to see this rare and beautiful phenomenon. As such, the idea of seeing an aurora for the first time had me beyond excited.
Alongside that excitement was a healthy dose of scepticism though. You see photos of the lights on the internet all the time, but I had doubts that they really were as amazing in person. Spoiler alert – they really are incredible, if maybe a little fainter than you’d expect.
The Long Wait
The tour set out into the middle of nowhere through the evening darkness to one of the region’s many lakes. Tours like this usually take you to remote places to avoid the kind of light pollution common in populated areas. Arriving at the lake we were greeted with a warm fire pit and a night sky full of clouds. And so we sat by the fire pit sipping hot glögi, a Finnish drink made from spices and berries, as we waited.
Every once in a while we’d wander out onto the frozen lake away from the light of the fire, hoping to spot our reason for coming out into the cold. And each time, nothing. Hours of sitting out by a frozen lake, looking at a cloud covered night sky for nothing. Even when you know that the lights aren’t guaranteed to happen, it’s hard not to feel crushing disappointment.
Finally Seeing the Light(s)
Tired and disheartened, our tour bus proceeded to bring us back to Rovaniemi. Pulling in outside the tour office, we all piled out, with most crossing over to their nearby hotels. Not so for me and two other tourists who were staying a bit of a walk from the city centre. Little did we know how great that choice would end up being.
Trudging through the snow after midnight, we made our way through the empty streets to our beds. As we walked, the cloud became noticeably lighter and lighter as if on cue. Just a block from our hostel we all looked up in delight as swirls of green light shimmed across the clearing sky. We’d finally gotten out light show and it was spectacular, in every meaning of the word.
The Trick to Catching the Northern Lights
With big grins on our faces, it was hard to believe how close we’d come to missing all this. Everyone else from the tour who had been able to quickly get to bed certainly had. Turns out what we’d actually paid for was being kept up late enough to make this narrow window of awesomeness.
Having seen how magical the auroras in the Arctic were, I later booked a second tour to see them over in Tromso, Norway. That time we were truly spoiled with a fantastic display over near the Finnish border. It certainly seems that you need the right weather and persistence, so don’t give up if your first attempt to see the northern lights fails.
I only wish I’d been more into photography back then so I could have gotten a good photo of them. Yes, that it is a freely-usable image at the top. One day I’ll have my own photos of them.
Have you had the chance to visit Finland and see the Lapland northern lights? Maybe you’ve seen an aurora somewhere else? Was it everything you imagined? Please share your thoughts in the comment below.
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