The breathtaking winter wonderland of the Nordic countries is like no other place on Earth. 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.
And great news for hunters of the aurora borealis is that this winter there are spectacular new ways to do it. So if you can embrace the cold, we have gathered together the best expeditions, including a night flight in a hot-air balloon in Sweden, or stargazing in the company of an astronomer from The Sky At Night in Iceland.
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.
The expedition starts and ends in Dover, so you avoid airport hassle. 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.
The journey culminates with a visit to North Cape, with its dramatic plateau high above the Arctic Ocean.
Book: Fourteen nights’ full-board costs from £2,999pp (hurtigruten.co.uk).
Up, up and away for the best view of the Northern Lights
Enjoy a morning hot air balloon ride in Sweden, floating above the frozen lakes and forests of Rane River Valley
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
Take spotting the Northern Lights to new heights in Sweden by going up in a tethered hot-air balloon for unobstructed views of this stunning natural phenomenon. Or enjoy a morning ride, floating above the frozen lakes and forests of Rane River Valley.
Flights start in February and can be booked by guests staying in one of four cosy tents at the Aurora Safari Camp, which is also a good base to spot moose, red fox and reindeer. The use of fat bikes (mountain bikes with wide tyres), Nordic skis and snowshoes is included, with snowmobiling, dog-sledding and air-ballooning as optional extras.
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).
Pristine forests, ski trails… and the spirit of Norway
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 can follow a seven-mile loop right from the door of the Spidsbergseter Hotel, pictured above
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. Beginners can follow a seven-mile loop right from the door of the Spidsbergseter Hotel near the park, while more experienced skiers can use trails in the pine and birch forests.
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. After warming up in the sauna, guests plunge into a circular spa filled with ice-cold river water, and sleep in wood and stone cabins built above the ice or on nearby land.
A two-hour spa ritual is included, but activities from ice-fishing to wildlife photography at the Treehotel cost 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).
Chase humpback whales and orcas on a schooner
The last day of the seven-night Gane and Marshall Arctic cruise is spent on the island of Sommaroy (pictured)
Search for humpback whales and orcas as well as the aurora on a seven-night Arctic cruise. Sail from the Norwegian city of Tromso on board a schooner sleeping just 33 to the island of Senja, known for its spectacular fjords, islets and mountains.
Following the herring shoals that attract whales, the ship will head into the Arctic Circle. The last day is spent on the island of Sommaroy, with the chance to climb Mount Hillesoya as well as good opportunities to spot the Northern Lights.
Book: Seven nights’ full-board costs from £1,812pp, which includes shore excursions but not international flights (ganeandmarshall.com).
All aboard an Arctic Express to the Aurora Sky Station
Travelling on the Arctic Circle Train is an adventure in itself. Pictured is the train at the Abisko Ostra station
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.
Ride the chairlift up to the Sky Station and enjoy a four-course meal in the restaurant while waiting for the skies to light up. Getting there on the Arctic Circle Train from Kiruna is part of the adventure. The four-night trip includes two nights in Kiruna itself, the northernmost town in Sweden.
Book: Four nights costs from £1,480pp including flights, B&B in Kiruna, otherwise full-board (regent-holidays.co.uk).
Join a TV star in Iceland, the land of fire and ice
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.
Spend two nights in a remote location in the town of Hella, where Pete will give a presentation on the aurora before going outside with you to explore 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
Two nights of the Norway tour are spent in a cabin by the sea at Vengsoy Rorbuer (pictured above)
The wherethewildis.co.uk trip includes two nights in a cabin at Vengsoy Rorbuer, which as this image of the spot shows is a great place for viewing auroras
If you are looking for a trip that is as eco-conscious as possible, this short break to Norway could be just the ticket. Based in Tromso, you will be taken in Tesla electric cars to go snowshoeing by the fjords by day and in search of the Northern Lights at night. You can also enjoy whale-watching on a hybrid electric catamaran.
After three nights in Tromso, two nights are spent in a cabin by the sea at Vengsoy Rorbuer, the ideal place to search for some inner calm as well as aurora activity.
Book: Three nights’ B&B plus two nights’ self-catering, with transfers and excursions, costs from £1,240pp (wherethewildis.co.uk). Flights are not included.
Snowmobile tours and a stroll through a glacier
Inside one of 25 stone and wood guesthouses at the Torfhus Retreat in Iceland. Each retreat boasts a complimentary mini bar for a toast should the Northern Lights show up
Step on to the surface of the mighty Myrdalsjokull glacier and venture under another glacier to explore its impressive ice caves.
Then hop on your snowmobile back to the Torfhus Retreat in an untouched part of the country and sink into the open-air geothermically heated pool as you get ready for the show in the night sky.
The retreat has 25 stone and wood homes and suites, with turf roofs and complimentary mini bars for a toast should the Northern Lights show up. Two snowmobile excursions and a guided jeep experience are included.
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. Pictured above is 2020’s 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.
Each room is a chilly minus 5C, but beds are equipped with reindeer skins and thermal sleeping bags.
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).
Track down Santa on the ultimate festive adventure
Try husky-mushing (pictured) on a trip to the Finnish village of Pyha with Canterbury Travel
Among the accommodation options are cosy log cabins (pictured above) sleeping up to six people
Whisk the kids or grandkids off on a Christmas adventure in search of Santa
Whisk the kids or grandkids off on a Christmas adventure in search of 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.
Try your hand at husky-mushing, go on a snowmobile expedition through the pine forests and snuggle up in the back of a reindeer sleigh. The best bit, though, is going to Santa’s house for a chat with the big man himself, before a celebration dinner.
Among the accommodation options are cosy log cabins sleeping up to six people.
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
Lie in bed and gaze through the glass roof of your chalet at the Aurora Village in Ivalo, in Finnish Lapland, in the hope of seeing the celestial ballet of the Northern Lights.
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).