The Northern Lights have captivated our imaginations for centuries. Their mesmerizing beauty can be seen on a clear night, dancing across the sky in waves of vivid colors.
We’re often told that one of the best places to see the Northern Lights is somewhere cold and remote – but we’ve found some fantastic locations in Europe where you can catch a glimpse of this natural spectacle without risking frostbite! So let’s hop on a train instead of packing the car and see how far we can go before the lights disappear!
Rovaniemi is the capital city of Finnish Lapland and its busiest airport, so you’ve got several options for arriving here. For a genuinely Northern Lights-viewing experience, we recommend taking the train! The night train to Rovaniemi from Helsinki departs at around 7:30 pm and comes to Lapland nine hours later. The journey is worth it just for the chance to see the calming sunset over a frozen lake and an ice hotel.
The journey from Helsinki doesn’t take long, but hitching a ride will slow things down. The train takes one hour and 20 minutes to Rovaniemi, so you could still get a few hours of sleep before setting out on your day trip to see the Northern Lights.
It’s almost as far as Helsinki, but much longer by road! To make things more scenic on your drive, try visiting Oulu in late August/early September when the sun sets just as you pass through villages glowing with thousands of LED lights. If you’re not planning on making a stop in Oulu, you might want to hop on a train from Oulu to Tampere, as this train line is much shorter than the original Helsinki-Oulu route.
Tampere has an excellent connection to the Northern Lights. The town lies just a few miles from the banks of Lake Pyhäjärvi, which is the largest natural freshwater lake in Finland. You rarely see snow-capped mountains so close to the Finnish coast, which makes for some excellent scenery as you leave Helsinki. If you want to stay overnight in Tampere, head to the famous Tampere Film Museum or Holmenkollen Ski Jump instead of a hotel.
While in Tampere, it’s worth checking out the historic city center and a nearby church. The church was built in an old Russian Orthodox style, and it’s just one of many examples in this area that shows how different Christianity has spread since Russia annexed Estonia nearly 200 years ago. If you want to get out of town and into more natural surroundings, you can walk or cycle to the Pyynikki mountain, just a few miles away. The hill is filled with forests of birch and spruce trees, and it’s easily accessible without any climbing experience.
Turku is the first significant stop north of Tampere and a beautiful city in its own right. The town is filled with medieval buildings, painted wooden houses, and cobblestone streets – but there are plenty of places to find a bit of modern comfort. If you’re looking for a hotel, try Scandic Turku or the Hotel Arthur. It’s also worth taking a scenic drive through the island of Tuuri, located just outside of Turku.
The islands of Finland are full of lakes and small cottages – and it’s easy to see why when you’re driving through these forests. The gorgeous scenery will be enough to distract you from any headaches that a long train journey might have caused! If you want to spend some time on the island, try Laakkola Guesthouse or the Villa Gasel. Both have rooms with private saunas and are just a few miles from the northernmost tip of the island.
If you’re traveling from Helsinki to see the Northern Lights, you have a few options to consider before deciding when to make your trip. There’s a bit more daylight in the north in December and January, so this is often considered the best time to take a trip. However, you’ll also find plenty of people on the ice-fishing trails or skiing at Finnish resorts in January! If you’d rather avoid all that crowding, we recommend going in early November; it will still be darker than normal but not quite as cold outside yet.