While the holiday season is over, we still have several months of winter magic left before it warms up. One of the most magical winter-associated phenomena on the planet, aurora borealis, is increasingly difficult to spot and but an amazing sight for those fortunate enough to witness it. The best chance of viewing the aurora, or northern/southern lights, is to travel to the northern and southern extremes of the planet. This may sound like a trek akin to Drake or Shackleton’s epic expeditions, but the reality is that you can venture to viewing locations for aurora with modern comforts and even luxury amenities.
Vacations By Rail, a full-service rail-tour operator, offers many tours which hit the regions ideal for spectating the northern lights. All Vacations By Rail tours are fully customizable, with options to add on excursions before and after the itineraries.
Aurora Viewing at Bettles Lodge (Alaska)
Starting at $2,157
· Arriving in Anchorage, travelers have an entire day to explore the Alaskan metropolis, containing a bustling downtown district and fascinating museums.
· The second day includes a trip on Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Train bound for Fairbanks. The ride can be enjoyed from the Vista Dome Car, as the train passes stunning wilderness.
· Flying from Fairbanks to Bettles Lodge, the journey passes over the Yukon River into the Arctic Circle, landing at Bettles Village where travelers can ski, snowshoe, dog-sled, ice-fish, snowmobile and practically any other Alaskan adventure activity you can think of. At nighttime a communal bonfire brings all of the guests together as the dark sky gives light to the Northern Lights.
· After two days of enjoying the quaint beauty of Bettles Lodge, travelers return to Fairbanks on the fifth day where they can enjoy the historic town before departing Fairbanks on the sixth day, marking the end of this tour.
Starting at $12,995
· Arriving in Russia’s only warm water port of St Petersburg, travelers have three days to explore this historic city, considered the Ballet capital of the world. With guided tours and free time to have an adventure independently, the castles and palaces will no doubt catch anyone’s eye.
· Departing on day three aboard the Golden Eagle train, the voyage crosses into the Arctic Circle on day four. With an on-board astronomer imparting wisdom about the aurora borealis, travelers leave the train at Nikel, where they depart to the Russian/Norwegian border of Kirkenes.
· Exploring the Snow Hotel abound with ice sculptures and snow paintings, nighttime brings on the first voyage to seek out the Northern Lights, with a bus tour venturing out into the wilderness with the guest astronomer coming along to guide the travelers on the solar phenomena they are witnessing.
· After a snowmobile-tour across the frozen fjords and a fresh caught Arctic King Crab dinner the next day, the tour returns to Russia to continue chugging along through the pristine winter landscape.
· Stopping on Day 8 for a visit to Murmansk, which is halfway between Moscow and the North Pole, the once-Arctic trading post is now home to a Nuclear Icebreaker Museum Ship, which is included in the tour.
· Day 9 is spent along the western shore of Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe, where travelers can take in the town of Petrozavodsk.
· On day 10 the tour arrives in Moscow, where tours of the historic sites such as the Red Square, the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre shed light on the capital of the largest country in the world.
· The penultimate day on this journey visits the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vladimir, dating back to the twelfth century with cathedrals that have been preserved since then. The second stop of the day visits Suzdal, a perfectly preserved wall city established in 1024, where travelers enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride before a farewell dinner in Moscow, going home the next day
The Northern Lights & Lapland (Norway/Sweden)
Starting at $3,332
· Starting the search for the Northern Lights in Oslo, travelers have a full day to explore the historic city, home to the State Opera House and Royal Palace as well as many scenic parks.
· Leaving Oslo on day 3 along the Dovre Railway, a scenic journey through the majestic mountains of Dovrefjell brings travelers to Trondheim, one of Norway’s oldest cities.
· The fifth day begins with a 452-mile journey to Bodø along the Nordland Railway. Crossing the Arctic Circle before reaching Lonsdal, upon arriving in Bodø travelers have their first chance to spot the magnificent Northern Lights.
· The sixth day involves a ferry ride to Svolvaer, the capital island of the Lofoten Islands. Spending two days on the magical islands home to a plethora of fishing villages, the aurora can be spotted at night while the daytime showcases the rich biodiversity of the region, from sea eagles to minke whales.
· Returning to the Norwegian mainland, the next leg of the journey is in Narvik, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle and home to a rich history World War II battles.
· Taking the Ofoten Railway to Kiruna, the next segment of this Arctic adventure crosses into Sweden, arriving in Swedish Lapland.
· In Kiruna, travelers can enjoy the famous Ice Hotel as well as a ‘Sami experience’ which sheds light into the indigenous people of Sweden and their food, culture and history. The last night is the last chance to spot Northern Lights, as travelers drive out into the mountainous forest before returning home from Stockholm on the eleventh day.
Please note, while these locations are the most likely spots to view the aurora, Vacations By Rail cannot guarantee that you will catch sight of the polar lights as weather and solar patterns are uncontrollable.