Seeing the northern lights in Finland

With around a third of the country lying within the Arctic Circle, Finland is a great place for viewing the spectacular aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights.

Seeing the northern lights in Finland
Pic: David Mark (CC)

Finland has vast areas of unpopulated wilderness, so there are plenty of places with little or no light pollution, allowing you to get great views of the lights dancing overhead.

And in many places, you don’t even have to go out into the cold to see the lights. In recent years, hotels with glass-roofed ‘igloos’ have become popular around the country, so you can stay warm and cosy and watch the night-sky display from your bed. For something more rustic, you could try camping wild or even just joining an evening tour to see the lights before heading back to your hotel.

But what are the best options? When should you go? And what shouldn’t you miss? Here’s our guide to seeing the northern lights in Finland!

When is the best time to see the northern lights?

Finland is a great place for viewing the northern lights
Pic: Timo Newton-Syms

The best chance you have of seeing the northern lights in Finland is from late September to March. The northern lights are only visible when it’s dark and so the longer the night, the better chance you have of seeing some aurora activity overhead.

However, you have to balance this with the weather. After all, there is no point heading north in the midst of winter, with 24 hours of darkness a day, if the sky is cloudy and you can’t see a thing.

So actually, the beginning and the end of the season can be the best time to go, with September to October and February to March often seeing the most light activity and milder temperatures, too. Also at this time of year, there tend to be more sunny spells and it’s not quite so bone-chillingly cold around the clock.

In addition, there’s enough daylight in late autumn and early spring to get out and about during the day, and to try some of the classic Arctic activities, such as dog sledding, hiking and ice-fishing (you can see some of the guided trips on offer on this page). Which is the best month for seeing the northern lights in Finland? Try late October, November, March or early April.

You might also want to time your visit to coincide with one of the so-called solar maximums, when the sun’s activity tends to peak (these happen roughly every 11 years, with the next peak due in around 2024).

Where to see the northern lights in Finland

Finland has plenty of glass-roofed cabins for watching the northern lights in bed
Pic: Giuseppe Milo

As a general rule, the further north you go in Finland, the better chance you have of seeing the northern lights. In practice, you have a good chance of seeing the northern lights anywhere north of about Vaasa, as long as the conditions are right.

In more northerly areas like Finnish Lapland, your chances of an encounter increase even more, with the lights appearing roughly every other night during the winter months. Our best tip is to stick around for at least a few nights to maximise your chances of seeing the lights.

Can you see the northern lights in Helsinki? Well, it’s possible, but don’t bank on it happening during your stay. The northern lights are visible on about 10–15 days of the year, weather permitting.

Tours to see the northern lights

If you don’t fancy chasing the northern lights all by yourself, joining an organised tour is a great option. Expert guides know where and when to wait for the northern lights, and they can usually make the tour more fun by mixing in other activities like sled tours and campfire dinners as well.

Rovaniemi is the best place to base yourself if you want a good variety of tours and activities. There are plenty available, from this northern lights hunt combined with a traditional Lappish barbecue to this northern lights ice-floating trip – for the hardy only!

Saariselkä has plenty of tours and activities on offer too, such as this snowmobile sleigh trip out to the frozen Lake Inari for some prime aurora spotting, with dinner round the campfire.

So which parts of Finland are best for watching the northern lights?

There are plenty of places in northern Lapland where you’ll have a good chance of seeing some spectacular light displays. As a rule of thumb, the more remote (no light pollution) and further north (more hours of darkness) the better.

However, no-one wants to spend their entire trip in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold and dark in the hope of seeing the lights, so you may want to base yourself somewhere where there are reasonable facilities and some daytime activities too.

Here are some of our favourite places that have a good mix of aurora-spotting potential and fun activities.

Rovaniemi

Styling itself as the home of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi is the classic Christmas destination, with reindeer sleigh rides, snowmobile safaris, an Arctic snow hotel and, of course, a chance to visit Father Christmas.

Sitting right on the Arctic Circle, it’s Finland’s fifth largest city, and suffers from a certain amount of light pollution, so the best way to see the lights is to take a tour out of the city into the wilderness (see below).

See the northern lights by reindeer sleigh in Finnish Lapland
Pic: Trekandco (CC)

Saariselkä

Further north, Saariselkä is Finland’s northernmost ski resort lying some 250km north of the Arctic Circle.

Close to the Urho Kekkonen National Park, it has less light pollution than the larger cities, and a good variety of tours and activities, such as this fun reindeer safari and sleigh ride in the woods.

It’s also home to two of Finnish Lapland’s best-known igloo hotels, with individual glass-roofed cabins, so you can watch the light show from the comfort of your own bed.

The Northern Lights Village has glass-roofed cabins, and its own reindeer park, while the Kakslauttanen Arctic resort has glass igloos, and can also arrange husky safaris and snowmobile trips.

Ivalo

Some 30km further north of Saariselkä, the small town of Ivalo nestles in the bend of the Ivalo river. It’s a quiet place and home to the lovely Aurora Village hotel, with glass-roofed cabins down by a lake.

Even the sauna here has a glass roof, so you won’t miss seeing the lights whatever you’re doing!

Nellim

Further north still, on the shores of Lake Inari, the small village of Nellim lies just 9km from the Russian border. There’s little around it except for miles of woods and water, so it’s perfect for aurora-spotting.

It’s also home the wonderful Nellim Wilderness Hotel, where you can go on showshoe hikes and husky safaris before settling down in your glass-roofed igloo at night to watch the spectacular light show above.

 

See the northern lights by snowmobile tour in Finnish Lapland
Pic: D Mz

 

How can I be sure of seeing the lights?

Well, the short answer is, you can’t. There’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get to see any activity, even if you stay outside all night for a week in the middle of winter.

However there are several prediction and forecasting websites that can help improve your chances of viewing the lights.

This website from the Sodankylä Observatory helps forecast how likely a sighting is, while the Finnish Meteorological Institute runs this website that monitors weather and meteorological activity.

Neither can say for some certain that you’ll see the lights, but they can help you assess your chances of a seeing good display.

See also:

Seeing the northern lights in Sweden

The weather in Finland and when to visit

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