Will I see the Northern Lights?
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The Northern Lights are in the Northern sky from September through April but are only visible when the sky is clear and free of clouds. Like many of natures wonders, it’s ephemeral – they may be visible, they may appear for a bit and then be gone. But it’s worth it to be patient. Because they’re a winter event, you need to be prepared to wait outside, while looking for them. It’s best to dress very warmly, in layers, with good footwear, gloves, hats and whatever else will make you comfortable while you await this truly amazing event. The Northern Lights can be pretty spectacular, and for the best photos we recommend using a tripod. Much of Iceland offers a very a good chance to see the Northern Lights when conditions are right. Remember – the Northern Lights are natural phenomena, not guaranteed, but appreciated all the more for their elusive qualities.
Northern Norway is one of the world's best places to experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). In Northern Norway, Northern Lights occur in up to 90% of every clear night in the period from late September to late March. Most Northern Lights occur in the time span from 6pm to slightly after midnight, with an absolute peak at around 10-11pm.
In Norway, the area north of the Arctic Circle is prime aurora territory. The various destinations in the High North have a distinct personality, and are well worth exploring. Major places in Northern Norway are Tromsø, Kirkenes, Alta, Bodø, Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands and Svalbard.
The best place to see the Northern Lights in Finland is in the Northern Lapland region, which is almost entirely located within the realm of the Arctic Circle. During the dark winter months here, when the sun rarely peaks its head over the horizon, you can expect to see the Finland Northern Lights with regularity, and other peak seasons include February through March and September through October. The most common colours of the Northern Lights are greenish-yellow and red.
The Finnish term for the Northern Lights, Revontulet, meaning fox fire, comes from an old tale where the fox was believed to swish its bushy tail on the snowy fell landscapes, throwing sparks into the air.
As mentioned, Lapland is the best place to see the Finland Aurora Borealis, with the Kilpisjarvi area offering the most abundant opportunities. The best time of the day to see the Finland Northern Lights is between 9 pm and 11:30 pm, though they are certainly not restricted to this time frame.
In Northern Sweden, the Northern Lights usually occur during the winter months through late March or early April, but they can be spotted as early as September in the Northernmost parts. Your best chance of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights is on cold winter nights when the sky is clear and cloudless. You need to be away from city lights, which dilute the effects of these natural phenomena, so head out into the countryside. On clear nights, the Northern Lights can be visible from most locations in Swedish Lapland, occurring between 6 pm to and 2 am, with the strongest shows happening between 10 pm and 11 pm. For those willing to brave the cold on winter nights, here are some of the best locations in Swedish Lapland for viewing these phenomena:
Abisko National Park
Abisko National Park, a couple of kilometers north of Kiruna, is a prime location for viewing the Northen Lights. The scientifically proven “blue hole” — a patch of sky over the Torneträsk lake that usually remains clear despite overcast weather in surrounding areas — gives Abisko its own micro-climate, which is suitable for catching the lights.
Jukkasjärvi and the Torne Valley
Not only does the village of Jukkasjärvi (population roughly 541) boast the world’s first ice hotel (rebuilt ever year from Torne River ice), it’s also one of the best regions to view the Northern Lights. ICEHOTEL organizes guided tours for guests which takes the to the Esrange Space Center located 30 minutes from Kiruna. You can dine at a wilderness camp and get the chance to scan the Arctic winter sky for aurora borealis.
Other regions in Swedish Lapland
As mentioned earlier, if weather conditions are just right (clear, dark, cold, and cloudless), you might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights from any location within subarctic and arctic Sweden — even close to larger towns such as Luleå, Jokkmokk, Arvidsjaur, and Gällivare.
The northern lights - or Aurora Borealis as it is officially known - actually occur all year round, but cannot be seen during the summer months in Greenland due to the midnight sun. The phenomenon is often seen around midnight and is best experienced on a dark, clear night in the period from September to the beginning of April. If you are travelling during this period, you can see the Northern Lights from anywhere in the country, whilst in South Greenland the northern lights can be seen from as early as the end of August.
For your holidays to Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia or Ukraine, you will not need a visa if you have a valid passport from any EU country, Australia, Canada, USA, Japan (there are more, so check with us to make sure). Please note that your passport should be valid for at least six months after the date of your return.
However, if you plan to travel to Russia, you will need a visa, which we can help organise for you.
Travel insurance is required and also advisable. If you do not have a valid policy, please check our Insurance link on the bottom of our homepage. Our recommended partner is Essential Travel, who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.
You will be able to communicate quite well with the locals, as most people in the service industry are quite adept at speaking English. If English doesn't work, then try Russian (if you can), or German. The further you go from the major cities, the less English you will hear. However, do not let the language barrier keep you from exploring the beauty of the country side. We can always arrange English speaking guides to accompany you wherever you wish to go.
The Estonian language is similar to Finnish and is unrelated to Latvian, Lithuanian or Russian. Latvian and Lithuanian are two of the oldest languages, with roots traceable to Sanskrit. This makes them quite challenging to learn, but attempting a few words will put a smile on the local faces. Russians use the Cyrillic alphabet, so reading street signs and tube maps will be a challenge in St Petersburg .
You can rent a car, as long as you have a valid EU or international driver's license. Most cars will have manual transmission.
You can get local currency from ATMs at the airport where you land or in the major cities. Be aware that your bank will charge you a service fee and exchange rate fee for the transaction, but this is likely to be less than exchanging money in the UK before you depart. Please note that in Russia exchange bureau's and banks will not except Scottish bank notes.
We suggest choosing the right credit card for spending abroad. Most credit cards will have an additional cost (about 3%) to the bank exchange rates. You can avoid it by obtaining a specialist overseas card that does not add this % and will give you good exchange rates that are better than money exchange bureau rates.
Credit cards charge you interest rates, but some debit cards (bank account cards) could have fees that could add up to £ 1.50 every time you spend.
We recommend checking with your bank what fees/interest rates will be applied to your card when using it abroad in order to make an educated decision on what card to use.
Most restaurants and shops will take credit/debit cards like Visa and Mastercard, however, many places will not accept AMEX.
Traveller's cheques are difficult to cash, so we recommend not to use them.
Airport or ferry terminals in most cases will have the worst money exchange rates, so if you must get it from the airport, pre-order money for pick-up to get a better rate.
The local currencies are (alphabetic order):
Denmark - Danish Kroner
Estonia - Euro
Finland - Euro
Greenland - Danish Kroner
Iceland - Icelandic Kroner
Latvia - Euro
Lithuania - Euro
Norway - Norwegian Kroner
Poland - Polish Zloty
Russia - Russian Ruble
Sweden - Swedish Kroner
Ukraine - Hryvnia
Dining opportunities are plenty, from ethnic to exotic. We would suggest you to try some national dishes and get a real taste of the region. Note that most traditional dishes contain meat and are fairly heavy, but very tasty.
Reservations in advance are recommended for up-market restaurants, especially for Friday and Saturday evenings.
Tipping - many of the up-market establishments will let you know how good their service is by including it on the bill. Rounding up the bill is usually sufficient, unless you feel your server deserves an extra bit of recognition.
Railway mostly serves domestic routes and is used as an easy and quick way to get from the capital to major cities of the country. There are some international routes, like to Moscow and St. Petersburg, but time spent on the way will be quite long.
Buses are one of the most convenient ways to travel between the Baltic States. Eurolines will get you between Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn. One way tickets will cost £ 15 - £ 20 and approximate travel time is 5 hours between the cities. Ticket reservations in advance are recommended.
Taxis are the quickest and most convenient way of travelling round the city. You'll find them located close to the main hotels. Usually it's quite easy to catch a taxi on the street, however, it's much better and safer to order one by phone. Taxi costs in all of the Baltic countries and Poland are approximately the same and a ride in the centre of the city will cost you approx £ 5 - £ 7. Taxis in Finland and Russia are considerably more expensive. It is always a good idea to get your hotel to book a taxi for you and ask approximately how much the trip will cost before you get in.
We would not recommend you to take public transportation within the city, as it's usually crowded and it may cause you unnecessary anxiety about where to stop.
There are several mobile operators in each Baltic country, the Nordics ( Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland incl. Iceland and Greenland as well as Poland, Ukraine and Russia. If you have an international connection, there shouldn't be any problems with your incoming and outgoing calls.
In case your phone doesn't work, please check in the local mobilephone shops and you can buy Calling cards etc. or ask in your hotel, they should be able to advise you too.
Internet access is available at Internet Cafés, which mostly are located in the central part of the city. Most hotels have internet access.
Stamps are available in the post offices and in most newspaper kiosks. Approximate price for a stamp to European Union countries will vary but between appx. £ 0.30 to £ 0.70. You'll see post boxes on the streets or you can ask hotel representative to send your post card, they'll gladly help you.
Emergency telephone number for the police, ambulance services or fire department in Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and Poland - 112.
Greenland uses 911 and for mobile phones only 112.
Driving in Iceland
Safety issues and other information that are good to know when travelling by rental car in Iceland:
2wd vehicles are not allowed on roads marked F on official maps and KJÖLUR road #35 and KALDIDALUR road #550. Should these restrictions be ignored all insurance (Third Party Liability, CDW, TP, PAI), if accepted, shall be deemed null and void. The driver will be held fully responsible in case of accidents and will bear all consequences, including the cost of reparing the damaged vehicle. For more details read the rental terms and conditions of your rental car company.
About driving in Iceland:
Iceland offers the traveller an adventure in a beautiful and rugged landscape. However, experience shows that the forces of Icelandic nature can be harsh and inhospitable, and travellers are well-advised to exercise caution and respect for the country’s natural environment. Unfortunately, there have been far too many accidents in the past few years involving foreign tourists travelling around the country. These accidents range from minor to fatal. The most common type of accident is that of hikers losing their footing on uneven terrain. The most serious injuries, however, are caused by road traffic accidents where travellers drive too fast in unfamiliar conditions and do not wear seat belts. All mountain roads and roads in the interior of Iceland have a surface of loose gravel. The same applies to large sections of the national highway, which also has long stretches of asphalt. The surface on the gravel roads is often loose, especially along the sides of the roads, so one should drive carefully and slow down whenever approaching an oncoming car. Where the road changes from a paved road to a gravel road, you need to slow down considerably. Many serious accidents occur every year at such places, especially among drivers who are unfamiliar with such road conditions, lose control of their vehicle and drive off the road. The mountain roads are also often very narrow, and are not made for speeding. The same goes for many bridges, which are only wide enough for one car at a time. In addition to their not having an asphalt surface, the mountain roads are often very winding. Blind summits are common in Iceland. Slow down and keep to the right-hand edge of the road. In the summertime, there is sunlight 24 hours a day. Drivers need to be aware of this and not drive for too long, as they might otherwise fall asleep behind the wheel. The total length of the Ring Road around Iceland (national highway) is 1.339 km.
Domestic animals are often close to, or even on, country roads. Drivers who hit animals may be required to pay for the damage. Remember that the sheep is always right! Journeys therefore often take longer than might be expected. For information on road conditions: Tel: 354-563-1500, answering service 24 hours, Tel: 800-6316 (In English 1/6-31/8).
The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads. Please note: special warning signs indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends, but there is generally not a separate sign to reduce speed. Please choose a safe speed according to conditions.
Motorists are obliged by law to use headlights at all times day and night. In Iceland all driving off roads or marked tracks is forbidden. Passengers in the front and back seats of an automobile are required by law to use safety-belts; they save lives. The use of hands-free kits is compulsory for mobile phone use whilst driving. Driving while intoxicated from drug or alcohol use is prohibited.
In the greater Reykjavík area filling stations are open Mon-Sat 07:30-20:00, Sun 09:00-20:00 (Oct- May 10:00-20:00). Many of the filling stations are open until 23:30. Opening hours around the country, where the pumps are privately operated, can vary from place to place. Most stations are open until late in the evening, to 22:00 or even 23:30. Many stations in the Reykjavík area have automats (self-operated pumps) in operation after closing, which accept 1000 krónur bank notes and credit cards with PIN numbers. All filling stations accept credit cards. Automats are also operated in various places around the country. Octane levels in Iceland are 92 regular unleaded, 98 premium leaded and premium unleaded 95.
Motor vehicle insurance:
A “Green Card” or other proof of third-party insurance is mandatory for motorists driving their own cars in Iceland, except from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Channel Islands, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Vatican.
Maps are necessary to ensure visitors to Iceland an enjoyable and safe journey. Ask for road maps and maps of Iceland at local tourist offices, bookstores or filling stations. Always take along a detailed map.
Opening of the mountain tracks:
Most mountain roads are closed until the beginning of July, or even longer because of wet and muddy conditions which make them totally impassable. When these roads are opened for traffic most of them can only be negotiated by four-wheel-drive vehicles. It is strongly advised that two or more cars travel together. Also, before embarking on any journey into the interior collect as much information as possible regarding road conditions from a travel bureau, tourist information office or the Icelandic Road Administration (ICERA) Tel: +354-522 1000 or +354-1777 - http://www.road.is. A booklet called Mountain Roads can be obtained at Tourist Information Centres and the offices of the Icelandic Tourist Board abroad. Always take along a detailed map.
Click here for information of average opening dates of some of the mountain tracks.
Instructions & Preparation for traveling and hiking in Iceland, especially in the interior: Icelandic nature can be wild and dangerous, especially for those unfamiliar with it and unused to travelling in uninhabited areas and rough country. Travellers should prepare well for each trip and know its trail and route conditions. This is the best way to prevent accidents and ensure a pleasant and safe journey. Choose clothing and footwear with care. Read about conditions in the area you will be traversing and talk to people with local knowledge, such as rangers. Let somebody know about your planned trip if going on long hikes in remote areas or travelling rough mountain roads.
Icelandic weather is very volatile. Fair weather can change into a raging storm at a moment’s notice. Keep this in mind at all times, especially when travelling in the highlands. For every 100m in altitude gained, you can expect the mean temperature to drop by 0.6°C and precipitation to increase. The temperature can drop below the freezing point even during summer, especially at night. At mountain tops, wind force can multiply.
Check weather and road conditions – information available from the Public Roads Administration, tel. +354-1777 or at www.road.is.
Check the weather forecast – information available from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, tel. +354-902-0600, the Teletext or at www.vedur.is.
When wind is strong, drive slower and be careful how you park the car. Opening car doors in the wrong direction at strong wind conditions, can actually damage the car – you don‘t want to loose a car door. Also be careful hiking on high cliffs when strong wind.
Geysers and hot springs are found in many parts of Iceland. The water or mud discharging to the Earth’s surface can be above the boiling point. Always follow instructions around geysers. Do not use your fingers to check the temperature of water, steam or mud. Be careful where you step. The ground around geysers is often covered with a thin crust which can break through if stepped on, sometimes causing burn injuries. Therefore, always keep to footpaths where they are to be found.
Nobody should set off on a trip onto a glacier without mountaineering experience and the necessary equipment. Organised tours with experienced mountain guides are the safest option. Ice on glacier tongues can be extremely slippery. Walking on glacier tongues is dangerous without crampons and other glacier-climbing gear. The ice caves and vertical glacier walls of glacier tongues are unsteady, and blocks of ice can fall without warning. Therefore, it is inadvisable to enter ice caves or to stand near steep walls of ice. When walking on snow-covered glaciers, it is necessary to use a rope and other safety equipment, as crevasses lurk under the cover of snow in many places. The crevasses can be very deep and wide.