A view of the Northern Lights tops many a traveler’s bucket list, and for good reason. Despite being explainable natural phenomena, the ethereal and breathtaking Aurora Borealis still mesmerize those lucky enough to see them, whether for the first or the 50th time.
But like so much of life, the Northern Lights are never guaranteed. Even at destinations within the Arctic Circle during the prime viewing months (September to March) they can be fickle. Your best chances of viewing the lights are in dark, clear skies, away from city lights. And it may mean staying up late or setting the alarm for the wee hours, as the celestial spectacle often peaks after 11pm and before 2am.
These lodgings offer prime chances for viewing the Northern Lights. Many also have programs and activities specially designed to maximize your odds of catching the show. Fortunately, they’re also in dazzling locations where, even if meteorological conditions don’t cooperate, you can still find plenty of enjoyment.
Nothing will delight kids much more than spending the night in a treehouse—unless it’s one of the these cozy suspended nests in remote Swedish Lapland. They’ll have to climb a ladder and likely hike through the snow to get to bed. When the Northern Lights make an appearance, they’re visible from all the treehouses, and the hotel organizes nighttime snowmobile tours that take guests to other prime viewing spots. Fishing and foraging excursions and meeting Sami families are among the daytime activities here. treehotel.se
Set in a fishing village on Norway’s isolated Lofoten archipelago, waterfront Hattvika Lodge is composed of 13 fishing cottages from the 1880s, reimagined as rustic-luxe accommodations and ranging from one to four bedrooms. With its jagged mountain peaks, sheltered bays and frozen lakes, the archipelago is superb for Northern Lights viewing. The hotel offers photographic tours that take guests to even more remote locations. Other winter activities include skiing and trips that combine sea kayaking and hiking. hattvikalodge.no
Blachford Lake Lodge
Yellowknife, Northern Territories, Canada
If a place proclaims itself the Aurora Capital of the World, it better deliver the goods. The sheer remoteness and high latitude of Yellowknife mean that this Canadian capital can usually live up to its hype. Even more remote is Blachford Lake Lodge, which guests can only reach by bush plane. All-inclusive aurora-viewing packages for families include three nights in one of 10 luxury cabin or lodge units, all meals, and flights in and out of Yellowknife. Sledding and dogsledding, snowmobile rides and guided snowshoeing will wear everyone out, but there’s an aurora wake-up call service should the show start after you’re tucked all in for the night. blachfordlakelodge.com
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Finnish Lapland is practically synonymous with Northern Lights viewing. This resort, like many in the area, has a cottage — or rather, igloo — industry built around the activity. Their all-glass igloos sleep two people; larger units combine a cozy log cabin with a glass igloo-style bedroom and sleep up to six. If the view’s not good enough from there, Kakslauttanen organizes Northern Lights chasing tours on horseback, horse drawn sled, or ATV. Afterwards, warm up in one of several smoke saunas or dare to take an invigorating swim in an icy lake. kakslauttanen.fi
It’s a model that’s since been imitated around the Arctic, but the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, one of Sweden’s northernmost towns, claims to be the first and oldest hotel offering seasonal rooms made of blocks of natural ice. According to the hotel, Northern Lights viewing here is best in the fall, before the ground is blanketed in snow. The ephemeral ice rooms are open from December to April, but nine Art Suites formed of manufactured ice are open year round — or you can keep your toes warmer in a traditional hotel room. icehotel.com
During Northern Lights season, this rural hotel near the Langjökull Glacier — Iceland’s second largest — claims an average of three Aurora sightings per week. If you like those odds, here you’ll find modest, understated rooms and suites, a restaurant, outdoor activities galore and, nearby, two toasty geothermal pools. During Iceland’s polar darkness, the lights may even treat you to a show while you’re soaking. Otherwise, the hotel has an aurora wake-up call so you won’t miss out. husafell.com
You can’t get much farther north than Svalbard, the site of the northernmost permanently occupied settlements in the world and the starting point of many Arctic expedition cruises. Like the rest of the sprawling Norwegian Island, its largest town, Longyearbyen, sees eight months of polar darkness, offering clear night skies and ample Aurora-viewing. In a former mining camp, Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg offers a charming combination of comfy and quirky. A plant-filled, glassed-in winter garden offers prime viewing. With its extreme weather and pared-down ambiance, we recommend Svalbard for families with rough-and-ready kids. polarriggen.com
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Copper Harbor, Michigan
The Northern Lights are never a sure thing anywhere in the world, especially if you’re trying to see them from the contiguous United States. But for unpolluted dark skies and a decent chance of seeing the Aurora, the Keweenaw Peninsula, which forms part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a passport-free zone with plenty of diversions. The historic log cabins at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the resort offers a year-round menu of outdoor activities and kid-friendly pursuits. And even if the Northern Lights don’t appear, you’re sure to have stellar stargazing on a clear night. keweenawmountainlodge.com