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Seeing the Northern Lights is a classic bucket-list item — as it should be: Those quivering green and pink lights are truly magnificent. But why limit yourself to simply standing outside as they dance overhead? From a snowmobile safari in Sweden to dogsledding in Greenland, tour companies that operate in Northern Lights territories are upping the ante these days, making this already unparalleled event even more remarkable. Here are our favorite unconventional ways to see the Aurora Borealis.

1. Spend the night in a glass-roofed portable hut…or float in Finland’s Arctic waters. 

Aurora floating. Photo courtesy Safartica
Aurora floating. Photo courtesy Safartica

Off the Map Travel, which specializes in the Arctic region of Scandinavia, has several unforgettable ways to see the polar lights, and its newest Finland offerings take it to a whole new level. The first is an overnight program (from $2,150 as part of a four-day itinerary) in the wilderness surrounding Kilpisjärvi (which has more clear night skies and records more Northern Lights activity than any other place in Finland); guests are transported via snowmobile to a mobile campsite that has been positioned based on current Aurora predictions. The hut, which houses a warm and cozy bed, has a transparent glass roof, making it possible to relax indoors while remaining in the best possible position to catch the lights. Off the Map also has a new excursion in Rovaniemi (from $1,735, as part of a four-day itinerary); intrepid travelers don a head-to-toe thermal rescue suit and walk to the edge of a frozen lake. A neatly cut hole exposes 0-degree water, creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to float in Arctic waters while gazing up at an Aurora sighting overhead.

2. Snowmobile through Arctic Sweden.

Photo courtesy IceHotel
Photo courtesy Markus Alatalo/IceHotel
Bunking at the IceHotel, an artist-sculpted ice palace in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is already an unforgettable experience, but tacking on a nighttime snowmobile safari (from $235) is a must for any Northern Lights chaser. After all, the best places for viewing are in the wilderness and away from artificial light — meaning they’re often only accessible by extreme modes of transit. Along the way, a guide extols Northern Lights folklore and explains what causes the phenomenon. Dinner at a wilderness camp is included.

3. Dogsled across East Greenland.

For those after a true Arctic expedition, an eight-day dogsledding trip through East Greenland with Pirhuk (from $3,480) is just the ticket. Those brave enough to give this a try will travel with hunters and their dog teams (as well as an expert in polar and arctic travel) to remote settlements and hunting grounds, making their way through frozen fjords and across glaciated islands in a region that’s frequently visited by the Aurora.

4. Fly above the Shetland Islands. 

Photo by Pete Lawrence/Digital Astronomy
Photo by Pete Lawrence/Digital Astronomy
Not into the idea of standing outside for hours in freezing cold temps? Book a three-hour flight operated by Aurora Flights UK through Omega Breaks (from $294), which flies from multiple UK cities (including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow) to the northern edge of British airspace near the Shetland Islands. In order to increase the odds of a sighting, the operator times its departures to coincide with darker periods in the moon’s phases, and flies at 35,000 to 40,000 feet; in other words, above the clouds that can impede sightings from land. Expert astronomers are onboard to discuss what’s happening outside the windows.

5. Trek through Polar Bear Country.

Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures
Churchill, Manitoba, on the edge of the Canadian tundra, is known for its polar bear sightings; it also has one of the heaviest concentrations of auroral activity on Earth. Book an expedition with Natural Habitat Adventures (from $6,195) and you’ll get to spot the giant creatures and the Northern Lights from the company’s proprietary Aurora Pod, which offers 360-degree views of the night sky. Its geometric construction features a glass roof and glass sides from waist-height up. Want something a bit more private? Request an Aurora Dome, Natural Habitat Adventures’ small, heated Plexiglass-topped dome with a circular view of the night sky.
Feature photo courtesy IceHotel
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