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What’s the best way to view the northern lights? We tried to see them by air, land and sea

July 21 2022
6 min read
TPG NorthernLights Sea Vs Land Vs Air photo
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Tired of this sweltering, sold-out summer? TPG U.K. is on hand to cool things down.

Instead of trying to squeeze in a last-minute summer vacation, we recommend looking at trips later in the year when the industry is likely to be better staffed and the prices could be lower. Imagine, for example, a journey to see the northern lights, a magical winter experience you can book now for later in the year.

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In true TPG U.K.style, we compared three very different ways of seeing the northern lights: by sea, by land and in the air.

Nicky Kelvin traveled to Norway and boarded the Hurtigruten Coastal Express ship to see the lights from the sea in the Arctic Circle. Liam Spencer flew over to Iceland, picked up a car and drove into the depths of this island nation to see the lights from Hotel Rangá, a remote luxury lodge. Finally, Izzy Cooper boarded a special Jet2 charter that would fly north to try and catch an air-to-air sighting of the northern lights from a dimmed aircraft cabin.

We scored the experiences in three categories. We assessed the journey (how easy it was to get to the place where you could first see the auroras). Next, we assessed the experience itself. Lastly, we looked at the value of the experience, taking costs into consideration.

You can watch the whole experience and find out which experience came out on top right here on YouTube:

Seeing the northern lights by sea in Norway

We paid:

  • Flights: £169 (about $208).
  • Hurtigruten cabin for two: £493 (about $590).
  • Total: £662 (about $792).

With direct flights to Tromso, Norway, from the U.K., Nicky said reaching the starting point for the journey was very easy.

The Hurtigruten Coastal Express really did feel like the perfect way to see the lights. The ship was incredibly cozy and comfortable and provided easy access to viewing decks outside.

As soon as the negative 20 degrees Celsius temperatures became unbearable (about minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), the warmth inside was only a few steps away. The food and additional land excursions were excellent and made for an all-around exciting adventure in a stunning setting.

Cabins were set up with northern lights forecast monitoring and the option to set a wake-up alarm if the lights were sighted. In the earlier hours of the evening, the entire ship was notified of sightings of the lights, and the show the skies put on while we were on board was magical.

If you don’t like being at sea, this experience might not be for you. Also, you won’t find high-end luxury here as you might on some cruise lines.

Seeing the northern lights by land in Iceland

We paid:

  • Flights: £151 (about $181).
  • Hotel: £250 (about $299).
  • Rental car: £467 (about $559).
  • Total: £868 (about $1,038).

The Hotel Ranga was a real gem of a property and it made the experience of seeing the northern lights feel even more special. The hotel was full of unique features, including a stargazing observatory, cabin-like rooms and hot tubs with a backdrop of the Icelandic landscape.

The flight from London to Reykjavík is only three hours long and there are plenty of options when it comes to airlines.

Iceland has natural beauty everywhere you looked. From the Seljalandsfoss waterfall to the Kerid Crater, Liam said being able to drive from landmark to landmark meant that even when he wasn’t chasing the northern lights, the trip was still enthralling.

On the downside, he only managed one glimpse of the northern lights during his visit. While it was magical, it would have been great to see them for an extended period of time.

This isn’t a cheap trip if you’re going alone, either. The cost of flights, hotel nights and a rental car add up.

Seeing the northern lights by air in the UK

We paid:

  • Flight: £249 (about $298).
  • Airport parking: £12 (around $14).
  • Total: £261 (about $312).

Omega Breaks offers this tour from several airports around the U.K. from late October to mid-March, so you’re almost guaranteed to find a date that suits you.

The whole process was very easy and straightforward to navigate.

Simply park at the Radisson Blu, enjoy a drink in the hotel lobby, attend the astronomy presentation and then take a short walk to the airport terminal, where you immediately check in. Then it’s through security before heading straight to the gate to get on the flight.

We flew on a 737-800 which felt new and very clean. As soon as you land, you take a side exit through the airport and are driving home in no time.

It wasn’t all great, however.

The inflight experience was stressful. You're required to swap seats with the people in your row every five minutes once there is a good view of the stars or lights. This promises that everyone gets a window seat. The plane is pitch black inside, however, so people were bumping into each other and belongings were lost.

Some people didn’t have a window in their row either, which meant six people were swapping around for one window seat, and that was very chaotic. One customer even refused to move seats as he was so disgruntled with the setup.

Absolutely no lights can be turned on during the observation period. If you’re looking to get some great shots or something for your Instagram, this isn’t the excursion for you.

Watch more:

Featured photo by TPG NorthernLights Sea Vs Land Vs Air
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
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  • Terms apply.
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