The Trendiest Places to See the Northern Lights Now
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The Northern Lights are one of those things we all tack onto our bucket lists without too much thought. And for good reason: the natural light show is something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Like you would plan a safari to see wildlife in Africa, many people arrange entire trips around spotting the Northern Lights. Part of the thrill, however, is that they aren’t easy to see at all.
This year, Airbnb dug into the data to see which Northern Lights hot spots are taking off. To determine the trending destinations, the vacation-rental company found 10 prime Northern Lights destinations around the world (as expected, mostly in Scandinavia) where the percentage of winter bookings rose significantly over the last year.
Consider this your guide to the trendiest destinations for a Northern Lights adventure. Just remember to use one of the best travel rewards credit cards for Airbnb bookings if you decide to reserve a guest house during your trip, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x points.
10. Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø is a small city located above the Arctic Circle with historic wooden houses, a cathedral that doubles as an architectural delight and a cable car that will take you high into the surrounding mountains. It’s also long been an incredible spot to see the Northern Lights, given its Arctic location and low light pollution. Searches for Tromsø rentals on Airbnb are up 36% this year.
Travel Tips: Tromsø is a relatively quick flight from Oslo (OSL), where you can enjoy a layover on your way back to the US. And though you’ll want to get out of the city to see the Northern Lights, there are plenty of places to stay in town. Consider a room at Tromsø Bed & Books — a cozy home located just outside of downtown with a library of books from passersby all around the world — or redeem a night at the Radisson Blu (from 44,000 points).
9. Bodø, Norway
Also in Norway, rental searches in Bodø are up 54% in from last year, according to Airbnb. The capital city of Norway’s Norland county is a great spot for viewing the lights, and is home to many beautiful hikes, an aviation museum, historic sites and scenic churches. There’s plenty to do to fill up a long weekend.
Travel Tips: While flying direct is not going to be an option (unless you live in Norway), you’ll most likely have a stop in Oslo. Once you’re there, you’ll have plenty of accommodations to choose from, ranging from the Radisson Blu Hotel to the more modern Scandic Havet. In Bodø, guests can arrange to stay at Mariann’s Cottage, a one-bedroom home that’s perfect for solo travelers or couples with views of Lake Soløyvatnet.
8. Luleå, Sweden
Located in Swedish Lapland, Luleå is known for its preserved wooden homes and a stone church that dates back to the 1400s. The city is also on the Bay of Bothnia, with a massive cluster of more than 1,000 islands with their own attractions (beaches, aged cottages and seals, when the weather is right). Interest in this Swedish destination has spiked 71% this year so far.
Travel Tips: Expect a layover in either Oslo or Stockholm en route to Luleå, likely flying Scandinavian Airlines. From Luleå Airport (LLA), it’s easy to catch a cab or a public bus into town. If you’re booking with Airbnb, check out the Writer’s Cabin (two words: lakeside sauna). Travelers with a stash of Choice Hotels rewards points can cash in at the Comfort Hotel Arctic (20,000 points) or the Quality Hotel Luleå, from 10,000 points.
7. Whitehorse, Canada
Whitehorse is the capital city of Canada’s Yukon Territory, which is known for some of the most spectacular Northern Lights shows outside of Europe. For a special view of the auroras, head to the Takhini Hot Pools. This year, rental searches are up 91%.
Travel Tips: Located in the Yukon Territory, getting to Whitehorse (YXY) is a bit of an effort. Flying from New York City on Air Canada will take you through Toronto and Vancouver’s airports. But once you’re there, there are plenty of hotels, from two- and three-star chains (a Best Western, a Days Inn by Wyndham) to scenic inns, like the Hidden Valley Bed & Breakfast. If hiking is your thing, stay at La Petit Chalet, a small cabin at the foot of the Annie Lake Mountains, with a plethora of hiking trails nearby.
6. Borðeyri, Iceland
Forget Reykjavík. The hottest Icelandic destination of 2018 is the incredibly tiny town of Borðeyri, located 80 miles north and to the west of Iceland’s capital city. This little hamlet is for travelers seeking a true getaway to the Icelandic countryside. Searches are up 100% this year over last. Aside from prime Northern Lights viewing, don’t miss the Riis-house: the oldest home in the area, dating back to the early 1900s.
Travel Tips: Borðeyri is located between the Reykjavík and Akureyi airports, meaning renting a car is a requisite for a trip here. (If you’re looking for a direct flight, your best and most affordable option is to fly first into Keflavík airport and get a rental car there.) Hotels can be few and far between in the more remote areas of Iceland, so Airbnb is usually your best bet. Try “Piece of Heaven,” a one-bedroom home in West Iceland nestled in a mountain valley carved with old sheep trails. And you’re only 20 miles from a hot spring.
5. Nuuk, Greenland
The capital of Greenland is ideal for travelers who want to really get away this weekend. And we mean away. You’ll find all of the makings of a Arctic daydream in Nuuk: brightly colored houses, dramatic snowscapes and stunning fjords and icebergs. This year, rental searches are up 106%.
Travel Tips: Flights into Nuuk stopover in Iceland (take advantage of the Icelandair stopover program and spend some time in Reykjavík before heading to even-more-remote Greenland). There are a handful of hotels in the area but, like with Borðeyri, Airbnb often has more interesting options (and there are no points hotels). House in Old Nuuk has a prime location right next to the Nuuk fjord, while also not being too far from the “action” of downtown Nuuk.
4. Inari, Finland
Inari is the heart of Sami culture in Finland, and also way up north (an hour and a half flight or a 13-hour drive from Helsinki). Reindeer herding has long been a tradition for the locals during the winter and a trip to Inari also doubles as a little history lesson. This year, Airbnb rental searches are up 108%.
Travel Tips: From the US, you’ll be looking at one or two layovers en route to this before reaching Inari’s Ivalo Airport (IVL). While there are many hotels in the area, the Mobile Cabins are nothing short of spectacular. They’re located on top of (seriously) Lake Inari. They can only be booked when the lake is frozen over, of course, from December through April.
3. Regina, Canada
Of all the destinations on this list, you’ll find the most city-like attractions and accommodations in Regina. Located near Wascana Lake, Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan and you’ll find plenty of local art for sale as well as prime viewing of the aurora borealis. Searches for rentals in this area are up 143% this year, so don’t sleep on your trip planning.
Travel Tips: Before finding yourself in Regina (both Air Canada and WestJet provide flights to YQR), you’ll likely stop in Calgary or Toronto first. You’ll find dozens of chains in the area, from Days Inn to Best Western properties, but there are a few unconventional stays you might want to consider, too. For example, there’s the so-called Cozy and Stylish Parka Lodge, which is a yurt with an indoor fireplace. If you’re looking for something with stronger walls, check out the Stone Hall Castle, a castle that dates back to 1926.
The entrance to the Icebar in Sweden’s Icehotel. (Photo via Shutterstock)
2. Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the Sami culture, this is another destination to consider, in addition to Inari. Jukkasjärvi is also home to the Icehotel, if you’re into that kind of thing. (TPG global news editor Emily McNutt gave it a shot last year and loved it, despite the early morning wake-up call.) Up 470% over last year, likely because of all the interest in the famed Icehotel, there are a whole lot of cold-weather enthusiasts making a pilgrimage to this town.
Travel Tips: Fly into Kiruna Airport (KRN), which is a short drive from Jukkasjärvi. (But if you have the chance, consider transferring to town by way of dogsled.) Even if you don’t have a reservation, you’ll still want to see the Icehotel’s art suites, which are newly hewn from ice and snow harvested from the Torne River every year and designed by professional ice sculptors and artists. Another way to experience the property as a tourist? Grab a drink at the Icebar, where cocktails are served in glasses crafted from — you guessed it — ice.
1. Sortland, Norway
Of all of the places you could see the Northern Lights this year, this small town in northern Norway saw the greatest uptick in interest: Approximately 950% from last year. Sortland is also known as the Blue City, because many buildings in the downtown area were painted blue starting in 1999 and have been ever since. This is an homage to artist Bjørn Elvenes, who had the dream of painting the entirety of the inner city blocks blue.
Travel Tips: After a quick layover in Oslo, you’ll be on your way to the Harstad/Narvik Airport (EVE), which is a 35-mile drive from Sortland’s city center. There are very few hotels in the city, meaning you’ll definitely want to consider an Airbnb when visiting this town. The Seahouse is a four-bedroom home located near Møysalen National Park, which is perfect for snowshoeing and skiing in the wintertime.
Featured image by Jonatan Pie via Unsplash.