Among Scandinavian countries, Finland is often overlooked. People love Denmark with its delicious food, Sweden with its striking design, and Norway is one of the world’s top aurora destinations. Meanwhile, Finland is easily just as good (or maybe better) when it comes to seeing the northern lights – plus you can enjoy dog sledding, sauna breaks, and delicious Finnish pastries when you’re not out looking for the aurora borealis!
If you’ve decided to go a bit off the beaten path in trying to see the northern lights, Finland might be the perfect destination for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the northern lights in Finland, plus where to go, when to see them, and popular tours that increase your chances of an unforgettable aurora experience.
What are the Northern Lights?
Photo credit: Alan Flora Botting via Flickr
If you’ve arrived on this post while searching for ‘how to see the northern lights in Finland,’ you probably already know what the northern lights are… but do you understand the science behind the beautiful lights that dance across the night sky?
Historically, Finnish people believed that the northern lights were caused by the firefox, a creature who ran so quickly across the snow that his paws kicked up sparks into the night sky. In fact, the Finnish word for the northern lights is “revontulet,” which translates as “fox fires.” Other northern lights mythology in Finland held that the aurora was the spouts sprayed into the night sky by whales.
In fact, the northern lights are caused by the sun. When particles are emitted by the sun and strike atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, these atoms light up, producing the beautiful colors we see in the aurora borealis. Speaking of translations, this classical name for the northern lights was coined by Galileo, and means “north wind.” As you can only see the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere, and it dances like the wind across the sky, this name makes sense too!
The Best Time of Year to See the Northern Lights in Finland
While it would be great to see the northern lights year-round in Finland, part of what makes the experience special is that you can only experience it during certain parts of the year. Read on to learn about the different seasons in Finland and your chances of seeing the aurora in each.
Autumn (August to October)
As the cold weather comes to Finland in the autumn, this is your first chance in the calendar year to see the northern lights. From late August (though more commonly after the autumnal equinox in September), you can see aurora on a dark night in northern Finland.
By day, you can enjoy the fall foliage and watch Finland’s many lakes slowly begin to freeze over.
Winter (November to March)
Winter is long in Finland, giving you ample opportunity to visit and see the northern lights.
You can spend the December holidays experiencing a winter wonderland or visit during the ‘shoulder season’ of March as the seasons begin to change – both are good months to visit as the skies are dark and the northern lights are commonly visible.
Spring (April to May)
Spring is brief and dramatic in Finland; though it may start as early as April, you may experience snow on the ground through May in parts of Lapland!
As spring approaches, you’ll see flowers poking through the snow and fresh green nibs on the tree branches. Days will become longer, making it harder to see the aurora, though you might still get lucky if the skies are clear and you’re willing to stay up late.
Summer (June to July)
Similar to other countries where you can see the northern lights, Summer is the opposite season to visit if you want to go aurora chasing. Long days and midnight sun make it virtually impossible to find a dark night sky in which to view the aurora.
While summer is a great season to visit if you want to experience Finnish lake culture and explore the country under a beautiful blanket of green foliage, plan to visit on the opposite half of the year for northern lights viewing opportunities.
Photo credit: Ninara via Flickr
The Best Places in Finland to See the Northern Lights
As you might expect from a country that’s as far north as Finland, there are a lot of great spots where you can see the northern lights. In fact, under the right conditions, you can see the northern lights anywhere in Finland!
Read on for some of the top spots if you’re planning an aurora trip to Finland, especially those in the northern part of the country: Lapland.
The city of Rovaniemi is among the best places in Finland to see the Northern Lights. This natural wonder can be found here up to 150 times a year. You might have to walk a little way outside the city for the best view, but it can sometimes be seen even within its limits.
Photo credit: Hühnerauge via Flickr
Along with its famous Snow Castle, the town of Kemi is in the perfect position for viewing the Northern Lights. The best way to view them is by renting one of its glass villas. These are located on the outskirts of town and provide all the modern comforts a person could ask for while you wait to see this amazing phenomenon.
If roughing it is more your style, you might consider giving Nellim a visit. The residents of this small, lakeside community claim it’s the best spot in Finland to see the Northern Lights. In this place, you can go dogsledding by day and Aurora hunting by night.
Photo credit: Angeline You via Flickr
Kittilä is a popular resort town in Finland. There are many activities available here from skiing to dogsledding to snowmobiling. There are also tours available where you can participate in a number of different activities as you go searching for the Northern Lights in the evening.
Saariselkä is another popular tourist area located in the mountains of Finland. The Northern Lights can be seen from here up to 200 nights per year. You are likely to see it on almost any dark, clear night during the winter months.
Photo credit: Paul Williams via Flickr
Ivalo is a small village just outside of Saariselkä. From here, you can take a tour in which you go hunting for the Aurora Borealis. The tour is led by a Northern Lights expert that can take you to all the best spots while teaching you how to photograph this natural wonder.
Sodankylä is a small town surrounded by wilderness. It’s a popular place for ice fishing, snowmobile driving, snowshoe walking, and other various activities. It’s lack of light pollution also makes it an ideal spot to view the Northern Lights.
Photo credit: Juho Holmi via Flickr
Pyhä-Luosto National Park
Pyhä-Luosto National Park is Finland’s oldest national park. It’s isolation from city lights also makes it very easy to see the Northern Lights. You can go hiking during the day before finding a nice, dark spot to watch nature’s light show.
Oulanka National Park
This is another popular national park in Finland. One unique aspect of this park is that it has numerous wooden cabins that are free to use by hikers. This is excellent for those who’d like somewhere to settle down while waiting for the Northern Lights.
Kakslauttanen is an arctic resort located only thirty minutes away from the airport. It features a number of unique accommodation choices, including log cabins, snow igloos, and glass igloos. Its glass igloos, in particular, are a fantastic option for those who’d like to watch the sky in comfort.
Photo credit: Kaba via Flickr
Kilpisjarvi is a very small village located near the northernmost point of Finland. Its isolation from the rest of civilization makes it very easy to find the Northern Lights. From here, you can take a snowmobile tour to the borders of Sweden and Norway for one of the best Aurora Borealis viewing areas.
Muonio is another small village in northern Finland. It’s located directly under the aurora oval, which means you won’t have any trouble seeing the Northern Lights. In fact, you can see them in the sky on almost every other night from Muonio.
Can You See the Northern Lights in Helsinki?
Maybe you only have a short time in Finland or are only planning to visit Helsinki. We get it – vacation time is hard to come by! If you can’t plan a trip further north to see the northern lights from one of these destinations, you might wonder if it’s possible to see them at all.
Photo credit: Timo Newton Syms via Flickr
It is possible to see the northern lights in Helsinki, but as is the case with urban stargazing, the conditions have to be just right. There must be a clear sky and a strong solar storm that produces aurora bright enough to be seen through the light pollution. As Helsinki is home to over 600,000 and snow amplifies the light pollution of the city, it’s a special night when you get a really great aurora show – but it’s definitely possible!
How to See the Aurora in Finland
1. Plan Your Trip at the Right Time of Year
As mentioned in the section about when you can visit Finland to see the northern lights, you’ll need to plan your trip in late autumn, winter, and possibly early spring if you want to see them. During the colder, darker half of the year is the only time when the light conditions are favorable for you to see the aurora if they’re happening.
2. Check the Forecast – But Be Flexible
There are several good northern lights forecast tools you can use in Finland:
- The Aurora Forecast offers a simple but powerful website that predicts the aurora. You can easily see most of northern Europe on a single map and get a sense for your chances to see the northern lights on any given night. (aurora-service.eu)
- The Finnish Meteorological Institute has a website that predicts space weather around the country. (ilmatieteenlaitos.fi)
- The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory at the University of Oulu takes regular photos from their “All-Sky Camera” which can help you see if the aurora is happening. (sgo.fi)
3. Bring the Right Gear
Aurora season (aka winter) in Finland is cold. Average temperatures range from a nighttime low of 2°F-10°F to a daytime high of 21°F-26°F. Pack layers and plenty of warm clothes if you plan to visit and spend a few hours outside chasing the aurora.
Photo credit: Holstila via Flickr
4. Be Patient
Even with the best timing, scientific forecasts, and perfect conditions, you still may need to be patient in order to see the northern lights. As a natural phenomenon, they don’t happen on command, and it’s best to plan 2-3 nights if you really want to see the aurora on your trip to Finland.
5. Experience Awe
When you do see the northern lights, don’t be surprised if you’re a bit speechless – even if you’ve seen them before. They’re no view on earth quite like the aurora, and you certainly won’t forget this experience!
Popular Day Trips & Tours to See the Northern Lights
Photo credit: Chris via Flickr
If you prefer to visit a new place with a guide or as part of the tour, you can still see the northern lights! Here are some of the coolest tour options in Finland:
- Nordic Visitor offers tours in Sweden and Finland, but their Finland ones are all pretty sweet. For example: visit Santa in Lapland (3 nights), stay in a snowcastle (3 nights), and treat yourself to the classic winter Lapland experience (4 nights).
- As if it’s not cold enough watching the aurora from land, consider an ice floating aurora viewing tour from Safartica.
- As their name suggests, Aurora Holidays can provide an aurora-hunting tour, plus other cool tours like learning about the indigenous Sámi culture and dogsledding.
- Aurora Service (the same who have the great aurora prediction site) also offer northern lights tours. They have both 3-night and 4-night options named Valhalla and Asgard, and operate at the 70° latitude!
You can also find other tours by searching Google, if none of these seem perfect for you (but seriously, ice floating? dog sledding?!).
Tips on Photographing Aurora
Photo credit: Paul Williams via Flickr
If you want pictures like the ones in this post from your own trip to Finland, here are some tips.
- Set your camera in manual mode. You’ll need to control the technical aspects of your camera to get the right exposure in your photo.
- Set your ISO to 1600-3200. You’ll need a high sensitivity (high ISO) to be able to capture the colors of the aurora.
- Set your aperture to 1.8-3.0. A low F-stop will ensure you capture enough light in your photo.
- Set your shutter speed at 15-20 seconds. If you set your shutter to be open between 15 and 20 seconds, you’ll be able to see the stars and northern lights in your photo, but still see clear stars in the night sky without star trails.
- Use a tripod, remote, and have extra batteries on hand. Similar to our tips for astrophotography, you’ll need to bring some extra gear to ensure your camera is stable and has enough power in the cold winter air.
Have a great trip to Finland!
Featured photo by Timo Newton Syms via Flickr