10 Northern Lights cruises to book now

·7-min read
Viking Sky In Search of the Northern Lights - ALASTAIR MILLER
Viking Sky In Search of the Northern Lights - ALASTAIR MILLER

The Northern Lights – or Aurora Borealis as they are officially known – have lit up winter skies over the Arctic since time immemorial, inspiring Norse myths and Viking legends.

But more recently, they have drawn a growing procession of cruise ships, several of which sail from UK ports to track the notoriously elusive spectacle of vivid green and pink hues swirling through the stratosphere.

This natural phenomenon is the focus of winter voyages that hug Norway’s coastline, attracting those keen to explore the wild, rugged appeal of remote settlements where adrenaline and adventure go hand in hand.

Racing across frozen lakes on snowmobile safaris and speeding through a snowy winter wonderland on wooden sleds pulled by howling huskies is the stuff of travel dreams. So even if night-time skies stay stubbornly dark, it doesn’t matter – there’s an abundance of natural thrills to go around.

Cruise is a great way to travel at this time of year, with no snow drifts to contend with. Here are just a few of the best Northern Lights sailings you can enjoy over the dark winter months.

Show guaranteed (or a free cruise)

This winter marks Hurtigruten’s first season of Northern Lights sailings from Dover and the Norwegian line is so confident that you will see the spectacle on selected sailings that it guarantees a free voyage as part of its Northern Lights Promise if they don’t appear. The cruise on MS Maud sails deep into the Arctic Circle to Norway’s North Cape, Europe’s northernmost point, on an itinerary filled with guided walks, whale-watching and kayaking trips.

How to do it: The 14-night round-trip North Cape voyage from Dover costs from £2,999pp (0203 6037 112; hurtigruten.co.uk). Departs October to March.

Northern lights from deck of Hurtigruten cruise ship - ORJAN BERTELSEN
Northern lights from deck of Hurtigruten cruise ship - ORJAN BERTELSEN

Battery-powered lights

Speeding over the North Cape Plateau close to the Russian border on a snowmobile and riding through the Arctic wilderness on a husky dog-sled are thrills offered by new Norwegian coastal line Havila Voyages, which is due to start sailing year-round between Bergen and Kirkenes from December. Its four battery-powered ships promise to be the most environmentally-friendly on this route with quiet, emission-free operations. A slice of Norwegian style can be found onboard with local cuisine, plus a chance to spot the Northern Lights from the onboard hot tub.

How to do it: An 11-night return trip voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes costs from £942pp (03455 280 026; havilavoyages.com). Departs February 11.

Bond buffs and railway riders

A snowscape of ivory mountains and dark brooding fjords forms a spectacular backdrop to Norway’s historic Ofoten Railway. The tracks lead from Narvik through sites linked to infamous battles of the Second World War. You can ride the route during a Norwegian coastal sailing with Saga Cruises, or follow in the footsteps of James Bond at the breathtaking Atlantic Road near Kristiansand, whose dramatic twists and turns made it one of the scenic stars of the franchise’s latest release No Time to Die.

How to do it: The 17-night Under the Glow of the Northern Lights round-trip voyage from Southampton costs from £3,936pp (0808 258 2966; travel.saga.co.uk). Departs February 5.

View over Rombakfjord from Ofoten railway, Narvik - Rolf Richardson / robertharding/Getty
View over Rombakfjord from Ofoten railway, Narvik - Rolf Richardson / robertharding/Getty

Super-sleuth spotters

Prove your dedication on a Fred Olsen cruise to track down the Northern Lights from a camp in a former slate quarry near Alta in northern Norway. Guests can ward off teeth-chattering temperatures around a welcoming roaring fire in a lavvu during an evening of talks and activities, with the ultimate (and unpredictable) prize being the appearance of the aurora. Other highlights are reindeer rides, dog sled treks and a fishing trip in Tromso.

How to do it: The 16-night In Search of the Aurora Borealis round-trip voyage from Liverpool includes Alesund, Tromso and Trondheim. From £1,399pp (0800 787 0257; fredolsencruises.com); departs November 16.

Sami and snowmobiles

The culture of Norway’s indigenous Sami people comes alive on this Viking Cruises voyage to Norway in a tribal shaman ceremony that lifts the curtain on the Sami way of life during a camp visit. Alternatively, take a snowmobile-driven sleigh into the mountains near Narvik to join a family of nomadic reindeer-herders in their traditional lavvu (tent) for a fireside meal or sample the life of dog-musher in Tromso with an overnight stay in a husky lodge.

How to do it: The 12-night In Search of the Northern Lights sailings between Tilbury and Bergen cost from £3,690pp, including a one-way flight (0800 458 69 00; vikingcruises.co.uk). Departs January to March.

Viking's luxury igloo stay - ALASTAIR MILLER
Viking's luxury igloo stay - ALASTAIR MILLER

Whales by day, lights by night

Sail into tucked-away fjords and tiny islands along Norway’s jagged northern coastline aboard former herring lugger Rembrandt van Rijn to spot whales by day and Aurora Borealis by night. The three-masted schooner, which takes around 30 passengers, amends its route to track giant schools of herring which in turn attract feeding orcas and humpback whales. The ship takes a southerly route to Andenes to maximise the chance of spotting sperm whales and other cetaceans.

How to do it: A one-week round-trip sailing from Tromso costs from £1,886pp (01432 507 280; small-cruise-ships.com). Departs November to January.

Immersed in ice

Tick off two once-in-a-lifetime experiences on a Northern Lights exploration with Best Served Scandinavia, staying in an ice-carved room at Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway’s far north. Here, snow yoga (helped by thermal clothing and snuggly reindeer rugs) helps channel your inner peace against freezing temperatures. Preceding this is a two-night voyage from Tromso on Norwegian line Havila Voyages, where guests can give ice-fishing and catching mighty king crabs a go.

How to do it: A four-night mini-break, comprising an overnight stay in Tromso, two nights at sea, and a night at the Kirkenes Showhotel costs from £1,235pp (020 8125 3183; best-served.co.uk). Departs January and February.

Snow yoga
Snow yoga

Heritage highlights

Stride along the Art Nouveau streets of Alesund, rebuilt in 1904 after being destroyed by fire, and often claimed to be Norway’s prettiest town. This Jules Verne holiday features one of Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coastal voyages that also visits the world’s most northerly medieval cathedral in Trondheim and the “Arctic capital” of Tromso where a walking tour makes a refreshing stop in Ølhallen, the town’s oldest pub.

How to do it: The six-night Voyage to the Northern Lights from Bergen to Kirkenes, with overnight hotel stays in Bergen and Kirkenes, costs from £1,445pp (020 3553 9414; vjv.com), including flights. Departs December 12.

Expedition-style sailing

White-tailed eagles and killer whales are natural stars of this sailing expedition aboard the 20-passenger schooner Nooderlicht, which explores the remote coastline of Norway’s far north deep in the Arctic Circle. Snow-draped mountains make for a breathtaking backdrop to hiking and snow-shoeing expeditions in the ethereal light of the polar twilight, with nights spent anchored in deserted fjords where the inky-black surroundings are the perfect platform for spotting the aurora dancing overhead.

How to do it: A one-week Whales and Aurora round-trip cruise from Tromso costs from £2,182pp (01737 214 250; discover-the-world.com). Departs January.

Schooner Nooderlicht - Rolf Stange /spitzbergen.de
Schooner Nooderlicht - Rolf Stange /spitzbergen.de

Something new

If you can wait until next winter, set sail from Tilbury to catch the flickering lights of Aurora Borealis in the skies over Iceland during the maiden winter season of Ambassador Cruise Line. This voyage on the 1,400-passenger Ambience takes in Britain’s northern extremities with stops in Invergordon and Kirkwall in the Orkneys, plus an overnight stop in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik.

How to do it: The 11-night Iceland’s Land of the Northern Lights round-trip sailing from Tilbury costs from £849pp (0808 102 8039; ambassadorcruiseline.com). Departs March 23, 2023.

Prices are cruise-only unless otherwise stated.

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