How To See The Stunning Northern Lights In Finnish Lapland

Are you looking to book a trip to see the northern lights in Finnish Lapland? This post explains all the basics of seeing the northern lights in Finnish Lapland.

Finnish Lapland is one of the most accessible places to reach in the Arctic and a great place to go if you want to tick seeing the northern lights off your bucket list!

If you have any additional tips or comments about seeing the northern lights in Finnish Lapland, be sure to let us know below!

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Is Finnish Lapland a good place to see the northern lights?

Yes! Lapland covers the northern part of Finland and is fairly vast, meaning there are plenty of spots where you can potentially find clear skies.

While Norway and Iceland are some of the most famous spots for the northern lights in Europe, Finnish Lapland has far more predictable weather.

Northern lights in Vikajarvi
Walking under the northern lights in Finnish Lapland

The extensive road network throughout Lapland and into neighboring countries is another benefit for those looking to hunt the northern lights, as occasionally the clear skies might be in Norway or Sweden!

When can you see the northern lights in Finnish Lapland?

The northern lights are visible from Lapland from the end of August until late April. The first appearances of the northern lights in the season happen very late at night when the sky is finally dark enough to see them.

As the Arctic moves towards fall, the displays get more and more vibrant as the nights get darker.

Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland hovering over trees
Northern lights in Finnish Lapland hovering over trees

The aurora borealis stops being visible in late April when the sky at night starts being too bright. Most tours will start operating in September and run until the first weeks of April.

When is the best time of year to see the aurora in Lapland?

While the northern lights are visible throughout winter, the best months to see the aurora borealis are September and March, specifically during the equinox.

These months are particularly good for seeing the northern lights in Lapland as they coincide with the time when solar activity is at its strongest.

This creates stronger and more vibrant displays that can often be seen further south.

What conditions do you need to see the northern lights in Finnish Lapland?

The most important thing you need is a clear sky! If the weather is cloudy or snowy, you will not be able to see the northern lights as they happen high in the earth’s atmosphere above the clouds.

You will want to have a clear patch of sky away from any sources of light and large settlements. Once you have found clear dark skies, you will need a clear view of the north.

Finally, you will need patience and luck while waiting to catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

Northern lights explosions in the sky
Northern Lights exploding into action

Many people refer to needing a high KP index to be able to see the aurora, but I would not read too much into this. The KP index is a rating score from 0-9 that is meant to be a rough guide, with 0 being no activity to 9 being the strongest possible solar storm that would appear as far south as Italy and Spain. However, it is rarely reliable, and even if the KP index is 1, you might just get one of the most incredible displays.

What apps are good for helping to find the northern lights in Finland?

There are two apps that I use when I plan to head out to search for the northern lights. One app is for the weather, and the other is for the northern lights.

Windy

The Windy app is great for looking at predicted cloud coverage over Finnish Lapland. This application tends to be very accurate and allows you to know exactly where the clear skies will be that evening, more or less.

My Aurora Forecast & Alerts

For northern lights predictions, I use the My Aurora Forecast & Alerts app. While the predictions on this application are fairly inaccurate, it is a good starting point.

Northern lights on the horizon
A weaker northern lights display on the horizon

I tend to use the aurora webcams section of the app, knowing that if the aurora is visible elsewhere in Arctic Europe, it is likely I will be able to see them where I am.

The solar winds section of the app is also great for judging the current activity levels. The app also allows you to set up alerts for your current location, although I am never sure how accurate this is.

How easy are the northern lights to see in Finnish Lapland?

If the conditions are good, then there is a very good chance you will see some form of aurora. However, the northern lights do not always look like they do in photographs- in fact, they rarely do.

Many people, when they first see the aurora without looking through a camera, may mistake it for a thin cloud. Our eyes cannot see the color in weaker auroras and instead, they look like little grey clouds high in the sky.

Northern Lights in the distance behind a tent
Took shelter in a lavvu waiting for stronger aurora

However, using a camera will allow you to unlock the true colors of the aurora. Stronger auroras are more colorful to the human eye, but nowhere near as vibrant as you would see them through a camera.

I have met people on tours who have been disappointed because the northern lights didn’t look like they do on cameras. I was also on a tour where a girl claimed to have not seen them all week as she didn’t know what to look for.

Northern lights in Sámi culture in Finnish Sápmi

For millennia, the northern lights have been a mystery. Only recently have we started to fully understand how the lights came to be. Throughout history, the Sámi have had their own beliefs and mythology about the northern lights, called Guovssahasat in Northern Sámi.

Across the region, there were many stories about what the northern lights were and what they were caused by. However, a common consensus across the Sámi was that they were something that should be feared.

Northern lights viewed from a bridge
Northern lights over the Arctic Circle Hiking Area

The northern lights in Finnish Lapland were believed to be caused by a fox’s tail whipping up snow crystals and scratching the tops of trees to cause fires in the sky. During the aurora, people would wear hats due to the fear that the aurora would set fire to their hair!

The Finnish word for the northern lights, revontulet, actually derives from this belief!

Can you predict the northern lights?

No matter what people say or promise, it is not possible to predict the northern lights. There are certain factors that aurora hunters use to predict if the northern lights will be strong, but it’s nowhere near an exact science.

The first prediction method people will talk about is the KP index. This rating scale is largely pointless and in my opinion, should be ignored. I have experienced nights where the KP index was rated 1 and I have witnessed some of the best aurora I have ever seen.

Northern lights near Rovaniemi
Explosive northern lights when a low KP was predicted

On other nights, there was a prediction of KP 5 and the aurora was barely visible on the horizon. For this reason, I would never cancel a northern lights tour based on a KP prediction.

Understanding and predicting the aurora is very scientific. For more information on how to best do this, I recommend checking out the information provided by Night Lights Film.

They sell a handy ebook that includes all the information you could need about the northern lights too.

Should you take a northern lights tour in Lapland?

Yes! Aurora tours are great and the perfect way to take some of the stress away from hunting for the aurora. While there are many northern lights tours offered throughout Lapland, they are not all equal.

If you dream of seeing the northern lights, you will want to take a dedicated northern lights tour to give you the best chance. A tour that includes another activity, such as snowmobiling or dog sledding, is more focused on the activity rather than the aurora themselves.

Myself and tour guide posing for a photo under the northern lights
Posing under the northern lights

On these types of tours, you will go to a set place and if you are under the clouds, you will not see the aurora. With a dedicated aurora tour, you will have the best chance of seeing the northern lights as they hunt for clear skies.

The cheaper the tour, the less distance you will travel, which will limit your chances. There are many tour providers though who offer incredible tours with no time or driving limits, where you will travel across the Arctic in search of clear skies.

Best places in Lapland to see the aurora borealis

Finnish Lapland is an incredible place to see the northern lights and there are many epic places to hunt them. Here are a few incredible places to hunt for the northern lights:

Rovaniemi

As the largest city in Finnish Lapland, it is a great spot to start your hunt for the aurora borealis. There are roads heading out of Rovaniemi in pretty much every direction, which makes escaping the clouds very easy.

Surrounding Rovaniemi there are several great spots from lakes to the tops of hills where you can have incredible uninterrupted views of the northern lights.

While the city is a major source of light pollution there are a few places in the city where you can see the aurora.

Northern lights hovering over Rovaniemi
Northern lights hovering over Rovaniemi

The most popular spot is the banks of the river by Arikum, which can be reached by foot from the city center.

Alternatively, the Syväsenvaara Fell observation tower, close to the Arctic Tree House hotel, is a great place to see the northern lights float above the city. Due to its size, the city is home to plenty of tour providers that offer incredible Rovaniemi northern lights tours.

Utsjoki

The further away from civilization you can get, the darker the night sky will be. Utsjoki sits on the Finnish and Norwegian border where the boreal forest gives way to the tundra of northern Norway.

Here, you can find some of the darkest skies, which are perfect for hunting the Aurora. Its proximity to the Arctic Ocean means the weather is a little more volatile and clouds may move faster than in places further south.

As Utsjoki is so small, you will find it very easy to find places away from light pollution and large open expanses with a clear view north.

Riisitunturi National Park

One of the things people often forget to consider when setting out to take photographs of the northern lights is the landscape that will frame the northern lights. Riisitunturi National Park offers one of the most iconic views in Lapland: the frozen popcorn trees.

If you are staying close to the park and clear skies are forecasted, I would head out to the park to try and get a picture of the northern lights framed with these amazing trees.

Northern lights over popcorn trees in Riisitunturi
Northern lights over the famous popcorn trees

This is only possible during the coldest months of winter. By March, most of the trees have shed their snow prisons and are taking advantage of the lengthening days.

Given the complete lack of light pollution, it is perfect for astrophotography, even if the northern lights do not appear.

Muonio

Situated on the border with Sweden, Muonio is one of the best places in Finnish Lapland to see the northern lights. Muonio itself is small and generates very little light pollution. From Muonio, you have the option to expand your aurora hunt into Sweden.

Alternatively, the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is nearby, and there are plenty of dark spots within the park perfect for hunting the Aurora. Given its smaller size, there are not many tour providers in this region, making it perfect for those looking to head out on their own to hunt for the magical northern lights.

Vikajärvi

Throughout the Arctic, there are special little spots where weather conditions buck the normal trends. Vikajärvi is one of these spots. The area often experiences clear skies directly above it when the rest of Lapland is covered in clouds.

Northern lights over Vikajarvi
Northern lights over Vikajärvi

These clear patches of skies mean that there is a higher chance you will see the aurora here, although still it is not guaranteed!

You can easily visit Vikajärvi from Rovaniemi, or you can opt to stay the night at the incredible Pandomes Aurora Igloo Hotel.

Are glass igloos in Finland good for seeing the northern lights?

Yes and no is the only answer I can give here. My partner and I have extensively tested out glass igloos around Lapland; some are definitely better than others.

If your dream is to be able to see the northern lights while lying in bed, you might be disappointed as that requires optimal conditions for seeing the aurora directly overhead.

Viewing the northern lights from inside a glass igloo
Admiring the northern lights from inside a glass igloo

The main issue with the glass igloo resorts is that they are often a large source of light pollution with numerous light fixtures lighting up the walkways or the igloos themselves.

The best we found were the igloos at Apukka Resort, the Northern Lights Village in Levi, and Pandomes Aurora Igloo Hotel.

What to pack for hunting the aurora in Finnish Lapland

Chasing the northern lights is cold work and you will want to pack some things to help you keep warm for the long Arctic night. When I go aurora chasing in Lapland, I always take the following things:

  • Reusable hand warmers – I have rechargeable electric hand warmers that are great for keeping your hands warm and fit nicely in your mittens too!
  • Thermos flask – Having something warm to drink is always a good idea! I bring a thermos full of tea with me for the evening.
  • Headlamp – While you need complete darkness for spotting the northern lights, it is always worth having a headlamp or torch with you to help find your way to and from the perfect spot.

What to wear for the chasing the northern lights

Wearing the right clothes when searching for the northern lights is vital. As you head further out into the wilderness, the temperatures drop significantly. If you’re hunting the northern lights as part of a tour, they will normally provide you with winter overalls.

Girl in front of the northern lights
Most tour operators provide you with a snowsuit

The snowsuits will keep you very warm and fit over your standard clothes. Here is what I typically wear when heading out on my own:

  • Thermal base layers – Preferably made out of wool and suitable for very low temperatures. Your socks should be thick and made of wool.
  • Ski trousers – Thick insulated trousers are a must as they will help keep you extra toasty.
  • Nordic sweater – Wool is by far the best insulator and I recommend investing in a thick heavy-duty Nordic-style sweater with a couple of thinner layers underneath.
  • Parka jacket – I have two parkas, but my favorite by far is my Helly Hansen parka. which has kept me warm on many Arctic trips.
  • Mittens – Mittens are hands down the best type of glove for the extreme cold. Regular gloves will not keep your hands warm. I love the gloves from Vallerret, they have a number of different style that suite the extreme cold of the Arctic!
  • Headwear – You will want a decent hat along with a scarf or neck gaiter to seal in the warmth.
  • Snowboots – Heavy-duty snowboots are important, as the moment the cold creeps into your shoes, your night will be over as it is incredibly challenging to warm your feet after the cold has penetrated your boots.

The amount of clothing will need to be adjusted for the time of year, with temperatures generally not being as cold in early fall.

Camera equipment for photographing the northern lights

You undoubtedly will want to photograph the northern lights when you see them and therefore, will need some camera equipment to do so! I have photographed the northern lights with various things including an iPhone, an entry-level DSLR, and a Sony Alpha 7 iii.

Frozen camera
It gets so cold your equipment will freeze

Here is the essential packing list for photographing the northern lights:

  • Camera – Depending on your budget, you will want to get a camera that allows you to configure settings in manual mode that allows you to do long exposures, I have a Sony Alpha 7 iii and it is incredible, but I have also taken great pictures with a basic Canon DSLR. Most new smartphones now are also great at night photography.
  • Lens – You will want a lens that allows for a very low f/stop. Generally, wide-angle lenses or certain prime lenses will be the best. I use a 20mm prime lens for my Sony when photographing the aurora. The lens should be able to be switched to manual focus.
  • Tripod – You will need a sturdy tripod to ensure you have clean crisp photos. As you are doing long exposures, minimizing camera shake is vital. If photographing the northern lights with your phone, you can also get a phone holder attachment for your tripod.
  • Remote – To help avoid camera shake from pressing the buttons on your camera, I recommend buying a remote that works with your camera. Otherwise, you will need to set a timer on your camera or phone.
  • Spare batteries – Cold weather is not your friend when it comes to battery life. I recommend taking a few spare batteries with you and keeping them in an inside pocket protected from the cold.

The basics of northern lights photography

Photographing the northern lights is a little challenging and not as simple as pointing your camera at the sky and shooting. You will need to configure the correct settings and then fine-tune them until you get a crisp shot. The settings will be different for every camera, with higher-end cameras like the Sony Alpha 7 iii making photographing the northern lights much easier.

To shoot the northern lights, you need to find the right balance between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture (f/stop). On some tours, your guide might be able to help set up your camera for you.

Aurora in Rovaniemi
Walking to an aurora hut in Rovaniemi

If you are photographing on your smartphone, the settings will be set automatically.

Below, you will find the basics on how to set your camera up to take photos of the northern lights:

Aperture (f/stop)

Aperture is measured in f/stops, the lower the f/stop the higher the aperture which equates to more light being going into the sensor. In standard photography, this would give you a shallower depth of field meaning that the subject will be in focus but the background more blurred.

However, with northern lights photography, having a lower f/stop will allow for the northern lights to be in focus. Ideally, you want your aperture to be set to f/stop 2.8 or lower but you can push it up to f/stop 4 if you need to.

Aurora lining up perfectly with the trees
Aurora lining up perfectly with the trees

ISO

The next setting you will want to set is your ISO. Again this is another way of letting light into your camera. Finding the correct ISO is fairly challenging. Ideally, you want to it be high, but not so high your photos start to become grainy.

Advanced full-frame cameras can handle high ISOs up to 12800, but entry-level cropped cameras can only handle a maximum ISO of 6400. However, you will also need to set your ISO based on the environment and conditions that night. If there is too much light getting into your camera, the pictures will be blown out and overexposed.

For example, if the moon is shining brightly, you will want to lower your ISO to balance out the amount of light.

Weaker northern lights barely moving in the sky
Very slow weak aurora

Shutter speed

To capture the aurora you will need to play around with long exposures. The length of your shutter speed will depend on the amount of light in the area and the type of aurora you are shooting.

Fast-moving, powerful northern lights are going to need a faster shutter speed, although most likely no faster than one second. Weaker displays that are barely moving or that are sitting on the horizon are going to need a much longer shutter speed, likely over 10 seconds. As you shoot the northern lights, I would play around with the ISO and shutter speed balance to get the best photographs.

Northern lights over glass igloos
Northern lights over glass igloos

Manual focus

You will need to switch your lens to manual focus and prepare for the struggles of getting a perfectly in-focus picture. On higher-end cameras, this is much easier and since getting a Sony Alpha 7 iii, my pictures have been largely in focus.

To focus your camera, you will need to find the perfect focal point. Some people say to focus on the sky so the stars are sharp pinprick dots, but I have found that doesn’t work as the foreground is always blurry. Instead, I like to focus on trees in the foreground.

For entry-level cameras, getting the focus can be a challenge and you will most likely need help from another person. Have someone stand around 15m (50ft) away and shine a torch or headlamp at you. Once they are in position, look through your viewfinder and adjust the focus until the light is a sharp dot that is in focus.

With all this information, hopefully you will have plenty of success in seeing the northern lights over Finnish Lapland! If you have any additional advice or comments, please leave them below this post!

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