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Northern Lights In Finnish Lapland - A Guide For First-Time Visitors

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

The north of Finland is a true wonderland. First-time visitors to the northern lights can use this guide to learn about this spectacular natural phenomenon. By sharing my personal experience of witnessing the magnificent aurora borealis in Finland, I will share with you tips that you can follow to ensure you don't have to gamble to see the northern lights each time you are there.

Table of Contents

  1. What Are The Northern Lights?

  2. Why Finland for Northern Lights?

  3. How To Find The Best Place To Watch The Northern Lights In Finland?

  4. How To Find Out If You Can See The Northern Lights Tonight?

  5. Tips for photographing The Northern Lights in Finland

  6. What To Bring With You To See The Northern Lights In Finland?

  7. Where to stay in Finnish Lapland?

  8. Don't Be Disappointed If You Don’t See The Northern Lights

aurora borealis over a lake in finland
Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland

What Are The Northern Lights?

The northern lights are natural phenomena that occur in the upper atmosphere above the Arctic Circle. Light is generated when highly charged solar wind particles collide with air molecules. Solar flare activity and the rotation of the earth cause auroral ovals to form.

A northern light's colour depends on what type of atom is emitting it. A green and blue northern light is caused by oxygen atoms, a red light by sodium, and a violet light by hydrogen.

Why Finland For The Northern Lights?

The northern lights appear in many parts of the Arctic, so why visit Finland to see them? The main reason is that Finland is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Finland's northern latitude of 65°N, the dark skies and little light pollution in the far north, combined with the long winter nights mean that they have some of the best viewing conditions.

Finland also has an extensive network of tourist services that have adapted to make the most of this phenomenon. In terms of timing, Finland's long autumn season (September to November) and early spring (March) are the best time to see the northern lights. In winter, (December to February) the nights are long and very dark, but the weather is extremely unpredictable so the chances of seeing the lights on a clear night are limited by many factors.

How To Find The Best Place To Watch The Northern Lights In Finland?

There are many places in Finland where you can go to watch the northern lights, but you need to choose the best spot to maximise your chances of seeing the lights. You can find the best places to see the northern lights by using the following tips:

  • Visit a high-latitude location with clear skies

  • The closer you are to the Arctic Circle, the better your chances of seeing the northern lights.

  • Visit during the dark season - Autumn and winter are the best times for seeing the northern lights.

  • Visit an area with little light pollution - You want to be away from areas that have a lot of light pollution, such as big cities.

During my visit to lapland I stayed in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and is also known as the home town of Santa Claus. The easiest way to see the Northern Lights while in Rovaniemi is to book a Northern Lights tour operator. Here are a few that I would personally recommend from my experience:

How To Find Out If You Can See The Northern Lights Tonight?

You can find out whether the lights will be visible tonight by following these steps:

  • Check the weather forecast - The northern lights are a weather phenomenon, so you need clear skies to see them. Forecasts are usually issued for the northernmost parts of Finland.

  • Check the Space Weather Prediction Center website - You can see the current status of the northern lights and the prediction for the next hour. You can also see how much of the world is forecast to be covered by aurora.

The intensity of the northern lights is measured on a scale of 0-9. The scale will let you know whether it is worth your while to head out to see the northern lights or not. If the scale reading is 3 or above, then you are likely to see the lights.

Tips for photographing The Northern Lights in Finland

There are some general tips that photographers can follow to take better photos of the northern lights:

  • Camera - you do not need a very fancy camera to capture the northern lights but something decent with manual controls and an interchangeable lens system is recommended. I use the Fuji X-T3.

  • Use a wide-angle lens with a large aperture - Wide-angle lenses will capture the backdrop of the landscape better and a large aperture of 2.8 or higher will let more light in capturing all the hues of the northern lights.

  • Use a cable release or inbuilt timer - This will allow you to avoid any camera shake.

  • Use a tripod - A tripod will allow you to take longer exposures, which will allow you to capture more detail in the northern lights.

Recommended camera settings:

  • Make sure the camera is at its widest aperture. For example, if you are using an f1.8 lens then set aperture to 1.8

  • Use a relatively high ISO, do not be afraid to use ISO1000-3200. You will have to experiment a bit and find the sweetspot for your camera. We want more light but not too much noise.

  • Use a long shutter time to capture as much light as possible. To determine your camera's longest possible shutter speed use the 500-rule formula. For example if the focal length of your lens is 20mm (full frame equivalent), the 500 rule would suggest that you use a shutter speed of (500 ÷ 20) = 25 seconds.

  • Shoot in Raw mode. A Raw file is larger in size than a conventional jpeg file, but it has a lot of data and therefore you can do a lot with it in post.

What To Bring With You To See The Northern Lights In Finland?

There are a few things that you can bring with you to make your trip to see the northern lights a bit more comfortable:

  • Warm clothes including a jacket that can protect you against, rain, snow, and wind.

  • Pocket/Handwarmers : Temperatures can drop below -20 °C during the winter and keeping a handwarmer in your pocket or the gloves can help keep the cold at bay from your fingers.

  • Food and water - You will likely not be close to any shops or restaurants so please make sure to carry a snack and bottle of water.

  • Headphones - You don't want your fellow travellers to be kept awake by your photography sessions.

Where to stay in Finnish Lapland?

There are many different types of accommodation in Finnish Lapland.

  • Hotels and B&Bs - The most common options are hotels and B&Bs. They vary greatly in price, depending on the season and the location.

  • Hostels - Hostels are good options if you are on a budget. They are often more social than B&Bs, so they are a good place to make friends.

  • Couch surfing - If you are travelling on a budget, then couch surfing is a good option. You can exchange home stays with locals.

I personally stayed at Artic Railway City Suite during my visit. Renting an apartment was a bit pricy, but it was well equipped with everything I needed to stay warm & comfortable during my time in Rovaniemi. There was a washing machine, a coffee maker, and even a private sauna inside the apartment 😌

Don't Be Disappointed If You Don’t See The Northern Lights

Remember that you can't always see the northern lights. You can also make the most of your trip if you don't see them by visiting some of the other amazing things to do in Finnish Lapland:

  • Visit a reindeer farm - You can feed reindeer, walk with them, and even go for a reindeer sled ride.

  • Go to a husky farm - You can go for a dog sled ride, feed the dogs, and also go for a walk with them.

  • Go skiing or hiking - You can visit some of the amazing national parks that are in Finnish Lapland.

See: 4-Day Adventure in Finland's Lapland: An Itinerary You Don't Want to Miss

Download a customisable itinerary to plan your next trip to see the northern lights

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