How to experience Europe’s Northern Lights by rail

Scott Hartbeck | (TNS) TravelPulse

Despite conventional wisdom, Europe is still a dream come true come wintertime. From the merriment of myriad Christmas markets to joyous carnival celebrations, the continent shines bright during the season of darkness.

But nothing dazzles quite like the Northern Lights.

At their best during the winter months, the Northern Lights are a thrill to those lucky enough to gaze upon them, and the colorful display happens to be entering a period of increased activity.

While finding them is an inexact science due to the famously fickle nature of the lights, many locations across the northern tier of the continent offer travelers increased odds all winter long.

And since seeing Europe by rail is always a thrill and you can reach almost any corner of the continent on a train, why not combine the two experiences for a winter trip you will remember forever?

Think days spent gazing out the window at winter wonderlands and nights chasing the magical lights outdoors and having fun staying cozy indoors. You will probably want to bookend your adventure with a stop in a city like Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg, Bergen, Helsinki, or even London or Edinburgh to make it a well-rounded rail adventure.

Best Aurora Borealis destinations

Recently, Trainline shared insight with TravelPulse regarding destinations reachable by rail that offer good chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

That list includes the following places that sit above the Arctic Circle:

Kiruna, Sweden: The northernmost city in Sweden, Kiruna is a great place to seek out the Northern Lights and the stunning nature of Lapland. Kiruna is also the jumping-off point for the original ICEHOTEL.

Rovaniemi, Finland: Long considered the capital of Finnish Lapland and the home of the legendary Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi enjoys a prime viewing point for the Northern Lights.

Abisko, Sweden: The jumping-off point for the breathtaking Abisko National Park, Abisko’s extremely clear skies produce some of the sweetest views of the Northern Lights in Sweden.

Tromsø, Norway: Tromsø doesn’t have a rail connection yet, but this town located above the Arctic Circle—and at the center of the famed Northern Lights Oval—deserves a mention. Tromsø is home to the dramatic Arctic Cathedral and is one of the best places to experience the Northern Lights as the lights can be spotted even when activity is low.

(You can take the train as far north as Narvik, which is itself a fine place to chase the lights) before switching to a coach for the last few hours of the journey).

You don’t have to go all the way to the Arctic Circle to have a chance at spotting the lights, as Britain owns a sneaky-high latitude, and in the right conditions, can be a fine place to spot the Northern Lights. As an added bonus, the country boasts impressive rail infrastructure.

Some of the best places in Britain to spot the Northern Lights on a rail trip are The Lake District (England), Cairngorms National Park (Scotland) and Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales). Scottish islands like Skye and Coll also feature dark skies and can be reached by a combination of train and ferry.


According to Trainline, there are a few things to consider before setting off on a Northern Lights-themed rail trip:

Find a forecast

Since the Northern Lights are caused by sporadic solar activity, they are hard to predict, but there are a few apps and websites that help paint a picture of the current conditions. Be sure to look one up for the region you are visiting. This is where a rail pass could come in handy, giving you the flexibility to hop around when the Northern Lights forecast changes.

Longer trips have more success

The longer your trip, the higher your odds of coming home with memories of spotting the Northern Lights. A week or so in the Arctic Circle in the heart of winter gives you a really good chance of coming home with a victory.

Dress warm

This is northern Europe in winter, so you’re going to want to layer up. And layer up again. And pack warming drinks with you alongside flashlights and other essentials for being outdoors in the dark in cold temperatures.


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