The Nordic air is freezing. From the hot tub, steam rises into the starry sky.
As you take another sip of wine, light starts rippling above you: dancing beams of green and purple. You lean back, further immersing yourself in the warm water, eyes pointed to the sky. You’ve waited a long time to see this.
Winter’s almost upon us – and with it come ample opportunities to witness the natural phenomenon known as the northern lights. In some destinations, the show has already begun.
“Yesterday was a great night with auroras and the Milky Way lining up,” said Johan Löfgren, owner of the Arctic Gourmet Cabin in Sweden. “But overcooking the piece of reindeer meat – just to get a picture – was of course not an option. I got to enjoy it a little bit anyway; it’s a nice experience to share with total strangers, or the one you hold dearest.”
If you’re chasing the aurora borealis, your best bet is to escape the city. But that doesn’t necessarily mean leaving luxury behind. At these seven hotels, fine dining, thick blankets, crackling fires – and, fingers crossed, an unforgettable display of lights – await when you stay:
1. Levin Iglut, Lapland, Finland
There’s undoubtedly something magical about watching the northern lights from the comfort of a cozy bed. To do so, try one of the 24 glass igloos at Levin Iglut in the hills of Finnish Lapland.
Though the bed is the focal point – draped in pillows and blankets, and adjustable to the perfect viewing position – each igloo also offers private bathrooms with heated floors, a kitchenette, Bluetooth speakers and complimentary breakfast. The “Premium” igloos look out over the snowy valley with unobstructed views.
A good option for a group, the property’s Northern Lights House is an elegant stone and glass structure built directly into the hillside. Here, you’ll have a fireplace and private sauna – and will be able to observe the night sky from your panoramic windows or personal hot tub.
Prime viewing season is from mid-November to mid-April, when you can spend your days skiing at the nearby Levi Resort before retiring to the lights at night.
Levin Iglut, Harjatie 2, 99130 Levi, Lapland, Finland; +358 50 313 5637 leviniglut.net
2. Arctic Gourmet Cabin, Kiruna, Sweden
It doesn’t get much more intimate than this pair of cabins, which can each accommodate two guests at a time. Located in the northern tip of Sweden and free of light pollution, Arctic Gourmet Cabin is a fabulous place to catch the aurora – preferably between mid-September and mid-April, and preferably from the hotel’s outdoor hot tub. Other activities include dog sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
The cabins are small, but modern – and come second to the real highlight of a stay here: the food, served in a third four-seat restaurant cabin. Owners Johan and Malin Löfgren met while working in the restaurant of the famed Icehotel; she’s a sommelier, and he’s a chef.
Now they’ve brought their culinary expertise to a two-table restaurant in the woods, cooking up five-course meals centered around local specialties like reindeer, moose and arctic char – all paired with an eclectic selection of wine.
Arctic Gourmet Cabin, Kaalasjärvi 1100, 98199 Kiruna, Sweden; + 46 73 545 7094 arcticgourmetcabin.se/boende/index
3. Northern Lights Resort & Spa, Whitehorse, Canada
At this resort in the Yukon of Canada, you won’t just have the chance to see the northern lights – you’ll get to chase them, Iditarod-style. From November to April, the hotel offers nightly dog sled runs with a champion musher; an unforgettable experience whether or not the aurora comes out to play.
Set on 120 acres south of Whitehorse, the property offers sprawling views of the surrounding mountains. For lodging, you can choose from four log cabins – each built by hand from locally grown timber, and exuding romance with gas fireplaces and European linens.
During the winter season, your stay will include breakfast, lunch and leisurely family-style dinners in the main lodge, where you’ll have the chance to meet your fellow aurora-fiends. Daytime activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice fishing, or indulging yourself at the resort’s Finnish-style spa.
Northern Lights Resort & Spa, 1178 Gentian Lane, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 6L6, Canada; + 1 867 393 3780 northernlightsyukon.com
4. Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge, Iniakuk Lake, Alaska
Getting to this all-inclusive lodge – 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle – is half the adventure. A private ski plane picks you up in Fairbanks, and after two hours, will touch down in the pristine powder of the Brooks Mountain Range.
From then on, you’ll be completely surrounded by the Alaskan wilderness – including its famed aurora. And, if you book a five-night photography safari guided by expert Alaskan photographer Nathaniel Wilder, you’re guaranteed to leave with some stunning shots. The tour is available in February and March, when aurora activity is at its peak.
The lodge, which was built by hand from local white and black spruce, is 100% solar-powered, providing 24-hour electricity, hot showers and a sauna. Its simple rooms have flannel sheets and thick quilts that invite you to snuggle up with a good book; the rest of the time, you can partake in activities like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or just conversing over home-cooked meals beside a cozy wood stove.
“Alaskan guides will keep you entertained with stories and adventures from life in the Arctic, while providing you the opportunity to create your own,” explained owner John Gaedeke, a second-generation guide who was raised on Iniakuk Lake.
Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge, 1785 Iniakuk Ave, Fairbanks, AK; +1 907 479 6354 brooksrangewintertours.com
5. Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Alta, Norway
Another country, another igloo hotel – but this one’s not made of glass. Located on the banks of the Alta River, Sorrisniva claims to be the largest and northernmost ice hotel in the world.
Hewn each year from snow and ice – including artistic details like chandeliers and sculptures – the hotel occupies nearly 27,000 square feet.
If you overnight in one of its 30 rooms, you’ll stay snug in an “extreme” sleeping bag covered by reindeer hides, before warming up with a morning trip to the on-site sauna.
For a unique view of the northern lights, you can take a reindeer sledding tour with an indigenous Sami guide. In addition to searching for the aurora, you’ll learn about your guide’s culture and life as a reindeer herder.
The hotel is open from December 18, 2017, through April 8, 2018, with closures over Christmas, New Year’s and Easter. If you visit before January 17, 2018, you’ll experience the “Polar Night” – a period when the sun never rises – which the hotel says can be a special time to see the northern lights.
Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Sorrisniva 20, 9518 Alta, Norway; + 47 784 33 378 https://sorrisniva.no/
6. Hotel Rangá, Hella, Iceland
Although it’s conveniently located just two hours from Iceland’s main airport, this hotel is still far enough removed from the city to offer excellent northern lights viewing between September and April.
In fact, it caters to aurora seekers, offering a wake-up call when the lights come out, overalls to help you stay warm outside and blankets and benches that welcome you to lie down and watch the show. Or, if you don’t want to venture outside, you can view the lights from the hotel’s observatory, which comes complete with a resident astronomer and multiple telescopes.
Of its 51 rooms, seven are suites with decor inspired by different continents. For a deluxe experience, the Royal Suite features an in-room whirlpool tub and private patio. Hopefully, though, you’ll spend most of your time outside – either in the hotel’s three geothermal pools, or on snowmobiling and dog sledding adventures.
Hotel Rangá, Suðurlandsvegur, 851 Hella, Iceland; +354 487 5700 hotelranga.is
7. Seal River Heritage Lodge, Churchill, Canada
This remote lodge in the Canadian province of Manitoba delivers the ultimate foray into nature. To access it, you’ll fly 30 minutes from Churchill to the shores of Hudson Bay. Not only does this region claim to be one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, it’s also a haven for wildlife.
For a good shot at seeing the aurora, visit in October or November – which, luckily, is also prime polar bear viewing season. If you book the hotel’s Polar Bear Photo Safari, these majestic creatures will be the focus; the northern lights, a bonus. Every day, you’ll trek across the tundra to photograph bears, Arctic fox, wolves, caribou, snowy owls and ptarmigan.
When you return to the lodge, you can relax in your wood-paneled room, wrapping yourself in a chunky blanket before enjoying a hot meal in the panoramic dining room. Then, at night, get your camera out again, for it’ll be time to photograph a different natural wonder.
Seal River Heritage Lodge, 26 Selkirk Street, Churchill, MB, Canada; + 1 204 878 5090 churchillwild.com/about-us/our-lodges/
Susan Shain is a freelance writer who covers travel, food and personal finance. She’s written for Travel + Leisure, The Independent, The Washington Post and more. Her work can be found at http://susanshain.com.