These Cruises Offer the Best Way to See the Northern Lights

On these sailings, passengers will be able to witness the aurora borealis from the comfort and convenience of a cruise ship with ample amenities.

northern lights reflect on the water

To see the Northern Lights, travelers need to be far north, away from light pollution, and have unobstructed views of the sky.

Photo by Shutterstock

The psychedelic light show that paints the night sky with multicolored neon streams, scientifically known as the aurora borealis, is an experience worth chasing for many. For the best chance of seeing the swirling spectacle, travelers should head to the northernmost climes on a cloudless night between late August and mid-April.

While it’s never a guarantee that the Northern Lights will be visible, one way to stack the deck in your favor is to be on a cruise ship that can move in search of the lights, typically in the Arctic.

Beyond seeing Mother Nature’s kaleidoscopic display, passengers on these cruises will have the chance to spend their days adventuring in the polar regions, perhaps cross-country skiing, dogsledding across the tundra, riding a Zodiac boat near the face of a calving glacier, or meeting with Sámi reindeer herders. In other words, if the lights fail to appear, you won’t be at a loss.

These are some of the cruises that offer you a solid chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Where do Northern Lights cruises go?

The auroral oval, a band that hugs the northernmost latitudes where auroral activity has the highest concentration, covers most of Alaska and Iceland, southern Greenland, and the northernmost parts of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

However, most Northern Lights cruises visit just Norway, Iceland, and Greenland because those countries have open waterways that aren’t frozen over.

Alaska’s cruise season only runs from May through September. While it is possible to see the Northern Lights display toward the beginning and end of the cruise season, it’s unlikely and no ships specifically target Alaska’s aurora season. Additionally, most Alaska cruises are concentrated around the collection of islands in the state’s southeast region, which is a little too far south for good auroral displays (though they do happen occasionally).

Aurora Expeditions' 132-passenger 'Greg Mortimer' sailing in polar waters

You’ll have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights while sailing Aurora Expeditions’ 132-passenger Greg Mortimer through Norway, Iceland, and Greenland.

Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions

1. Aurora Expeditions’ “Northern Lights Explorer” cruise

  • Cost: From $19,346 per person
  • Days: 19
  • Departure port: Kirkenes, Norway
  • End port: Reykjavík, Iceland
  • Book now

It’s never a guarantee that the Northern Lights will appear—it’s all dependent on the strength of geomagnetic storms on the sun and how clear the sky is where you are. However, given that this sailing lasts 19 days and ping-pongs around remote Arctic sites in Iceland, Greenland, and Norway, your odds are pretty good of seeing the night sky ignited by ribbons of color at least a few times.

The sailing starts in Kirkenes, on the northern coast of Norway, and spends the first six days hugging the coastline, sailing past fishing villages and granite peaks, and making stops in the Lofoten Islands and other small towns. Then it’s on to the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, just north of Iceland, which is also an excellent place for spotting whales and dolphins, before sliding over to the glacier-covered eastern coast of Greenland for four days of Zodiac excursions and hiking along the tundra. One of the highlights is visiting the Inuit village Ittoqqortoormiit, the region’s most isolated and northernmost permanent settlement, with its gregarious locals and scores of Greenlandic sled dogs.

From there, you’ll visit the Westfjords region of Iceland (the northwestern peninsula), with its colorful small towns, turbulent waterfalls, and fjords rich in bird-viewing opportunities. The final days before disembarkation in Bergen, Norway, will be spent in the Faroe Islands. There you’ll find traditional red-painted timber homes with grass roofs, lots of sheep and Faroese ponies, Viking history, and imposing sea cliffs.

Because it’s often chilly in this part of the world (especially at night), each passenger is given a waterproof polar expedition jacket upon arrival. The sailings will take place on the expedition vessel Greg Mortimer, which can hold 132 passengers in 79 cabins (most have private balconies for auroral viewing). The sailing runs from September 8 to 26, 2024.

The Northern Lights viewed from the deck of a Havila Voyages vessel

Havila Voyages is so confident guests will see the Northern Lights on Nordic sailings between October and March, it offers a guarantee.

Courtesy of Havila Voyages

2. Havila Voyages’ “Round Voyage”

  • Cost: From $1,330 per person
  • Days: 12
  • Departure port: Bergen, Norway
  • End port: Bergen, Norway
  • Book now

Havila Voyages is so sure that guests will see psychedelic coronas of light in the night sky that the Norwegian cruise line offers a “Northern Lights promise” on any of its 12-day Round Voyages, taking place from October 1, 2024, to March 31, 2025. (If the Northern Lights don’t occur, guests can claim a complimentary six-day or seven-day Norway sailing during the next Northern Lights season.)

The sailing starts in Bergen—with its picturesque UNESCO-listed Bryggen district lined with long, narrow rows of colorful buildings that face the harbor—before visiting Ålesund, known for its art nouveau architecture, and Trondheim, home to one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Then, as the ship moves into the Arctic regions, it’ll pass by dizzying fjords, tiny fishing villages, and northern Scandinavia’s largest glacier, before visiting Tromsø, where guests can meet the Sámi people (an Indigenous group in Scandinavia) and their reindeer. From there, the ship will sail as far north as possible, to a few kilometers from the Russian border, before sailing back to Tromsø, then visiting the wild and rugged Lofoten Islands and the Trondheim fjord.

The Norwegian-owned Havila Voyages operates four newer environmentally friendlier coastal cruise ships that carry both people and cargo between Bergen and Kirkenes, year-round. The hybrid ships run on liquified natural gas and, for up to four hours, on 86-ton battery packs, for emissions-free sailing (the packs can be charged in ports with clean electricity). Done up in decor inspired by Norwegian landscapes, the vessels carry up to 468 overnight cruise passengers.

A row of historic white, brown, rust-colored, and mustard-yellow wooden storefronts with A-frame roofs in Bergen, Norway

Havila Voyages and HX both offer a Northern Lights promise on cruises that depart from the scenic town of Bergen, Norway.

Photo by Kaitlyn Collins/Unsplash

3. HX’s “North Cape Express”

  • Cost: From $3,360 per person
  • Days: 13
  • Departure port: Bergen, Norway
  • End port: Oslo, Norway
  • Book now

HX (formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions), like Havila Voyages, also offers a “Northern Lights promise.” Suppose you sail one of the Northern Lights–chasing itineraries with HX between September 20 and March 31 on a voyage of 11 days or more and don’t see an auroral display. In that case, the company will give you a free six-day southbound or seven-day northbound Original Coastal Express Class Voyage. Beyond the North Cape Express, the other auroral sailings (with the Northern Lights Promise) include the 12-day Original Coastal Express (the full scenic route that stops at all 34 ports twice, on the northbound and southbound route).

For Hurtigruten’s North Cape Express expedition cruise, after departing Bergen, Norway, the 822-passenger MS Trollfjord sails toward Norway, with the first stop being in Molde, where guests can hike to Varden viewpoint for panoramic views of the 222 neighboring peaks, or visit the Romsdal Museum, a folk museum. From there, it’s onward to Rørvik, an ancient fishing town, and then Lødingen, a village known for its place amongst the fjords. Then the ship continues north into the Arctic Circle and up to Alta. There, guests can take an excursion to visit a Sámi village and learn about the Indigenous and semi-nomadic reindeer herders. Then it’s back down to Tromsø, where guests can visit the Polar Museum, go snowshoeing, or try one of the world’s northernmost breweries, Mack Bryggeri. Next, guests will visit the Lofoten islands, considered one of the most visually stunning parts of Norway, before visiting Hardangerfjord, the second longest fjord in the country, to learn more about Viking history. The final port of call is Oslo, the nation’s capital.

Each sailing has a professional photographer on board to help guests capture the lights display on their own camera. (Also, each room has an alarm that alerts guests when the auroras are visible.)

Skógafoss Waterfall in Iceland with green-hued Northern Lights in the night sky above

Quark Expeditions’ Northern Lights–themed sailings begin and end in Iceland, where sightings of the dancing aurora borealis are common in winter.

Photo by Balazs Busznyak/Unsplash

4. Quark Expeditions’ “Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland & East Greenland” cruise

  • Cost: Starts at $8,996 per person
  • Days: 12
  • Departure port: Reykjavík, Iceland
  • End port: Reykjavík, Iceland
  • Book now

Northern Lights cruising isn’t what you would consider a mainstream cruise itinerary—there aren’t lots of options—but even within the limited field, Quark’s aurora-viewing sailing stands out for its unique destinations.

In Iceland, guests spend time in Reykjavík before motoring along the Westfjords, the rugged peninsula that makes up the northwest corner of the island nation. There, guests spend their days scanning the dizzying cliff sides for puffins, guillemots, and razorbills, and their nights scanning the sky for signs of the aurora. The ship then crosses the Arctic Circle as it heads to Greenland, where it spends seven days patrolling the remote northeast coast. This wild tundra is home to reindeer, arctic hares, and 40 percent of the world’s musk ox population.

It’s also the site of Scoresbysund, the most extensive fjord system in the world, and the glaciers here are the birthplace of many of the icebergs you see in the Arctic. Because it’s an expedition sailing, guests typically get off the boat two or three times per day for excursions, be that for Zodiac rides between bobbing bits of icebergs, hiking among reindeer, kayaking in the fjords, or perhaps even doing a polar plunge.

Guests also have the option to extend their trip with a few days in Reykjavík, where Northern Lights displays are common in the winter. Quark is running this itinerary once in 2024, from September 20 to October 1.

Three lounge chairs lined up along two dipping pools in the spa on board Viking ocean ships

Warm up after aurora borealis–chasing in the Nordic-style spa on Viking ocean ships.

Eric Laignel/Viking

5. Viking’s “In Search of the Northern Lights” cruise

  • Cost: From $4,999 per person
  • Days: 13
  • Departure port: London, England
  • End port: Bergen, Noway
  • Book now

Looking to check multiple countries off your list and see the Northern Lights? Viking’s 13-day sailing has stops in England, the Netherlands, and Norway.

After departing London, guests spend a day in Amsterdam, where they can stroll along the canals, admiring the architecture and indulging in alfresco coffee and stroopwafel breaks. Then, after crossing the North Sea, the ship cruises the scenic Norwegian Inside Passage, a protected shipping lane that runs from the southern tip of Norway to Russia (though Viking guests will only go as far north as Tromsø).

The first stop where the Northern Lights could make an appearance is in Narvik, a small port city within the Arctic Circle where cruisers can participate in a Sámi Northern Lights ceremony, go snowshoeing in the mountains, or ride the cable car at Narvikfjellet. Then it’s on to Tromsø, Norway’s northernmost city, for two days of Arctic adventures, before sailing to Atla, a town known for its bluebird days (ideal for Northern Lights viewing later) and ancient rock carvings for two days.

In other cities, Viking offers late-night excursions that take passengers deeper into the countryside to darker spots with clearer skies to help increase the likelihood of spotting the elusive aurora. The following two days are at sea, taking in the beauty of the Norwegian coast as the vessel makes for its disembarkation city, Bergen.

If the lights appear during the night, the crew will play an announcement over the in-cabin TVs (meaning guests need to leave their TVs on all night to hear it). During sightings, staff circulates trays of hot beverages, like cocoa and toddies, to help guests stay warm on deck. Viking runs the itinerary multiple times from January through March in 2025 and 2026.

Rendering of a suite on Cunard's forthcoming 'Queen Anne,' including a velvet green couch and a bar area

See the Northern Lights in elegance and high style on Cunard’s forthcoming Queen Anne.

Rendering courtesy of Cunard

6. Cunard’s “Norway and Northern Lights” cruise

  • Cost: From $1,749 per person
  • Days: 12
  • Departure port: Southampton, England
  • End port: Southampton, England
  • Book now

While Cunard’s 2,996-passenger Queen Anne will offer oodles of nightly performances once it launches in 2024, one of the most dazzling shows could be the one Mother Nature puts on.

After departing Southampton, the first stop on this cruise will be in Ålesund, Norway, to spend a day exploring its art nouveau architecture. After another day at sea, guests will reach Tromsø, a city 250 miles inside the Arctic Circle with famously consistent Northern Lights displays. Guests can stop by the Arctic Cathedral (which resembles a geometric glacier), visit the Polaria Arctic Center, or perhaps take a cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen.

The next day will be in Narvik, a fishing village that can trace its history to the Stone Age but that has held township status only since the early 20th century. There travelers can ride the Ofoten Railway for a day trip to Sweden, hike to Frostisen Glacier, or ski at the Narvikfjellet ski resort. The final port town on the itinerary is Stavanger, where the most popular attractions relate to the community’s maritime history.

Cunard is known for bringing aboard subject experts, astronomers, and night-sky photographers who add extra color and insights to the sky-transforming glory of the Northern Lights. There will be ample space on the 1,085-foot, 13-deck ship to find quiet areas to see the nighttime show. In 2025, Cunard will offer a departure from September 26 to October 8, and it will offer a sailing on the 956-foot, 12-deck Queen Victoria from November 22 to December 4, which will visit Haugesund, Norway, where the 2,000-foot-tall Langfoss Waterfall and hikes to the Instagram-famous Pulpit Rock are the big draws, instead of Stavanger.

Fran Golden contributed reporting. This story was originally published in October 2022 and was updated on April 5, 2024, to include current information.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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