“The Northern Lights were so much more than I expected,” says Jennifer Farrell, from North Ridgeville, Ohio, who saw the lights for the first time about two years ago. Farrell traveled to Swedish Lapland—a province in the far northwest of the country that’s known for its indigenous Sami culture and snowy sweeps of forests, mountains, and plateaus—with tour operator Discover the World. From December to March, the company offers a four-day Northern Lights trip that begins in Lapland’s Abisko National Park. Here, the lights, also called the aurora borealis, are especially likely to appear due to the park’s clean air and lack of clouds. The lights may illuminate the sky in arcs, patches, or rippling sheets of green, red, violet, white, or blue, and some observers say they can even hear them swish and crackle.
On the first evening of the trip, travelers dine on venison and arctic char at the Abisko Mountain Lodge, then bundle up in snowsuits for a bracing chairlift ride to the Aurora Sky Station. “The lights started out as a greenish fog as we walked up to the chairlift, and I was worried I’d be disappointed,” Farrell says. “Then, as we ascended into the cold, cold air and wind, the lights shifted. They were spectacular.”
At the station, visitors can take in the view from an observation tower and explore a science exhibit on the aurora, which is created when solar wind particles collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere. “I stayed outside as long as I could, slipped into the station to get warm, then went back out to admire the lights,” Farrell says. “It was surprising how they slowly changed, and how downright huge they were. They were definitely worth the trip.”
After leaving Abisko, travelers spend two nights at the Icehotel (pictured). Rebuilt every winter from giant blocks of ice, the hotel has beds made of snow covered with reindeer pelts. Ice sculptures serve as decorations. (Warmer accommodations are also available.) The hotel runs nightly trips by snowmobile, bus, and horseback to the best aurora-viewing spots. If guests are lucky, the lights might simply appear above their room in a ghostly green swirl.
Discover the World: 44/(0) 1737-214-250. From $1,867 for a four-day trip, including lodging, some meals, and roundtrip flights from London. Photo by Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson/Arctic Images/Alamy. This story appeared in the January/February 2011 issue.