Common questions about seeing the Northern Lights In Finland
Before our trip to Finland to see the Northern Lights, we had tonnes of questions rolling around heads.
And no doubts, so do you!
So here’s a few quick answers to help you learn more about the Aurora Borealis.
What causes the Northern Lights?
Okay, there is no un-scientific way to describe this, and I am by no means an expert on the Northern Lights.
On a very dumbed down and simplistic level, they are caused when particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
There is a lot more than goes into it, and if you are interested, here is a useful post.
What affects your chances of seeing the Northern Lights?
There are 2 major factors that you can’t control and which go into deciding your likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights on any given night.
These are cloud cover and the KP Index.
For the best chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis, you want there to be no cloud cover and a very strong KP Index.
Now, “what is the KP Index”, I hear you ask. Well …
It is a ranking scale that describes to what extent solar winds are currently disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field.
It ranges from 0 to 9, and the higher the number, the better your chances are of seeing the Northern Lights.
For them to be visible in Lapland upwards, you need a KP Index of at least 2 or 3.
The higher the KP Index, the further south they are visible.
If they are high enough, it is even possible to see the Northern Lights in Helsinki; though this is very rare.
What month is best to see the Northern Lights in Finland?
The Aurora season in Finland runs from August until April, with your best chances of seeing them usually being September/October and March/April.
How often can you see the Northern Lights in Finland?
During the Aurora season, the Northern Lights can be visible in Finland anywhere from 50% to 75% of nights.
Of course, there is no exact guarantee, and you can sometimes go a week without seeing them, and then see them every day for a week.
That’s why, you need to do everything you can to help you increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
And you can do exactly that with these 10 top travel photography tips ...
1. Get away from light pollution
In order to see the Aurora Borealis in all their glory, it’s important that the skies are as clear as possible.
Though you don’t have control of how many clouds there are in the sky, you do have control of light pollution.
Most importantly, white light pollution.
The biggest cause of this are big cities where there are lots of houses and cars with their lights on.
So it’s best to head as far away from big cities and even towns as possible.
Then, when you have a nice spot, perhaps by a lake, you need to remove other forms of light as well; such as mobile phones and torches.
“But won’t I fall over?! And how will I post to Instagram to let everyone know where I am?!”
First up, once you remove all white light, your eyes will slowly adjust to complete darkness.
You’ll be able to see both the Northern Lights and your surroundings much more clearly; so as long as you move slowly and carefully you shouldn’t fall over.
And for Instagram, well, you’ll just have to wait until you get home to make your friends jealous!
It’s worth noting that light from a fire isn’t white light, so it doesn’t spoil your vision of the skies.
Which leads nicely onto my second top tip …
2. Plan ahead for staying warm
If you’re out hunting the lights, or even just watching them dance across the sky, you are soon going to get cold.
Late at night in northern Finland, temperatures can easily drop well below -10 degrees Celsius, which can get very cold once you’re stood around for a long time.
So you need to wrap up nice and warm in thick clothing.
In fact, if you take a tour, you can also get your hands on extra warm arctic gear (more on that in tip 5 below).
But for me, the best way to stay warm is to set up a fire!
One of the best things about Finland is that there are wild campsites with fire pits all over the place!
The vast majority even have pre-cut wood ready and waiting; so scout out a few good locations before going hunting for the Auroras at night.
3. Download an Aurora app
Though they are by no means 100% accurate, Aurora apps are extremely useful for getting a rough idea of your chances of seeing the Northern Lights tonight or any other night in the coming week.
We mostly used an app called My Aurora Forecast which gives you a weeklong prediction of cloud cover and the KP Index for locations all across northern Scandinavia.
It uses these two metrics (and others) to give you a rough percentage chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis that night at different hours.
To be clear, only use these apps as a very rough guide.
Many of the nights we saw the Aurora, the app said there was supposed to be 100% cloud cover and no chance of seeing the lights.
However, by being outside and ready, we were greeted by glorious displays of green during the 10 minute-or-so periods where the cloud briefly cleared.
4. Learn to be patient!
Following on nicely from this is the need for patience.
There is no strict rule for when the Northern Lights will appear; they may come out in their full glory for an hour or more, or just a few minutes.
All you can do is get warm and cosy, and keep a keen eye on the skies above.
What I believe is that, as long as you are in great company and are sat by a roaring fire, you will have a great time hunting the Northern Lights even if they never appear!
But when they do, you will be ready and waiting to enjoy them.
5. Go on a Northern Lights tour
If you are only in Finland for a few days, and have no idea where to even begin trying to find the lights, I highly recommend a Northern Lights wilderness tour.
The one we took from Rovaniemi proved to be a great experience where we learnt a tonne about the Northern Lights!
Our guide, Theo, was a lot of fun to be with and he taught us all about the Aurora Borealis and gave us tips and tricks for spotting them on the rest of our trip.
Though we weren’t able to find them that night, we had a fantastic time eating sausages around a roaring fire and went away with the knowledge of how to find and photograph them on the rest of our trip.
Also, before heading out on the tour, you have the option to wrap up warm in proper arctic suits, so you know there’s no chance of getting cold.
If you are in a similar position to us, and are planning a long road trip all around Lapland and even further afield, a tour like this is a great way to prepare for seeing the Northern Lights.
You can read more about our Northern Lights wilderness tour from Roaviemi here.
6. Get your own set of wheels
Though it’s number 6 on this list, this is easily one of my biggest recommendations for finding the Northern Lights in Finland.
If you are planning to visit for a week or more, and you can afford it, there is nothing better than having your own set of wheels.
Whether this is a campervan like us, or even a car, having a vehicle gives you complete flexibility and freedom on where you try to spot the Aurora Borealis.
If you find one spot and find it too crowded or cloudy above you can jump back in and head 30 minutes up the road to another spot where there might be less cloud cover.
Better yet, why not head as far north as possible where you have the best chance of spotting the lights?
Though Rovaniemi is a great place to spot them, you need a stronger KP Index to see them here than you do in, say Levi or Lake Inari.
So, on that note ...
What are the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland?
Well, there’s no exact list, and there are endless amazing places all across northern Finland.
But based on our 3 week experience in Finland, here are our top 5 places we found for spotting them.
And even if you don’t see them, these are amazingly beautiful places to visit in Finland.
- Lake Olkkajärvi outside Rovaniemi
- Pyhä-Luosto National Park
- Lake Inari (this spot here!)
7. Plan your visit for at least a week
As mentioned before, some weeks you may see the Northern Lights every day of the week in Finland; but you may not see them at all for 3 or 4 days.
So it’s best to visit for as long as possible, in order to increase your overall chance of seeing them at least once.
We were in Lapland for a week until we were finally fortunate enough to see them, and we were travelling all over the place in that time.
Then, when we hit Norway we saw them 4 out of 5 nights in a row; so you really never know!
8. Visit off-peak
Okay, though this won’t strictly speaking increase your chance of seeing the Northern Lights, it will make the experience a lot more enjoyable.
Popular lakeside campsites can get very crowded in the busy winter months, with endless tour groups all on the hunt for the lights.
This would be the case if you are in a busy city such as Rovaniemi.
For us, when visiting off-peak in October, we found that there were hardly any other campervans around.
Sometimes we went days without seeing them, and not once in 3 weeks did we stay at a campsite or wild camping spot where there was even a single other campervan there that night.
It was incredible, and meant that we had beautiful campsites all to ourselves every night!
Perfect for cooking up big feasts by the fire and enjoying each other's company whilst waiting for the elusive Auroras hiding behind clouds above.
9. Stay in a Northern Lights glass igloo hotel
If standing out in the cold, or sitting by a fire is not your idea of fun, then this is by far the best way for you to see the Northern Lights in Finland.
All across Finnish Lapland, more and more companies are cropping up, offering gorgeous glass igloos to spend the night.
They do exactly what they say on the tin, offering luxurious igloos or TeePee-shaped rooms, complete with cosy amenities and glass roofs.
Many have added features, such as …
- Motorised beds
- Heated glass roofs to melt the snow
- Aurora alarms to alert you when they are out
They are a truly unique way to experience the Northern Lights and the coolest way to sit back and wait for them to come to you.
We stayed in 4 glass igloos/aurora cabins when in Lapland, and each one was different and worth visiting for their own reasons.
Here’s a rundown of the amazing glass igloos we stayed at in Finland.
10. Learn the right settings for your camera
Finally, if you’re planning on seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, then it’s useful to know how to properly photograph them.
1. They make for great souvenirs from your time in Finland
2. Cameras have the ability to capture the Northern Lights in much greater detail than your eye can see
This second point is important, and every time we saw the Northern Lights, we found that the pictures of them on our camera looked even better than they did to our eyes.
Cazzy and I are by no means experts at photographing the Northern Lights, however we did manage to take some pretty impressive shots.
As a rule of thumb, to capture the Northern Lights with a proper DSLR, you should have it set to:
- A long shutter speed (up to 20 seconds if you wish)
- A high ISO (up to 1600)
- Lowest aperture you can get (around 2.8)
Also, a tripod is an essential piece of kit.
With such a long shutter speed, you need to keep the camera perfectly still in order to avoid the shot coming out blurry.
Though we have a proper DSR and wide angle lense, we actually found that some of our best shots came from Cazzy’s Canon G7 X Mark II which has a Star Gazing setting which perfectly captures the lights and doesn’t require you to fiddle around with lots of settings.
It also has a cool feature called Star Trailing which captures the lights over a long period of perhaps 10 minutes upwards, and then creates a cool motion picture video.
With regards to tripod, we use this one here.
It’s lightweight relatively compact, very stable, well-priced and easy to set up.
Have you been to Finland and seen the Northern Lights?
Do you have any more tips to add to this list?
Great, I’d love to hear from you! Just leave me a comment below ...
For more tips, be sure to check out:
- How To Take Better Travel Photos <-- My Top 23 Tips!