How Much Does It Cost to See the Northern Lights?

Last Updated on February 23, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Chasing the northern lights is a dream for many travelers. But before embarking on an aurora-viewing adventure, it’s important to budget accordingly. This magical phenomenon doesn’t come cheap.

Seeing the northern lights generally requires traveling to remote destinations north of the Arctic Circle. Flights, tours, specialized gear, and unique accommodations all contribute to the cost. With good planning, these once-in-a-lifetime trips can be affordable. This guide provides an overview of the expenses to expect when journeying to see the aurora borealis.

How Much Does It Cost to See the Northern Lights?

A Northern Lights vacation can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000+ per person. The price varies widely based on the destination, type of accommodations, time of year, and tour activities chosen.

Transportation eats up a significant portion of any aurora-viewing budget. Flights to destinations within the Auroral Oval like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Canada can run $500 to $1,000+ roundtrip. Visitors also need to factor in ground transportation like rental cars or tour buses.

Accommodation ranges from $100 to $500+ per night. At the low end, hostels and budget hotels provide an affordable place to stay. For a truly unique experience, splurge on an ice hotel or glass igloo for $200 to $500 per night. These let you watch for the lights from the bed.

Guided Northern Lights tours generally range from $50 to $200 per person. More exclusive excursions with private guides or Snowcat vehicles can cost upwards of $500+ per person. Activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, and more also add to the overall budget.

Food, winter clothing, equipment rental, travel insurance, and other miscellaneous expenses can total $500 or more per person. Carefully tally up these “hidden” costs when trip planning.

Transportation Costs

Flights are one of the biggest Northern Lights travel expenses. Roundtrip flights from the U.S. East Coast to Reykjavik, Iceland average around $800 to $1,200. Flights to northern Europe destinations like Tromsø, Norway run $700 to $1,000+ roundtrip. Traveling within the auroral oval isn’t cheap.

Many travelers also need internal flights once arriving in auroral destinations. Flights from Reykjavik to places like Akureyri average $180+ roundtrip. Hopper flights in northern Canada like Yellowknife can add $500+ roundtrip. Factor these costs in.

Local transportation like tour buses, rental cars, and transfers add up too. Guided coach tours range from $50 to $100+ daily. Renting a car costs $50+ per day, not including insurance and fees. Airport transfers run $30 to $100+ each way.

For maximum flexibility, having your own car is ideal. But in remote winter conditions, joining a guided tour may be the safer, more cost-effective choice. Carefully weigh options for getting around.

Accommodation Costs

From budget hostels to luxurious lodges, a wide variety of accommodation types suit Northern Lights travelers. Prices can range from $100 to $500+ per night. Location and amenities drive cost more than star ratings.

In popular auroral destinations like Iceland, basic hostel beds cost $60 to $100 per night during high season. Private rooms with shared baths average $100 to $200 nightly. Guesthouses and budget hotels generally run $150 to $250 per night for a double room.

Mid-range hotels like Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon start around $250 per night during peak northern lights season. Many offer prime northern lights viewing areas too.

At the luxury end, five-star lodges like Deplar Farm in Iceland boast prices starting at $500+ per night. These provide lavish amenities and exclusive northern lights experiences.

For novelty, glass igloo accommodations let you sleep under the northern lights. The famed Kakslauttenen Arctic Resort in Finland charges $250 to $500+ per night for their glass igloos. Expect high demand and limited availability.

Off-peak travel brings lower prices. However limited daylight and extreme cold may diminish the experience. Weigh trade-offs between cost and ideal conditions.

Popular Tours and Activities

Guided northern lights tours take the guesswork out of spotting and photographing the auroras. They range from budget-friendly group tours to private VIP excursions.

In Iceland, large bus tours cost $50 to $120 per person for 3 to 5 hours of guided viewing. More exclusive small-group tours run $200 to $500+ per person with a max of 6 to 12 people. Private 4-hour tours with expert photography guides hit $800+.

Snowmobiling and husky sledding pair northern lights viewing with fun on-the-snow activities. Most tours run $100 to $300 per person for 2 to 4 hours. Add-on options like meals or thermal gear rentals increase the total.

Boat tours offer unique aurora viewing perspectives. Norway’s Hurtigruten cruises mix stranded fjords with potential northern lights sightings. Cabins start around $100+ per person per night, plus added expedition fees.

Many travelers also book Northern Lights photography workshops to hone their skills. Expect to pay $50 to $150+ for a few hours of expert instruction and hands-on practice.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Aside from the major costs above, other expenses quickly add up. Having a contingency fund helps cover incidentals.

Northern Lights destinations aren’t exactly culinary hotspots, but food costs tally up. Allow $30 to $60+ per person for simple restaurant meals or groceries to make your own meals.

You’ll also need to dress for arctic conditions. Quality thermal base layers, winter boots, and down parkas cost $150 to $500+ if you don’t already own suitable cold-weather attire. Renting gear helps avoid these costs.

You might also like our articles about the cost of doing the Great Loop, traveling to Norway, or traveling to Switzerland.

Don’t forget travel insurance to protect against canceled flights, lost luggage, or medical emergencies. Policies for 2 weeks of Northern Lights travel run $100 to $300+ depending on coverage level.

Other expenses like equipment rental, airport transfers, cold weather gear, and souvenirs can easily total $500+ per person or more. Accuracy budgeting helps avoid sticker shock.

Top Northern Lights Destinations

The aurora borealis shines in far northern latitudes worldwide. Each destination has its own pros, cons, and price points for travelers.

Iceland sits directly beneath the Auroral Oval making it one of the world’s best northern lights viewing spots. Its popularity drives high season prices but deals exist off-peak. Expect to budget $1,500+ per person.

Norway’s Tromsø and Svalbard regions offer amazing fjord backdrops and frequent auroral displays. But Norway is also one of the most expensive destinations at $2,000+ per visitor. Worth it for nature lovers!

Finnish Lapland delivers a remote, quiet northern wilderness. While not budget-friendly, Finland offers access to indigenous Sami culture. Plan around $2,000+ per person.

Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories provide front-row northern lights viewing. Outside of major cities, these remote regions remain budget-friendly at $1,500 to $2,000 per person.

Alaska combines northern lights with epic nature. But limited infrastructure means DIY travel is challenging. Guided tours provide ease for $2,000 to $4,000 per person.

Sea to Summit Alaska reports that a typical Alaska northern lights tour will cost around $140+ per person for the most basic of tours. However, if paired with aurora ice fishing, a ride on the Alaska railroad, or a glacier landing, the experience can become more expensive.

The cost of flights, accommodations, car rentals, cruise options, food, gas, souvenirs, and other expenses can add up, making this one of the more expensive trips one can take in their lifetime.

Alaska Tours provides information on various Northern Lights tours in Alaska, with prices ranging from $295 for the Anchorage Aurora Quest Tour to $2,709 for Alaska’s Autumn Highlights Tour.

TourRadar offers Northern Lights tours and trips in various locations, with prices ranging from $1,220 for Lapland & the Arctic Circle – 5 Days to $3,190 for Arctic Winter Explorer | Ice Road to the Arctic Sea – 8 Days.

Icelandair offers Northern Lights tours and vacations in Iceland, with prices ranging from $914 for the Blue Lagoon and Northern Lights – Morning Departure tour to other packages with varying prices.

Best Times of Year for Northern Lights

Northern Lights Seal River LodgThe northern lights shine year-round during periods of solar activity. But late fall through early spring offer the longest peak viewing seasons when skies stay dark.

September and October deliver the first peak. Cooler fall temperatures arrive but winter’s deepest chill hasn’t set in yet across the Arctic. Prices are lower than prime season.

From late October to early November, aurora activity ramps up heading into winter. Destinations get busier and more expensive as demand increases.

The weeks surrounding the winter solstice in December and January are considered the main peak for northern lights viewing. But extreme cold and limited daylight deter some travelers.

February and March bring a secondary peak with continued strong solar activity and cold, clear skies. Crowds diminish and hotel rates drop from January’s heights.

The shoulder seasons of April/May and August/September offer big cost savings. But viewing conditions aren’t as ideal and tourist infrastructure is reduced.

Affordable Northern Lights Travel Tips

A Northern Lights adventure doesn’t have to break the bank with careful planning:

  • Travel in September/October or March/April to take advantage of lower prices and thinner crowds.
  • Book a package tour deal for potentially huge savings over DIY travel. Shop sales and special offers.
  • Use points and miles to cover flights and hotels. Sites like AwardHacker reveal best redemption options.
  • Stay outside of major hubs in towns like Kirkjubæjarklaustur rather than Reykjavik to save on hotels.
  • Consider home-share stays through Airbnb or hospitality exchanges as an affordable lodging option.
  • Rent winter clothing and gear instead of purchasing expensive thermal wear you may only use once.
  • Share guided tour and vehicle rental costs by traveling with friends or joining a group tour.

With flexibility and savvy planning, seeing the northern lights can be accessible even on a budget.

Luxury Northern Lights Experiences

At the other end of the spectrum, travelers with generous budgets can indulge in ultra-exclusive northern lights experiences.

Chartering a private jet to remote northern ports like Canada’s Churchill, Manitoba guarantees front-row aurora viewing. Charter flights start around $20,000.

Staying in a luxury arctic lodge like Iceland’s Deplar Farm or Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland provides lavish accommodations with private northern lights viewing. $500 to $1,500+ per night.

Booking VIP Northern Lights photography tours with expert guides ensures prime viewing spots and instruction tailored to any skill level. Private tours run $1,000+ per person.

Sailing the Norwegian fjords aboard a chartered yacht or small cruise ship allows you to chase the lights in optimal comfort. Charters run $5,000+ per person.

Customizing a private Northern Lights itinerary complete with business jet travel, luxury hotels, and private guides provides the ultimate, no-expenses-spared trip. Price is the sky’s the limit.

Final Words

A once-in-a-lifetime Northern Lights experience is worth splurging for. But careful planning allows you to see the auroras without breaking the bank. Focus costs on the experiences that matter most for your trip.

Then get creative to keep non-essential expenses down. Use these tips to enjoy northern lights travel on any budget. The payoff of checking this dream off your bucket list is priceless!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the cheapest place to see the Northern Lights?

The most budget-friendly destinations for seeing the northern lights are often found in remote regions of Canada and Alaska. Locations like Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Fairbanks provide frequent northern lights displays outside of major metropolitan areas.

Hotel rates are generally more affordable than popular destinations like Iceland and Scandinavia. Food and transportation are also less expensive in rural northern Canada and Alaska. Additionally, off-peak shoulder season travel to these areas yields big savings over peak winter dates.

For an optimal balance of great auroral viewing and budget rates, plan a northern lights adventure in western Canada or Alaska’s Interior during September/April.

How long is a Northern Lights tour?

Typical northern lights tours last between 2 to 5 hours, departing in the evening when it’s dark enough for potential aurora viewing. Short 2-3 hour tours generally bring travelers to a preferred viewing location and provide guidance from an expert auroral guide.

Longer 4-5 hour tours often combine northern lights hunting with add-on activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding, or cultural visits. Overnight northern lights excursions are also available for maximum viewing time under dark skies, pairing multi-day activities with evenings spent aurora chasing.

Tour lengths can also vary based on the method of transportation, with boat and snowcat tours tending to be 3-5 hours and bus tours lasting 2-3 hours. When choosing a Northern Lights tour, factor in your stamina levels, timeline, and if you want a purely observation-based vs an activity-paired experience.

Where are the prettiest Northern Lights?

Some of the most scenic landscapes to view the northern lights include Iceland’s countryside, Lapland in Finland, Norway’s fjords and archipelagos, and the vast wilderness of Canada and Alaska. Iceland’s south coast features stunning glacial lagoons and waterfalls with the potential for brilliant aurora reflections.

Finnish Lapland offers the quintessential northern winter wonderland backdrop dotted with old-growth forests and frozen lakes. Norway’s jagged fjords and islands create an amazing intersection of ocean, mountains, and sky for an expansive light show.

And the national parks and remote landscapes of northern Canada and Alaska’s wilderness areas showcase the lights over tranquil forests and valleys begging to be explored.

Regardless of your destination, anywhere north that provides dark, clear night skies away from excessive light pollution will let the northern lights take center stage in all their glory. But these dreamy landscapes make for unforgettable settings to witness the auroras shimmer overhead.

3 replies
  1. Linds
    Linds says:

    I hope I get to see this wonderful place at least once in my life! I was just blessed with a second child, which really took out of my time, but I do hope one day to get the money to see the Aurora Borealis. It’s an amazing show of lights, I`ve heard.

  2. Martha
    Martha says:

    I`ve heard that the astronauts working on the International Space Station pause all work each day while they pass the Aurora Borealis, so it must really be awesome!


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