Want to maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis)? Travel to Nellim in Northern Lapland

Words: Kat Hopps

Shards of green light shimmer above my head like a chandelier ready to fall. To their right, a brighter band of light arcs along the sky before fading to a wisp. I’m witnessing an epic celestial dance, one that leaves me open-mouthed with joy. Words can fail you the moment you first glimpse the Northern Lights; it’s incredible watching a private show of one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena, especially when they can last mere seconds.

The further north you go, the better your chances of seeing them, so I travelled to Nellim, a village based in the north of Finnish Lapland on the shore of Lake Inari, 8km from the Russian border, 42km from the nearest town Ivalo (home to 4,000 people) and a four-hour drive north of Rovaniemi, Lapland’s capital.

It’s a trip you ought to book now – the Northern Lights take place on an 11-year solar cycle and, according to Peter Delamere, Associate Professor of Space Physics at the Geophysical Institute, that downward leg of the cycle is now. You can still catch the aurora borealis in 2016, but after this year you might not get another chance until 2024.

Nellim in winter (photo: Markku Inkila)

Small yet a significant cultural-historical location, Nellim’s population numbers 160-170 people (doubling to 400 in summer when people stay in their summerhouses there), and its setting – among the dense Finnish forest with pine, spruce and birch – is remote. There are advantages: the lights go out at 11pm every night, giving visitors ripe opportunities see the aurora borealis.

I stayed at the family-run Nellim Wilderness Lodge (booked through The Aurora Zone), run by Jouko and Mari Lappalainen. The main hotel, formerly a hospital during WWII, is surrounded by 26 hotel rooms, four apartments and six log cabins, with 16 log suites currently being built, increasing capacity from 100 to 130 people. A gift shop and booking area is also on the way. The rooms are rustic and cosy, although some are quite small and Wi-Fi is only available in the main hotel – try a larger suite with sauna and kitchen for a luxurious stay.

The staff are welcoming and knowledgeable, feeling like new friends after a few days. They treated me to comforting dishes, everything from velvety soups and traditional reindeer served with mash to berry compote desserts. The menu is based on seasonal availability, although restrictive diets are catered for, but be assured that food is always fresh and tasty. The hotel also houses a communal sauna – perfect for colder days, never more so than in January and February when temperatures can drop to -30°C.


Romantics should book a night in an Aurora Bubble, a wooden hut with a perspex transparent dome. You can sleep under the stars at night – and the lights if you’re lucky – from the haven of a warm bed. I had the best night’s sleep in ages in mine.

Romantics should book a night in an Aurora Bubble

Not everyone is as fortunate to see the Northern Lights so do plan other activities for worthwhile memories, such as hiking, snowmobiling to the local reindeer farm or cross-country skiing. A visit to the Sámi Siida museum in Inari is a must with its detailed displays on the diverse landscape and Sámi culture (this indigenous Finno-Ugric people number 9,000 in Finland, whilst the Inari Sami people are Nellim’s original inhabitants). You’ll be rewarded with an authentic Lapland adventure to remember.

Northern Lights specialists The Aurora Zone ( offer trips to the Nellim Autumn Lights over Lake Inari, including return flights from London to Ivalo, transfers, accommodation, all meals, cold weather clothing, guided activities and Northern Lights excursions. Prices from £1,250pp based on two people sharing. A winter version of this holiday runs from Dec to March, price from £1,385pp.

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