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6 of the best Northern Lights cruises

Here’s how to have a floating holiday under the technicolour waltz of the aurora borealis

Natalie Wilson
Friday 22 December 2023 16:43 GMT
The atmospheric phenomenon dances at its brightest offshore
The atmospheric phenomenon dances at its brightest offshore (Hurtigruten Group)

Ribbons of brilliance, dazzling displays and ethereal stargazing – the Northern Lights are a lifetime highlight for those lucky enough to witness the intriguing spectacle.

Famously, orchestrating a glimpse of the elusive celestial ballet requires that a lot of factors fall into place. Clear viewing conditions, a great vantage point and a lot of patience are a must to watch the lights dance at their most visible between September and March.

To maximise your chances of a rare Northern Lights sighting, you’ll need to head for locations with the latitude to host nature’s best performance, and chances of a successful sighting soar on the remote Arctic Ocean.

Forget shivering on city-side snowscapes you were ferried to by coach and float far from light pollution, gliding past giant ice cubes on luxury vessels beneath the dramatic backdrop of the aurora borealis.

With cruises bound for Norway, Iceland, Canada and Greenland chasing the cosmic whisps of purple and green, here’s our guide to the sailings primed for illuminated skies.

Read more on cruises:

Best for: Aurora guarantee

The North Cape Express, Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten promises an additional Norway voyage free of charge if the Northern Lights don’t put on a show (Hurtigruten Group )

Departs: Oslo, Norway

Arrives: Bergen, Norway

Hunting the aurora borealis with Hurtigruten entails a journey from capital Oslo to North Cape, on the Arctic Norwegian coast, in the hopes of watching the ultimate light performance. Think frost-tipped mountains, icy fjords and some serious snow with stops at Tromsø, aurora hotspot, Alta, and Honningsvåg, Norway’s northernmost city, along the way.

A voyage on the 14-day The North Cape Express itinerary costs from £1,827pp, with multi-course dining, flights, port transfers and on-board activities – such as photography workshops – on MS Trollfjord included in the price. The cherry on top of the cake? Hurtigruten promises an additional six- or seven-day Norway voyage free of charge if the Northern Lights don’t put on a show while you sail.

Departures until April 2024.

Best for: Illuminating science

Greenland and Iceland, Celebrity Cruises

At Reykjavik’s Northern Lights Center, you’ll learn the science behind the spectacle (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Departs: Reykjavik, Iceland

Arrives: Boston, Massachusetts

For a surreal sea voyage across the Northern Hemisphere’s wild terrain, Celebrity Cruises provides a slice of volcanic Iceland with six ports, including Greenland and Nova Scotia. At Reykjavik’s Northern Lights Center, you’ll also learn the science behind the spectacle and its cultural significance on a cruise that could yield a sighting of the unpredictable aurora.

Spend 12 nights onboard the decadent Celebrity Eclipse from $2,163pp (£1,706). Cruise in style on the ship complete with a European shopping piazza, yoga studio and a martini bar that boasts a whole portfolio of vodkas.

Departing 16 August 2024.

Best for: Cruising and perusing

Arctic Circle Cruise, Royal Caribbean

Stops at seven cities with Royal Caribbean offer aurora adventures on and off deck (Getty Images)

Departs: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Arrives: Amsterdam, Netherlands

To peruse eight port cities during a round trip of the Arctic Circle’s Norweigan aurora belt, Royal Caribbean’s 12-night Arctic Circle Cruise to Tromsø, Flam and Kristiansand provides the ideal glide through remote dark skies.

It’s £1,478pp for an interior cabin including daring dining from sushi rolls to plates of steak and glasses of fine wine. Entertainment-wise, musical performances, rock climbing walls and mini golf fill days anticipating nature’s displays after dark.

Departing 30 May 2024.

Best for: Sustainable sailing

Norway Round Voyage, Havila Voyages

Havila ships use batteries for four hours of silent sailing in search of the Northern Lights (Havila Voyages )

Departs: Bergen, Norway

Arrives: Bergen, Norway

This coastal express cruise by Havila Voyages visits 34 Norweigan ports across 12 days including travel wish list staples such as the Lofoten archipelago and the sensatinal North Cape landscape and there are few places better to watch the lights dance.

Lucky travellers will be able to watch the sky illuminate in secondary colours through the glass ceiling of the ship’s observation lounge as they sail sustainably by battery for up to four hours of silence – a Northern Lights promise also applies to this magical £2,096pp voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes.

Departing 30 December 2023.

Best for: Exhaustive expeditions

Journey Across The Northwest Passage, Seabourn

This 23-day journey floats from Iceland to Greenland, Canada and Alaska (Getty Images)

Departs: Reykjavik, Iceland

Arrives: Anchorage, Alaska

Onboard Seabourn’s Venture ship, a 23-day journey across the Northwest Passage floats from Iceland to Greenland, Canada and Alaska and the kaleidoscope of colourful houses typical of Scandinavian towns extends above to the night skies. There’s even a constellation lounge with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, which offer views of penguins and killer whales by day and the light’s wonders by night.

The cruise costs from £24,299 for a veranda suite; not cheap, but the Northwest Passage experience through the glacier-carved Canadian Arctic and 23 opportunities to tick the Northern Lights off your bucket list is arguably priceless.

Departing 6 August 2025.

Best for: Intimate adventures

East Greenland Explorer Fly & Cruise, Secret Atlas

The MV Vikingfjord hosts only 12 intrepid travellers to Greenland’s mammoth fjord (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Departs: Reykjavik, Iceland

Arrives: Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland

To explore Greenland’s breathtaking Scoresby Sund fjord, the colossal ice columns of Viking Bay and the remote settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit, Secret Atlas has an impressive East Greenland cruise. Groups of just 12 intrepid travellers can board MV Vikingfjord to reach Greenland’s mammoth fjord, from €9,900 (£8,579) for eight days of lectures, zodiac shore landings with polar bear protection guides, and full-board dining.

An on-deck sauna, comfortable cabins and an open-plan observation lounge primed for photographing the Northern Lights complete the intimate adventure. Float to the northern wilderness in September, when there is little light pollution and the best chance of being mesmerised by the vivid aurora.

Departing 5 September 2024.

Read more on the best cruises for 2024

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