Northern lights

The only sunspots you usually need to worry about on holiday are the ones in front of your eyes if you forget your sunglasses.

But according to scientists, visitors to the Nordic regions will have very different reasons to concern themselves with sunspots this year. Those spectacular but unpredictable northern lights, which dance across Polar skies, have a better chance of appearing when there are a higher number of spots on the surface of the sun. These fluctuate in 11-year cycles, and winter 2011-12 looks set to be a bumper season.

Stephen Lane, Page & Moy head of product and purchasing, says: “We’re already getting lots of interest for northern lights tours in 2012 as apparently Nasa has announced that the lights will be the most spectacular they have been for more than 50 years.”

And the northern lights are just one of the many reasons to visit the Nordic regions. Active travellers can enjoy snowy pursuits such as dog-sledding, animal lovers can spot wildlife such as polar bears and reindeer, and there are vibrant cities and gorgeous landscapes like the famed fjords – to enjoy, whether clients are interested in the aurora borealis or not.

Northern lights tours

Claire Wilson, managing director of The Adventure Company says: “In our poll of 8,000 UK travellers, the enigmatic aurora borealis proved the most iconic sight as 16% put the northern lights at the top on their wishlist. Our northern lights trips were complete sell-outs this year.

“It has proved so popular that we don’t think it should be limited to adults and The Adventure Company is now offering a stargazing trip for families to see the lights from Iceland.”

Families on the new Glaciers, Geysers and Northern Lights tour will be accompanied by an astronomy expert.

Adventure operators have a range of escorted tours across different Nordic destinations that will give clients the chance to see the lights while also making the most of everything else on offer.

Explore’s most popular short tours include Icelandic Escapades, a four-day-long weekend that mixes visiting Iceland’s natural wonders with activities such as super jeep rides, snowmobiling, and whale watching (starting from £565), and the action-packed Lapland Ice Adventure, another four-day trip, visiting Sweden and including reindeer-sledding, dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and a night in the Ice Hotel, from £1,372.

Exodus runs four winter trips in Finland, with different levels of comfort and activity involved, and two in Swedish Lapland. There is also an expedition cruise to remote Greenland where passengers will have the chance to see the lights.

Cruises along the Norwegian coast are one of the most popular ways to see this phenomenon – a five-day Northern Lights Voyage is Neilson’s most popular Scandinavian tour.

Hurtigruten operates a range of special itineraries throughout the winter season, some of which spend their whole time above the Arctic Circle, which maximises your clients’ chances of seeing the lights.

These run from Tromso around to Kirkenes on the Russian border and back, stopping at North Cape, mainland Europe’s northernmost point. Direct flights from Leeds Bradford and Edinburgh are featured for the first time this season, with an additional Manchester date after the first sold out. The flights tie in with a 12-day cruise along the fjords.

As well as booking direct with the cruise line, look at operators who package up sailings with land tours for a more diverse experience. Page & Moy offers a Huskies and the Northern Lights tour with a cruise add-on. The trip lasts eight days and includes time exploring Tromso, reindeer and husky sledding, and a Hurtigruten cruise to Bergen. Departures begin in February and prices start from £1,944.

Stockholm city centre

Summer Scandinavia

The Nordic regions have much to offer in summer too, and escorted tour operators offer comprehensive itineraries covering many of the areas’ most famous cities and scenic landscapes.

The Norwegian fjords are often a major focus for tours. Collette Worldwide’s 12-day Cruising the Best of Scandinavia tour bookends Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas seven-night Norwegian cruise with visits to Stockholm and Copenhagen, from £2,384. Titan Travel’s Scandinavian Discovery journeys through the fjords on land instead, having taken guests north through Sweden from Copenhagen first. The two-week itinerary starts from £2,495.
 
Vicki Wye, Cosmos Tours & Cruises product manager, says: “Scandinavia continues to be a growth area for us, with those who have already experienced the more mainstream destinations such as France, Italy and Spain.

“The region lends itself to escorted touring, with the huge distances involved making it more difficult to organise independently. This year has seen an overall increase in bookings for all tours of about 5% year on year, and for 2012 we are keen to develop the region further with the inclusion of cruising options to add on to the tours.”

One of the likely combinations will be the 12-day Scenic Scandinavia tour followed by a five-day Baltic Capitals Cruise.

Scandinavia is home to some of the world’s most picturesque railways and Great Rail Journeys offers four escorted rail tours in the region. The seven-day Fjords of Norway tour starts from £1,375 and includes rides on the high-altitude Bergen and Flam railways, the latter negotiating horseshoe curves and 20 tunnels on its 12.5-mile route.

Sample product

Travelsphere’s five-day Northern Lights & Arctic Highlights tour starts from £929 and includes a three-night Hurtigruten cruise between Tromso and Kirkenes.
travelsphere.co.uk, 0844 567 9961

Trafalgar Tours offers a 14-day Scenic Scandinavia and its Fjords tour that visits Denmark, Norway and Sweden from £2,199 land only. Highlights include Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and the Norwegian fjords. onestoptouringshop.co.uk, 020 7468 4335