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Aurora borealis (image courtesy of Visit Finland)

I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. I was about eight when I first saw a picture of it in a geographic encyclopedia. I stared at the image for ages, in total awe of the colours and how they seemingly dance in the sky.

Thirty-odd years later, my wish to see the northern lights was about to come true. I’d just arrived in Ylläs, a village in Finnish Lapland, about 150km north of the Arctic Circle. Being this far north and the fact that the aurora borealis was at the peak of its eleven-year cycle, the chance of seeing the northern lights was almost a sure thing – and I was excited beyond words. As I unpacked my bag in my room, I glanced out the window and noticed a strange, elongated cloud. “Hmm, that’s a weird-looking cloud”, I thought and continued unpacking. A few minutes later, I met my guide, Tuija, in the hotel lobby and she asked me if I’d already seen the northern lights. I shook my head and she said, “well, let’s go see it now!”. She didn’t have to tell me twice!

Once outside, I was greeted by the most magical sight I’d ever seen. Long curtains of light seemed to descend from the dark sky in hues of green, yellow and pink. They moved slowly in a series of swirls, performing a sensual dance in the sky. I was simply awestruck.

northern-lights-yllas-finland-photo
The northern lights above Ylläs

I grabbed my camera and took some pictures to capture this moment – the photo above is, unfortunately, the best shot I have – but I quickly put my camera away and simply stared at this amazing natural phenomenon. I’d waited decades to see this! I pinched myself and stamped my feet in the snow – yes, this was real. The stinging pinch was real, the ground below me was real and the dancing lights in the sky were definitely real. I then realised that the long ‘cloud’ I’d seen earlier from my room window was indeed the northern lights. I chuckled at the thought that I’d waited thirty-odd years to see it and when I finally saw it for the first time, I mistook it for a cloud!

they were performing the tango right before me in the dark, Laplandic sky

Later that evening, Tuija and I had a lovely chat over dinner. She mentioned that the tango is one of the most popular dances in Finland – there are numerous tango dance clubs scattered across the country and tango competitions are very popular. That bit of information crept into my mind as I went for a walk after dinner. The northern lights danced in the night sky above me, with their rhythmic and expressive movements. It seemed like they were performing the tango right before me in the dark, Laplandic sky: a quick swirl, then a sensual embrace; small steps followed by long, elegant steps; lifts and drops. I felt honoured and humbled by this magnificent performance. It was a dream come true and I thanked the heavens for coming out to dance. It’s a sight I will never forget.

Getting there: the closest airport to Ylläs is in Kittila, about a 45-minute drive away. There are scheduled flights from Helsinki as well as a variety of chartered services from various points in Europe.

Note: a big thank you goes to Visit Finland and Ylläs for hosting me in Lapland. As always, all opinions expressed above are mine.

23 Responses

  • This is very high up on my bucket list! I’m very jealous and about to start Googling Finland!

  • Thanks for your comment Andy! I did indeed see those igloos with glass roofs in Finland. Very cool! Looks like it’s going to be another great year to see the northern lights. Bet you’ll be seeing lots of them in Svalbard and Finland. Have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • I’m lucky enough to live in Central Norway and we see the lights over our house a couple of times each winter – but not as spectacularly as further north. I’m going to visit Svalbard and Finland and early next year to try to get the ultimate show – there are also some fabulous-looking modern igloos in Finland with glass roofs where you can lie and watch the lights – beats a boring old hotel room!

  • This looks fantastic, Keith – although I can’t believe you mistook your first sighting as a strange cloud haha! I’d love to see the northern lights, but obviously would need to do a lot of research regarding time and place…and then of course nothing is ever guaranteed with nature! Glad you got to experience them 🙂

  • I definitely envy this post, lol. I’ve seen them in Banff, Alberta, and they were amazing. I can only imagine the spectacle of the sky in that part of the world though. I wonder what camera settings you need to really capture them. Nice try getting it though, and you are right, sometimes you just have to put the camera away and marvel at what you are seeing.

  • Thank you for posting. Such a wonderful sight (especially for those who couldn’t see them)!

  • Thanks Lash & Jeff for your lovely comments. It sure was a dream come true! I still laugh when I think of my ‘cloud’ moment. 🙂

  • Wow, Keith, sounds amazing! and I’m sure words can’t completely describe how astounding it is! Can’t wait til I get to see them too, one day… and your first photo is great, too. :)) Lash

  • It is my dream to one day experience the northern lights and revel in the moment as you did!!! What a wonderful post my friend…and thx for the journey to Lapland!

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