The Ultimate Way to Witness the Northern Lights

Finland, the dead of winter. Accommodation for the night is a special igloo located just 155 miles from the Arctic Circle. A blanket of crisp, white snow covers the ground as far as the eye can see, and the thermometer declares the temperature outside to be a startling -4°F. The bitter cold is mere inches away, yet the igloo’s occupants are smiling – and so they should be. Peering out through the glass roof, they get to enjoy one of the best views in the world, as the incredible colors of the aurora borealis light up Finland’s nighttime sky directly above their heads. Welcome to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.

This amazing getaway is to be found on the route to the Arctic Sea, nestled close to the impressive Urho Kekkonen National Park in Finnish Lapland. The area is renowned not only for its ample opportunities for skiing and hiking, but also for being the supposed homeland of Santa Claus.

A connecting flight from Helsinki will deposit visitors at nearby Ivalo Airport. And the subsequent half-hour transfer to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is perhaps best enjoyed on the hotel’s special bus, complete with its see-through roof – after all, the northern lights may already be visible in the sky and ready to be admired.

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Upon arrival at Kakslauttanen, guests will want to get to know their own glass igloos. The smaller igloos there accommodate two or three people at most, the larger variety four. All guests have their own individual beds, and each dwelling has a restroom. Only the four-person igloos offer built-in showers, however, so those staying in the smaller versions will need to visit a different part of the resort to get bathed.

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These ingenious igloos have all been assembled using thermal glass, which helps maintain a comfortable indoor temperature for the occupants. Indeed, even if the outside temperature dips to a frigid -22°F, the igloo’s interior will remain at around 70°F. Additionally, the glass won’t mist up in such chilly conditions, meaning every igloo provides a constantly crystal-clear view of its magical surroundings.

Those hoping to feel a little more heat might be wise to explore the resort’s trio of smoke saunas – including the biggest of its kind on the planet. However, if any guest actually needs a blast of subzero coldness to wake them up in the morning, then a spot of ice swimming could be just the ticket.

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The Northern Lights twirl through the skies over Kakslauttanen
Image: Kaba

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The main attraction at Kakslauttanen, though, is the aurora borealis. There’s no way to be sure of a glimpse of the light show, but the resort does offer a little assistance to those in search of this most spectacular of sights. For example, it recommends that budding spotters stay at the resort between August and April – what it calls the “aurora season.” In addition, a chime notifies current guests of the northern lights’ appearance – if, for any reason, they weren’t already watching the sky.

Crystal clear skies over Kakslauttanen
Image: Kaba

Unsurprisingly, such an incredible experience isn’t free. A pair of adults staying one night in a small glass igloo, for instance, will have to pay at least $231 each – and this is bumped up to $268 per person during high season. However, charges vary depending upon the amount of people staying in the room.

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Still, there may be a little money to be saved by convincing the couple next door to also take the trip to this Finnish fantasy world. Getting four adults to occupy a large glass igloo during high season brings the total per-night cost to around $1,034 – or $258.50 each – so the $10 a head saved could be spent on some souvenirs.

For those yearning for a more extreme experience in Lapland’s wilderness, Kakslauttanen also offers accommodation options in snow igloos. Compared to the warmth of their glass equivalents, the temperature inside the snow igloos is positively perishing, ranging from 21°F to 26°F. The resort does, however, provide guests braving these snow structures with sleeping bags, wooly socks and hoods for that chilly, silent night.

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Four people can squeeze into these latter frosty dwellings, which come without a toilet or sink, and the price remains the same year round. A pair of adults will be charged around $217 per person for the pleasure of staying for one night, while a snow igloo at full capacity sees an overall charge of about $760 per night.

Breakfast and dinner are de rigueur for all guests, so it’s just as well that Kakslauttanen features a top-notch eatery. Its primary restaurant was constructed using the rare pine wood kelo, and delicacies such as salmon and reindeer could well be on the menu.

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The Northern Lights illuminate the skies above Kakslauttanen
Image: Kaba

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Many diners, however, are likely to be eager to return to their igloos for a chance to see the spectacular northern lights. After all, what could be better than lying back in the comfort and seclusion of a toasty igloo while staring up at the majestic, mesmerizing sight illuminating the sky overhead?

Indeed, if they so choose, guests can spend the entire night gawping at the beautiful colors that paint the sky when the aurora borealis is visible.

For those who like a spot of scientific explanation, the phenomenon is triggered when electrically charged particles originating from the Sun head through the atmosphere of the Earth at the magnetic poles, here in the north – although the aurora australis greets those at southern latitudes. Visitors to Kakslauttanen have a front-row seat to see the spellbinding reaction that results between these particles and our planet’s atmospheric gases.

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Green Northern Lights fill the skies over Kakslauttanen
Image: Kaba

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The origins of the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort itself can be traced back to 1973, when its founder, Jussi Eiramo, came to the area following a fishing expedition. In fact, the then 20-year-old camped in the spot where the resort now stands. “I remember making pancakes over an open fire outside my tent by the river, and everything just feeling right. I thought, ‘I can start a business here,’” Eiramo has said of his experience of over 40 years ago.

The Northern Lights dazzle above Kakslauttanen
Image: Kaba

In fact, the resort started out as a takeout restaurant of sorts, as Eiramo began selling meals to people passing through on their way up the Arctic Sea Road. Word of mouth brought him an abundance of customers – but those also looking for a night’s accommodation were left out in the cold. It was this demand that led Eiramo to begin constructing log cabins in the woods.

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The distinctive glass igloos came as a brainwave in the late 1990s. As Eiramo has explained, “I remember seeing Asian people hanging about in -40°C [-40°F] waiting for the aurora, and just thinking, ‘What if they could do that lying in bed all nice and warm?’” It was this idea that helped make the resort a worldwide sensation.

After a false start with a Finnish firm, Eiramo designed the glass igloos himself. His chief concerns were factoring in the country’s often extreme summer and winter temperature differential and obtaining materials that could withstand both the warmth and bitter cold. The first successful glass igloo was created in 1999, and ever since, the structures have been providing warmth, comfort and safety to guests as they watch the northern lights.

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The glass and snow igloos may be the star attractions for adults, but kids will be equally won over by a visit to Santa’s Home and the man himself. Just a short drive from Kakslauttanen is a gloriously festive village that also features the magical Santa’s Celebration House. This latter offering can be hired out for special occasions such as weddings as well as corporate events.

An additional attraction at the resort is the number of snow and ice sculptures that are created each year. The impressive structures include an ice gallery, an ice bar, an ice chapel and what has been dubbed the “World’s Largest Snow Restaurant.” At the end of every year, ice sculptors gather at the resort to take part in a week’s celebration of their craft.

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What’s more, the resort offers several safari experiences, with the opportunity to travel via husky, reindeer or snowmobile, while horseback riding and sleigh journeys are also available. Skiing – and skiing classes for those unfamiliar with the sport – are a possibility, too, as is ice fishing at Inarinjärvi with a knowledgeable escort.

However, the star attraction undoubtedly remains watching the northern lights from the comfort of one’s own igloo.

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