LYING on the ground in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, staring up at the sky as the wind whips around your face, may not sound like much fun. But when the Northern Lights are putting on a display and setting the night sky on fire, you just have to.

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights have captivated people for thousands of years and continue to act as a huge draw, bringing visitors north of the Arctic Circle.

As mercurial as they are beautiful, there’s no guarantee they’ll appear – dependent as they are on the level of solar activity that takes place several days before they reach Earth’s atmosphere.

We got lucky, but northern Norway has plenty of alternative activities, just in case they don’t appear.

Our trip began with a visit to the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, built each year from compacted snow and ice on the outskirts of the city of Alta.

It’s filled with ice sculptures of Viking kings and an ice bar which only serves blue vodka.

The ice hotel was a chilly - 9C, but as the temperatures outside were a tooth-rattling -26C, it felt almost balmy.

The igloo hotel is used for sleeping only, with loo and shower facilities, as well as an award-winning restaurant, all housed within a cosy wooden hut nearby.

Each guest in its 30 rooms gets two heavy-duty sleeping bags that are so snug, it is advised you only wear baselayer thermals, a pair of socks and a hat to sleep in, in case you overheat.

The beds, made of snow but with a mattress and reindeer pelts to stave off the cold, are surprisingly comfortable and most of our group reported a good sleep.

Northern Norway in the winter is not the dark and miserable place people imagine. Although the skies never quite emerge into full daylight, the pinks, reds and oranges of dawn and dusk – a photographer’s dream – more than make up for the lengthy periods of darkness.

Alta, a bustling little city, is a good place to see the heavenly light display and, with the help of an expert guide, who monitors weather conditions to find the perfect spot, we got our first glimpse of the phenomenon.

Another activity is dog sledding, from a short jaunt in the countryside to a weeklong trek across the mountains, staying in cabins.

Huskies are only happy, and quiet, bounding across the snow pulling a sled. We were each given the chance to drive a sled with six dogs, although ‘drive’ is an exaggeration – the dogs simply follow the sled in front as fast as they can.

Snowmobiles are another popular, if less traditional, form of transport, capable of more than 100mph.

Having travelled to the fishing port of Honnigvag – the most northernmost town in the world – our group took part in the first ever nighttime expedition to the North Cape using snowmobiles.

The cape is the most northern point of mainland Europe, a sheer cliff face looking over the Arctic Ocean towards the North Pole.

A popular spot in the summer for views of the Midnight Sun, in winter it was the perfect vantage point for seeing the Northern Lights.

Riding in gale force winds that caused the powdery snow almost to obscure the snowmobile in front, we were waved to a stop by our guide, frantically pointing at the sky. There they were, the lights in all their shimmering, dancing glory.

Lying flat – wearing several thermal layers and a snowsuit – really was the only way to take them in.

By the time we reached the North Cape, the clouds had obscured the remaining display, but after a good night’s sleep in the visitor centre, being geared up to welcome overnight guests in winter, the views in the pink dawn light provided a fantastic display of their own.

The Northern Lights may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the chance to experience northern Norway while chasing them down is not to be missed either.

Travel facts

  • Alta and the North Cape Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel – Overnight stay incl transfer and breakfast, £210 for adults, £110 for children.
  • Snowmobile safari with transfer £130-£150 (two or one per snowmobile).
  • Alta Museum – Winter entrance fee £6 for adults, £1 for children.
  • Holmen Husky Sledding – Dog sledding 15km, £120 per person; weekend trips £520 per person.
  • GLOD, Northern Lights and winter activities – Northern Lights hunting, £200 for adults, £100 for children.
  • Destinasjon 71 Nord 71 – North Cape expedition, incl snowmobiling from Honningsvag to the North Cape; overnight stay; food – £950 per person. December 1 to May 1, minimum two people per trip.
  • SAS flies from London, Manchester or Edinburgh to Norway, from £140 return –
  • Package deal with Wexas from the UK: Alta, North Cape and the Igloo Hotel –
  • Websites:;