Trail of the Northern Lights

Imagine waking up in a glass igloo in a remote forest setting with lights blazing in perpetual motion in a silent night sky. Imagine great swaying bands of colour dancing above the glass ceiling of your igloo as you watch from your cosy bed. Welcome to the greatest show on earth and the 23-day spectacular ‘Trail of the Northern Lights’!

The Trail of the Northern Lights begins in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, before we take a breathtaking train ride to the beautiful west coast city of Bergen. Here we board our ship for a seven-day cruise along Norway’s rugged west coast, past shimmering glaciers and majestic fjords to reach one of the most remote northern points in Europe, Kirkenes. Crossing the Norwegian/Finnish border, we reach the forest of Kakslauttanen, where we spend three nights in our unique accommodation set amongst snow-laden trees. A complete lack of pollution and unspoiled nature make this remote outpost a wonderful place to see Aurora Borealis. In the cosy warmth of glass igloos, we have multiple opportunities to see this amazing spectacle play out in the skies above us. Within the forest we move in reindeer sleighs among indigenous peoples before heading to the Gulf of Bothnia where we board an icebreaker ship for a spectacular cruise. Crossing the remote Arctic border with Russia, we reach the city of Murmansk, home to Russia’s great northern naval fleet and birthplace of the Kursk submarine. From here we travel on the historic Murmansk to St Petersburg railway for a three-night sojourn in beautiful St Petersburg. Join us for a magnificent adventure through sweeping snowscapes and majestic fjords, on the Trail of the Northern Lights!

Tour Fitness Level: Active

Highlights

Norway

  • Travel on one of the world’s most scenic railways from Oslo to Bergen
  • Six-night cruise on a working ship along Norway’s rugged coastline
  • Sail past the magnificent Rimsdal Alps en-route to Kristiansund
  • Cruise up the Trondheim fjord to the delightful medieval city of Trondheim, famous for its charming old wooden buildings
  • Sail past the magnificent Lofoten Wall and the picturesque fishing villages of the Lofoten Islands
  • Visit the beautiful city of Tromso, and its Northern Lights Planetarium
  • Cross the 71st Parallel to the northernmost point of the continent
  • Enjoy dog-sledding in the snowy landscapes

Finland

  • Three-night stay in a glass igloo chalet in a pristine wilderness area
  • Enjoy a reindeer sleigh ride in a snowy forest
  • Sail in a giant icebreaker ship on the Gulf of Bothnia
  • Explore the frozen landscapes on a unique ‘snow tank’ safari
  • Enjoy multiple opportunities to experience the greatest show on earth – the Northern Lights

Russia

  • Explore the Russian nuclear icebreaker, Lenin, now a museum
  • Visit a Russian Arctic village of the indigenous Sami people
  • Ride the famous St Petersburg – Murmansk railroad
  • Visit The Hermitage, Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace and home to the world’s greatest collection of art
  • Enjoy a tour of the stately Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was assassinated
  • City tour of St Petersburg including St Isaac’s Cathedral and St Peter and Paul Fortress where the Romanov family are interred
  • Visit Catherine the Great’s Palace at Pushkin

Inclusions

  • All flights between Australia and Europe/Europe and Australia
  • All ticketable air taxes (NB may be subject to change)
  • All accommodation (twin-share)
  • All transfers and ground transportation
  • All meals as specified
  • Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
  • Expert local guides
  • All entrance fees for specified sightseeing
  • All tips and gratuities

Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $2,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

Itinerary

21/02/2020 Australia – Dubai

Depart from your chosen Australian airport on the flight to Dubai.

22/02/2020 Dubai – Oslo (D)

Depart Dubai Emirates EK 159, 07.45

Arrive Oslo 12.00

The Norwegian capital lies between the Oslofjord and the green hills of Oslomarka. On the way to our hotel we visit the Viking Ships Museum and the superb 80-acre Sculpture Park. The park, located in western Oslo, features 212 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Every year more than one million tourists from all over the world visit the site.

Thon Hotel Opera

Oslo

23/02/2020 Oslo (BLD)

Today we explore Oslo’s rich history in the grand buildings and museums at the 13th century fortress of Akershus in the centre of the city. The fortress is also a popular recreational area with wonderful views to the harbour. In the afternoon we visit the museum that houses the world’s most famous polar ship, the Fram. We go aboard the ship and see how Norway’s polar explorers lived and survived in the coldest places on earth more than 100 years ago.

24/02/2020 Oslo – Bergen (BLD)

Depart Oslo Train 5, 08.27

Arrive Bergen 14.57

This morning we board our train for the breathtakingly scenic journey to Bergen. Widely regarded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world, the train reaches the highest altitude of any train ride in Europe and passes through dramatic landscapes of magnificent glaciers, majestic forests and crystal-clear fjords. On arrival in Bergen we transfer to our hotel.

Det Hanseatiske Hotel

Bergen

25/02/2020  Bergen (BLD)

After breakfast we take a tour of this delightful city, famed for its beautifully preserved wooden houses, which are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Early evening we board our ship for the six-night cruise north along the spectacular Norwegian coastline.

26/02/2020 Floro – Alesund (BLD)

Today we experience the breathtaking beauty of the Nordfjord. Sailing past the West Cape, we venture into open sea before navigating through skerries and islands to reach the Art Nouveau town of Ålesund. Aboard ship we have the opportunity to enjoy a colourful and enlightening presentation about the Aurora Borealis which we may begin to see in the coming days.

27/02/2020 Kristiansund – Trondheim – Rorvik (BLD)

This morning we arrive in beautiful Trondheim. The architecture and surroundings in this city create a beautiful and almost mythical setting. After exploring Trondheim we chart a northwest course, passing the beautiful Kjeungskjær lighthouse and numerous charming islets and rocky outcrops. After passing through the narrow Stoksund, the ship arrives at charming Rørvik.

28/02/2020 Bronnoysund – Svolvaer (BLD)

The Arctic Circle marks the border to the Arctic region. In summer this means 24-hour daylight – often referred to as the ‘Midnight Sun’. During autumn and winter, being above this degree of latitude provides the best chances of experiencing the Northern Lights. We continue sailing along the beautiful coast of Helgeland up to Bodø with the impressive Borvass Mountains looming on the starboard side. Later this afternoon the sight of the 1,000m high Lofoten Wall appears on the horizon. The charms of the Lofoten Islands are revealed in small, picturesque fishing villages with their bohemian atmosphere.

29/02/2020 Tromsø – Skjervoy (BLD)

Arriving in Tromso, gateway to the Arctic, we explore the town, including a visit to the Polar Museum. After an exhilarating day, we continue our northbound journey. The ship now sails into the area along the coast where we have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights and we gather on deck in the hope of seeing this breathtaking phenomenon.

01/03/2020 Oksfjord – Berlevag (BLD)

Today we experience the magnificent sub-Arctic landscape as we cross the 71st parallel on our journey towards the North Cape, the northernmost point on the continent. After earlier stops in Hammerfest and Havøysund we arrive in Honningsvåg, the gateway to the spectacular North Cape. The Hurtigruten continues north, sailing into the very heartland of the indigenous Sámi people. We pass their ancient sacred site, the rock formation Finnkirka, as we approach the fishing village of Kjollefjord. Here we learn more about the lives and customs of the Sami people and explore the wonderful surrounding area.

02/03/2020 Kirkenes (BLD)

After breakfast we reach Kirkenes – 400km north of the Arctic Circle and just 15km from the Russian border. Here in this vast Barents region indigenous people live in their traditional way alongside a modern industrial society. Families from the Russian Revolution of 1917 still live in Kirkenes and signposts are in both Russian and Norwegian. Kirkenes has been the end point of the Hurtigruten for more than 100 years, yet it is also the start point of the Northern Sea Route to China, that shortens the distance of traditional shipping routes through the Suez Canal by more than 40%.

Scandic Hotel

Kirkenes

03/03/2020 Kirkenes (BLD)

Today we fully explore Kirkenes, visiting the Snow Hotel and the Russian Monument. After lunch we explore the surrounding countryside and visit a typical fishing village.

04/03/2020 Kirkenes – Kakslauttanen (BLD)

Today we cross into Finland and head towards Kakslauttanen in our search for the Northern Lights. Aurora Borealis results from the collision of gaseous particles from the earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun. The subsequent burst of coloured light can last from less than a second to all night. Nestled in the wilderness near Urho Kekkonen National Park, our hotel at Kakslauttanen has one of the Arctic Circle’s best vantage points to see the Aurora Borealis. The complete lack of light pollution reveals millions of stars each night, and during March the location offers incredible views. Each of our glass igloos is fitted with thermal glass walls and ceilings that insulate the interior to keep it warm and cosy at night. The glass also contains a frost preventative, maintaining crystal clear panoramic views even when temperatures outside drop to -20 degrees Celsius.

Arctic Resort

Kakslauttanen

05/03/2020 Kakslauttanen (BLD)

This morning we experience one of the oldest ways to travel in Lapland – by reindeer sleigh. There are no petrol fumes or rumbling engines, just the swoosh of snow and the pounding of hooves as your wooden sleigh glides through the snowy landscape. This is nature in its purest form! We travel through the forests and meet with reindeer herders who live hand in hand with the wilderness. In the afternoon we visit a husky farm which is located near our resort.

06/03/2020 Kakslauttanen (BLD)

Today we have an early start as we drive south to Axelsviksvagen – just inside the Swedish border – on the Gulf of Bothnia. On arrival we board an icebreaker and set sail for a unique experience as a fusion of steel, ice and sea provides enthralling action. The thundering sound of more than 3,500 tons of steel crushing the thick ice of the vast open ice fields, combined with the ever-changing colours of the morning sky, is a unique experience that will live on in your memory long after you return home.

07/03/2020 Kakslauttanen – Murmansk (BLD)

This morning we head for the Russian border and after completing customs and immigration formalities we continue on to Murmansk. The city is located in the extreme northwest part of Russia, on the Kola Bay, an inlet of the Barents Sea on the northern shore of the Kola Peninsula. The name Murmansk is in fact a Russian term for Norwegians.

Azimut Hotel

Murmansk

08/03/2020 Murmansk (BLD)

With a population of more than 300,000, Murmansk is the largest city in the Arctic and an important Russian naval base and commercial port. During World War II (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War), Murmansk served as a port for the Arctic convoys, and after the war became the Soviet Union’s most important submarine base. The city also boasts the most northerly tram system in the world which runs through a maze of austere and gigantic Stalinist architecture. From the hills outside the city, there are fantastic views over the Kola Bay and the surrounding mountain ranges. In the afternoon we visit the nuclear icebreaker Lenin, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine which is now a museum.

09/03/2020 Murmansk – Sami Village – Murmansk (BLD)

Today we drive through undulating snow-covered tundra dotted with dwarf silver birch to reach an Arctic village of the indigenous Sami people.

10/03/2020 Murmansk – St Petersburg (B)

Depart Train 16, 09.50

The Murmansk Railroad was built by the Russian government during WWI to connect to the ice-free port of Murmansk. Construction lasted from 1914 to the spring of 1917 when the line was completed. Because of a labour shortage caused by the war, German and Austrian prisoners were pressed into service on the project from 1915 to 1917, particularly on the 1,054-kilometer northern section from Petrozavodsk to the tip of the Kola Peninsula. Although not completed in time to have a major effect on Russia’s efforts in WWI, the Murmansk Railroad was to prove immensely important during the WWII.

11/03/2020 St Petersburg (LD)

Arrive St Petersburg 11.55

Formerly known as Petrograd and Leningrad, this most European of Russian cities is the country’s intellectual and cultural heart. Perched on the banks of the Neva River, it is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ because of its glorious canal system. After lunch we take a city tour of beautiful St Petersburg, seeing such sights as St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Winter Palace and Peter and Paul’s Fortress, where the bodies of Tsar Nicholas and his family are interred.

Kempinski Hotel Moika 22

St Petersburg

12/03/2020 St Petersburg (BLD)

Today we travel out of St Petersburg to the town of Pushkin where we visit the beautiful palace of Catherine the Great. We explore the palace interior, including the recently-restored and magnificent Amber Room. After our visit here we return to St Petersburg.

13/03/2020 St Petersburg (BLD)

This morning we visit the Winter Palace. Completed in 1762, the palace was home to the Tsars until the Russian Revolution in 1917. It now houses the Hermitage Museum, arguably the world’s greatest art collection. The afternoon is at leisure, providing the option of spending more time in the Hermitage.

14/03/2020 St Petersburg – Dubai (B)

On our last day in St Petersburg we visit the historic Yusupov Palace on the banks of the Moika River. It was here, in December 1916, that Rasputin was assassinated in a cellar room of the palace by a group of conspirators including Prince Felix Yusupov. We also have a last opportunity to stroll along Nevsky Prospekt and the Moika embankment before dinner. Later we transfer to the airport for our flight home via Dubai.

Depart St Petersburg Emirates, EK 176, 23.45

15/03/2020 Dubai – Australia

Arrive Dubai 06.55

Connect with your fight back to Australia.

FAQs

This will be a cold trip. What kind of clothes will I need for the journey?

The most important clothing items for this trip:

1. A down jacket or ski jacket

2. Thermal underwear

3. Boots with good tread (preferably hiking boots)

4. Scarf and gloves

5. A good hat

Just how cold will it be and where is the coldest place likely to be?

Just about the entire journey will see average temperatures ranging from -10 to +6. The coldest spots generally are Kirkenes, Murmansk and Kakslauttanen. Our pre-departure information booklets will provide more information on weather.

What kind of ship is used on the Norway cruise?

We use a ship of the Hurtigruten Line for our cruise along the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. These ships are not cruise ships as such: they are working ships that also shuttle locals and supplies between the towns and settlements along the coast as they have for decades. The ships carry around 500 guests on average

If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?

If you do not want to share a hotel room with another person in the group, you will have to pay the single supplement. However, if you are willing to share we will team you up with another passenger of the same sex in the hotels. If a match-up is not possible, we will upgrade you at our expense. Please note, the single supplement applies only to the hotel accommodation and the Hurtigruten cruise on the tour: it does not cover the igloo-chalets at Kakslauttanen or the overnight train journey from Murmansk to St Petersburg. As with all of our tours with rail sectors, occupancy is based on twin-share with optional upgrades available – POA. At Kakslauttanen it can be difficult to provide single occupancy of an igloo-chalet, due to limited availability at peak season. If you require single occupancy we can enquire and provide an upgrade cost if single occupancy is possible.

Why are meals on the trains not included and how much do they cost?

We don’t include the meals on the train because this travelling day is not so structured and people like to eat at different times. Meals on the train are cheap (around USD $5-8). In addition some people like to take packet soups and pot noodles on the train which are easily prepared with boiling water from the samovars located in each carriage.

How long is the flight from Australia to Norway?

Flying time to Dubai is between 11 and 14.5 hours, depending on your Australian capital city of departure. Flight time from Dubai to Oslo is 7 hours 15 minutes.

Do I have to fly straight home from St Petersburg?

No. We encourage our travellers to take advantage of this great location for further travel in Europe and will arrange for passengers to return home from any city in Europe that Singapore Airlines serves. All we ask is that you nominate a city and a return date before you leave Australia. These dates can be changed, however, and the ticket is valid for one year. ‘Add-ons’ are relatively inexpensive and easily organised.

Do I need vaccinations for this journey?

No vaccinations are mandatory on this route but we would recommend you seek advice from your doctor. Tetanus should certainly be up to date and a flu jab is useful to help prevent colds.

I heard the Russian visa is difficult to obtain. Is this the case?

Application for a Russian visa can be difficult and involves considerable paperwork, but because we arrange all of this there is no need to worry. However, we require your passport three months before departure in order to process the visa.

A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?

We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore practically everything is included in the tour cost. However, if there is a ballet on in St Petersburg that you would like to attend, for instance, we can book it for you, but it would be at your own expense.

Is the water safe to drink en route and what is the general standard of hygiene?

The tap water is safe to drink in Norway and Finland, however you should drink only bottled water in Russia. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The standard of hygiene is very high along the entire route.

What is the standard of the hotels?

We choose our hotels for their central locations, which we believe is very important. They are generally 4 star quality (or better), comfortable, clean and all with en-suites.

What is the best currency to take on this journey?

The best currency is Euros, in small denominations. i.e. 100s, 50s, 20s, 10s.

How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?

Because almost everything is included, we would suggest an amount of 1000 Euros per person as being ample for the whole journey.

Are credit cards acceptable?

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the journey and ATMs are available along the route. However it is not recommended to rely on these as your main source of funds.

Are there internet and WiFi facilities en route?

All the hotels we use have internet and WiFi facilities. At Kakkslauttanen there is WiFi in the reception area.

Do mobile telephones work?

Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey except on some parts of the train journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your service provider for further details.

How much should we tip the guides and porters?

There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tips and gratuities are included in the tour cost.

Reading

Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.

Pole to Pole

Michael Palin

Frost On My Moustache

Tim Moore

Seasons of the Arctic

Paul Nicklen & Hugh Brody

Hurtigruten: The World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage

Erling Storrusten

Imagining the Arctic

J.C.H. King & H. Ladki

Russia in the Arctic: Hard or Soft Power

Valery Konyshev

A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy

Robert Moore

The Sami People of the North: A Social and Cultural History

Neil Kent

The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad

Harrison E Salisbury