The Northern Lights via the Arctic Explorer

Angela Youngman


Watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky in great swathes of green, yellow, red, blue or violet – or sometimes all at once – is one of nature’s most spectacular sights. Lighting up the sky as far as the eye can see, these are so bright they can dim the light of the moon. They are also extremely elusive. No one can ever predict exactly when or where they will appear. Totally weather dependent, the Northern Lights are created from a combination of solar winds and gases along the Earth’s magnetic field. Chasing the Northern Lights has become one of the most popular winter activities attracting people to destinations as far afield as Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Lapland, Norway and Russia.

Riding the Arctic Explorer

Riding the Arctic Explorer to see the Northern Lights is one of the most memorable ways to see this spellbinding spectacle. It is also extremely luxurious. Underfloor heating, deluxe furniture and furnishings along with attentive staff keen to ensure that every aspect of the journey is smooth and trouble free makes travelling by train a total pleasure. Large picture windows enable you to watch the world go by in style.

A beautifully equipped Bar Lounge and Restaurant car with lots of comfy seating is perfect for relaxation and meeting other passengers. There is room to enjoy a game of cards, relax with a book or take part in some of the many activities provided by the staff such as Russian Language lessons and talks on local history or culture. At night, a pianist provides continual entertainment on the baby grand piano while themed parties are sometimes held too. Depending on the timing of the journey, passengers may find themselves celebrating a Russian Christmas and New Year.

Even when venturing outside, every care is taken to keep passengers warm as you can don complimentary hats, traditional Russian felt boots and gloves designed to keep out the worst of the bitter cold. 

Heading deep into the Arctic

Starting from Moscow, the Arctic Explorer heads deep into the frozen countryside of the Arctic Circle passing through many of the most likely places to see the elusive Northern Lights. The journey starts in either Moscow or St Petersburg , and covers a route between Moscow St Petersburg, Kirkenes (Norway), Murmansk, Petrozavodsk, Vladimir, Suzdal before finally returning to Moscow or St Peterburg. Sitting back and watching the scenery fly past provides glimpses of people scurrying towards their homes in remote settlements, as well as the vast endless expanse of snow draped forests.

Stops en route offer the opportunity to enjoy unexpected experiences such as riding on sledges pulled by teams of huskies, taking an evening snowmobile, watching folk dancers (and joining in!), discovering the majesty of a Russian Orthodox church service or visiting a nuclear icebreaker just across the Arctic Circle.

One of the more unusual activities on offer is a King Crab Fishing adventure. Having driven in a snowmobile across a frozen fjord, you learn how to catch King Crabs through a hole in the ice. These are massive creatures with some weighing up to 15 kgs. The adventure concludes with a visit to a Fisherman’s Lodge where the catch is cooked for your meal.

Magical locations

From the brightly coloured onion domes of St Basil’s cathedral Moscow to the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes, Norway, there are innumerable magical locations to be visited. It may even be possible to stay overnight in the Snow Hotel where all the furniture (along with glasses on the bar) are carved from snow and ice. Each year the designs change, and the ice sculptures to be found in every room vary from classical busts to giant animals, mythical creatures and wonderful fairy tale castles. Dressing warmly to cope with interior temperatures of -5°C is crucial, and sleeping bags on thick mattresses are provided for those keen to experience sleeping on an icy bed!

For art lovers, the opportunity to explore the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg is an essential visit, while St Isaac’s Cathedral is positively mind blowing with its massive dome covered in 100 kg of gold – plus another 300 kg inside. Evening walks amid the snow covered streets and along the Neva canal are definitely other-worldly as the snow gives off its own distinctive light.

At any point during the journey, the magical Northern Lights can suddenly appear dancing around the horizon casting brilliantly coloured streamers across the sky. For the some passengers, it can even occur while travelling across the snow in a sledge or snowmobile! And that’s not all – passengers may even be lucky enough to see ice crystal haloes, sun pillars, moon bows and other atmospheric phenomena streaking across the sky. 

Getting there

There are regular daily flights to Moscow or St Petersburg airports from all corners of the world. Transfers are made to a luxury hotel for the first night of the trip, before joining the train. Guided tours and free time is provided at each of the various stops along the way to explore the area. Many passengers extend their stay afterwards, booking a hotel in Moscow or St Petersburg in order to visit more of the historic attractions on offer. If sufficient notice is given, the Arctic Express can arrange for tickets to the Bolshoi Ballet or Circus.

For more information contact Golden Eagle Luxury Trains directly or get in touch with ASMALLWORLD Private.

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