Frequently Asked Questions
- When is the best time to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)?
- What causes the Northern Lights?
- How can I see the Northern Lights?
- What is the Midnight Sun?
- How can I see the Midnight Sun?
- Where is the Nordic Region?
- Where is Scandinavia?
- Where is Kamchatka?
- How do I get to the Nordic Countries?
- What hotels do we use at 50 Degrees North?
- What is the best time of year to travel to Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland?
- How can I stay warm and comfortable on my Nordic tour in cold regions?
- Getting around on ice - any advice?
- What is the most appropriate type of luggage to bring?
- Small differences when in Scandinavia?
- How can my family contact me while away?
- Will my mobile work overseas?
- What currencies are needed during my Scandinavian tour?
- What is the best way to take money with me?
- What happens to my money when I pay for my trip?
- Can I get a supplier reference for your company?
- How can I give feedback about my tour?
- What if I have a complaint?
- How can I apply to work with 50 Degrees North?
- Scandinavian Food - what to expect?
- Do Scandinavian hotels and restaurants cater for a gluten-free diets?
The Northern Lights can be seen around and above the Arctic Circle during the period between late September and late March, although the experience can be very different in e.g. October vs. February.
In late September to early October you will have stable autumn weather and autumn colours. There will be little or no snow, so this is not a time to do winter snow activities.
During late October to early December the winter settles in with more unstable weather and the occasional autumn storms. Travelling during this time is best in the inland climates of northern Sweden & Finland, as snow conditions on the coast are scarse.
Late December to early January is your darkest time of year, and many travel to experience a white Christmas. The sun will not appear above the horizon, but there will be 3-5 hours of dawn and dusk each day with magnificent blue polar light.
The best winter months are late January to late March with good snow across the region. Weather is stable and conditions for Northern Lights are generally the best of the season. This is also a great time of year to enjoy a great winter holiday with lots of snow activities.
Aurora happens when the sun sends off particles into space. These particles are charged, and form what is called ‘solar wind’. When solar wind hits Earth’s magnetic field in the Polar areas, where the magnetic shield is less powerful, it collides with particles in our atmosphere and creates electricity and light. It is this light that we see as the Northern Light, or Aurora Borealis. An aurora can also occur when the charged particles rip through the electromagnetic field because of their power.
The best chance you have of seeing the Northern Lights is to put yourself in the right spot at the right time for enough time. Of course, this is easily said - so our job is to help you plan this experience to maximise your chances. Getting above the Arctic circle in a place with no artifical light is your first step. Then allowing enough days for a clear night to occur. As you can see from our Aurora Borealis tours, we position you in the best viewing spot, fill your days with fun winter activities and you watch the skies at night for several days at the minimum.
During the summer season above the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set for several months. This phenomenon is caused by the tilt in the Earth's axis. This axis is the imaginary line through the planet between the south and the north poles around which it rotates.
As the Earth orbits the Sun, the tilt makes the North Pole face towards the Sun in summer (keeping it in sunlight even as the Earth spins) and away from it in winter (keeping it dark). Hence the continuous sunlight during the summer. Of course, after a dark winter, the flora, the fauna and the people of this region all go a little crazy in the sunshine with a huge 24 hour a day energy burst.
Fortunately, the Midnight Sun isn't as difficult to find as the Aurora Borealis lights. From early June to mid July, Northern Norway and Northern Finland bask in 24 hour sunlight. The higher you travel, the longer the opportunity to see the Midnight sun is. Svalbard for instance has the Midnight Sun for approximately 4 months.
You can sit on the North Cape and watch the sun dip tantalising close to the horizon, only to turn around and head back up again. It is quite incredible to watch. The easiest and most common way to enjoy the Midnight Sun is to board a Hurtigruten Ship along the Norwegian coast. Cruises that depart around the Mid summer can get busy so plan your voyage early. Or if you prefer to self-drive and explore Norway in your own time, our 8 day Journey through Lapland would be our suggested Midnight Sun tour.
Greenland also enjoys the Midnight Sun from mid May to the end of July.
The Scandinavian capitals all enjoy long summer days - Oslo never really gets dark in summer, just a soft sunset glow during the mid summer season. Stockholm likewise has 18.5 hrs of sun in June and as with all cities who enjoy the Midnight sun, celebrates mid summer with festivals galore.
The Nordic region consists of countries in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, including Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the associated territories of the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Svalbard and the Åland Islands.
Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for all the Nordic countries (often excluding Greenland), but that term more properly refers to the countries on the Scandinavian peninsula of Northern Europe—Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
And although Finland is not technically considered part of Scandinavia due to its ties to the Baltic countries, it nonetheless shares many of the geographical, cultural and historical characteristics as the Scandinavian countries, particularly its neighbour Sweden.
Kamchatka is a large peninsula in far eastern Russia, surrounded by the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. It is actually quite large (140,000 square miles) and very remote. It is above Japan as you follow the islands up from its Northern tip.
The Nordic capital cities (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Reykjavik) are typically the first arrival destinations for our travellers.
The following are major international airports in the Nordic capitals:
• Finland: Helsinki-Vantaa Airport
• Sweden: Stockholm-Arlanda Airport
• Denmark: Copenhagen-Kastrup Airport
• Norway: Olso-Gardermoen Airport
• Iceland: Keflavik Airport
Your stay when in the far north is an important aspect of any travelling with us, and Scandinavia is a delight when it comes to finding boutique hotels, lodges and extraordinary accommodation. Turn your overnight stay into a unique experience; ask us about sleeping among the Swedish treetops or in a traditional Norwegian fisherman’s cottage on a remote island.
At 50 Degrees North we spend a lot of time ensuring you get a stay that is right for you. We personally visit our hotels instead of blindly taking the seemingly best option off the Internet. We are nothing less than extremely proud of the selection of handpicked options we present.
Our Director’s Choice properties are those used in most of our packages. They are handpicked boutique options, and combine great location, friendly and personal service, good food, unique design and something intangible-something that makes you feel that you have arrived at home. If we have to put a star rating on them, they tend to be 3.5 to 4 stars, but are not your standard chain hotel.
If you are after the very best, ask us for an upgrade to our Design choice, which is available in most larger cities and towns. These properties may offer art, design furniture or are famous for their unique architecture. They guarantee an unforgettable and unique stay with a modern Scandinavian feel.
Or, if you are a romantic, our Historic stays may be what you are after? Stay the night in a historic hotel, often an iconic landmark, lovingly renovated and respecting the tradition and original design with hospitality dating back centuries. Yet they provide all the modern comforts that today’s discerning traveller might expect. Please look for these Director’s Choice, Design and Historic icons throughout the website and our brochures to see which of our categories are available for your trip. Ask us for advice, so we can make your holiday an unforgettable and special experience.
Weather and seasons are important factors when travelling to the North. The seasons heighten the beauty of the landscape and make everything fresh, different from home and new.
In Scandinavia, the summers are warm and mild and generally it is unusual for it to be windy. Autumn brings spectacular displays of colours and fresher weather. Spring in Scandinavia is awash with wildflowers and the blossoms.
The Gulf Stream plays an influential part in the weather patterns of Scandinavia. Areas on the Norwegian coast, Iceland and Greenland, as with other areas of Northern Europe experience the powerful warmer air moving into these areas, keeping it warmer than it should be. This stream means that you will be travelling into the Arctic with milder weather conditions than in 50 degrees south.
At 50 Degrees North, we believe strongly that it is important to know before you travel the weather conditions you might expect on your trip. Norwegians have a saying about “there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing”. We have prepared a table below that gives an indication of the daylight hours and temperatures. For more details, please refer to the links below the table.
Don’t be put off by the minus signs before the letters. Your tour guides and the structure of the tours accommodate for these temperatures, cabins are cosy, fires are lit and if you need to buy more clothing during your trip, Scandinavian woollen gear is of great abundance and quality. We have found by experience that prices are also very moderate compared to your typical high quality woollen/cold weather gear in Australia.
On the days that indicate a very short time of actual sun rise, it is important to know that there is a long dawn and a long dusk. The actual time that you can see outside, therefore, is considerably extended.
Good resource for Nordic weather patterns: http://www.yr.no/english/1.2025949
Good resource for Sunrise/Sunset times: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=211
Avoid overdressing to reduce perspiration.
Wear water repellent outer garments that will keep you dry on the outside and still “breathe” enough so that moisture from your body can escape.
Body heat is most likely to be lost from parts that have a lot of surface area in comparison to total mass - namely, the hands and feet. Keep them warm and dry. For hands, mittens are better than gloves.
Another polar maxim is “if you have cold feet, put a hat on!” If the rest of your body is covered, as much as 90% of the heat you lose can come from your head, so be sure to wear a beanie or balaclava. These items can be pulled down to protect your ears, forehead, neck and chin. The neck also needs protection with a woollen or synthetic scarf, which can be wrapped around the face when travelling against the wind.
Dress in comfortable, loose layers. For anyone out in the cold, it is far better to wear layers of relatively light, loose clothing than one thick, heavy item. Between each layer there is a film of trapped air, which, when heated by your body, acts as an excellent insulator.
Wool and silk are superior to cotton because they can trap warm air.
Synthetic fabrics that spring back into shape after compression are also good. When damp or wet, polyester down is a better insulator than goose or duck down. Polar fleece is popular and recommended.
We suggest purchasing some slip-on crampon style ice cleats. You can buy these online or purchase them on arrival. Be safe & read this guide on walking on ice.
We advise that you use either a compact backpack with wheels or a regular back pack. Wheels are difficult on cobblestones but this small inconvenience is outweighed by the comfort of wheeling your bags through airports and such. Regular suitcases can be difficult to travel with as they are bulky and difficult to secure on transport, unless you are travelling on our private coach trips where the suitcase is stowed underneath for the tour.
Unexpectedly, all forms of Scandinavian accommodation rarely provide tea and coffee facilities in their rooms. If you are lucky, a kettle will be supplied but nothing else. Please ask at reception for some provisions when you arrive or just carry a small selection from home.
Hotel rooms in Scandinavia often only have twin beds - often pushed together to make a double.
Please also note that in Scandinavia - in particular, during winter - the included lunch will often be a hearty warm soup with bread.
Scandinavian public conveniences are generally not free - we suggest carrying a small amount of change at all times.
If your family wants to contact you, leaving your tour details with them prior to your tour is advised. You will most likely have email and phone access throughout your trip. However, in more remote regions like Mongolia and Kamchatka it will be more difficult to connect quickly.
If you need to be contacted during your trip for an emergency, please ask your family to contact either 50 Degrees North’s head office or our Norwegian office and we will assist you.
If you want to take your phone with you, there is a good chance that it will work in most major cities. Check with your service provider before you go if they have a reciprocal agreement with the countries you are travelling to, and make sure you remember to get international roaming turned on. Ask us about our Travel Sim.
The monetary unit in Denmark (DKK), Sweden (SEK), Iceland (ISK) and Norway (NOK) is the Krone, although each of these hold a different value. These are different currencies, and surplus Krone can be frequently used in border towns as you pass through. Danish Krone (DKK) is the currency in Greenland. In Finland, Euros are used, and in Russia the currency is Ruble.
Mongolia has its own currency as well – the Tögrög (MNT) with no coins.
A good website to refer to before you travel is the http://www.xe.com/ to adapt your currency to the places you are visiting. Perhaps writing a small summary of the different exchange rates will help when you arrive.
If you are visiting the Arctic with 50 Degrees North, you are most likely to be using US Dollars or an account prepared as you arrive on board. This varies with each ship and details will be in the trip notes.
A combination of cash, an ATM card and perhaps a credit card, as back-up is good. Travellers cheques are a safe way to carry money, however travellers can find it difficult in some areas to exchange them. And remember to check with your bank about using your bank cards overseas.
When 50 Degrees North receives your trip payment from you or via your travel agent, the funds are deposited into a ‘Client Trust Account’. The money stays in this account until we are obliged to pay our suppliers and hoteliers, which is usually 30 days prior to your trip departure. The reason is that in the unlikely event of 50 Degrees North ever going broke, your money is still safe and you would get it back in full. The 50 Degrees North ‘Client Trust Account’ is independently audited every year in accordance with Australia's Travel Agency standards. Failure to meet financial criteria reflecting the financial viability of a travel agent results in revocation of the agent's licence to trade. 50 Degrees North is licensed under these arrangements.
You are most welcome to request a supplier reference from one of our Scandinavian partners. We are happy to facilitate this for you.
Admiral Hotel, Copenhagen (May 2015)
"Dear Valued guest,
Please receive our acknowledgement of 50 Degrees North – We have been working together with them for many years, without any issues.
Venlig hilsen | Best regards
Michael Raunsbjerg Madsen, Yield Assistant at Copenhagen Admiral Hotel
Toldbodgade 24-28, DK-1253 København K, Telefon: +4533741414"
Hotel Rival, Stockholm (May 2015)
" Well the only things I can say about 50 Degrees North is that we have never experienced any problems with bookings, guests or payments.
We have had a great relationship for years and hopefully for more years to come.
Med vänliga hälsningar/ Best regards
Hotel Rival AB"
We believe that speaking directly to people is the best way possible to find out about your travels and experiences. If you would like to give us direct or indirect feedback, please either call us or email us through our website, and we can call you back. It would be our pleasure.
We would also appreciate it if you could review us via our Facebook page or a google review if you are comfortable with that.
If you have a Google and/or a Google Plus account, we would appreciate a ‘Google Review’. These reviews add the Stars to our Google listing. The process is to visit plus.google.com/local and search for 50 Degrees North, West Melbourne. Once you are there, you can see the little pencil edit button to add your much-appreciated review.
Thanks very much.
In the unlikely event that you should have a complaint about your tour, expedition or services offered by 50 Degrees North we urge you to bring this up with our staff, the tour/expedition leader or company representative immediately so that we can attempt to rectify the issue. If at the end of the tour or expedition your feel that your complaint as not been adequately dealt with you must notify us in writing no later than 30 days after the end date of the services 50 Degrees North has provided.
We would love to hear from you if you are interested in working with 50 Degrees North. We are a growing company, determined to provide our guests with the best possible experience, one that we would want to have ourselves. We can be contacted via our website for details regarding current vacancies.
The food in Scandinavia and Finland could be bit different then what you are used to. Normally traditional meals are quite simple but tasty. Potatoes and other root vegetables have an important role with the cuisine. Before modern days, root vegetables were the only vegetables to be able to storage over a long winter.
During the winter months the dishes could be quite heavy, such as meat stews, game meats, hearty soups and creamy dishes. But you will also find nice and fresh seafood around Scandinavia. You can be sure to find rye bread served with everything, as well as fresh whole grain bread.
You wont find many dishes that have got a lot of strong spices. Cooking is simple while still using the best ingredients to make it tasty.
At the breakfast buffet in your hotels you will have a really good variety of items. You will find a good cold selection with ham, cheeses, salamis, vegetables, pate, herring and sometimes smoked salmon as well. Be sure to fill up!
A typical Scandinavian lunch could consist of a pea and ham soup or meatballs with mashed potatoes.
Korvapuusti - Finnish cinnamon bun.
Karjalan piirakka - A savoury rice pasty that Finns usually eat as a light snack with either just butter or an egg-butter on top.
Fika - A Swedish word for having a coffee or another beverage of your choice together with baked sweets, pastries or sandwiches.
Hot Dog - Hot dogs are known as the first fast food in Denmark. Try a traditional Danish hot dog with either fresh or fried onion on top.
Seafood - Norway is well known for its seafood. If you’re in Bergen, enjoy a visit to the Fish Market, one of Norway’s most visited outdoor markets.
In Scandinavia you will find that a regular coffee is a filtered coffee that has been standing in it’s pot for a while and is very bitter, but the Scandinavians drink it in masses.
Also note that Scandinavia doesn’t really have a tea culture so if you ask for an English breakfast tea you will probably end up with lukewarm water in a coffee cup and a tea bag on the side. Most hotels do not have a kettle in the room since it’s just not the norm but you can always ask for one from the reception. We also recommend bringing some tea bags with you to be on the safe side if you are a tea drinker.
It's very common to have locals and guests requesting gluten-free meals in the Nordic region. In the capital cities, most restaurants will plan the menu around special dietary requirements. Letting the hotel know on arrival that you are gluten free is generally all you need to do in preparation; they will ensure breakfast has a selection of GF bread/knekkebrød and similar for breakfast. If you are celiac, remind the hotel that they need to pre-organise it with the chef/ Kitchen, using a celiac-friendly chopping-board, knives and such.
For some of our escorted tours with extended stays in one location, we are more than happy to let the hotel know before you arrive if you have special dietary requirements.