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I'm planning a visit to Rovaniemi in January with my girlfriend. The main idea is to see the northern lights which we understand is not always possible. Since we want to maximize our possibilities, all the tours we found to go aurora-hunting last up to 3 hours, we were thinking to rent a car and go to the spots that these tours usually take you so we can stay as long as we want.

My main question is, is it really safe for 2 foreigners visiting Finland for the first time to do this on their own?

Edit: By safe I mean, getting lost, easyness to manage yourself in the surroundings due the weather, unforseen events, wildlife, etc.

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    What specifically are you worried about? Crime? Getting lost ?
    – Hilmar
    Nov 15 at 12:16
  • It is really about getting lost, easyness to manage yourself in the surroundings due the weather, unforseen events, wildlife, etc. Nov 15 at 12:36
  • Wildlife is nothing to worry about. Nov 15 at 12:55
  • @Nighthunter22: any additional information should be added directly into the question (you can edit it), instead as a comment (but it is ok to use also comment, to notify your edit). Nov 15 at 15:33
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    @Jussi: Wildlife is a concern if you're driving, though admittedly I'm not sure how much this is the case in winter (I've only been up there in summer). At least in summer if you're not paying attention then you have a roughly 100% chance of hitting a reindeer.
    – Lll
    Nov 16 at 19:20
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As a Finn, I'm mildly amused by this thread. A couple of misconceptions:

  • Aurora are extremely high up: the usual band is 100-600 km, at least 10x higher than a commercial airplane and extending far out into space. The consequence is that "aurora hunting" doesn't really mean "looking for auroras", since if you drive for an hour at 100 km/h, you'll barely shift your position relative to them. It really just means driving to a quiet, dark place where you can see them better if there are any to be seen above you, and this depends on solar weather, cloud coverage, etc. Sadly, even in season, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to see them.

  • Rovaniemi is the largest city in Lapland and well equipped with well-maintained and signposted roads, mobile phone coverage, and similar modern conveniences. One easy spot to watch the aurora is the riverbank next to the Arktikum museum, which is for all practical purposes within the city itself, while another top spot is Sky Hotel at Ounasvaara, a 5-min drive away.

All that said, winter driving is definitely an art, but the main things to watch out for are reindeer and black ice. If the weather is really bad, don't venture out, you're not going to see any auroras anyway. And if you leave your car, don't go too far and keep your mobile phone in a warm place within your jacket, so the batteries don't die.

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    The microclimate of such cities (for example: Kiruna, Sweden) is such that in October and November, the city is often foggy whereas it's clear 30 km to the west. So in addition to finding a dark spot, "aurora hunting" really means "hunting for clear skies". And there 10 km can mean a lot.
    – gerrit
    Nov 16 at 9:12
  • Presumably Rovaniemi also has quite a lot of light pollution by the standards of Lapland, so you'd want to get out of the city or at the very least have clear views to the north (as at the Arktikum) unless they're spectacularly bright. I've actually been there but it was 30 years ago and I was quite young Nov 16 at 11:32
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Finland is quite safe in general. If you are not used to driving in ice, snow and darkness, that might pose some risk. Drive carefully and carry warm clothes in case you get stranded in more remote areas (e.g. the car breaks down or you run out of gas).

People do get lost when hiking, especially during darkness. Make sure you can navigate. Have warm clothes with you and a functioning cell phone. Note that batteries can die quickly if it gets really cold.

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  • What do you mean by "navigate"? I guess I would normally use google maps and perhaps some physical map (can't rely on technology on such conditions). Other than that, do you know if this is something "normal" for foreigners to do? (adventure themselves to hunt for the northern lights). Nov 15 at 12:38
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    If you travel to any remote area, do not rely only on your mobile phone, especially for emergencies. There may be no coverage. Your batteries may die. You may want to check the answers to this question and other questions/answers linked in them. Also check The Great Outdoors SE. The main risks are probably getting lost or a car breakdown. Also check for advice regarding cars and very low temperatures.
    – jcaron
    Nov 15 at 12:51
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    Navigation depends on where you go. Obviously if you go somewhere truly remote in January, you have to be well prepared (and as @jcaron said, don't trust you cell phone alone). However, according to visitrovaniemi.fi/love/northern-lights, there are popular places for watching northern lights as close as 10 min walking distance from the center of Rovaniemi. So you don't need to go that far. Nov 15 at 13:01
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    And if you do rely on your phone (don't), definitely don't rely on google maps once you step out of the car, or if you might possibly stop somewhere without a signal. Just this morning Google maps failed to find a recent destination for me despite that being in my offline area - luckily I knew the way and was just checking traffic. I knew I was starting somewhere without a signal. It's possible to get (hiking) maps electronically that work totally offline, but they're still limited by battery life Nov 15 at 14:33
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    I'll stress the part "If you are not used to driving in ice, snow and darkness, that might pose some risk." Driving after dark, in a strange country, in icy conditions, raises a red flag for me. I have experience of all three of those, but would think twice about making my own trip. So IMO no, it is not safe. Nov 15 at 16:43

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