An Arctic Circle cruise with Havila Voyages, an eco-conscious line with a Northern Lights promise

Updated on 21 March 2023 | 0 Comments

On an Arctic Circle journey with eco-conscious cruise line Havila Voyages, Abra Dunsby is treated to Northern Lights sightings, fairy-tale winter scenes and adventurous excursions that leave a lasting impression.

As we crunch satisfyingly through the fresh, fluffy snow, waddling along like penguins in our thick snowsuits to protect us from the Norwegian Arctic evening chill, I catch my first, teasing glimpse of the Northern Lights. 

They start out as a wispy streak of the palest green against the darkening sky, but as we chatter in excitement and whip out our cameras and phones, the colour deepens and glows. We each leap aboard our trusty Arctic steed – a snowmobile – and head out into the white wilderness to continue the search, our guide leading the charge.

We’re treated to several sightings over the next exhilarating few hours of driving through the barren, dune-dotted landscape, stopping several times to marvel at the gauze-like ribbons of green and pink that swirl and shift playfully above our heads, lighting up the night sky. 

Snowmobiling under the Polar Sky excursion with Havila Voyages (Image: Ørjan Bertelsen/Havila Voyages)Ørjan Bertelsen/Havila Voyages

Mother Nature is good to us that night. Later, back on board our ship, Havila Castor, we witness another theatrical display, with the lights performing a choreographed dance above our heads on and off for around an hour, giving passengers plenty of time to “ooh” and “aah” while taking those priceless photos. 

I’ve joined part of a seven-day Northbound Coastal Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes with relative newcomer Havila Voyages, an eco-conscious line offering coastal cruises in Norway year-round. 

I’m travelling in winter, when the snowy landscapes dotted along the fjords bring fairy-tale levels of enchantment by day, and there’s the lure of the Northern Lights at night. 

While of course sightings are never guaranteed, guests on board Castor can maximise their chances of seeing them by pressing the nifty Northern Lights button on their cabin phone, which means you’ll get a wake-up call any time the lights come out to play. 

The cruise line is also so confident you’ll see the lights in winter that it offers a ‘Northern Lights promise’ to anyone travelling on the Bergen-Kirkenes-Bergen 12-day round trip between 1 October and 31 March each year – if you’re unlucky enough not to see them on board during that time, you get a free six-day voyage the following winter. 

Havila Castor in the Lofoten Islands in winter (Image: Havila Voyages)Havila Voyages

Cruising with a difference 

It’s not the only way Havila Voyages likes to do things differently. The line currently has two ships – its first, Capella, which launched in December 2021, and the newest, Castor, which began sailing in May 2022. Two more ships are in the pipeline, while all four will be more or less identical in terms of look and facilities. 

Capella and Castor currently journey up and down the Norwegian coast each week, carrying not only up to 468 cruise passengers each in 179 cabins, but also freight, post and up to 172 foot passengers each, who treat the service much like a ferry to reach tiny towns that would otherwise be very hard to reach by road, especially in winter. 

Havila Voyages’ entire coastal route includes 34 ports, some of which are only called at for 10 minutes throughout the day or night to allow locals to jump on or off, or to pick up supplies. Other stops last several hours, giving cruise passengers plenty of time to hop off and explore or join one of the many thrilling excursions, such as our unforgettable Snowmobiling under the Polar Sky trip (from £292pp). 

Havila is also something of a trailblazer when it comes to sustainable cruising. Its ships run on a combination of liquid natural gas (LNG) – which cuts CO2 emissions by up to 30% – and the world’s largest rechargeable ship battery packs, allowing for silent sailings through the fjords for up to four hours with zero emissions. Havila’s clever ships also recycle surplus heat on board to heat the cabins and provide hot water for the showers and hot tubs. 

The Norwegian government recently announced that by 2026, all cruise and ferry sailings to the World Heritage-listed Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord must be emission free, so Havila is ahead of the game here – it currently travels into Geirangerfjord on its sailings using battery power alone. 

Geirangerfjord, Norway (Image: saiko3p/Shutterstock)saiko3p/Shutterstock

“Our ultimate goal is to operate our 12-day voyages emission-free and be carbon-zero by 2030," says Matthew Valentine, head of sales at Havila Voyages, adding that the ships have each been designed to eventually run on biogas, a practically carbon-neutral biofuel, as soon as it becomes readily available. It means Havila Voyages could be in the pipeline to become the world’s first 100% green cruise line…

READ MORE: Four reasons to visit Trondelag, Norway

On the menu

The focus on sustainability also extends to Havila’s dining concept, with all meals a la carte instead of buffet to eliminate food waste, dishes changing regularly depending on the season, and ingredients sourced locally from the communities we pass on our journey. 

Meals are served in the ship’s relaxed main restaurant, Havrand, where you’re allocated a table for the duration of your trip and the menu changes every three days to reflect your location – though some classic dishes are always available. 

For breakfast and lunch, the concept is to order as many small tasting plates as you like, which gives you the opportunity to try out a huge variety of excellent local dishes. I’m on the Havila Gold package (£280 on my northbound voyage), which gives you even more choice in the main restaurant, as well as one five-course evening meal in the fine dining restaurant, Hildring. 

At Havrand I tuck into everything from truffled scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, cold cuts, cheeses and a range of healthy porridges at breakfast, to steamed mussels, Norwegian fish soup and crispy pea schnitzel at lunch. 

Fish stew on board Havila Castor (Image: Havila Voyages)Havila Voyages

At dinner, the concept is a more traditional three-course dinner, where options include Lofoten baked cod, slow cooked pork ribs and Vestland fish stew, with desserts including creamy panna cotta and port wine ice cream – and every single dish I try on board is delicious. 

If you get peckish outside of meal times, there’s the Havly Café, serving everything from hot drinks and pastries to soups, salads and burgers (and where anyone who has signed up to Havila Gold gets free posh tea and coffee). 

After dinner each evening, we retire to the Havblikk Bar and Lounge on the top deck, where we chat about the day’s events over a tipple. Here, floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass-panelled roof mean you’re in prime position to head outside should the Northern Lights start rippling overhead – or you can just gaze through the panes in the warmth, drink in hand. 

READ MORE: How to spend the perfect weekend in Oslo

Cabin cool

Cabins on board feel new, clean and fresh, with a minimalist Scandi design in shade of grey, blue and pinewood that’s echoed throughout the ship. There are six main cabin categories to choose from, with the most popular for cruise passengers being the Seaview Superior cabins, which start at an impressive 161 square feet (15 m²).

Mine comes with a comfortable double bed with cosy bedding, a sofa bed, flat-screen TV, writing desk, mini fridge, tea and coffee and a decent size wardrobe.

A Seaview Superior cabin on board Havila Castor (image: Johan Holmquist)Johan Holmquist/Havila Voyages

At the top end of the scale are the two Lighthouse Suites, which come with their own private balcony and Jacuzzi. Most cabin categories have accessible options for wheelchair users too. 

It’s a delight to wake up each morning and excitedly throw open the curtains to gaze out of my good-sized cabin window at an ever changing snowy scene – from quaint fishing villages with their LEGO-coloured houses to undulating mountains and pine forests, all topped with layer upon layer of icing sugar that sparkles when the sun catches it.  

Life on board

Wherever you are on board, there’s always something magical to see from the floor-to-ceiling windows that envelope the ship in all public areas, and as the ship hugs the coast you feel especially close to the action – much like you would on a river cruise.  

When not exploring on excursions, cruise passengers spend their days in one of the many lounge areas chatting to friends old and new or reading a book while sipping a hot drink in the reclining chairs. I follow suit and do my best to get stuck into my book, but the ever-changing vistas are wonderfully distracting and I find myself regularly throwing on my coat to venture out on deck to one of the viewing platforms to take in the otherworldly landscapes of the Arctic up close. 

It’s fascinating to stop at pretty port towns backed by bridges or creamy mountains, or to sail past tiny Arctic fishing villages and imagine what life is like here. The further north we travel, the more barren the landscape becomes, with pine trees replaced by endless mountains and sea, both of which glint magnetically in the ever-changing light. 

Havila Voyages' Arctic Circle trip in winter, Lofoten Islands (Image: Havila Voyages)Havila Voyages

If gawping at the landscape isn’t entertainment enough, you can also wind down in the sauna, hit the gym (and even here, huge windows mean you’re not missing out) or chill in the two outdoor hot tubs. 

While there’s no actual onboard entertainment, guests can attend lectures in the conference room on subjects including the Northern Lights, while on some evenings, music is played out on deck and Gluhwein served, bringing a convivial atmosphere. For those heading north, there’s also a fun mini ceremony that marks the ship passing the Arctic Circle, where you’ll be sprinkled with shiver-inducing Arctic water.

Arctic adventures

Cruise passengers will really get the most out of their time on board by booking onto at least a couple of excursions, which will provide adventure, education and ‘pinch-me’ moments of excitement in droves. 

On the Arctic coastal walk in Bodo (£86pp), we walk along the wind-whipped coast as sea eagles fly overhead, stopping to hear tales of the Vikings who once lived here, navigating their ships with 98% accuracy using calcite tools that would catch the sun’s rays, and trading using dried fish that is still eaten in Norway today. 


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In Kirkenes, just a surreal few kilometres away from the Russian border, we visit a World War II bomb shelter and hear how the town was invaded by Nazis, and largely destroyed by bombs and fighting from both the Nazis and the Red Army before being rebuilt by resilient locals. 

Other popular excursions include a trip to the North Cape, Europe’s most northerly point, and a guided husky ride, where you’ll feel like an Arctic adventurer as you travel on a sled drawn by excitable huskies through woodland, engulfed in the silence, beauty and wonder of the snowy scene. 

There’s even the intrepid option to end the trip in Kirkenes with a night at the Snowhotel, where you’ll hunker down for the night in your beautifully sculpted ice bed, tucked up in your sleeping bag to brace yourself against the -4C chill. 

Whatever options you choose, this is a cruise where adventure and lifelong memories are guaranteed. 

Getting there

The seven-day Bergen to Kirkenes Northbound Voyage costs from £1,768 per cabin (or £884pp based on two sharing), departing 2 November 2023. 

For more info, visit

READ MORE: How to visit Lapland in a day

Main image: Havila Voyages


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