Sue Mcdonald

Sue Mcdonald

View our winter trips for 2021/22

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Thursday, 08 October 2020

Give yourself something to look forward to

Due to entry restrictions currently in place for some countries we recommend delaying travel to certain destinations and, instead, planning a really special holiday to look forward to during winter 2021/22. 

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Sue Mcdonald

Book for 2021/22

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Thursday, 08 October 2020

We are already taking bookings for next season. View our holidays here.

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Sue Mcdonald

Coronavirus Travel Advice

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Thursday, 10 September 2020

Updated: 06 November 2020

As a small, family-run company we have faced numerous challenges since COVID-19 began to impact on our lives back in early March.

Our primary concern throughout has been to ensure the safety of our guests and to act as quickly as possible to make new arrangements for those impacted, or to provide refunds where necessary. Our team has worked exceptionally hard to ensure that this happened with the minimum of fuss.

Our local partners, most of whom we have worked with for many years, have been outstanding. They have worked with our Operations Team to accommodate and assist our guests as events unfolded during their holidays and also when rearranging bookings to alternative dates. 

Future bookings and holidays

We are constantly monitoring the advice provided by the UK Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as the guidance provided by the governments in our destinations.

The FCDO is currently allowing UK residents to travel to Finland, Norway and Iceland without mandatory quarantine upon return. If you are returning to the UK from Sweden on or after 4am on 7th November, you will need to self-isolate upon return.

Finland

The Finnish Government has not yet removed the restrictions on arrival from the UK but, we have been advised by Visit Finland that this is being reviewed by their government at the moment to find the safest solution for all. Currently, for trips of up to 72 hours, these can be operated almost exactly as originally planned (with all necessary social distancing requirements). A negative test result taken within 72 hours of arriving in Finland is required to be presented at the airport. The Finnish government are still to make a final decision on stays of longer than 72 hours, as soon as we have additional information on their final decision, we will provide an update.

Norway

The Norwegian government are allowing countries with an infection rate of 20 people per 100,000 to travel without mandatory quarantine.

Sweden

Sweden is also allowing arrivals from the UK and on the 12th September, the Foreign Office (FCDO) removed their advice against travel to Sweden. However, if you are returning to the UK from Sweden on or after 4am on 7th November, you will need to self-isolate upon return.

ICELAND

Iceland is allowing arrivals from the UK but there are mandatory testing and quarantine upon arrival.

It is important to keep in mind that most of our holidays are operated in very remote destinations many of which have had very few, or no, cases of COVID in recent months, or at all. The statistics for each country are rarely broken down into region but if you are interested in accurate statistics relating to the area you are considering, or have booked, then please get in touch and we will be happy to supply the information.

All our local partners are constantly reviewing their procedures to provide additional peace of mind for our guests. If you have any questions regarding this, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

If you are due to depart before 30 November 2020:

We are constantly monitoring all local and regional regulations in destinations where we have guests booked to travel. We will be in contact with the lead passenger on each booking as and when we have new information.  We have also reduced the balance due dates to 21 days prior to departure until we can make a final decision regarding travel. If you have any questions at all then please feel free to get in touch with our Customer Service team. If not, then sit tight and we will contact you as soon as we have any updates.

If your trip departs on or after 01 December 2020:

All holidays departing after 01 December 2020 are expected to run as originally planned.

We continue to monitor local conditions, the FCDO and all relevant governmental advice and will review all trips as required. We will update guests a minimum of 30 days prior to departure and we expect that the final decision regarding travel will be made at 21 days prior to departure which is in keeping with industry guidelines.

Frequently asked questions 

  • I made a booking with you, but I no longer wish to travel, what are my options?

This will depend on when your booking was made and the specific terms relating to your holiday and flight booking if applicable.  The Artisan Travel Company are happy to postpone all transferable and flexible elements of your trip to either an alternative holiday or departure date without charging an administrative fee.

For any non-transferable elements, we will do our best to minimise these costs but unfortunately, these decisions are normally out of our hands.  Naturally, we promise to do our best to negotiate on your behalf.

Another option would be to transfer your booking to another passenger (subject to terms and conditions and introduced by yourselves) and we can normally facilitate this until 10 days prior to departure.   

Finally, depending on the reason you no longer wish to travel, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance.

  • What happens if my trip is cancelled?

If you are booked onto a trip which we must cancel, then we will get in touch with you immediately.  If we are forced to cancel your holiday, then there will be several options available to you:

1 – Consider an alternative destination

As we have such a fantastic network of partners across Scandinavia, we will do everything we can to propose alternative holiday options for you to consider.  If you do decide to go for one of these options we will transfer the money you have already paid us to your new booking and, if it is cheaper, refund you the difference. If it is more expensive you will need to top this amount up to match the new price.

2 – Postpone your trip at the same price as you paid this year

If you have your heart set on the holiday you have chosen, then we don’t see why you should have to pay more to enjoy your long-awaited adventure.  As a rough estimate, we normally allow between a 5%-10% increase in the cost of our holidays year on year to allow for increases from local partners, airlines (inc. taxes and duties) and currency fluctuation.  If you postpone your holiday, then we will guarantee to hold the same price you were initially quoted for the corresponding dates the following winter season. If you would like to change your dates then we will honour the corresponding price from the season you booked.

3 – Accept a Refund Credit Note to financially protect your money while you choose an alternative adventure

We fully appreciate that when Refund Credit Notes (RCN) were initially launched by ABTA their purpose was a little ambiguous and they were not particularly well understood amid lockdown.  There was also a frustrating lack of public support from the Civil Aviation Authority to confirm that RCNs were fully financially protected. The CAA finally confirmed that they are in July (you can read more about this here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/boost-to-passengers-as-government-bolsters-atol-scheme).

Different companies have used RCNs in different ways.

In some cases, we have requested that guests consider accepting a credit note as a method of temporarily ensuring that their money remains fully protected whilst allowing us a chance to reclaim cash we had already paid to airlines and local partners.  We have worked very hard to get the balance right between both our guests' needs and our long term (predominately small, independent) local partners' viabilities.

As this situation has been completely out of everyone’s control, we have asked some guests, where they are able, to be patient and allow these businesses a small amount of leniency to return the money we have paid them in advance. Airlines have been widely reported as being excruciatingly slow to issue refunds and we are still waiting for many payments from as far back as March.

Despite this, we have refunded all guests who initially accepted a credit refund note from holidays affected in March and April. We have also refunded all guests who were unable to travel this summer due to border restrictions. This was despite their RCNs not expiring until January 2021. If you choose to rebook any of our holidays across The Artisan Travel Company group then you would be entitled to a 10% discount from that holiday and 5% off any future holidays you then go on to book with us (not to be used in conjunction with any other offer).

4 – A full refund

If you are not able to accept an RCN under the circumstances outlined above, then we do understand. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your cancellation we may request that you contact your Travel Insurance company in the first instance. Should that claim be unsuccessful then we will refund you in full. We will advise you of the relevant processing times at that stage.

  • My holiday is booked for a destination that still has a travel ban. When will I know if it going ahead or not?

In keeping with industry guidelines, we are constantly monitoring the status of your holiday. These situations are obviously very dynamic, but we will contact you at the latest, 21 days prior to departure to discuss your options at that stage.  You are more than welcome to check in on the status of your trip prior to this but it will be three weeks before departure that we make a final decision.

  • What happens if the travel advice changes for my destination during my holiday?

This would depend on how the advice changed. If the FCDO followed the pattern they have predominantly used during the summer months then they have not advised guests currently on holiday to return home. If this was the case, then we would update any guests who are abroad of any developments or changes and allow you to continue your long-anticipated holiday. 

If either the UK or local government does advise guests to return home immediately then we would repatriate all guests as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

  • What happens if there is a quarantine on my return to the UK?

In this instance, if there was no advice against travelling from either the UK or your destination's local government then we would operate the holiday as originally planned.  As a quarantine upon your return to the UK would be out of both our own and our local partners' control and it does ​not impact on our ability to provide the holiday then standard cancellation terms would apply.  If this situation arose and you would like to change your travel dates to postpone to a different time then we will do everything we can to assist this and minimise any non-recoverable costs.

  • What happens if the flights I have booked are cancelled?

If you have booked your own flights and they are cancelled then, first of all, we suggest contacting the airline to confirm the options available to you – these may be alternative flights, a voucher or full refund (this is likely to depend on the type of ticket you purchased so we recommend reading the small print very carefully).

Once you are aware of all of your options give our Customer Service Team a call +44 (0)1670 785 049 and we will do what we can to try and assist you sourcing alternative flights if appropriate, rearranging your travel dates or doing our best to negotiate a suitable alternative with our local partners. Again, we will not charge any administrative fee in this instance.

  • If I am put in local lockdown within the UK how would this affect my holiday?

The local lockdowns which have been put in place in England and Scotland thus far have not prevented people from going on holiday as planned.  The advice has been different in Wales where lockdown specifically does prevent people from going on holiday.  If this does happen in the future and you are prohibited from going on holiday due to local restrictions then your first call should be to your travel insurer so please ensure you have a policy which covers such an eventuality.

If you are unable to reclaim your money through a travel insurance policy then we will work with the local suppliers to try to refund as much of your money as possible. However, as nothing is preventing us from running the holiday for other guests and the local suppliers are able to provide it in full we will be unable to refund any irrecoverable costs such as non-refundable flight tickets or any portion of the money the suppliers are unable to return to us.  In some scenarios, our local partners, or airlines may offer vouchers to postpone your travel dates instead of a cash refund but this will vary with each booking. The only way to ensure a full refund if you are prevented from travelling due to a local lockdown would be through your travel insurance.  

  • I’m travelling from another country outside of the UK – what happens if I’m not able to travel?

The Artisan Travel Company is based in the UK and we take all of our guidance from the Foreign​, Commonwealth and Development Office ​(FCDO) and other UK government bodies. Depending on whether you have booked a flight inclusive or land-only package your contract with us either starts at your UK departure airport (if we have booked your flights) or, if you have booked a land only package, the agreed meeting point in the destination country (usually an airport).   

If there are no national UK border restrictions preventing us from operating the holiday (i.e. unless the ​FCDO advise against all but essential travel to Finland, Sweden, Iceland or Norway) OR the destination government prevent all arrivals from the UK then we will continue to run the holiday as planned. For anyone who is prevented from joining the trip as planned due to medical reasons or government advice changing from a country other than the UK or the destination of your holiday, then this cancellation by you would be dealt with as per our booking terms and conditions. And such, any loss would need to be reclaimed from your travel insurance policy so please check the wording carefully and ensure you are satisfied with the level of cover.  

  • What type of travel insurance should I look for?

Travel insurance has always been a pre-requisite for travelling with us and investing in a comprehensive travel insurance policy should be the first thing you do after booking your holiday. 

COVID-19 has really highlighted the importance of a comprehensive travel insurance policy. ABTA has some useful questions and answers to scenarios which should be covered by your travel insurance. These include any problems before you go such as local lockdowns or if you or anyone you are due to travel with is diagnosed with COVID shortly before departure.  You'll find them here: https://www.abta.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak

If you, or any member of your party, are diagnosed with COVID whilst you are on holiday then you need to be satisfied that your insurance policy will cover any medical costs incurred including testing, self-isolation and treatment. We would also suggest choosing a policy which would allow you to claim for any elements of the holiday you were not able to take part in.

We are in the process of researching several different travel insurance policies and hope to be able to have options to present to our guests soon. Until then please be thorough in your research to ensure you are protected against any potential issues.

Health and Safety on holiday

  • What steps are your local partners taking to keep me safe on holiday?

We have been so impressed with our local partners’ pro-active approaches to guest safety in the destinations. Many of the small companies based in Lapland have begun working together to share best practices. They have been led by the Head of Epidemiology at Rovaniemi Hospital who is providing specific advice for those providing specialised winter activities including clothing and equipment hire etc.

We also have a range of publications and detailed information from each local partner and airline. Please just ask our Customer Service Team if you would like more specific information regarding your destination.

  • I am a solo traveller; will I have to share a room?

For each of our holidays, there is a single supplement for those wishing to have their own room. On some of our holidays which include a night in wilderness accommodation (i.e. an overnight husky safari) then the whole group will share dormitory-style accommodation.  Single rooms are not possible on this type of holiday, but they are available in all other accommodations. Our team of travel experts will be able to discuss this with you at the time of booking.

  • What happens if myself or a member of my party display COVID symptoms during my holiday?

If you become unwell during your holiday then it is vital that you alert a member of staff in the destination (either a local representative or the accommodation's reception team) as quickly as possible and ideally by phone. You must remain in your hotel room. The local team will then ensure you receive medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are showing COVID-19 symptoms, then a test will be arranged and you will be asked to quarantine until the results are reported.  During that time the local team will do everything they can to keep you comfortable and arrange that meals and other necessities are brought to your room. Please note that we can not cover any additional costs you might incur and they should be reclaimed from your travel insurer.

Further advice for UK travellers

Though we endeavour to inform our customers of any significant changes, this is a fast-moving situation and therefore we also ask for our travellers to keep up-to-date with the relevant travel advice.

Here are some useful links:

UK health authorities: www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public

FCDO travel advice: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) TravelHealthPro website: www.travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries

The NHS website: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19

ABTA: www.abta.com/coronavirus

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, then please do not hesitate to contact our customer service team on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or, call 01670 785 785.


Sue Mcdonald

Norway webinar

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Monday, 24 August 2020

Norway and the Northern Lights webinar registration

Date: September 10th, 2020 at 7:30 pm (GMT)

The world of travel is slowly opening up and Norway is looking forward to welcoming our guests when the time is right; we are delighted to be hosting this Norway and Tromsø webinar in eager anticipation of that moment. Whether you are looking to book a break this winter or to reserve a place for 2021, this webinar will provide an insight into what is on offer so you can book your perfect trip.

With our panel of experts from the travel and tourism industry in Tromsø, we will cover what you can expect when you arrive in Norway, how they are dealing with Covid-19 and the measures they have in place to ensure the safety of our guests. The Artisan Travel Company is a fully bonded, licensed tour operator and with the opportunity to ask our expert team any additional questions during a Q&A session, you will be able to book your trip with confidence and peace of mind.

Focussing on The Aurora Zone, a part of The Artisan Travel Company, this webinar will explore four fantastic trips that highlight the beauty of ‘The Capital of the Arctic’, Tromsø and the fantastic activities that take place in the surrounding wilderness.

On our 3-night Tromsø, Northern Lights City Break, for example, you will spend time in Tromsø’s cultural centre and also head out of the city into the heart of the Aurora Zone, for two dedicated Aurora hunts. With the option to personalise your trip by adding additional activities, such as dog sledding or snowmobiling, this short break combines the best of city life along with some natural wonders.

Our guest speakers include a hotel manager and two local activity providers. Along with our own Northern Lights guide and photographer, who will also share his expertise in how to hunt for the Northern Lights and how to catch them on film. He will also talk about the science behind this natural phenomenon.

With 10% off all bookings, using a code that will be provided during the webinar, guests can start planning their Norway break, safe in the knowledge that every aspect of their trip is taken care of.

The itinerary

19:30 - Start

19:30 - 19:35 - Introduction to The Artisan Travel Company: Ali McLean, Director and founder of The Artisan Travel Company

19:35 - 19:45 - Highlights of Tromsø: Mats Fredriksen, Lost in Norway

19:45 - 19:50 - Guest speaker: Ida Romsøe, Hotel Manager, The Clarion Hotel The Edge

19:50 - 19:55 - Guest speaker: Øystein Prytz, Head of Digital Marketing, Tromsø Villmarksenter

19:55 - 20:00 - Guest speaker: Alice Heijbel, Key Account Manager, Pukka Travel

20:00 - 20:15 - An introduction to the Northern Lights: Matt Robinson, The Aurora Zone and Northern Lights guide and photographer

20:15 - 20:30 - Q&A session

20:30 - Finish

The team

Alistair McLean - Director and founder of The Artisan Travel Company

As part of The Artisan Travel Company, Ali created The Aurora Zone, the original and only dedicated Northern Lights tour operator. Ali is extremely proud of the tours we offer in Tromsø and that so many of our clients have witnessed the Aurora during their trips there with us. 

Mats Fredriksen - CEO, Lost in Norway

Your host for the evening, Mats, is our local supplier in Norway. Having worked with Mats for many years, he is very well-placed to talk about the region, working with The Aurora Zone and the experiences we offer in Norway.

Matt Robinson - The Aurora Zone and Northern Lights guide, photographer and astronomer

Currently living in Senja, Norway, Matt has travelled extensively with The Artisan Travel Company and is always happy to share his knowledge and science behind the Northern Lights with our guests. Matt is also a keen astronomer and photographer and will share some of his fantastic images with us during the webinar.

Welcoming our guest speakers

Ida Romsøe - Hotel Manager, Clarion Hotel The Edge

Situated right in the centre of Tromsø, just by the water, from where you can enjoy great views of the city's stunning architecture, the Clarion Hotel The Edge was built with an environmental classification A and aspires to be as eco-friendly as possible. A passionate hotel manager, Ida is responsible for all hotel operations, leisure FIT and groups. She has worked in Nordic Choice Hotels since she was 16 years old and been at Clarion Hotel The Edge for almost 2 years. Ida will provide an insight into the measures the hotel is taking during Covid-19 and how they are making guests feel safe and comfortable.

Øystein Prytz - Head of Digital Marketing, Tromsø Villmarkssenter

Tromsø Villmarkssenter enjoys an idyllic wilderness location around 20km from the city centre on the island of Kvaløya. Established over 30 years ago they are one of the most experienced and passionate dog sledding companies we have the pleasure of working with. Originally set up by Tove Sørensen the day to day running of the centre has now passed to her son and his wonderful team.  Given the wonderful location of the Villmarkssenter It has an awesome record of Northern Lights viewing and we have had many happy clients enjoy displays here during their holidays.  Over several years Øystein has worked in almost all parts of this family-run company and there is nothing he doesn’t know about their fantastic products and strong family heritage.

Alice Heijbel - Key Account Manager, Pukka Travel

Our guest speaker from Pukka Travel, Alice, will talk us through the many activity options available to our clients on the trips we offer, from a Polar Fjord cruise or Northern Lights sailing to hunting the Northern Lights by minibus.


The time

Thursday, 10 September 2020 at 7:30 pm BST

This event will take place on Zoom and is free to access: CLICK HERE TO REGISTER YOUR PLACE and receive the joining details.


Sue Mcdonald

Sue was on a skiing holiday in France when she received a text from her brother, Ali, founder of Activities Abroad, asking if she would like to come into the office – ‘just for a few hours’ - to ‘help out’. 12 years later, she is still there, ‘helping out’ as a full-time Marketing Administrator!

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Sue Mcdonald

If I could be anywhere right now, it would be Finland; over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the Holiday Village Valle Hotel, looking out over the frozen Teno River towards Norway on the opposite bank.

The people of Finland refer to the north of Finland as Finnish Lapland; in the north of Finnish Lapland lies Utsjoki, the northernmost municipality of Finland which borders Norway. Just outside the main village, this cosy base offers a wonderful escape, one which I was lucky enough to experience in December 2018.

Credit Minna Saastamoinen Explore Utsjoki


Sue Mcdonald

Hiking

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Take a walk on the wild side

Hiking features during many of our autumn Aurora Zone holidays. As an activity it allows our guests to witness the dazzling autumn colours of Lapland and enjoy the forest and fell scenery of the national parks at close quarters.

Lapland in the autumn is a stunning multitude of colours, as the leaves turn to an array of red, gold, yellow and brown whilst the sky is often blue and cloudless before the first snowfalls in October and November. There is much to see on autumn hikes and you are more than likely to come across wandering reindeer who forage the forest floor for mushrooms and berries.

Some of our hikes will also introduce you to one of the other important animals of Lapland – the husky. Despite the lack of snow, Autumn remains an important time for the dogs, who will be involved in the safaris in the winter season, as they will begin to train in the autumn months. Hiking is an important part of this training programme and you will get to help with their exercise.

Each hiking activity is in the company of expert local guides who will point out the flora and fauna along the way. The guides are extremely passionate about the nature here and you will learn all about what makes the spectacular surroundings so special.

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Sue Mcdonald

Aurora Bubbles and Glass Igloos

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Witness the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed

There are many ways you can search for the Northern Lights, from night-time snowmobile safaris and husky sledding to reindeer sleigh rides and cross-country skiing.

However, one of our favourite trends is the innovation of Aurora accommodation, which allows you to gaze up to the inky night sky and watch the Northern Lights hypnotically dance, all from the comfort of your bed.

Aurora accommodation takes many forms including Aurora Bubbles or Glass Igloos. These wonderfully designed structures give you a distinctive location in which to sleep, ensuring you can enjoy warmth and comfort, all whilst giving that all-important sky view.  

From experiencing one unforgettable night in this specialist accommodation to spending each night of your holiday searching the skies as you are tucked up in bed, there are a range of options to suit every trip! 

Scroll down for our Aurora Zone destinations that will allow you to experience a night under the Arctic stars. 

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Sue Mcdonald

Ice and snow hotels

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The coolest place to stay

To spend the night in a room or igloo crafted from snow and ice is a long-held dream for many and somewhat of a bucket list item.

Despite what you may think, you can keep surprisingly warm and cosy inside the rooms as you're protected by the elements and have plenty of Arctic-grade bedding to wrap up in.

For many people, it is the chance to marvel at the incredible talent displayed in the sculptures and carvings which is a highlight. For others, it is the knowledge that you will be amongst only a handful of people who get to spend the night in one of these stunning rooms before they melt away in the summer months.

Regardless of your motivation, there are few better ways to complete your winter adventure and few hotel experiences in the world that are this remarkable - we highly recommend an upgrade wherever possible.

There are ice hotels and rooms available in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Learn more about this exceptional experience below!

 

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Sue Mcdonald

Ice fishing

Written by Sue Mcdonald
Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Fishing in the winter months

Ice fishing is a tradition which dates back centuries. Essentially it is the practice of fishing of drilling through a thick layer of ice and snow to reach the water below and the fish that may be lurking. 

Its history is rooted in survival, when ice fishing was essential for sourcing food in such remote locations.

Whilst modern ice fishermen use sonar and powered drills, the popular pastime which is enjoyed by so many locals remains relatively unchanged and wonderfully simple. It is this experience that many of our holidays allow you to enjoy. 

When ice fishing, you not only get an insight into some of the traditions of the region's past but you can also enjoy the delights of your natural surroundings, as you spend time in a wild winter landscape. 

This back-to-nature experience is a wonderfully peaceful addition to your winter holiday, whether you have been fishing before or this is your very first time!

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Get an expert opinion

The Aurora Zone was born from a desire to share Mother Nature’s greatest wonder with our clients. We’ve explored the destinations, researched the science, and fallen in love with the Scandinavian way of life. It’s our mission to pass this knowledge on to you, providing you with the very best chance of experiencing the magic for yourself on your Northern Lights holiday.

  • Specialist

    Aurora knowledge and experience

    Unique holidays, in the very best destinations

    Expert guides – exceptional local knowledge

    Advice and guidance every step of the way

  • Comprehensive

    We include more in our holidays than any other Aurora operator

    Price Comparison guarantee

    No ‘from’ prices, everything you see is included in the price

    No hidden extras

  • Independent

    Proudly Independent

    The original and still the only dedicated UK Northern Lights tour operator

    Personal, hands-on service

    Fair and sustainable work ethos

  • Trusted

    100% ATOL and ABTA protection

    Providing peace of mind

    Award-winning

    Responsible relationships

    Over 16 years’ experience