Chasing the Majestic Northern Lights
On the trail of the Aurora Borealis
Watching the Northern Lights is a truly unique and unforgettable experience. We look at some of the best places to visit to view this jaw-dropping natural phenomenon.
Over the past few years, interest in travelling to see the Northern Lights has surged, with many Britons placing it at the top of their ‘bucket list’. And it’s not difficult to see why – with their elusive, atmospheric and colourful displays, the Aurora Borealis offer a truly unforgettable and awe inspiring experience. We’ve put together our picks of some of the best destinations to see the lights, as well as some tips on when to visit, to help you get the most out of your holiday.
Where to go?
When it comes to locations for viewing the Northern Lights, there are a number of options to choose from. Generally speaking, the further north you are, the better chance you have of seeing this often-elusive phenomenon. Furthermore, inland areas tend to offer clearer skies than those situated on the coast. It’s also a good idea to head for places with dark skies and no light pollution.
Outside of the UK, Iceland is possibly one of the most affordable and convenient destinations to visit in pursuit of the Northern Lights, offering opportunities for both independent and small group tours. Head away from the bright lights of Reykjavik to more rural areas for the best views of the Aurora. As well as the lightshow, Iceland also has plenty of natural wonders and stunning scenery to offer visitors.
Swedish Lapland is located in the heart of the Arctic Circle and, as such, offers some fantastic opportunities to view the Northern Lights – particularly at the famous Abisko Sky Station. Bjorkliden in northern Sweden is even home to the first ever Aurora Festival (15-17 January) which features photography classes, expert trips and evening trips to see the lights.
Tromsø in Norway is renowned for its spectacular light shows and stunning scenery. It also has the advantage of being fairly accessible, with reasonably priced flights and plenty of places to stay. Alternatively, head to the Lofoten archipelago where you can stay in a traditional fisherman’s cottage and enjoy the natural attractions that this area of Norway has to offer.
If you don’t mind a long-haul trip, then North America can be a great destination for Aurora-gazing. For your best chance of seeing some activity, head to Alaska or the Yukon in north-west Canada. Fairbanks in Alaska is under the ‘aurora oval’ where the lights appear most frequently, and with 80% of its territory classed as wilderness, the Yukon has very little light pollution, offering great visibility. If this is an option for you, make sure you take out worldwide travel insurance that covers travel to North America.
Finland is one of the best locations in the world for watching the Aurora Borealis. Your best chance of spotting this amazing phenomenon is to head north to Finnish Lapland, where the lights are on display approximately every other clear night between September and March. If the thought of spending hours in the cold doesn’t appeal, you might want to stay in one of the glass igloos at Kakslauttanen, where you can watch the light display from the comfort of your bed.
Of course, if you’re looking for a more wallet-friendly alternative that’s a bit closer to home, you could always head to Scotland. Located just 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the Shetland Isles are a good location for spotting the Northern Lights, as are the Orkneys and the Caithness coast. Why not hire a campervan and take advantage of free text alerts to go on your very own Aurora tour?
When to travel
While the Northern Lights can be seen any time between late September and early April, the optimum times to view them are between October and November and between February and March. Also, as mentioned earlier, clear skies are vital to light-gazing, so it’s worth doing some homework before you go to determine the cloudiest and rainiest weeks at your chosen destination. Equally, the moon can make a huge difference to your aurora show – for the best experience, try booking your trip for when there is no moon.
Whether you want to stay close to home, take a short trip, or travel further afield, when it comes to chasing the Northern Lights, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, the one thing that is certain about the Northern Lights is that they are unpredictable. With this in mind, choose your holiday for the destination not just for its light show potential – that way, if they don’t show up, you’ll still have a holiday to remember.