Stargazing is awesome. But it’s even better when the sky is lit up with luminous green, blues, reds and pinks. The boring explanation for the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is that they’re created by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun, which create the colour when they enter the earth’s atmosphere. We prefer the old legends, though. Like in Finland, where they call them “Revontulet” (fire fox), as they believed the lights were created by it’s bushy tail as it ran across the sky. And the Norse legends, which say they’re the reflections of warriors shields as they head to Valhalla.
Whether you want to go down the science or romance route – this is one experience you have to see with your own eyes. So here’s where you can do it.
They’re not being dramatic when they call Iceland The Land of Fire and Ice. Just practical. Iceland has volcanoes, hot geysers melting the surrounding snow and of course a cracking view of the Northern Lights. You should go from September to March and visit Reykjavik , Iceland’s capital city. This is the best base for discovering natural wonders like the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool of hot water (the temperature fluctuates between 37 and 39 degrees), which will restore your body and your soul.
Abisko, in northern Sweden, has a decent claim to being the best place to watch the aurora borealis. Its location within the “aurora zones” (the latitudes of 65-72 degrees north) and the fact it has very low rainfall, makes the chances of a clear night pretty high. It’s also in one of the national parks which has a station dedicated to this natural phenomenon, the Aurora Sky Station. You can visit, if you don’t mind braving the chairlift 900m up a mountain.
You’re really going to have to make the effort if you want to experience the Northern Lights here. We’re talking the far reaches of the planet. But as it falls well within the “aurora zones”, you’ll be rewarded. The best places to base yourself are Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali. You’ll need to head out of town and away from the street lights to get the clearest views. Oh, and you’ll have to stay up late – the peak time to see them is 1.30am in winter.
Tromso, Alta and Kirkenes, are just three places that are perfect for catching sight of the aurora borealis. From Tromso you can easily get to other Norwegian cities like Svolvaer and the Lofoten Islands. Visit Norway has a free app, the NorwayLights (Android and iPhone) which indicates the places where you can stargaze and has up-to-the-minute weather condition. Ah, the wonders of modern technology. You can download it here.
Lapland is the place to be in Finland to see the Northern Lights. In fact, you can see them on around 200 nights in the northerly part of the country. We can see why Santa lives there. As VisitFinland advises – darkness is your friend. So get up high or stand by a lake to get the best views. AurorasNow will ping you an email when the magnetic conditions are at their peak to see the lights.
Another extreme place to see the northern lights. But there’s just something romantic about lights over the Arctic Circle. It’s also unlikely to be a wasted journey, as they’re practically visible all year. It helps that only 56,000 people live there, so with just a few roads and even fewer cities, you could pretty much stop anywhere and raise your eyes to the night sky. Kulusuk and Ammasalik are small towns where you can base yourself. When to go? Try between mid-August to late October for the really cool colours.
There’s even a chance to spot them on home soil. It’s just hard to guarantee when. Rural places in England, like Northumberland and the Lake District where there are less people and lights, are good spots. And of course Scotland as the most northerly point is the perfect place to get the camera out. The Isle of Skye has Dark Sky status – which means the air pollution is low and you have a better chance of seeing the stars and lights from here.
Check out the Northern Lights from Northumberland in the video below.
Have you seen the Northern Lights?
Tell us your top tips for seeing this natural phenomenon by leaving a comment below.