The Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis capture the imagination of people around the globe but unless you live at the northern tip of the world, you will need a little careful planning to see this phenomenon. The Northern Lights appear as a spectral light show of green, yellow, purple and blue caused when solar particles collide with the Earth's atmosphere. This collision releases gases which then react with oxygen to create the coloured light show. While sightings can never be guaranteed, we've put together some tips to help you get the most out of Northern Lights holidays. If you’re one of the many people dreaming of catching a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, you are going to need to plan. The celestial light show is a spectacle unlike any other on Earth, and to get a good view you need solid organisation and a healthy dose of luck. The Northern Lights are viewable from late September to March and can be seen from several locations such as Iceland, Norway, Finland and even Scotland.
The further north you go, the more likely you are to be entertained by the Northern Lights and the more impressive and colourful they will be. While you may sometimes catch a glimpse of them in northern Scotland, your chances are increased if you venture to the north shores of Iceland and northern Canada or up to the Arctic Circle depths of Alaska, Norway, Sweden and Finland. While you might catch glimpses of them on any holiday to these countries, your chances are improved if you book specialised Northern Lights holidays. Alaska: An epic place where you can still visit mountains and forests barely touched by humans or soak up the awe-inspiring sight of slowly-moving icy-blue glaciers. Fairbanks or the Denali National Park are great places to view the Northern Lights. Norway: Steep-sided fjords cut impossibly deep gashes into the coastline of Norway, a country of unsurpassed beauty and wonder. From the main cities of Oslo and Bergen, travel north to chase the Aurora Borealis at places such as the Lofoten Islands and small towns like Tromso. Finland: Wild beauty and contemporary design come together in Finland. You can enjoy some of the best hiking, kayaking and canoeing in Europe or brave some winter camping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights at Kakslauttanem or Saariselka. Iceland: The Northern Lights in Iceland can be truly amazing and if you travel at the right time of year, not only will you gasp in awe at its canyons and waterfalls but you may be lucky enough to see the spectral show several nights in a row. Sweden: Sweden is known around the world for its design taste and attention to detail whether this is in architecture, furniture or textiles. It is also a country of natural beauty full of deep blue archipelagos. Sweden's sparse population means little light pollution, increasing your chances of seeing the Northern Lights at the right time of year. Canada: Canada is a truly vast country with much of it still unspoilt by towns and light pollution. Its six time zones cover mountains, glaciers, rainforests and beaches giving holiday choices for every taste and interest. "
The Northern Lights, also called the Aurora Borealis, is a breathtaking natural phenomenon caused by solar particles colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere. This collision unleashes a powerful reaction which emits the bright lights visible from the surface. The different colours are produced by reaction with different gases – particles interacting with oxygen emit yellow or green light while nitrogen gives rise to blue and purple light. For centuries, different peoples have explained the then-enigma of the Aurora Borealis with their own myths and legends. Even now, when we understand the Northern Lights and can explain it, a sighting is a profound and moving experience.
The further north you go on your holiday to the Northern Lights, the more likely you are to see the lights and the more impressive the show will be. Intense colours and hypnotic movements are the hallmark of the Northern Lights in the far north. It is sometimes possible to see the lights as far south as Scotland, but this is by no means guaranteed or even expected. To stand a good chance of a sighting it is best to have a Northern Lights holiday in Alaska, northern Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland, or northern Norway, Finland or Sweden. Many of these countries run tours specifically to chase the Aurora Borealis, with specialist guides who take you to the best places to view the ethereal light show. Inland locations, away from coastal fog are more likely to yield clear skies. You should also seek to avoid the glow of light pollution from towns and cities.
In the far north, summer is a bad time for a holiday to the Northern Lights, as it never gets properly dark. You should head to your country of choice between September and March for the best and blackest viewing conditions. The Aurora Borealis is at its peak at the times of the solar equinox, which is in September and March every year. As the Northern Lights are caused by solar activity, years when there is high solar activity are good times to see the show. This is correlated with an eleven-year cycle; the last solar maximum was 2013, with activity levels remaining high for several years afterwards. Solar activity also fluctuates on an almost daily basis, and there are websites that tell you what the current level is, as well as forecasting the next few days.
To see the Northern Lights at their awesome best it has to be truly dark with the night sky as free from light pollution as possible. This means you are not going to spot them on summer holidays! The best viewing conditions in the countries we've mentioned occur between September and March. Solar activity fluctuates both on an eleven-year cycle and on a daily basis which is why using local guides increases your chances of catching a good light show. September to March is, of course, winter in these northern regions so packing and preparing sensibly is important for your relaxed enjoyment. Thermal layers topped with windproof and waterproof coats and finished with hats and gloves will keep you warm and comfortable whatever the weather.
Most major UK airports, especially the London ones of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead will have regular flights throughout the year to the capital cities and main airports of Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada and Sweden. Onward journeys can then be made by train or internal flights or even on a specialised 4x4 tour. Taking Icelandic, Norwegian, Canadian and Alaskan cruises are another good way of enjoying the landscape and culture of these countries while catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.