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 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.