Hunting for the Northern Lights? Secret tips on where to catch a glimpse
There’s very little on earth that conjures up the majesty and mystery of the Northern Lights
There’s very little on earth that conjures up the majesty and mystery of the Northern Lights. Every winter hundreds of thousands of people flock north to try and catch a glimpse of space’s light show as they dance across the sky. Formed from electro particles drawn to our magnetic poles as the atoms mix with the gases in our atmosphere they transform into elegant coloured mists.
No one can guarantee you’ll see them wherever you are, but there are some places where you stand a better chance – think remote, dark skies and few people and you’re on the right lines. So what countries should you be aiming for?
Finland’s remote slice of Lapland is a fabulous place to try. There are more reindeer than people and residents reckon they have 200 Northern Light displays a year. Here the landscape is wild and remote, you need a snowmobile and you’re best off going with a tour operator like The Aurora Zone. Try Nellim in the north east which is on the edge of a frozen lake and there are glass bubble hotel rooms where you can lie in bed and watch the lights in the warm.
For the more adventurous, Greenland has been creeping onto the radar for seriously remote, peaceful trips. It’s the world’s biggest island but home to only 56,000 people – meaning those enormous skies and frozen landscapes will be yours alone. Tourists here though don’t have to trek miles into the forest to get away from city lights, you can see the lights from anywhere up until April.
Obviously the further north you are, the more likely you’re going to find the lights and Canada shouldn’t be forgotten when searching for the flickering flames. While most people head to the Canadian coast for culture, shopping and so on, you want to get away from the cities and head to the northwest territories, thought to be one of the best areas. Yellowknife is a good area to try because it’s flat and directly under the auoral oval. There are several companies (like Aurora Village) who arrange luxurious light-spotting trips that include hot tubs or heated chairs to watch nature’s show.
Swedish Lapland is another winner when it comes to watching the lights. The northwest of the country does the best with sightings from September through to March. For those that have a smaller budget when it comes to trying to catch the lights, try Abisko National Park’s Aurora Sky Station. Once in the park, pedestrians can take a chairlift 900 metres up the mountain, where you can stay overnight. The park records healthy lights sightings through out winter and it’s not that difficult to access. You can get a train to the national park or drive the 100kms from Kiruna airport.
Why not combine your trip with ticking Iceland off your list? It’s easy to take in more than just the lights in this compact destination and capital Reykjavik has come into its own as a cultural highlight. Pop by the concertina shaped Hallgrímskirkja church inspired by cooling lava that took 40 years to build or indulge in the city’s vibrant independent café culture at Back to the 1950s or Spirits of our Ancestors. If you’re heading there in February, the Winter Lights festival (2-5 Feb) turns the whole city into a wonderland to rival the Northern Lights. To see the real thing however is pretty easy. All you need is a clear dry night and you should be able to spot them once you drive out of Reykjavik. Head to Borgarnes which has a pretty harbour, Vik which has a sandy beach or go off road and camp at Landmannalaugar. Tour operators have endless options but if you’re more into going it alone when finding the lights, Iceland’s one of the easiest countries to do so.