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Seasonal Sceneries & Experiences

Witnessing the magical Northern Lights or aurora borealis is one of nature's most cinematic atmospheric phenomena that leave scientists and skywatchers in awe, so it's no question why it’s almost always included in the bucket list of every traveller! This stunning light display often appears in a faint green sparkle, dancing slowly on the horizon like a curtain in the wind, whilst skies shine in hues of pink with dark red fringes sometimes. And on very rare occasions, blue and purple colours grace the winter night skies. You can witness the magnificent light spectacle throughout Europe, Canada and Northern America, but it's most visible in Scandinavia and the Nordics.

Where to see the Northern Lights

The best spots to see the Northern Lights have these things in common: little light pollution, clear skies and zero precipitation. Here are some of the top destinations to marvel at the sky-transforming glory of the majestic aurora borealis: 

Alaska

Alaska is home to arguably the best place on earth to watch the awe-inspiring northern lights — Fairbanks! Idyllically situated directly under the aurora oval, this charming city offers some of the most vibrant and vivid aurora sightings. You can book at Chena Hot Springs Resort, featuring a boulder-enclosed lake — where you can enjoy a relaxing dip to keep warm while soaking up the breathtaking light show dominating the winter night skies. If you’re seeking for basecamps to chase the auroras, you can visit Anchorage, Talkeetna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The most ideal time to spot the northern lights in Alaska is between August and April, when there’s less daylight and darker night skies.

Iceland

Catching the celestial lights dance across the horizon is an unmissable experience in the country, with peak viewing seasons between September and April. The capital, Reykjavik, is one of the leading places to see the northern lights. Öskjuhlið is a hilly park in the centre of Reykjavik, covered with trees and shielding the urban light pollution, making it a vantage point for aurora borealis sightings. Another favourite location for northern lights enthusiasts is the Grótta Peninsula, offering a clear and unobstructed view of the northern horizon. Some of the other ideal spots for northern light hunters in Iceland are the fishing village of Vík in South Iceland, Westfjords in the north, the mountain ridge of Thórsmörk and the untamed Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Norway

Known as a northern lights hotpot, Norway offers no shortage of prime spots for aurora borealis viewing. Tromsø is a popular destination in Norway for a full-on northern lights encounter, thanks to its strategic location above the arctic circle right in the middle of the aurora oval. From September to April, the lively city experiences a polar night, allowing endless opportunities to observe the northern lights. If you wish to take the off-the-beaten track, head further to Svalbard — a remote Norwegian archipelago with a rugged terrain that doesn’t see the sunlight during winter, making it a perfect setting to glimpse at the elusive astronomical wonder!

History of the Northern Lights

The term aurora was coined by Galileo in 1691 when the astronomer and scientist named the fascinating light display after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and borealis was derived from the ancient Greek god of north wind (Boreas). Later in the early 1900s, the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland solved the mystery about this natural phenomenon by explaining the science behind it. He explained that the electrons emitted by the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetism to the North magnetic pole, generating dazzling phenomena like the aurora borealis in the process. 

Many different myths surround the marvellous Northern Lights, including the Native American legend saying that these were war omens and the Vikings that believe these were the armour of the Valkyries, the warrior maidens of Norse mythology. Meanwhile, the indigenous people from the Arctic Circle think that the northern lights are simply the spirits of the dead who happen to be playing a game of ball with a walrus skull. In Finland, these lights are dubbed the ‘‘revontulet’ or fire fox. It’s believed that the arctic foxes are responsible for creating the aurora after running rapidly over the treeless plain producing sparks that light fires in the sky.

While Waiting for the Wonder

Check out the museums in Fairbanks

Travellers with a penchant for admiring diverse exhibits will be delighted to explore the Museum of the North in Fairbanks. This museum is home to a vast collection of local artworks, Arctic dinosaur fossils, and nature photography. You’ll also find a light and sound display space where you can get an immersive Northern Lights experience. Learn about Alaska's natural history and culture in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center or stroll around the 44-acre Pioneer Park shwasing displays dedicated to the gold rush.

Ride a cable car in Tromsø

Take in the panoramic views of Tromsø and its scenic surroundings on board the Fjellheisen cable car that transports passengers to the Storsteinen mountain ledge. The journey only lasts for four minutes, and once on top, you can grab a cup of coffee in the indoor cafe with dramatic views. Climbing the 1,200 Sherpa Steps up to the ledge is an excellent alternative for those who want a bit of adventure and more time to soak up  the views! The ledger’s upper deck is also vantage point to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Visit the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

Famed as the tallest and largest church in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja is an iconic and futuristic structure that draws many visitors around the world. It took nearly 50 years to complete the construction of this towering Lutheran parish church, which boasts a bizarrely-stepped concrete and impressive modern architecture. Visitors are welcome to step inside the church without fee, but a trip to the church’s tower has an additional cost. Enjoy an uninterrupted view of the capital city from the church’s tower!

Marvel at the Magic

Northern Lights FAQs

Can I see the northern lights on a cruise?

Whilst it’s not guaranteed to catch a glimpse of this elusive natural phenomenon at sea, it’s not always impossible. There are several cruise lines that offer cruise packages tailored for northern lights viewing, including P&O Cruises, Cunard Line and Fred. Olsen Cruises.

How to spot the Northern Lights?

First things first, plan your trip accordingly and time your holiday during the active northern lights season. Head north anywhere near or above the Arctic Circle for the best chances to see the light display. Avoid places with high light pollution as the natural phenomenon is visible predominantly in darkness. Don’t forget to check the weather and space forecast as well; the skies need to be clear and starry! Remember that patience is the virtue that you need to have if you want to witness the stunning light display as they can be pretty elusive and rare.

What should I pack on a Northern Lights cruise?

Here’s a recommended list of essentials that you need to bring on a Northern Lights cruise:

  • Camera and memory card
  • Windproof jacket/Warm sweater/Fleece
  • Base layers
  • Thermal suite
  • Binoculars
  • Gloves/mittens
  • Warmers & Scarf
  • Footwear
  • Wool socks

When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

Winter is the prime season for northern lights hunting and viewing. Generally, the best month for viewing the northern lights would be anywhere between late September and late March. In Northern Europe, the long and dark nights happen between December and February, and some regions experience polar nights where the sun doesn’t rise at all, increasing the chance for northern lights sightings. Meanwhile, the best time of the day to catch a glimpse of this light display is during the night between 11 pm and 2 am.

Which countries have Northern Lights?

The northern lights commonly occur in the countries in the Northern Hemisphere, somewhere near or within the Arctic Circle. The top destinations are the Nordic countries, including Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. You can also chase after the spectacular light display in Alaska, Canada, Russia and southern Greenland.

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