The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis is a magical display of lights in the night sky- and it happens in only a few places in the world. There is a similar, majestic display in the southern hemisphere, called the Southern lights or Aurora Australia. It occurs when solar particles bump into atmospheric gasses. This clash creates a neon light-show that can last from anywhere between a few minutes to a few days. The best time to view the lights are on cold, dark evenings- in more remote destinations where city lights won’t obscure the view.
While you can spot them in places like the Faroe Islands, Scotland and China, the best places to view the Northern Lights are located in the ‘aurora zone’- about 2000-3000 kilometres from the magnetic North pole. Here are a few places where you are most likely to see them:
- Alaska, USA
The cold weather, clear skies and dark nights in Alaska create the perfect conditions for watching the Northern Lights. While it is possible to see the Northern Lights from nearly anywhere in Alaska, Fairbanks is especially good to see them. Winter is the best time to see them, although it is possible to see them throughout the year. There are a number of viewing options available which includes viewing from hot springs, from air, while dog sledding or just from a rented cabin or lodge.
The Northern Lights can be seen nearly every second night between September and March in northern Finland. Kakslauttanen is an especially popular area for viewing as you can rent glass igloos from which to view the lights without braving the cold. If viewing from inside a glass igloo or cabin is not your thing, try the snowmobile safaris, reindeer sleigh trips or ice floating.
Many of the Northern regions in Russia is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights as a large part of the country lays within the Arctic Circle. The areas around St. Petersburg, however, is a bit more accessible to tourists while still making for great viewing. Areas like Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Petrozavodsk are especially popular for viewing the Northern Lights. The best times to view the lights are between September and March. In January and December there are about 6 weeks where some northern areas get no sun- making it a particularly good time to see the light display.
Sweden offer a (slightly) warmer destination to view the Northern Lights due to the Gulf Stream. You should be able to see the light display from most places in Sweden provided that you are far enough away from the light pollution caused by cities. Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights does increase if you travel further, to the Northern border with Norway. The best time to view the lights here is between September and March.
As with Russia, a large part of Greenland is situated inside the ‘aurora zone’. It is less touristy than Iceland with no roads, leaving travel to, from and around limited to planes and boats. The upside here is that you might just be the only people present to view the Northern Lights in this area. It’s best to look for the Northern Lights from Southern Greenland (the north no longer lays in the aurora zone). Suggested places are Ilulissat or Nuuk and the best time to go is mid-August to late April.
When going to see the Northern Lights it is a good idea to book a few nights at the destination. The lights do not appear every night, but when they do… let’s just say the wait and the trip is undeniably worth it!
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com