Witnessing the Northern Lights – or Aurora Borealis – is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list experience that you’ll never forget, but where exactly should you go and in which month to stand the best chance of seeing nature’s elusive light show?
I’ve been to the Arctic Circle four or five times in the winter hoping to see the Northern Lights, and I’ve seen a faint glimmer only once, by chance, while I was standing round a bonfire in a forest in Finnish Lapland, waiting for the kids to visit ‘Santa’ in his cottage in the woods.
My previous trips included spending a night in a tent with a Sami guide in Lapland, during which the sky remained stubbornly dark; once I slept in a glass igloo in the hope that I’d be woken by lights dancing across the sky, but I wasn’t; and once I spent hours driving through the wilderness ‘chasing’ the Northern Lights, which we never found. I even took a cruise along the Norwegian coastline in the dead of winter, expecting to see the Aurora Borealis out in the sea where there’s no light pollution, but no, I was unlucky.
So I’ve been researching how to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, and here is what I discovered you should do:
The lights are caused by geometric storms, which are actually very common in the Arctic Circle, so you could go to Finland, Sweden, Norway or Iceland, but to actually see the lights you need dark, clear skies and little or no light pollution from the ground, which means heading out into the wildnerness.
Many people chasing the Aurora Borealis stay in Tromso in Norway or Reykjavik in Iceland and take nightly excursions from the cities to more remote locations to get away from light pollution, but this limits their opportunity to see the lights, which most frequently occur between the hours of 10pm and 11pm but can suddenly appear in the early hours.
Instead, specialist travel company Aurora Zone takes guests to remoter locations, such as Utsjoki in Finland and Abiso in Sweden.
Luxeadventuretraveler.com, which has an interesting post on the Nothern Lights, also recommends staying on an Icelandic Farm instead of Reykjavik if the purpose of the trip is to see the lights. Seems like a great idea, if you don’t mind staying in the middle of nowhere!
Okay, I was unlucky, I didn’t see the lights on my cruise, but Hurtigruten, a Norwegian cruise company, is so certain that you will see the Aurora Borealis from its decks that it offers a Northern Lights guarantee on all its classic cruises from October to March so if you don’t see the lights, you’ll get a free trip.
Travel in …
February if you are going to Norway as this is typically the driest month, so the time when there is likely to be clearer skies; if you’re going to Iceland, early April is the driest time. Luxeadventuretraveler.com recommends you go to Abisko, which is the driest place place in Sweden.
Aurora app, which will show your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in your given location and check out the Space Weather Prediction Centre Aurora Forecast or the Aurora three-day forecast so you’ll know whether to go to bed or wait up all night for the show!
If you can, you might want to consider postponing your trip because 2020 isn’t looking like the best year to see the Northern Lights because we’re at the slow end of an 11-year cycle for solar activity. That’s not to say that you won’t see the Aurora Borealis if you go this winter, but your chances might increase if you wait another four or five years.
Have you seen the Northern Lights? Let us know where and when and if you have any tips to help us find them!