Four ways to see the Northern Lights

Have you written a travel bucket list? If you have, chances are it includes aurora borealis, aka the Northern Lights. Elusive and beautiful, it’s no wonder this is often referred to as the greatest show on earth.

Still waiting to tick the Northern Lights off your bucket list? Fancy experiencing this stunning natural phenomenon again? Either way, read on to find out some of the best ways to improve your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

What are the Northern Lights?

Here’s the science bit – put simply, the Northern Lights are a result of charged solar particles from the sun reacting with particles in the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. This collision of particles takes place in the magnetic North and South Pole’s, creating that famous green glow – although it can sometimes be blue, yellow, red or violet. It happens all through the year, but the Northern Lights are only visible to the human eye during the very darkest nights in the northern hemisphere.

Where can I see the Northern Lights?

If you want to check out the lights between October and March, your best bet is to head to a destination situated north of the Arctic Circle. Early sunsets during this part of the year mean more hours of darkness – and that means more hours of the day where you’ll have a better chance of seeing the lights.

Pick a destination that’s inland – if you can find somewhere mountainous, that’s even better as the peaks help to ensure a clear sky – vital for catching a glimpse of those elusive lights. A viewing spot that’s set far away from built up areas is best, as any light pollution in the night sky will hinder your chances of seeing the lights.

Wherever you choose to go, check out our travel tips to ensure you enjoy a safe holiday.

What time of day am I most likely to see the lights?

After twilight or just before dawn. Make sure you wrap up warm – it’s likely to be chilly at these times of the day, and you could be waiting a while.

Will I definitely see the lights?

Sadly, there’s no guarantee you’ll see the lights. Wherever you choose to go, you’ll need to go with a generous dose of patience (not to mention a sprinkling of luck…)

Four travel destinations to see the Northern Lights

  1. FINLAND

The Northern Lights have been spotted as early as August here, but the best time to visit is between September and November, before the heavy snowfall. March and April are a good possibility too, although the days are longer so there are fewer hours of darkness.

Low population numbers in Finland allow for tranquil night skies and limited levels of light pollution. And there are many beautiful, scenic lakes which offer the perfect photo opportunity if you’re lucky enough to see the lights.

In Rovaniemi (the official hometown of Santa Claus) you will have an estimated 40% chance of seeing the lights on a clear night. To avoid the crowds (and that heavy snowfall we mentioned earlier), you’ll probably want to avoid visiting during December.

Why not hire a log or glass cabin? Many have saunas, log fires and electric heating, so they are a wonderful way to keep warm and cosy while waiting to see the lights.

  1. SWEDEN

Sweden has the lowest population levels in Europe, so this is another country with low levels of light pollution. Temperatures tend to remain mild until the middle of November, so this destination might offer slightly better weather conditions for your trip. For the best chances of seeing the lights, aim to visit between September and March. There are plenty of daytime activities to keep you busy, including husky sledding, Swedish Lapland tours and skiing.

Consider visiting the remote town of Abisko for a decent chance of seeing the lights. It boasts a reputation as “probably the best place on Earth for consistent sightings of the Northern Lights”. You’ll find it up in the mountains, where the winds help to keep the skies clear and the temperatures regulated. While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to take a chairlift ride to the Aurora Sky Station on Mount Nuolja. There’s even a mountain side restaurant at the top! Don’t forget to wrap up warm – it will definitely be dark and cold, but it offers an unforgettable experience and an increased chance of seeing the lights.

  1. ICELAND

Iceland is a popular, good value destination with plenty of activities on offer, even if you aren’t lucky enough to see the light show – think 4x4 tours, geysers, volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, boat cruises and the Blue Lagoon.

Known as the Land of Fire and Ice, this island has a population of around 350,000. During the winter months, the hours of darkness can be up to 19 per day, so it’s pretty easy to find a dark place here.

For your best chance of seeing the lights, visit Iceland between October and the end of March.

  1. UNITED KINGDOM

Although places like Canada, Iceland and Scandinavia are often considered the ideal places to catch a view of the spectacular lights, they have actually been seen from the UK – even as far south as Cornwall and Kent.

Having said that, the most likely place to see them in the UK is the Scottish Isles or Highlands, thanks to Scotland’s close proximity to the North Pole.

In England, head to Derwent Water near Keswick in the Lake District. Alternatively, Northumberland country has some of the darkest skies in England – even if you miss the Northern Lights, you might catch a glimpse of the Milky Way or Andromeda galaxy.

Lancaster University’s Aurora Watch keeps track of geomagnetic activity. You can follow them on Twitter for up to the minute information on when to look out for the lights in the UK.

How about the Southern Lights?

Fancy going further afield? Looking for an even bigger challenge? Why not search for the Southern Lights instead? Aurora australis can only be seen in the southern hemisphere, in places such as New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania. Since there is a lot more ocean than land mass in the southern hemisphere, these lights are said to be even more elusive than their northern cousin…