The Aurora Borealis, aka The Northern Lights. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, but unlike the other wonders you have no guarantee that you’ll even get a glimpse of its beauty when you get to your destination. It is an elusive luxury money can’t buy. For this reason we’ve compiled a list of top destinations that offer the traveller something amazing to do while waiting for the best light show on the planet to show up!
Tromso is billed as the best place in THE WORLD to see the Northern Lights. It is a gorgeous historic city, 350 km north of the Arctic Circle, with colourful timber buildings that look magical against the rugged and snowy terrain. The Aurora is so strong here that (should they show) you’ll even be able to see the lights from your hotel window in the city!
- Whale Watching: Take to the water to watch migrating Orca and Humpback whales in the fjords of Norway. These tours often have an option to stay overnight in a glass-roofed cabin to watch the skies at night.
- Snow Mobile Safari: An action packed day where you get to grips with handling a snow mobile before heading off to explore the fjords, mountains and spectacular views of Tromso.
- Sami Culture Reindeer Experiences: Options to take a sledding experience with the Sami during the day, or to join the herders in an overnight camp. Both offer an excellent opportunity for immersing yourself in the culture of the tribe, but opting for the camp comes with an extra opportunity to view the Northern Lights.
Situated slightly south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland isn’t positioned quite as well as Tromso for light spotting, but there’s still no need to head to the hills to see the spectacle, you can get a good view even in the city should the Northern Lights show. The city itself is a wonder of colourful buildings and interesting architecture with plenty to see and do while you are here.
- Icelandic Horse Riding Tour: The Icelandic horse is the perfect way to explore the natural beauty of Iceland in total peace. Tours are kept small and usually only in the south of the island during the harsh winters – more to protect people than these hardy horses!
- Explore Lava Tunnels: It may not be the longest, but the best known and possibly most beautiful lava tunnel is in Raufarhólshellir in the south-west. Dazzling rock formations, rainbow coloured walls and magnificent mosses make it almost as magnificent as the Aurora Borealis.
- The Blue Lagoon: An other-worldly geothermal spa in a lava field. As well as providing a surreal spa experience, the Blue Lagoon has a wealth of amazing pampering treatments including complimentary treatments at the mask bar where you can enjoy the revitalising wonders of the natural minerals found here.
The Best Times To See The Northern Lights
The solar cycle dictates when you are more likely to see the Northern Lights. It has an 11 year cycle – the next peak (so the year you are most likely to see the lights at one of these destinations) is 2025!
The best time of the year to see The Aurora Borealis is from late September to March when the phenomenon is more active and the skies are at their darkest. Having said that there is a peak in the action around the autumn and spring equinoxes.
Time of day is also important! Expect to see the lights any time from 6pm until 4am – again there is a peak in performance usually around 11pm/midnight.
And the weather… unless there is a clear sky there will be very little to see even if there is a massive solar storm raging in the skies above. Later in the season is likely to be less cloudy.
Once a gold-rush territory, Yukon in Canada makes the most of a different type of glittering natural resource to attract visitors – the promise of shimmering night skies. Yukon is just 12km north of the Arctic Circle and is very sparsely populated, the ideal Northern Lights destination if escaping modern life is top of your agenda! But what is there to do if the lights don’t show? Let’s find out:
- Be a Culture Vulture: Connect with the history of the gold rush and try your hand at panning for gold at The MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Or step back even further in time, 26,000 years perhaps, explore the natural history of Yukon at the Beringia Interpretive Center – home to the oldest and best preserved Yukon Horse, as well as wooly mammoth and giant beaver replicas, and fossil collections.
- Yukon Wildlife Preserve: If living things are more your thing, take to skis, snow shoes, or catch a tour bus to go see caribou, elk, lynx and bison that have been rehabilitated after injury and released by the animal-loving staff at the preserve. The three mile loop is home to over 180 individual animals in 350 acres of beautiful landscape.
- Dog Sledding: Multi-day winter dog-sledding trips are one way to get your fill of arctic wonder! Join an experienced musher and their four-legged friends for training and then a few days of using and honing those sledding skills. Choices to camp under the stars or in a lodge.
Don’t forget your wintersports travel insurance! Ski and snowboard insurance that covers a wide range of winter sports and your equipment too!