I will never forget the night I was in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, and experienced the Northern Lights show. Down at the waters edge with our backs to the city lights, such as they were, we watched entranced as pink and green curtains of light rippled across the sky. It was a magical moment – actually over an hour.
Currently, because of the solar maximum, conditions are at their best for seeing the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. NASA predicts there will be a double peak during this cycle with the first this winter and the second next winter. It’s never been a better time to head north to hunt the Northern lights or Fire Fox as the Sami people call it.
The Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, is a phenomena caused by electrically charged particles emitted from sunspots and carried by solar winds to our planet. Here the earth’s magnetic fields divert them. Some of the particles enter our atmosphere and collide with the oxygen and nitrogen gasses around the polar regions producing the lights. Auroral ovals form around the poles which move and distort as the earth rotates producing the flickering curtain like movement we associate with the Northern Lights.
You need to head north for the greatest chance of seeing the Northern Lights. In Europe that means heading to the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland. There are a number of tour operators offering Northern Light holidays over the next two winters and I have chosen just a few of those available.
If there is one thing that is likely to disappoint on a Northern Lights holiday it is cloud cover. Abisko, the self-styled “Northern Lights Capital” has, because of its unique location, the greatest number of cloud free nights in Northern Scandinavia. This means you have the best chance of seeing the Aurora. To get there: There are flights from Gatwick and Heathrow to Kiruna via Stockholm, Oslo or Copenhagen. The Aurora Zone offers holidays at Abisko combining other activities and a stay in the ICEHOTEL®
Researching for this post I discovered that there were more Northern Light holidays to Finland than any other Nordic Country. The following are two of the best:
Harriniva, near the village of Muonio, has a great reputation for Northern Lights sitings. It is also a great place for winter activities. The unpredictability of the Aurora means it is wise to have a holiday where other activities are on offer. Here you can hunt for the Northern Lights on a snowmobile or husky safari staying in a remote wilderness cabin overnight. To get there: There are flights from UK airports via Helsinki to Kittilia. This holiday can be booked through the Aurora Zone
Imagine lying in bed in your own heated igloo staring up at the Northern Lights flickering across the sky through a glass roof or stepping outside your own traditional cabin and watching them right from the front doorstep. Kakslauttanen Holiday Village on the Saariselka Fells in Finnish Lapland offers both these accommodation options. There are plenty of other activity options, including a reindeer safari, if the Northern Lights don’t show up. To get there: There are flights from UK airports via Helsinki to the nearest airport Ivalo. Discover the World offer this destination among their Northern Lights holidays. Taber Holidays also offer Kakslauttanen
This one is my favourite being a photographer. The Great Aurora Hunt from Taber Holidays is based in the stunning Lofoten Islands off the coast of Norway and is focussed on capturing the Northern lights on camera. It is led by Andy Keen a veteran of photographing the Northern Lights. A selection of Andy’s photographs is featured below with more on the Taber Holidays website. During the day there is expert tuition on photographing not only the Northern Lights but also the seascapes and landscapes of the Lofotens. The evenings and the night are spent hunting and photographing the Northern Lights. To get there: Flights with Norwegian from London direct or via Oslo
The stunning and dramatic landscapes and geothermal activity make Iceland a great destination to visit without the added bonus of a Northern Lights show. Staying in a modern designer wilderness cabin with views of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano – the one made infamous by it’s ash cloud – away from most light pollution means you have a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights. This a private tour with a guide who will wake you if the Northern Lights put in an appearance while you are a sleep. You can combine the trip with any number of tours to Iceland’s many natural attractions. To get there: There are flights from several UK regional airports to Reykjavik. Aurora Nights offer this holiday.
Always remember that the Northern Lights are a natural phenomena and are not as predictable as we would like. Seeing them is also dependant on the weather too. It is wise there fore to choose a holiday where there are other activities on offer.
Other more remote places in Northern Europe are Greenland, Spitsbergen and Russia. All these destinations are offered by Taber Holidays. However because of their remoteness you will need more time and perhaps a little more money but for a once in a life time experience…
Flights: A number of airlines serve the Nordic countries. Visit Skyscanner (£) for the best deals
For those wanting to know more: There are a number of books and DVDs about the Northern Lights. You can discover some of them in the Travel Unpacked Shop (£)