When your winter routine starts to feel stuffy and stale, consider a relaxing trip to the North. It is here that you can cross off one experience from your bucket list: witnessing the wonder and awe of the elusive, electric Northern Lights.
The savvy traveller knows that booking an off-season holiday can be just as rewarding as a summertime trip. Appearing in a variety of vibrant colours, from pale yellow to deep violet, the Northern Lights —also known as the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere — provide a spectacular display in the night sky.
Most commonly, the lights appear in hues of green and pink. To the human eye, the colours aren’t as vivid as you will see in the classic long-exposure photographs, but they are still a beautiful natural spectacle to behold.
Winter provides the ideal opportunity to encounter the Northern Lights. The recipe for a sensational show is simple: dark, clear skies. With the longer winter nights that the northern countries of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway are known for, there are many opportunities to view the dazzling auroral display.
Spend your next holiday relaxing indoors, cosying up with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, and pulling up a front-row seat to view the outstanding light display put on by Mother Nature right outside your window.
See the lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. The country is remote and its landscape is dramatic, providing stunning vistas of mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, and coastline.
Even Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik, has a small-town feel. The city’s quaint size means it doesn’t even put off enough light pollution to hide the Northern Lights from view; they are easily seen from the downtown area. Often, on nights with high aurora activity, Reykjavik will even shut off its lights to give its citizens and tourists a better view!
After enjoying your stay in Reykjavik, consider a drive through the Golden Circle to see such landmarks as Gulfoss and Geysir.
There is plenty in Iceland to do and see by day, and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights to enjoy by night.
Boldly go north to Svalbard, Norway
Northern Norway is another hot spot for watching the Northern Lights flicker over the Arctic. The northernmost cities of Norway are a popular location for viewing the lights, but even further north is the Norwegian island of Svalbard.
Svalbard is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s most northernmost town, and is also home to the world’s most northernmost airport. If the lights shimmering in the sky weren’t enough, reindeer have also been known to roam the streets of Svalbard, and the North Pole is a mere 1300 kilometres away.
Dog-sledding and snowmobiling are common pastimes in this secluded land, but relaxing and taking in the sights of the landscape and the sky provide a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.
The experience of visiting Svalbard is truly otherworldly. Consider a late-winter holiday to this final frontier.
Wrap up and head to Abisko National Park, Sweden
Sweden, Norway’s neighbour, has similar opportunities for enjoying the Northern Lights. Like Iceland and Norway, the north is known for its “Midnight Sun” in the summertime, but the opportunity to view the Northern Lights is of equal intrigue.
Northern Light sightings begin in September and last through until March in the Swedish Lapland. The Aurora Borealis is most famously seen from the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park.
Abisko National Park offers a chairlift to the observation tower. Spend time enjoying the Northern Lights exhibition, grabbing a hot beverage from the cafe, and purchasing a souvenir for your friends back home who will be green with envy.
Winter weather can sometimes inhibit the viewing of the lights, but Abisko has a reputation for clear skies. Seeing the Northern Lights from this vantage point is highly likely.
Where else might I see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are also frequently spotted in Finland, Ireland, and the Denmark territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Winter temperatures in the northern countries of Iceland, Norway, and Sweden typically range from -15C (5F) to 0C (32F). Dress warmly, and don’t let the cold weather dissuade you from the experience of a lifetime!
When to go
While the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen as early as August, the highest-activity months are September through until March.
Aurora activity is higher during winter months, however, a trip does not guarantee a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Check the weather and an Aurora Forecast for your chances of aurora activity based on your location, or strike up a conversation with a friendly local to ask for tips on hunting the aurora. For locals, aurora hunting is a way of life!
Some Northern Light excursions, such as Reykjavik’s Northern Lights cruise, will offer a refund if viewing conditions are poor on your chosen date.
So avoid the influx of summer tourists and the pricier summertime season and plan a visit to see the Northern Lights this February.
Tell me more
To find out more, and see photos that have been adjusted for how the human eye sees the Northern Lights, take a look here and here.