The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, are a magnificent spectacle of light and color. The streaming colors, usually variations of green and pink, are the result of particles from the sun colliding with upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. The sun’s charged particles are drawn towards Earth’s magnetic poles, which means these dancing lights occur both in the north as well as the south. Many find the aurora australis, southern lights, more difficult to catch but they can be seen in a few places such as the southern parts of New Zealand and Argentina. The northern lights can be easier to see because they pass through parts of Canada, Greenland, northern Europe, Russia and elsewhere.
For those wanting to see this natural light show in the north firsthand, some of the best times to go are during the winter when the northern hemisphere is darkest. It also tends to be less cloudy during this time, increasing the chances of getting a good show. The lights are also more active during solar flares, which can be hard to predict but typically follow an 11-year pattern of solar activity. While it is hard to guarantee what one will find when hunting for the northern lights, some of the most popular places to go are Norway, Sweden and Iceland.
1. Norway Norway is often noted as one of the best places to see the northern lights. There is even a Norway Lights App that calculates and predicts when the best times to see the northern lights are. Norway has a variety of vacation packages that include cruises, hikes, dogsledding and camping. Dogsled tours in Spitsbergen take visitors on a 4-hour guided tour during the winter nights where they can see the northern lights while sledding with a dog team of six huskies. One of the most popular destinations in Norway to see the northern lights is in Tromsø where there are opportunities to camp in the wilderness where there is no light pollution to obstruct the view of the night sky. Tromsø also has museums, hikes, festivals and other activities to do during the day.
Sweden’s Abisko National Park is another great location to see the northern lights. The Aurora Sky Station offers a chair lift ride to the station’s observation tower, gourmet dinner and educational exhibits on the northern lights. During the summer visitors can also go to see the midnight sun. In Jukkasjärvi travelers can see the northern lights while staying in one of the world’s first ice hotels. Jukkasjärvi also offers tours to the Esrange Space Center, wilderness camps, sledding and winter sports.
Northern lights can also be seen throughout parts of Iceland. Boat tours in Reykjavik allow visitors to see the lights from a sailboat. There are also opportunities to view the northern lights while also enjoying Iceland’s geothermal hot springs and spas. Travelers can also opt to spend a few nights in a clear bubble and have an unobstructed view of the sky all night long. These bubble rooms come with a variety of sizes and accommodations and are located outside of Reykjavik.