If chasing the Northern Lights tops of your bucket list, there is some good news on the horizon.
According to an article published in Space.com, based on scientific data, the next four to five years will be the best time to see the Northern Lights in this solar cycle. Exciting, isn’t?
However, being at the right time at the right place certainly helps when it comes to boosting your chances of catching this spectacular display of dancing lights. That’s why we have created this guide to the five most desirable places to see the Northern Lights in Europe.
But first, a bit about the ideal conditions that can increase your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. As you can appreciate it is a natural phenomenon so while you may be armed with the best information and tips, there’s no certainty that you will get to see them. But it does help to time your visit in a manner that the odds are in your favour. This includes looking out for near-perfect weather conditions, narrowing down on the countries where you may want to plan your travel as well as subscribing to Aurora alert services.
Place your bets on clear skies and cold nights
Dark and clear skies during the cold winter months between September to March are ideal for sighting of the Northern Lights. In terms of timing, it is usually observed that the lights appear strongest between 10 pm and 2 am, though the best sightings often take place between 11 pm and midnight. Which means that if you have devoted five days to a location, it may help to fine-tune your itinerary in a manner that you devote certain nights for Aurora sighting tours, and the rest of the day for other sightseeing.
Northen Lights – the Big Five in Europe
A number of cities and countries in Europe benefit from great Northern Lights displays. However, we have zeroed down on the following five in terms of their convenient locations as also their popularity with experienced Aurora-chasers.
Iceland is famous for many things – its surreal, rugged landscapes as well as being one of the most sought-after destinations in Europe to chase the Northern Lights.
Seasoned travellers are of the opinion that places like the Grótta lighthouse, on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula in the north-westernmost point of Reykjavik, Jökulsárlón, Reynisfjara, and the villages of Vík í Mýrdal, Höfn, and Hella feature should be in your Iceland itinerary if you are looking to see these spectacular displays of dancing lights. If you don’t want to stray too far from Reykjavik, you will find yourself heading to the heaths, which are only a short drive away but have very little light pollution.
It certainly helps that Iceland offers an array of interesting destinations and places of natural beauty if you were unsuccessful in spotting the lights. If you are a Star Wars fan, you can visit Eyjafjallajokull Glacier; it was the location for several Star Wars scenes and is stunning to take in. (Don’t stress if you can’t pronounce the Glacier’s name; we can’t either! It comes an Icelandic phrase meaning “the island’s mountain glacier.”) There’s also the Blue Lagoon in Iceland which maintains its position as a major tourist draw, and for good reasons. Your trip to Iceland can be a mix of many things, including adventure, and relaxation and that is why, it is on the top of our list.
The Shetland Isles are located on the northernmost tip of Scotland. These consist of about 100 islands and are considered to be one of the best places in Scotland to catch the Northern Lights.
Having said that, along with the Isles, the Scottish Highlands also figure on the Northern Lights itinerary. The Isle of Skye boasts of nine dark sky discovery sites, and with no light pollution at these sites, they offer some ideal conditions to watch the sky. Do also keep in mind that Galloway Forest Park, which is the only Dark Sky Park in Scotland, situated on the Borders, is a highly rated destination for spotting the ‘Mirrie Dancers,’ as the lights are often referred to in Scotland.
Of course, Scotland offers so much more, and your trip can accommodate a day in Edinburgh or to Glasgow as well. For those travelling from Ireland, Scotland proximity to the Emerald Isle affords it extra brownie points.
Tromsø’s northern location ranks it higher on Norther Light chasers’ wish list. Also known as Norway’s gateway to the Artic, it is breathtaking when showing off its rugged, snow-capped landscape. It’s worth keeping in mind that between late September and late March, Northern Norway is dark from early afternoon until late morning. During these hours, the Northern Lights are frequently sighted in the skies.
You can also fit in many winter adventure activities in your Tromsø’ adventure. Whether it is reindeer-sledding, whale safari or skiing, you will find yourself with plenty to do and see.
Absiko in Sweden Lapland is a hot favourite with Aurora-chasers across the world. It boasts of the Aurora Sky Station, which is an observation center on top of the mountain, and you can avail yourself of the chairlift facility to take you there.
Many professional aurora guides are also available in and around the Absiko National Park and they help with getting you some of the best photographs and opportunities to see the Northern Lights. Some guides provide packages that come replete with a DSLR camera and lens that is preset to capture the Northern Lights and also quickly go over the basic skills that you will need to find and photograph the magical aurora borealis. Needless to say, it comes with a price tag, but for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s probably worth getting some professional help. What do you think?
You may well be familiar with Rovaniemi. Afterall, it’s known as the official hometown of Santa Claus. And if you were an ardent Aurora-pursuer, your wish list to Santa would obviously be very easy to decipher!
In Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland, you can witness Auroras dancing in the sky through a glass igloo’s roof or go hunting them with a local guide. Or you could chase them on a reindeer sleigh or a snow mobile… the options are endless. The Visit Rovaniemi website has a special section on Northern Lights, and it suggests that you download the Aurora Alert app on your mobile phone so that you don’t miss them by any chance. Your luck will for certain be super charged, as the Northern Lights are (roughly) visible for 200 nights a year in Finland. However, do remember please, that the Northern Lights are a bit of a diva. They appear when they want to, and so while nothing is certain, you have to just double up on patience, and wait for the ‘green lady’ to make an appearance and put on a show!
Aurora Alerts Services – Helping you spot the Diva in the Dark Skies Dance Floor!
Aurora Alerts Europe: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/ My Aurora Forecast (available in Apple Store/for Apple users) – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/my-aurora-forecast-alerts/id1073082439 SpaceWeatherLive: https://www.spaceweatherlive.com/
You can also find a sense of community and inspiration in the various Facebook groups that are exclusively devoted to Northern Lights. Members post photographs, share stories and tips, and also give location and camera details.
Prerna Shah is a freelance travel and food writer