It has inspired legends, stoked the fire of superstition and captured the imagination of humankind for thousands of years. It is on the bucket lists of many travellers and journeys to spots around the world where it can be viewed are often once in a lifetime experiences. Here are some spots around the world where you can view this magical display.
Being able to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland makes it one of the most stunning places to visit in the world. The iconic Grotta Lighthouse is a pilgrimage for people who chase the Northern Lights. If you are a fan of astronomy or the night sky in general, I would take an evening tour to Perlan. This planetarium towers above a lush forest, and with the light pollution of the city below, a dazzling view of the night sky is laid bare for all to see. Your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik is between late August and early April.
In North America, Alaska stands as the crown jewel, a stunning example of the continent’s unspoiled natural beauty. In the land of the midnight sun, the best time to see the Northern Lights is between late August and the middle of April. If you hop on a cheap flight from Canada or the Northern States of the US, you will be able to experience the wonder of Denali National Park and skies unmuted by man-made lights.
The Scottish Archipelago of Orkney has a lot to offer travellers interested in visiting amazing sights off the beaten path and those interested in seeing the Northern Lights in a heart-stopping setting. It is the home of Neolithic monuments thousands of years old, and breathtaking sandstone cliffs. In the Autumn and Winter when the chilling weather brings clear skies, the Northern Lights can be seen on the horizon.
Less than 500 kilometres from the Arctic Circle in the city of Tromsø. Surrounded by the majestic Lyngen Alps it is one of the most famous viewing points for the Northern Lights. You can take in the beautiful scenery Norway has to offer, including its dazzling fjords by day and the dancing lights in the sky at night. If you want to view the lights away from the city, Norway’s beautiful Loften Islands are dotted with quaint villages that look like they have jumped out of a masterpiece. The best time to view the Northern Lights in Tromsø is from Mid September to late March. But if you go in January and February you can catch the city's Northern Lights Festival, a hotly anticipated 10-day music and arts festival.
Near the Khibiny Mountains on Russia’s Kola Peninsula is the small town of Kirovsk. Take a short flight from Moscow or St Petersburg and you can find yourself amid the ski resorts of this Northern European town famed for its grim beauty. Kirovsk is a haven for ice skaters and those brave souls who push themselves to the limits by cutting holes in frozen lakes and swimming in the frigid water. You can book a Northern Lights Tour or travel yourself to an elevated spot to watch the lights do the hopak in the sky.
Bonus Hint: Mount Wellington Tasmania
While we have been speaking about the Northern Lights, this wonder of nature has an equally spectacular sister to the south, the Aurors Australis or southern lights. One of the easiest places to see this wondrous light display is from Mount Wellington in Tasmania. A dedicated skywatcher has a chance of seeing the lights on any given clear night of the year with the odds increasing in late March and September. The very best spot in the state is located just outside of Hobart on Mount Wellington where unobstructed views give you the best seat in the house to watch nature in all her glory.
While the Northern Lights are a good enough reason alone to travel, the best advice I can give is not to choose your destination solely because of the lights. They are a natural phenomenon that makes them unpredictable. Anything from bad weather to choosing the wrong viewing spot could prevent you from seeing them. If you take in the culture, scenery, food and enjoy the people of the area you are visiting just as you would do on any trip, you won't go wrong. It may be worth joining a tour group with an experienced guide who can advise and direct you to the best spots. Because pictures of many of the planet’s wonders are so ubiquitous, we take for granted how much of a privilege it is to bear witness to them in person. We see them in movies or the television and think we simply need to show up and they will be there for us. Seeing the lights takes planning and forethought.
The Northern Lights is a good lesson in how you have to work for the beautiful, plan for the special and do your hardest to be there on those rare occasions when the sky decides to dance.