23 October 2017
A trip to see the iconic Northern Lights – which illuminate select skies across the world – is something which features on the bucket list of most intrepid travellers. Tick this item off with our help, as we unveil three places to go if you’re looking to spot this elusive phenomenon.
The Northern Lights have captivated the human imagination since time immemorial. They are a display of bright, dancing lights which come in a multitude of colours and can be seen when the skies are clear at night. It’s hard to describe exactly what they look like, as no two displays are ever the same. They often resemble ‘spikes’ or ‘curtains’ of ebbing and flowing lights in shades like emerald, ruby and gold, which amaze everyone who sees them.
Also known as the Aurora Borealis, these lights only appear at a latitude of 66 to 69 degrees north. This means that you can only see these displays if you travel within 60km of the Arctic Circle, so to spot them you’ve got to head north. It’s not impossible to come across the Aurora Borealis in places as far south as Scotland, Idaho and Hokkaido, Japan. But to increase your chances of a successful sighting, it’s a good idea to head further north, and we suggest you try the following three locations…
Delve into a winter wonderland with a trip to Finland. It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in the Artic Finnish province of Lapland, with sightings often occurring between August and April. For a unique experience head to Kakslauttanen in Lapland, where you can enjoy cosy wooden cabins while waiting to glimpse the Aurora Borealis in futuristic glass igloos. Another great spot for Northern Lights hunting is the Lappish town of Ylläs. Come here and you’ll find that the street lights are turned off every night in winter from 10pm, so it’s easier to spot this scenic phenomenon lighting up the sky.
Experts claim you’re almost guaranteed to see the Aurora Borealis if you stay in Paatsjoki. Many sightings have been recorded from this Lappish town’s iconic Bøkfjord Bridge. There are plenty of other things to see and do in Lapland as well. Make the most of your time by hiking through the forests of Pallas–Yllästunturi National Park, meeting Arctic species like polar bears in Rauna Wildlife Park and learning about traditional Sami culture at the Siida museum located on the scenic Lake Inari.
You’ll have a good chance of sighting the Northern Lights if you fly up to remote Greenland. This distant nation is relatively undeveloped, with a sparse population so it doesn’t have a lot of light pollution. You can often catch the iridescent colours of the Northern lights almost anywhere here, even while wandering the streets of national capital Nuuk. This city is a winter wonderland waiting to be discovered, known for its dramatic fjords, cascading waterfalls and imposing icebergs.
Maximise your chances of spotting the Aurora Borealis in Greenland by visiting in autumn or winter. Stay in the country’s southerly ‘Northern Lights belt’ area, where the phenomenon is strongest. One of the best places to find the lights is Kangerlussuaq in West-Greenland, situated in the middle of the belt, which is famous for its unique ice cap. Another great location is Ilulissat on the west coast, where you can also visit the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and go dog sledding.
Whisk yourself away for an adventure in Alaska. The US’ largest state is heralded as the best place in the country to observe the Northern Lights, and you can catch them in any season except summer. One spot for your itinerary is the city of Fairbanks. It’s Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska puts out forecasts telling you what time of the day you’ve got the best chance of seeing them. Another ideal location for Aurora Borealis seekers is Manley Hot Springs – a stone’s throw from Fairbanks, where you can observe this phenomenon from the comfort of a spring-fed hot tub.
Other Alaskan destinations to visit on your quest to see the Northern Lights include Denali National Park – where you can count on clear skies due to a lack of light pollution, and the remote town of Nome. While you’re in Alaska, explore the region’s natural heritage. Trek across the expansive Harding Ice Field at Kenai Fjords National Park, ride the almost-vertical Mount Roberts Tramway and gain panoramic views of state capital Juneau, or stroll along Alaska’s secluded beach at Kincaid Park.