Is watching the grandeur and glory of the breathtaking celestial display called ‘Northern Lights’, also known as aurora borealis, on your bucket list? This phantasmagorical phenomenon named after a Roman goddess has people raving about it across the globe and many are in hot pursuit of these flickering, slithering gorgeously amazing lights in the sky.
I understand that planning a trip takes time and money. The practical tips below will help you minimize disappointments and increase your odds to see one of the most beautiful astronomical curtains of lights.
Tips Of When Is The Best Time To Go:
1. Go during the fall or winter months when the nights are longer. September to April are good months. However, note that winter months up north could also be brutally cold, so most people opt during the months of September, October, March and April.
2. The clearer the sky is, the more chances of seeing them. Monitor the weather – closely. Rain, snow or rain decreases your chances of seeing the northern lights, which is the “gamble” part of arranging your tour. You cannot predict the weather months or weeks in advance when you are planning your trip. This bring me to my next point…
3. Duration of your trip – If your main purpose for your trip is to see the northern lights and do not necessarily have to follow a strict tour schedule at night, make sure you have several nights open to look for the lights. Some people I have met only saw the lights on their 3rd or 4th try. Even with that, of course, there are still no guarantees, but it increases your chances.
Personally, my friends and I got really lucky that we saw it on our first try! But…there is a story behind that. You will read in tip #5 below.
4. Visit northern lights prediction websites. Here is a couple that I personally used: http://www.spaceweather.com/ and https://www.spaceweatherlive.com/en/auroral-activity/auroral-oval, but there are also other websites out there, such as www.aurora-service.org and www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast.
Just like rain, there is also prediction for northern lights. However, aurora predictions are only good within 24 hours, so you cannot plan your trip months in advance and expect guarantees to see the northern lights. This is mother nature after all.
5. Switch tour days if you need to. Don’t think the agency won’t be considerate! No harm in asking – My friends and I have scheduled a northern lights tour on a Wednesday night but after looking at the weather and the northern lights prediction (as advised above), we called our tour agency to move it to the following day. They were fine with it with no penalties. Best decision ever. The people who went on that particular Wednesday night got snow and didn’t see anything, but for us, we got an awesome display of lights with clear skies the following day.
So what is the lesson to be learned here: make sure you have internet access wherever you are going, so you can check the weather and northern lights prediction!
The Best Spots To View This Astronomical Magnificence:
Though you can never really predict when these solar winds will take place and bestow upon you a one-of-kind lightshow.
- Go to a place with very little light pollution. This is why most tour companies will drive and take you away from the city.
- Go as far north as possible.
Here is a list of places that might offer an opportunity at this viewing this phenomenon:
1. Svalbard in Norway
One tip we could give you is that any place that is higher in latitude will give you more chances of viewing the polar lights, then regions in low latitudes. From November to February, you can witness the aurora in the blue twilight as Svalbard doesnt have daylight for a few months.
2. Kakslauttanen in Finland
Either watch the northern lights from your very own glass igloo or enjoy the display from a log cabin in a sauna.
3. Jukkasjärvi in Sweden
Stay at an ice hotel here and go for a northern lights tour at night.
4. Reykjavik in Iceland
One of the more affordable places, Reykjavik has been gaining popularity for polar lights viewing chances and the many fun activities that you can do here.
5. Northern Canada
Here you can catch the Aurora Oval, which occurs almost everywhere in Canada.
Scotland has a zillion opportunities for viewing the Aurora Borealis as the coast of Caithness offers an excellent viewing point.
7. Alaska & Greenland
Northern lights occur all year here and so do daytime lights, but you can’t see those in the sunlight.
Other Practical Tips:
- This goes without saying – dress warmly. They said, the colder it is, the more chances of seeing aurora borealis.
- Ask a friend to teach you how to work your camera before going. You don’t want to be fumbling with the settings of your camera in the dark. Plus, it is really cold, so your fingers will be frozen. It is hard to keep adjusting your camera settings with frozen fingers. Yup, this was me. I really wanted to capture the moment but now I am playing with my camera instead of just enjoying the wonderful display in front of me. If you must know, I chose to enjoy the moment. The picture is in my head. Bottom line, know what to do before going.
Good luck and may the night sky bursts into a sheer dazzle of colored lights that dance and slither and curve and ripple through the whole sky when you go.
Featured image by Stefan Stefancik