High Five… Northern Lights!

Every year, the more adventurous travellers amongst us shun the sunshine, sea and sand of warmer climes and don their winter thermals instead. And they’re not heading to ski slopes. What they’re looking for is something much bigger than snow covered mountains. They’re going in search of nature’s ultimate phenomenon: the Northern Lights.

There’s nothing quite like witnessing the Aurora Borealis. Watching streaks, wisps, and whole curtains of colour light up the skies is simply mesmerising; there’s no better word for it. But it’s a fickle business, this Northern Lights lark. Only visible at high latitudes on dark nights, the spectacle can appear in all its bright, colourful, glowing glory one night, be firmly obscured by clouds the next, or remain mysteriously absent on others.

Now that's what I call a room with a view | Image courtesy of Jens Ottoson

But wait, don’t give up and pack away your long johns just yet. There’s good news: 2012/2013 is the best time in over a decade to witness the Lights. And as the northern hemisphere heads into the winter months, there’s basically never been a better time than right now to go in search of nature’s very own light show.

Five of the world’s best Northern Lights spots

I’m here to give the Northern Lights a massive High Five, and round up the best places to visit to be in with a chance of glimpsing the arctic aurora.

1. Scotland

If you’ve maxed out your holiday allowance, or can’t get the time away from uni to go a Northern Lights holiday, don’t fret! You can witness the aurora from your own backyard – well, practically. All it’ll take it a hop, skip and a jump up to the north of Scotland.

The best time to go is in January, but you’ll be in with a chance on any clear, dark night in autumn and winter. Heading to Orkney or Thurso is your best bet for catching a glimpse of the colourful extravaganza, so use the Northern Lights as an excuse to explore a part of the world that’s practically on our doorstep.

2. Iceland

Iceland is the top choice for Northern Lights spotting amongst our Travel Experts , and it’s easy to see why. A short flight from the UK, but different enough to feel like you’ve travelled halfway around the world, Iceland is the ideal long-weekend destination for some aurora chasing – great if you’re pushed for time.

Even better, prime aurora spotting areas are only a 20 minute drive from Reykjavik, so you can leave after dinner and be back by midnight. If you’re not lucky enough to witness the spectacle, Iceland has a multitude of distractions to help you get over it, in the form of the majestic Blue Mountains, an awesome capital city, geothermal spas and amazing seafood. Ask us about our one day trip chasing the lights in a chauffeur driven jeep.

When you've finished aurora spotting, relax in Iceland's thermal spas | Image courtesy of dalish

3. Norway

Travel blogger Paul Steele (aka the BaldHiker) has been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights twice, and reckons that Norway is the place to witness the phenomenon. It’s bang in the middle of the Aurora Borealis zone, so on a cloud-free night in winter, you’re chances of seeing the Lights are close to 100{8105bc8a7da0e4ee2985a05e217cd0e1bef95b551bf8bafd62a449e444182173}.

Theoretically, you can see the aurora all over the country, but you’ll get a better chance from Tromso northwards. To make your experience even more mystical, head over in December or January when you’re guaranteed plenty of snow; the contrast of the lights against the white expanse is something else.

4. Canada

If you want to use the Northern Lights as an excuse to go on a bigger trip, then the only way is Canada. This country is so proud of its proximity to the phenomenon that they named a whole county after it (the County of Northern Lights in Alberta, in case you’re wondering), but the best places to view the Lights are the northern regions of Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Lighting up the sky in Canada | Image courtesy of Jostein Hauge

If you’re going all the way to Canada in the winter months, it’d be rude to leave without hitting the slopes. Combine your aurora spotting mission with a stint in Whistler, and have the winter holiday to end all winter holidays.

5. Alaska

This 49th US state is a pretty unlikely tourist destination, which is exactly why you should let your quest for the Northern Lights take you there. When else are you going to go to Alaska? The Fairbanks area is the most well-known site for aurora spotting – head there in March, when the skies are clearest.

Fairbanks offers a multitude of inventive ways to see the Lights: on an overnight dog sled, by horse drawn sleigh, or even on a snow cat tour (not entirely sure what that last one involves, but it sounds amazing). Most hotels in the area offer a wake up call to alert you if the aurora appears overnight – now that’s what I call good service.

Feeling inspired to hunt the Northern Lights down yourself? Give us a call on 0800 988 4248 or come and see us, and we’ll sort out a trip just for you. If you’ve already witnessed the amazing phenomenon for yourself, let us know all about it in the comments thread below.