Where & When to See the Northern Lights
It’s a popular bucket-list item, and for good reason: the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is a stunning natural phenomenon, but it’s viewable in only one corner of the globe and its appearance is unpredictable to say the least. Maximise your chances of catching a glimpse with our round-up of the top Northern Lights destinations and the best times to visit them.
Iceland (pictured above)
Only three hours away by plane, Reykjavik is a great base from which to head out on a Northern Lights tour – partly because sightings here are as likely as anywhere, but also because it’s such a great destination in its own right. A tour taking you further away from the city centre is definitely the best bet, as light pollution within the city centre will hinder your chances of a clear view. Deal Expert Katie Jones’s tip is to book your Northern Lights tour for your first night, as most tour companies will take you again the next night for no extra charge if you’re unsuccessful the first time. If you are lucky enough to see them on your first night, the Icelandic capital has plenty more to offer – find out how we’d spend 48 hours in Reykjavik.
When to go September to mid-April, with November to March being prime time.
The country is known for its fjords and, of course, its fjords cruises. Obviously, in winter the added prospect of the Northern Lights makes the experience all the better as you see them from a unique angle on the water. If cruising isn’t your thing, then take a trip to Tromso, the “Paris of the North”, or get your fix of Norway’s mountainous scenery on the Lofoten Islands.
When to go: Heavy snowfall could disrupt your chances, so heading to Norway in late autumn and early spring is your best bet.
Light pollution can be a problem if you’re visiting one of Alaska’s urban areas. Fairbanks is a good base, as the outskirts will provide enough darkness for a great Northern Lights viewing. Denali National Park (200 miles north of Anchorage), is a great option. The scenery here provides quite the backdrop for this natural phenomenon.
When to go The winter months are recommended, and to boost your chances, many hotels will arrange a wake-up call so you don’t miss anything.
You don’t necessarily have to travel across an entire ocean to see the Northern Lights. Scotland’s northerly reaches are a decent bet – head to the Outer Hebrides, Shetland and the Orkney Isles for the best chance of seeing them. The combination of position and low light pollution will give you the best chance possible in the UK. When to go January is considered the best time for Scotland, although always watch out on clear nights throughout the autumn and winter months. Top tip: remember to bring a good camera as sometimes it’ll be able to pick up more light than the naked eye. A tripod (for stability in low light) and a camera with a setting to adjust shutter speed are musts if you’re to get the perfect shot.
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