By Julie-Ann Sherlock
A clear sky full of twinkling stars and a stunning moon is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Staring at the vastness of the universe at night is calming yet sometimes terrifying because it reminds us how small we actually are. Shooting stars, comets and eclipses are some highlights, but if you are really looking for a cosmic light show, it’s hard to beat the weird wonderfulness of the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.
So, where is the best place to go watch these celestial fireworks? Let’s look at five of the best places and start dreaming of a fluorescent night sky.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland is one of the first places that pops into your head when you think of the Northern Lights. Maybe that is because you can see them almost anywhere in the country? But for a truly unforgettable experience, go to the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón in the country’s southeast, near the Vatnajökull National Park. Here, thanks to minimal light pollution, you can watch the waves of colour dance off the crystal clear ice and black volcanic ash beaches.
Alternatively, take a boat trip from the capital Reykjavik to watch them from the sea. To avoid disappointment, ensure favourable conditions by keeping an eye on the Aurora forecast.
Best Time To Go: The Northern Lights spotting season runs from September to April, but you are more likely to see them between October and March.
Most guides will tell you to go to the city of Tromsø to catch the lights. While it is a great option, the more adventurous soul should go a bit further north to the archipelago of Svalbard. Here you can truly feel like an Arctic explorer amidst the snow, glaciers and Polar Bears in Europe’s most northern inhabited place.
The lights are so strong here you can even see them during the day. Perhaps this is because from mid-November to January, the islands have what is called the Polar Night when the area is dark 24/7.
Best Time To Go: The time you are most likely to catch this spectacular phenomenon is from late November to the end of January.
Norway’s next-door neighbour, Sweden, also gets the joy of the Aurora in its northern extremes. The area known as Swedish Lapland is the most likely place to catch the light show, with its most northern city, Kiruna, the pick of the places to view from. Travel companies in the region will arrange tours to see them from snowmobiles, dogsleds, skis or snowshoes. Or a car if you prefer some more warmth while watching the show.
To enhance your chances of seeing this natural show, go to the aptly named Aurora Sky Station, 100 km away from Kiruna in the mountains of the Abisko National Park. Here you can take a cable car to a mountain top viewing platform and feel like you are on top of the world.
Best Time To Go: Appearing from September until early April, the most intense shows occur during the height of winter, particularly in January, with 10 pm to 11 pm being the best time to see them.
The most northern state of the USA, Alaska, offers viewers a chance to catch the light show surrounded by some of the country’s most stunning landscapes. Head to the centrally located city of Fairbanks to find a wide range of tour operators offering to guide you to see the lights. This small city is a great base to explore the country, and thanks to the Fairbanks Aurora Tracker, it is easier to check out when they will appear and plan accordingly.
Alternatively, go west of the city about 250 km to the small town of Manley Hot Springs, where you can watch the dazzling display from the natural hot springs. Imagine how relaxing would that be!
Best Time To Go: The incandescent display can appear all year round, but to get a better view, go anytime from August until April as there is less daylight and no midnight Sun!
The Northern Territories of Canada offer some great spots to catch the sky extravaganza. The state’s capital, Yellowknife, is famous for its tours, including one to Aurora Village, just 25 minutes from the city. Here you get to watch the show from the comfort of heated seats with Canada’s renowned beauty all around you.
The Yukon, next to Alaska, is also an excellent option for a Canadian Northern Lights experience. The glass viewing chalets in Whitehorse give you a warm place to view.
Best Time To Go: Like Alaska, the lights are technically visible all year, but the months from October to March are most likely to yield results!
Now you know where and when to catch this natural phenomenon, what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip now!
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