Northern Lights Holidays

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Northern Lights Holidays | An Essential Guide to Seeing the Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights Holidays

The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are one of the most remarkable natural phenomenons in the world. They hover above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, shimmer in the dark skies of Scandinavia, glimmer in Greenland, Iceland and Russia and have flickered their way into folklore and storytelling around the world. In fiction they have acted as gateways to parallel universes (shoutout Philip Pullman) and been quipped upon by William Shakespeare in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. In reality they have leant their name to ships, whiskeys and, somewhat appropriately given their otherworldly aura, to space missions.

There's also a Basshunter song named after the lights, but not so many people seem to remember that.

So, specifically where can you see the northern lights? What's the best time to see aurora borealis in the skies? What season? Can you see the northern lights at the Norwegian fjords? And, to ask the basic question so many people forget to ask until they see them, what exactly are the northern lights?

We'll cover all of the above in this essential guide, here. One thing is for sure, though: a more memorable holiday up north you will not find. If you are already set on heading north to hunt the lights, then look no further than one of our northern lights holidays. With our expertly-led, and extremely adventurous trips, you’ll discover exactly why the northern lights are top of oh-so-many bucket lists all around the world.

They're certainly much nicer to fall asleep to than a night light - albeit, a little harder to find, and much trickier to keep on a bedside table (please do let us know if you find a way to make that possible).

In this guide to the northern lights, and northern lights holidays, we're going to answer some of the most common questions around the aurora, including: What are the northern lights? What is the best time for a northern lights holiday? And where is the best place to see the northern lights?

What are the Northern Lights?

Northern Lights Holidays

Most people will have heard of the northern lights, but not an awful lot of people actually know the science behind them. So what actually are the northern lights? The basics are that they’re a natural phenomenon that turns the sky into a great big work of art made up of electric shades of blue, green, red and pink. You can observe them when you're close to the magnetic North Pole.

They're also famously unpredictable, though. Just like turning up in the Rocky mountains doesn't guarantee you a sighting of a bear, just pitching up in the Arctic Circle doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to see the temperamental northern lights. There are some things you can do to maximise your chances, though, like going at a certain time of year, or looking at a particular time of day. More on that later.

First, how do the northern lights work?

The phenomenon is caused by explosions on the sun’s surface which, in turn, fire billions of charged particles towards Earth. When these charged particles reach Earth and interact with its atmosphere, they emit a sea of photons that dance across the night’s sky; resulting in the world’s most spectacular light show (yes, even better than the Blackpool Illuminations).

The southern hemisphere has its own version of the northern lights (aka the aurora borealis). It’s observable in New Zealand, Tasmania, the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Antarctica. It’s called the aurora australis or the southern lights. Yeah, we know. Original.

When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?

Northern Lights Holidays

The aurora borealis occurs all-year round. That being said, there are periods on the calendar when you’re more likely to see them. Just like bears exist year round, but it's pretty hard to see one of them while they're hibernating.

The northern lights are most visible in the long dark nights of the polar north. That means your best bet is to take a northern lights adventure holiday when the area is at its coldest, between November and April. The midnight sun of Iceland’s summers, for example, massively reduce your chance of seeing the phenomenon on a northern lights holiday. That would be sad.

Contrary to what you might have heard, the northern lights are not disappearing or fading away. However, the sun does go through solar cycles that occur over a period of 11 years. In layman’s terms, this means the sun is slightly less active, meaning it emits less powerful solar winds, meaning that light becomes localised to specific regions.

Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights?

Northern Lights Holidays

The Northern Lights occur close to the magnetic North Pole. What this means is that the further north you go, the more likely you are to see them. Northern parts of Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Canada, Russia, Alaska and, yes, even Scotland all have aurora-spotting potential. Places, in other words, where wearing a jumper, a coat and a nice woolly hat are standard practice.

Because cloud cover and light pollution are the arch enemies of the aurora hunter, it’s best to get far away from cities and out into sparsely populated areas if you want to see the northern lights. If you're remote, wild, and somewhere pretty far north, then you’re barking up the right tree. If you're in a built-up area, urban, not that far north and climbing branches in someone's back garden, you're in the wrong tree.

We’d also recommend you go with an experienced guide (don’t worry, we know loads) as their expert knowledge of the lights, and best vantage spots in the area can often be the difference between success and failure in your pursuit of nature’s most legendary light show.

We have a full guide on where to see the northern lights if you're interested in reading more.

Where Will Our Northern Lights Holiday Take You?

Northern Lights Holidays

Unless you’re reading this from the Arctic Circle, chances are that our northern lights holidays will take you further north than your current location. But OK, let’s be fair. You probably want some specifics. With that in mind, how does joining internationally ranked dog sled racers on an epic journey across the Scandinavian wilderness sound? That trip is a five-night epic across untouched snow bordering Norway, Sweden and Finland.

What about ice-climbing up frozen waterfalls, or snowshoeing across the Pyhä-Luosto National Park in Finnish Lapland? Not only do you get to chase the northern lights, you you also get to learn how to use an ice axe. Or How about sailing through the fjords of Tromsø? That one is, well, pretty much what it says on the tin.

These are just a few examples of the adventures you can combine with northern lights hunting. Sounds alright, all that, doesn’t it?

Why Take a Northern Lights Holiday With Us?

Northern Lights Holidays

So you’ve decided to go and see the northern lights on a northern lights holiday - undoubtedly the best kind of holiday to go on to see the northern lights. Maybe you’ve decided to go looking for the northern lights holiday in Norway, maybe elsewhere, whatever - we’ve twisted your arm and you’ve finally come to the conclusion that yes, yes, you definitely, definitely, want to see the aurora borealis. Good decision. They're real pretty.

At Much Better Adventures, we believe that it’s important to enjoy your trip, important to find happiness in adventure. That’s why all our experiences literally come with a happiness guarantee (yes, really). Throw into the mix the fact we back amazing local businesses and a slice of our revenue goes to helping critical conservation projects around the world and it should start to become a bit of a no-brainer (if we do say so ourselves).

Of course, we could also tell you all about how our trips are great whether you’re going solo or part of a group. And we could tell you that our weekend adventures are 100% the best way to maximise your annual leave. And we could tell you all about how we hand-pick awesome local guides and hosts to make sure you’re well looked after. But that, that would be showing off, wouldn’t it? Join us. Join the tribe.