Call it mystical, call it magical, call it whatever you like – but the truth is that seeing the Northern Lights is a once in a lifetime experience. To top it all, NASA has predicted that this year’s northern lights will be most intense in over a decade, in addition to the UNESCO declaring 2015 the Year of Light.
Although some parts of Canada are blessed with the natural spectacle several times a year, there’s something immensely exciting about embarking on a journey to see the northern lights in Scandinavia, if only for the other iconic Nordic activities, like dog-sledding, sleeping in an igloo, ice-fishing, riding reindeers, and much more.
Regardless of where you opt to go, keep in mind that the best time to enjoy the show (let’s just call a cat a cat!) is between the autumn and spring equinoxes; in other words, from September through April, between 11 pm and 2 am. The further up north in Scandinavia you go, the longer the Aurora Borealis season will be, as daylight hours are normally shorter.
While not technically part of Scandinavia, Iceland’s Northern Lights are just too good to be ignored. Once in a blue moon they’ll even show up in Reykjavik!
Plenty of hotels in Iceland are equipped with outdoor geothermal hottubs (when in Rome…) that are specifically made for watching the Northern Lights, like the Frost & Fire Hotel. Hotel Gullfoss, on the other hand, is famous for its pitch-black nights.
Good to know: Icelandair offers its guests the possibility of a 7-day stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare. Why not embark on the ultimate northern lights expedition and see TWO destinations for the price of one?
While it is theorically possible to see the Northern Lights all over Norway, anywhere close to or above the Arctic Circle pretty much guarantees daily sightings. In addition to being in the so-called Aurora Zone (located in the vicinity of geomagnetic poles), the area is known for its strong coastal winds which explains why the skies tend to be a lot clearer there than inland.
Intrigued by this Arctic adventure? The Svalbard Islands, the Lofoten Islands, and Tromsø are the three most popular destinations, and also the most fascinating. They are heavily influenced by the traditional Sami culture, and they make up one of the northernmost inhabited areas in the world.
Northern Lights expeditions in Sweden, as in anywhere else, have a higher chance of success on cold, clear, and, most importantly, dark winter nights. Moonless and cloudless skies are the perfect backdrop, and they can be found far away from city lights, deep in the Swedish Lapland.
Abisko National Park and Lake Torneträsk should definitely be considered, seeing as it’s a scientifically-proven “blue hole”, i.e., a small portion of sky that magically remains clear despite overcast conditions in surrounding area. This is also where the world-famous Aurora Sky Station is located; situated at 900 metres above sea level atop Mount Nuolja (and therefore far away from any luminous distractions), it is considered by many as the absolute best place on the planet to go see the Northern Lights and even features a museum on the subject.
Why not use the trip as an excuse to stay in the iconic and nearby Ice Hotel, too?