Want to check off the Northern Lights off your bucket list? Check out 7 of the best places to see them this winter
Winter is coming and the Northern Lights are returning!
You might have seen reports that the years of 2019 and 2020 are creeping closer to the solar minimum. But what does this mean and what does this have to do with the Northern Lights? Although you may associate the Northern Lights - also called the aurora borealis - with the night sky, they are actually affected by the activity of the sun. The solar minimum refers to the period in the sun's 11 year cycle where the sun is least active, effectively meaning that sunspots and flares occur less frequently and decreasing the overall activity of aurora borealis. Yet it's not all bad news as it's been discovered that the solar minimum can actually increase the predictability of the Northern Lights so that it's easier than ever before to track down the best nights to see them in all their glory. With this in mind, we've compiled the 7 best places to places to travel to so that you have the best chance of witnessing the Northern Lights this winter.
Tromso, the largest city in northern Norway, is located above the Arctic Circle and is a fabulous spot to see the Northern Lights. With its nearby vibrantly coloured fishing villages, magnificent fjords, and stunning landscapes, you couldn't find a more perfect setting to go chase down the aurora borealis. To see them at their brightest, leave behind the lights of the city and head into the Norwegian wilderness. Hitch a ride on a midnight reindeer or dog-sled, hop on to a night cruise or embark on a snowmobile adventure. When you're not out looking for a glimpse of this natural phenomenon, there are plenty of pubs, bars and restaurants for you to enjoy in the city.
The Lofoten Islands are also another very popular spot in Norway for Northern Light hunting. Here, you might be lucky and be able to capture a photo of nature's light show with the archipelago's peaks jutting into the sky as a backdrop.
Thanks to its prime position in the aurora oval, seeing the Northern Lights in the region of Yukon in northern Canada is almost always a given. Covering an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands combined but with only 38,000 habitants in total, 30,000 of which live in Yukon's capital city, the region's extremely low light pollution also means it's one of the best and easiest places to catch a glimpse of the phenomenal light show. Consider swapping the hustle and bustle of city living for a stay at a remote resort in the Canadian wilderness such as the Northern Lights Resort and Spa as guests are guaranteed unspoilt and unobstructed views of the Northern Lights even from the comfort of their own cabins! The surrounding mountainous landscape also acts as the perfect backdrop for nature's auroras and is great for a winter retreat.
Not only does Iceland offer fantastic opportunities to see the Northern Lights, its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geothermal pools, geyers, glaciers and majestic waterfalls make for a magical holiday. Countless Northern Light tours leaving from its capital Reykjavik will take you to more remote areas with darker skies so that you have the best chances of seeing the celestial light show. You can admire the aurora's colours from a boat on Icelandic waters or chase down the lights on a guided super-jeep tour. Yet even the lights of the city can't deter the auroras as their glow can sometimes even be seen from downtown.
With the Northern Lights visible 150 days a year, Rovaniemi is the perfect destination for aurora-spotters travelling to Finnish Lapland. Only a ten minute walk from the centre, the Arctic Garden behind the Arktikum museum is one of the most popular spots with its unpolluted and clear skies. For those seeking a snow-filled adventure, tours are available in snowmobiles, husky sleds, snowshoes, and even in festive reindeer sleighs. Are you a bit tired of hotels? Then you can also spend a night in a glass igloo for a private viewing of nature's light show. What's more, Rovaniemi is also the home of Santa himself, making it the perfect destination to take the kids in December to celebrate a Christmas that they'll never forget.
Perhaps a surprise to some, Scotland is a place closer to home that is great for Northern Light hunting. In the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye boasts a whopping nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites thanks to its vast patches of unpolluted skies. These practically non-existent levels of light pollution on the island means that the Isle of Skye is popular not only with aurora-spotters, but with avid stargazers too. On a clear night, the clouds will part and reveal an ink-black sky peppered with twinkling stars, planets and even a meteor or two streaking past. Alternatively, you can choose to go off-grid by travelling to the islands in the Outer Hebrides for a chance to spot the famously elusive light show. The brooding mountains and ancient standing stones of Isle of Lewis and Harris in particular make for the perfect backdrop to the 'Merrie Dancers' shifting colours.
If there are just too many tourists in Iceland for your liking, then neighbouring Greenland is a great alternative for the aurora-hunter. Beautiful Nomadic lodges can be rented out for stunning views of glaciers, and potentially aurora, all to yourself. Adventure-seekers can also embark on guided tours on snowmobiles, snowshoes and even dog sleds to seek out the dancing lights. Located on a fjord right alongside the Arctic Circle, the tiny town of Kangerlussuaq in particular is a great location to station yourself as the community is lucky enough to have 300 days of clear skies a year - the town couldn't have more perfect conditions for seeing the Northern Lights! Kangerlussuaq is also home to Greenland's phenomenal Ice Sheet, a vast body of ice covering roughly 80% of the surface of Greenland, although this figure is rapidly decreasing due to Earth's climate breakdown.
Abisko in northern Sweden is considered to be one of the best places in the whole world to see the dancing lights. The mountainous village is home to the Aurora Sky Station where an open chair lift takes takes aurora-hunters up to a mountaintop observation centre entirely dedicated to the Northern Lights. Thanks to its location in the heart of the Skanderna mountain range, the snow-capped peaks pierce the clouds so that even the weaker auroras can be seen on clear nights. Holidaymakers can also meet Absiko's local reindeer herders and their animals or take an excursion to the nearby Norwegian fjords.
Another popular Swedish village for aurora-hunting is Jukkasjarvi, a town 200km away from the Arctic Circle. Home to the world's first ICEHOTEL, guests can choose to stay in rooms made completely out of ice with temperatures reaching as low as -8 °C in the hotel's specially designed cold suites. Reindeer hides and thermal sleeping bags are piled on top of the sculpted ice-beds so that guests don't have a completely freezing cold night's sleep after a long night of aurora watching!