Northern Lights Holidays
In our 35 years’ experience of arranging holidays to see the northern lights we’ve discovered the best places to view this incredible phenomenon and we’re excited to share them with you. Our collection of northern lights holidays across the auroral oval takes you away from the artificial light of city locations to maximise your chance of seeing the aurora.
With Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Greenland, Canada and Alaska all offering excellent options for a winter break, we recommend that you choose the destination to suit your interests based on the experiences available in each. So whether you’re looking to experience glaciers and aurora in Iceland, see the lights dancing above the Sky Station in Abisko National Park or prefer to relax in a hot tub whilst on northern lights watch, we offer all this and more.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights
This stunning volcanic island captivates visitors at any time of year, but the September to April have a special charm with the added bonus of being able to see the northern lights in Iceland. We recommend staying away from the bright lights of Reykjavik in one of our countryside locations, either exploring independently or on a small group tour.
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- Explore geysers, waterfalls and volcanic landscapes
- Combine aurora viewing with orca watching from Grundarfjordur
- Bathe in hot tub while watching the celestial light show at Hotel Ranga
- Journey in an 8WD snow truck and venture inside a glacier
Swedish Lapland offers some truly special opportunities for viewing the northern lights. We recommend combining Abisko Mountain Station with a stay at the Icehotel to optimise your chances of seeing the aurora. With a wide range of exciting activities on offer, you’ll experience stunning snow-covered landscapes and the spectacular polar light of the Lapland region.
- Visit the world-renowned Aurora Sky Station in Abisko
- Combine aurora watching with a stay at the spectacular Icehotel
- Stay in a beautiful lodge beside a frozen seascape near Lulea
- Mush your own team of huskies on a wilderness adventure
From the dramatic scenery of the Lofoten Islands to the cultural city of Tromso, explore the fjord indented coastline of Norway all the way up to the North Cape. Northern Norway is a land of wide open spaces and little light pollution offering superb opportunities for seekers of the northern lights.
- Board the famous Hurtigruten for a northern lights coastal cruise
- Stay at Malangen, a stylish fjord-side retreat renowned for aurora viewing
- Combine historic Tromso, aurora hunting and experience the polar night in Svalbard
Log cabins set amidst the brilliant white snow and pine forests of Finnish Lapland provide the truly splendid backdrop for watching the aurora borealis. Head high above the Arctic Circle into the pristine wilds of Lapland where opportunities for viewing the northern lights can be combined with a range of exhilarating activities.
- Cosy up in a traditional log cabin or wilderness resort with a private sauna
- Superb value short breaks offer a great range of included activities
- Enjoy a wilderness break at a boutique, adult-only hotel
- Go snowmobiling, join a husky safari and much more on a Christmas break
With its northern provinces extending deep into the Arctic Circle, Canada offers some fantastic locations to see the northern lights in wilderness locations. Combine a host of thrilling winter activities with picturesque snow-covered scenery and Canadian hospitality. With options in both The Yukon and Alberta, combine with a longer tailor made holiday in Canada.
- Stay in an eco-lodge and discover the remote Northwest Territories
- Combine aurora viewing with a polar bear photo safari in Churchill
- Encounter wildlife such as caribou and moose
The Wilderness State of Alaska offers the perfect location for a winter adventure as well as the opportunity to see the northern lights. A destination offering a range of winter activities, we recommend heading into the Arctic Circle on the famed Dalton Highway to a remote camp right beneath the auroral oval.
Though less accessible during the true winter months than our other aurora destinations, Greenland offers some exciting options during the shoulder seasons. Combine a search for the aurora borealis on an adventure cruise along Greenland’s east coast and into Scoresby Sund, departing in September or enjoy a thrilling husky adventure in East Greenland during March and April
When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?
The northern lights are visible under dark skies from late August to April, preferably under a clear, cloudless sky. Usually seen between 5pm and 2am, it is important to be away from artificial light. No month guarantees better sightings than another but December to February offer the longest hours of darkness, while the months of autumn and spring are likely to offer more stable weather conditions and often see more aurora activity.
Best Place to See The Northern Lights?
Anywhere within an area known as the auroral oval that sits above the Arctic and sub-Arctic offers opportunities for seeing the northern lights. The most easily accessible of these destinations are Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway, or travel further afield to Canada and Alaska. Our premium locations include the Aurora Sky Station at Abisko in Swedish Lapland, Hotel Ranga in Iceland’s southern countryside and just outside Tromso in northern Norway.
Watch our interview with northern lights expert, Saevar Bragason
The science behind the aurora
The sun is the reason behind the northern lights, but let us explain this more scientifically… The sun is essentially a huge ball of self-luminous plasma which rotates every 27 days or so and surrounding the sun is a million-degree-hot atmosphere called corona. Sometimes there are large openings where the sun’s magnetic field stretches into space and these corona holes are key to the northern lights!
Fast moving solar wind flows from these coronal holes which consists of a stream of charged particles. These typically take 2-3 days to reach the earth, though this can be much faster following powerful solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CME). The charged particles then collide with the earth’s magnetic field and accelerate down the magnetic lines towards the poles. Some are diverted and disappear into space, but the fast ones enter the earth’s upper atmosphere, where the magnetic fields converge. This is where the reaction of the particles and gases happen – atoms and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen get excited and release light and voila, we have the northern lights! Indeed, the event occurs simultaneously in the southern hemisphere causing the southern lights (aurora australis) with one mirroring the other.
What is the Solar Cycle (Solar Maximum & Minimum)?
The sun’s magnetic field goes through an activity cycle of approximately 11 years (though it can be up to 15 years). This Solar Cycle allows scientists to predict the likelihood of aurora activity. Solar Maximum is when the number of sunspots are at their most, therefore causing highest frequency of aurora activity. Solar Minimum is when there are the least sunspots – the next expected to occur in 2019-2020. During this period solar activity is calmer, but corona holes can be long-lived, therefore auroras continue to be visible throughout the entire solar cycle as the sun is always emitting solar wind.
Our advice is not to get too focused on which part of cycle we are in – as long as you’re within the aurora zone on a clear night between September and April, you’re still very likely to see the aurora regardless of the Solar Cycle.
Can you predict the northern lights?
The Kp-index measures magnetic disturbances caused by solar wind ranging from 0 (low activity) to 9 (intense storms underway). The Kp-index doesn’t describe how the aurora will appear, but it gives a good idea of the activity forecast for the location you’re interested in.
Long term forecasts of about a month based on the solar cycle are possible, but are not fixed.
Currently a coronal hole, which has been open since August, is resulting in impressive aurora storms around the 27-day solar cycle. As long as this hole doesn’t close, it is very likely that the next will occur around 29-31 December 2018, discover more
« Kp graphic credit Sævar Helgi Bragason