The Northern Lights are a stunning natural phenomenon that delight and amaze visitors in the furthest parts of northern Europe during the winter months.
The lights themselves are caused by electrically charged material from the sun being carried through the earth’s atmosphere by solar winds. As they make this journey, they hit small particles of gas and throw out a stunning glow that lights the skies of nations such as Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The snaking beams of pastel-coloured light are often a very pale green, but their colour depends on exactly which gases the particles from the sun hit in the earth’s atmosphere. As a result of their magnetic pull, the displays in the sky centre on the polar regions can be anything from green to red to blue or purple.
Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights
The lights are easiest to see during the winter season – usually between October and March, though weather is an important factor. It needs to be a clear night for a perfect sighting. The phenomenon does still occur during the summer, but the lighter nights make them much more difficult to see.
Getting a good view will require a combination of the right location, patience and a lot of luck. Here are a few tried and tested tips from those that already enjoyed the trip:
• The lights are a wonderful treat, but they’re also unpredictable. Make the most of your trip and hope they appear.
• Be careful when trekking out to viewing locations; weather conditions can change quickly and the local wildlife may be unfamiliar to you.
• The lights often appear any time from 6pm onwards but, even on a clear night, may not make an appearance until 2am. Be patient.
One of the most important factors, patience aside, is choosing the right location for your trip. Here are some recommendations for spots across Norway, Finland and Sweden which should deliver on a glimpse of nature’s most spectacular light show:
Tromsø offers the perfect combination of a great tourist vibe and a virtually certain chance of seeing the Northern Lights, thanks to its position on the Arctic Circle at nearly 70° north. If offers the charming combination of fjords, mountain peaks and islands, alongside tourist favourites like dog sledding or whale safaris.
Alta is the largest town in Norway’s northernmost province, so the chance of seeing the lights is high. Geographically, it’s a coastal town that is well-protected from poor weather because it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides. It’s also easy to get to as it has its own airport with connections run by SAS, Norwegian and KLM. There’s also plenty to do during the day for visitors interested in biking, fishing or biking.
Karasjok also has a good reputation for fair weather, even when coastal towns further up are suffering from poor conditions. The benefit of choosing this as your viewing location is that there is very little light pollution and the lights and surrounding stars are clear to see.
Northern lights in Sweden
Sweden’s claim to the Northern Lights crown is the Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland. The park is surrounded by mountains, so often has clear conditions, and the lack of built-up or residential areas nearby means there is little light pollution. The Swedish Tourism Authority claims that visitors who stay in Abisko for three days have an 88% chance of seeing the lights, as long as the sky is clear.
Porjus packs a big punch for its size. It’s a very small village around 60 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The village sits on the edge of the Stoma Lulevatten lake and lies close to the Sarek, Padeljant, Muddus and Stora Sjöfallet national parks. The quiet location means the light pollution here is low and the lights often dance across the covering skies. If you choose to stay in one of the properties to rent on the edge of the lake, you can watch the show from your own ringside seat.
Northern lights in Finland
Kakslauttanen is nestled in Finnish Lapland, so offers the thrill of the lights as well as the charm of the other seasonal activities that the area is known for. The tourism trade in the area is well-developed, so you can enjoy treats such as watching the lights from a glass igloo or trekking out to view them after staying in a traditional log-cabin. It’s a two-hour ride by dog sled from Kakslauttanen to meet Santa at his home at Korvatunturi.
Sodankylä holds the honour of hosting Finland’s National Observatory of Northern Lights and, only a short trek from the town’s centre, it will put you in good light-spotting territory. It’s one of the country’s best spots for enjoying the light phenomenon and you can even stay in a nearby hotel which will send you a message as soon as they appear.
If you’re visiting Scandinavia this winter, then why not add a great Northern Lights viewing spot to your itinerary? It’s a trip of a lifetime.