Guide to the Northern Lights

November 22, 2017

 

 

 

With winter fast approaching and for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere it's a great time to go out and search for the wonder that is the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis

 

If you are lucky enough you may not have to travel very far from home to see them, however you can base an entire trip around seeing the phenomenon. A few years ago my partner and I went Iceland in winter with the high hopes of seeing the Northern Lights and we did! It was as great as people describe it, and certainly one of those "once in a lifetime" moments.

 

This post is all about the best destinations to find the N.L's  and I've included useful  web links and  great Instagram accounts to get you inspired to get on out there. 

The Aurora Borealis tends to be seen over Northern Scandinavia, if you want to get technical then 66° North and 69°North is usually the prime location. However, with that said even in the U.K. we can be lucky enough to spot them. Maximum chances of seeing them tend to be between late September to late March. 

 

Be prepared

 

You need to remind yourself that this is a natural phenomenon and is not 100% certain that you will see them. Therefore by having some degree of patience will help you out. 

Because the Northern Lights happen in the winter time then of course you need to be suitably dressed. It all depends on where you are of course, but think about it if you are sitting outside in freezing temperatures then you will get cold. Thermal wear and appropriate shoes are essential. Whilst in Iceland we struggled with footwear, not because of the cold but because we had  to do a fair bit of walking. 

 

Photography

 

If you are into photography then I'd recommend a sturdy tripod to take shots.  A wide angled lens will also help with your pictures as will setting your camera to a manual mode. You need to think ahead and charge up batteries, and if you are using your phone as a camera have a play around with the camera settings to ensure you can capture it. If you want a beginners guide to photographing the Northern Lights then there will be a link down below. 

Lets just hope you have a clear sky for it!

 

Photography guide

 

https://petapixel.com/2014/04/18/beginning-photographers-guide-photographing-northern-lights/

 

https://www.theaurorazone.com/about-the-aurora/the-northern-lights-blog/item/347-a-beginners-guide-to-photographing-the-northern-lights

 Photo: Colbybrown Photography

 

Weather check

 

If you are unsure whether there is even a chance of seeing them then it's worth pre checking on sites such as Aurora Watch U.K. this free site will provide alerts to when the best visibility will be.

Aurora Watch

https://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/

 

Moray Astrology watch

http://www.sigma-astro.co.uk

 

Icelandic met office:

http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/

 

Canadian forecast

 

http://www.auroraforecast.com/

 

 

Now lets get to the juicy part.. the best  destinations where you could potentially see them. 

 

Scotland 

 

Most likely the further north you venture, the higher your chances are.  Therefore, the islands of Orkney and Shetland will be a good starting place, however if you are unable to leave the mainland then consider the north east of the country. The Moray coast and Aberdeenshire are good spots due to the lack of light pollution and with clear skies you are heading in the right direction.

 

 

 Picture by: Moray SWNS (Lossiemouth)

 

 Picture by John Thain  (Aberdeenshire)

 

Other popular places have been down in the Scottish borders such as the Galloway Forest area. This area in the south of Scotland is very rural which has a lack of light pollution interrupting the show.

Failing that, if you have a clear sky then you'll still see a wonderful starry sky. 

 

Another destination could be the Coastal area around Edinburgh and Fife. I've seen numerous pictures of the Northern Lights near the Forth Rail bridge area, and if these pictures are anything to go by then it's worth exploring the area. Perhaps head  out to the Davidson's Main area outside Edinburgh for dark skies, or if you are extremely  lucky then Arthur's Seat in the centre of the city.

 

 Picture by Michael Rennie  (Dundee)

 

 Scottish Instagram Guru's

 

Liam McBride.

https://www.instagram.com/l.p.m_photography/

 

 Simon Ward

 

https://www.instagram.com/simon__ward__/

 

John Cumming 

https://www.instagram.com/dtximages/?hl=en

 

 

Iceland

 

As previously mentioned, Iceland presents the Northern Lights like a Broadway show across the sky

We were lucky enough to see them just outside Reykjavik on a peninsula called Grotta, which also hosts a lighthouse. The lighthouse is accessible when the tide is out and make sure you are aware of  your surroundings because you could risk the chance of being stranded out there when the tide comes back.  

Access to Grotta can be made along the coastal road (an hour's walk from the city) or there is a No.11 Bus available. 

 

 Photo:Guide to Iceland (Grotta lighthouse)

 

There are two main options for viewing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, there is joining a guided tour into the wilderness and hoping for the best or by doing it independently via a self-drive trip. There are pros and cons to them both, if you opt for a guided tour then you could also have the opportunity to venture out into the icy Atlantic on boat to get away from any light pollution. 

 Photo: Colbybrown Photography  (Jokulsarlon)

 Photo: Guide to Iceland

 

 

In terms of destinations in Iceland there is the Jokilsarlon Glacier  lagoon area in the south east (6 hours away from Reykjavik) where you could witness the floating icebergs underneath a dancing sky. 

Or there is the black volcanic beach town of Vik. This is a popular destination and is very Icelandic with the ash coloured sand and crashing waves.

 

However bear in mind if you are pregnant (hear me out) then according to Icelandic Folklore if you gaze up at the northern lights then your child will be born cross-eyed.

 

Available tours: https://guidetoiceland.is/book-holiday-trips/2-day-glacier-hiking-tour-south-coast-glacier-lagoon-waterfalls-golden-circle

 

 

Icelandic Instagram guru's

 

Danish photographer: Gunnar Freyr

https://www.instagram.com/icelandic_explorer/ 

 

Extreme Iceland

https://www.instagram.com/extremeiceland/

 

Jeroen Van Nieuwenhoven

https://www.instagram.com/jvn.photo/

 

 

Finland

 

It's said that the Northern lights can be seen over 200 nights a year in Finland, in Finnish Lapland to be precise. Therefore it was necessary to include this forward thinking country. 

 

Photo by: Visit Finland 

 

The beauty of a snowy Lapland covered in forest is something I am desperate to see. In fact I even applied for a job in Finland this year. Anyways, the northern town of Rovaniemi seems to be the base camp and offers many excursions to try and catch a glimpse of them. 

Nearby the town there is the modern glass igloos where the glass roofed lodgings offer you a life changing experience or why not try the Arctic Treehouse hotel also in Rovaniemi.  

 Picture: Discover Finland

 

Another area is the north east town of Ivalo. This is an outdoor activity focused town which is busy all year round. However in terms of winter activities there is opportunities to snowmobile  around or experience the huskie sleigh rides on thick snow. 

Picture: Visit Rovaniemi ( Arctic Treehouse Hotel) 

 

 

Lapland temperatures can dip to minus 30 so it's imperative that you are dressed accordingly. 

 

 Picture: Discover Finland

 

 

 

Arctic Tree house

http://www.visitrovaniemi.fi/accommodation/arctic-treehouse-hotel/

 

Glass Igloos

http://www.kakslauttanen.fi/ 

 

Excursions

https://www.ivalotrek.com/aurora-hunting

 

Domestic flights in Finland

https://www.finnair.com/int/gb/

 

 

Finnish Instagram guru's

 

Finland's main tourism baord

https://www.instagram.com/ourfinland/

 

Jani Ylinampa

https://www.instagram.com/janiylinampa/

 

Konsta Punkka

https://www.instagram.com/kpunkka/

 

Canada

 

My final destination is the northern regions of Canada. Quite often Canada is overlooked for European destinations. The vast wilderness of this country which has long winter months has many areas to choose from. 

My first choice would be the Yukon where the dancing ribbons can be seen as early as September. You can base an entire trip around Yukon with opportunities of ice fishing, snow shoeing and dog sleigh rides. 

Particular places are the surrounding area  of Whitehorse. The cities lights are probably too bright, however if you are looking for an organised tour then this is the base camp for exploring off into the wild north.

Picture: Aurora Village 

 

Another northern location is the town of Yellowknife found in the NorthWest Territories. According to their statistics, this is the best place in the world to see the Northern Lights. A high 90% chance is stated on their tourism websites and perhaps this because the land is flat and this region in Canada is directly underneath the Aurora Borealis oval. 

 

 Picture: Culture Trip 

 

 

My final destination in Canada is the Polar bear capital of the world: Churchill in Manitoba.  This is because the lights are visible up to 300 nights a year.  Also above in the skies, a layer of energy particles called the "Van Allen belt" lies across this area of Canada. The prime time to see them is between January and March. There is various vantage points, however much like Finland there is the modern glass build igloos which offer a 360 degree views across the land.  

 

 Picture: Aurora Pod

 

I have to say, the location of Canada means that there are ample locations which will show off the Northern lights, however to keep this blog compact I have only suggested a few...

 

Picture by: Culture Trip (Manitoba)

 

 

 

Canadian Instagram Guru's

 

Alex Klubi

https://www.instagram.com/alex.klubi/?hl=en

 

Travis Murphy 

https://www.instagram.com/travismurphyphotography/?hl=en

 

Travel Yukon

https://www.instagram.com/travelyukon/?hl=en

 

Accommodation in Yellowknife 

http://auroravillage.com/

 

Aurora Pod in Manitoba 

https://www.nathab.com/features/aurora-pod/

 

 

 

I'd love to hear your stories and see your pictures of your Northern Lights experience and I want to wish everyone the best of luck this winter. 

 

Kat. 

 

 

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