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.
Within hours of arriving we were treated to an unbelievable display with the aurora welcoming us in the most spectacular way, dancing across the sky, illuminating the fjords and snow covered mountains.
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 around the equinoxes.
Best Place to See The Northern Lights?
Anywhere within an area known as the aurora zone 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.
« Kp graphic credit Sævar Helgi Bragason
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