The northern lights have captivated human beings for years, and for good reason. They are nothing short of magical. When the vast northern skies come alive with flickering neon ribbons, it is common for a church-hush to fall across the entranced watchers.
Today, of course, we know what makes the northern lights. Energetically-charged particles collide with atoms high, high in the atmosphere and create dancing light. Although watching the aurora flicker, it is easy to understand why humans have ascribed myth and magic to it throughout history.
It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Deciding the best way to set out in search of them can be daunting, so read on to find a roundup of the top ways you can experience the northern lights.
Take a husky safari
Try your hand at the traditional Sami mode of transport and guide a team of energetic husky dogs on a course across the frozen Greenlandic wilderness. During a night-time safari, alternate between showing off your newfound skills as a husky musher and getting comfy in the sledge to watch the aurora borealis dance across the sky far above your heads as your huskies race tirelessly on through the arctic night.
There are around 3,500 working sledge dogs in Ilulissat, Greenland, ready to pull locals and tourists alike. The dogs and their mushers work in perfect harmony to brave the challenging wilds of Greenland, and their expertise and experience shows. There is no experience comparable to sitting in the back of a sledge, wind in your face and ice all around you, as the northern lights flicker in the atmosphere above.
Sleep in a glass-ceilinged igloo
Lapland offers the most incredible array of unique places to sleep, from individually-designed treehouses strung across a Swedish forest to hotels made entirely from ice.
For the northern lights, there is one option that stands out above the rest. Glass-roofed igloos nestle cosily beneath wide arctic skies, so you can tuck up warm and toasty in bed and simply wait for the aurora. When it comes, you will have a front-row seat, and you won’t even have to put on your snowsuit.
Top tip: Ask reception to ring you if the aurora appears. You won’t have to miss out on any sleep waiting for it to show up.
Cosy up at Camp Barentz
If you want to go about as far north as you can get for the northern lights, Svalbard, Norway is the destination for you. Spend an evening deep inside the arctic circle at Camp Barentz, a cosy replica of an old polar exploration hut named after the Dutch explorer who “officially” discovered Svalbard, William Barentsz.
Dine around the fire and learn about the northern lights, then duck outside to watch when the aurora shows up.
For an “authentic” arctic experience that truly takes you into the wild, this is hard to beat. In addition, Svalbard weathers the “dark period” or mørketiden every year from the end of October to the middle of February, when the sun never rises more than six degrees above the horizon. It gets darkest of all from mid-November to the very end of January during the polar night, when the sun never rises at all. This isn’t great for sun-seekers, but it does vastly increase your chances of seeing the aurora borealis.
Hike under the autumn aurora
The iconic image of the aurora borealis shows it curling above a snowy expanse. However, you don’t have to wait for snow to see it. The northern lights can appear as early as September, which means you can set off in search of it on dark, clear nights without needing to tog up in your snowsuit.
Head out into the Finnish wilds for the chance to hike under the light show through lush green meadows. An “autumn aurora” sighting will give you a fresh perspective on this natural wonder.
Snowshoe under the northern lights
Brave the cold and head into the arctic night on snowshoes. This is a spectacular way to hunt the aurora, as travelling through the silent, ancient forest at night is an incredible experience in itself. Feel the weighty atmosphere that lingers between the old trees and watch as the snow and branches light up silver beneath the moon.
There are designated aurora camp spots waiting for you, so you can warm up by a fire with hot drinks as the northern lights dance above your heads. The lack of light pollution in this part of the world means an even more vivid sighting.
Head off the beaten track in Russia
The traditional sites for aurora-hunting tend to be in Nordic countries like Greenland and Finland. However, the far-north Russian region of Murmansk sees the northern lights just as regularly and intensely.
The city of Murmansk itself is a fascinating place to visit and you can head out with a guide from the city itself to search out the aurora. If you’d prefer to see the northern lights from somewhere a little more remote, you can leave Murmansk and travel through the frozen tundra to the arctic seaside town of Teriberka.
Want to go further still? Strike out for the Saami village in Lovozero, some 110 miles from Murmansk. You’ll find reindeer, racing huskies, and of course—if you’re lucky—the northern lights themselves.
When it comes to a holiday, the experience is everything. And there is no experience quite like seeing the northern lights, whether you are doing it from the Arctic coastline near Murmansk or gathered around a fire on the isolated island of Svalbard.
If your interest is piqued by any of these experiences, get in touch and benefit from the team’s experience with northern lights trips.