As far as natural phenomena goes, few things on Earth are as hauntingly beautiful as the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Best seen from the northern most locales above the 60 degree latitude point, making sure you see this spectacular sight is something every traveler should have on their bucket list. It simply has to be seen in person to be properly appreciated – words don’t do it justice, but this article in the Telegraph does a pretty good job.
While the answer to ‘When should I see the northern lights?’ isn’t as simple as whenever you want, you can still plan out a trip that has a very good chance of witnessing this light show. Make no mistake, vacations planned around natural phenomena do run the risk of not having it take place but if you educate yourself on some of the basics and head to The Aurora Zone, you will be well prepared for deciding if this type of holiday is for you.
The three ‘whens’ of the Northern Lights:
When it’s Winter
While much of the northern lights remains a mystery to us here on Earth, we do know that it has a higher chance of happening during winter. This is because the air is generally more clear and the nights are darker, making it easier to spot the faint to vibrant glow (depending on the episode). In addition, the northern lights are quite active during the equinoxes, so around September 20 and March 20 of each year, so keep an eye on the sky if you’re traveling in the far north around that time!
When it’s Night Time
Faint light is easier to see in the dark and the northern lights are no exception. Night time is a bit of a misnomer when you’re in the far north as winter time is famous for bringing very long nights – some with no daylight at all! This is all because of the angle of the sun shifting to give the southern hemisphere its summer season. Oh well, more northern lights for us!
When it’s Clear
This is probably the biggest factor in seeing the northern lights and it is totally out of your control – if there is a cloud cover, you won’t see the lights. Fortunately, the further north you are, the less precipitation there is, particularly in the winter, which means less chance at clouds. Even though you can’t control the skies, if you plan a weeklong holiday you have an excellent shot at seeing this spectacular light show.
There go your “whens.” If you have a specific destination in mind, like Iceland, start with this guide that answers when is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland and other frequently asked questions to help you plan your arctic adventure. Access the travel guide here.
Timing, together with being in the right place, is everything when it comes to the northern lights.