The northern lights, or auroras, are a natural and colorful light display in the sky that is caused by a collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the thermosphere. The sun is the creator of the northern lights. Essentially, during large solar explosions, the sun releases particles deep into space. As the particles meet the Earth’s magnetic shield that is “driven” toward the poles in a circular manner where the particles meet the upper layer of the atmosphere. When the energy is released, vivid shades of color float throughout the sky. This light show occurs in high latitude regions such as the Arctic and Antarctic poles.
In the northern latitudes the light show is known as aurora borealis, whereas the southern latitudes refer to the lights as aurora australis. The best time of year to view auroras depends on the hemisphere, but the most favorable time is between autumn and spring. There are various high-latitude locations around the world to view the northern lights, including a not-so-familiar place known as Lapland.
Spotting the northern lights is not guaranteed, but travelers have a better chance to spot this natural wonder far away from light pollution and full moons.
Lapland is a region in northern Fennoscandia, which is land located in Arctic Circle. This area stretches across northern lands of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. There are many areas in Lapland to view the northern lights, and tour companies offer arctic holiday packages to make the stay worthwhile. Tromsø and Alta, Norway are two popular destinations in Lapland. December through March are known as the best display months due to the drier weather.
In Iceland, visitors may be able to view the northern lights right outside the hotel doors in Reykjavik. For a better view, visitors purchase a one- or several-day excursion to view the lights outside of the city limits. Mid-October through mid-April is the northern lights season in Iceland, although tours run year round. Iceland is one of those rare destinations where travelers have the opportunity to drink lattes by day and view the lights by night. Various Iceland tour companies also feature moonlight whale watch trips, which may include a glimpse of colorful, night rays.
The best views in Finland are in Lapland, but east Finland or the Ruka and Juhannuskallio region are other picturesque displays. Ruka is a luxury village located south of the Arctic and Russian border and contains some 29 ski slopes. The best time to visit this area is September through March. The weather is cooler in Finland and Sweden compared to Norway, so bring adequate clothing. Active northern light tours are available throughout this region.
Believe it or not, the Scottish highland region is another northern light destination. Northern Scotland is an ideal location, as the latitude is the same as Moscow, Russia and Stavanger, Norway. However, lights have been seen as far south as East Lothian. The northern lights, known locally as the “Merry Dancers”, is also popular in Orkney and the town of Thurso, which is in the Caithness region. Winter months are ideal, but more prone in January through March, for viewing the dramatic show. Classic Scotland features a several day northern light tour to visit the most light-active cities.