Many of us dream of seeing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
Last winter was the best time to see the phenomenon for a decade, but thanks to the ‘twin peaks’ pattern of the ‘Solar Maximum’, autumn/winter 2103-4 is set to be even better. So maybe this is the year to make that dream come true?
But isn’t it awfully expensive to go to Alaska or the North Pole to see them? You could either hire an expert guide and a crack team of sled dogs, or if your finances can only stretch to a budget flight and a couple of nights’ accommodation, you’ve still got a good chance if you’re in the right place. Here are six places where you’re in with a good shout of tripping the lights fantastic, without spending a fortune.
May the skies be clear and your dreams come true.
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
Possibly the most accessible, affordable place where you’ve got a good chance of seeing the lights is Iceland. You could wait until the Aurora forecast is good and make a spur-of-the-moment trip but of course, flights will probably be more expensive if you book at the last minute, especially if it’s over a weekend. So you could keep the cost down by booking ahead. You can get a return to Reykjavik in January from Bristol for £62, Luton £67 or Edinburgh £68.
2. Ivalo, Finland
The cheapest flights from the UK to Finland are to Tampere, but that is way down in the deep south of the country, so you’d need to hire a car for a long, snowy drive up north to place yourself in a better latitude for Aurora watching. Or you could fly direct into the lights zone at Ivalo, right near the border with Arctic Russia. Once you’re there, you could hire an Aurora Hunter.
3. Kiruna, Sweden
The Scandinavian countries compete with Iceland, and among themselves, to be the best in Europe for seeing the Lights. Similarly to Finland, you can pick up the cheapest flights to Stockholm, which is down in the south-east of the country, so it would be a case of driving or getting the train up north. Or fly into the frozen north to Kiruna, a seven-hour drive to or from the aforementioned Ivalo in Finland.
4. Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø will definitely be welcoming some visitors from the UK shortly, as the city’s football team hosts Tottenham Hotspur in November. But the north Norwegian city is a good jump-off point for the wilds of Lapland. Take a quite spectacular drive across the fjord-slashed top of Norway to the North Cape – according to VisitNorway, the best area on Earth for seeing the Lights, or stay in Tromso itself to take in the Northern Lights festival in January-February.
5. Shetland, UK
Lying on the same 60th parallel as Kamchatka in Russia and Nunivak Island in Alaska, Shetland offers plenty of latitude for seeing the Northern Lights. Closer to Norway and the Faroe Islands than London, Shetland is half-way to the Arctic Circle, and can certainly feel pretty chilly, even when the wind is blowing from the south. The islands’ scenery is just about as dramatic as you can get on British soil, so the Aurora would be an added bonus. Stand atop Sumburgh Head and you’ll agree.
6. Wherever you are
In times of heightened Aurora activity, you may not have to travel anywhere to see the Northern Lights. Readers in the far north of Scotland have got better odds than those on the Isle of Wight, but it’s still possible. If you live out in the country where there isn’t any light pollution from glowing cities, you could be lucky enough to see them from your window. Stay up past your bedtime, climb a local hill, and who knows? Keep an eye on the Aurora Forecast.
If you want to go further afield, like Canada and Alaska, read our guide to where to see the Aurora Borealis (it's from last year).
And if that's not enough, here's a really good guide (also from last year) on how and where to see the Northern Lights.
And for even more, see this first-hand account of one person's search for the Aurora: Five Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights.