Holiday Destinations

Northern Lights


Holiday Review_Northern Lights

Holiday Review_Northern Lights

High solar activity levels have increased Northern Lights sightings this winter – including as far south as Oxfordshire last night, painting the night sky with shades of green, purple and blue. More traditionally, and for stronger sightings, you need to plan a foreign trip as far north as possible. What are the best ways of maximising your chances of seeing the aurora borealis? They are one of nature’s great displays: a mysterious, multicoloured show in which the night sky is suddenly lit up with a wondrous glow that twists and swirls like a heavenly lava lamp.

it is one of the great, timeless thrills of travel, a beautiful, shifting dance of nocturnal rainbows that many viewers find a humbling and spiritually uplifting experience. It occurs most commonly in the Arctic region, and in recent years the chance of enjoying the spectacle has become a prime reason to fly north for a winter break, despite the often high costs and the cold. The good news is that the range of holidays available for viewing the northern lights has never been better.

The lights are formed from fast-moving, electrically charged particles that emanate from the sun. These are driven towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field – their varying colours are a result of the different gases in the upper atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere they are known as the aurora borealis and hang above the planet in an oval-shaped halo. The lights also have their southern counterpart, the aurora australis, but the principal audience for this is penguins. To see the celestial disco in its full glory, you will have to head north towards the Arctic, above latitude 60 degrees at the least. The snowy wilds of Canada and Alaska are fine viewing spots, but for most of us it is more affordable, and convenient, to fly to Iceland or northern Scandinavia, commonly known as Lapland. Here it is possible to see the lights from late September to early April, with October to November and February to March considered optimum periods. The hours of darkness increase the farther north you travel, and while the aurora can be sighted at any moment, 9pm to 2am tends to be prime viewing time. It’s surprising how often the lights reveal themselves just as dinner is served, and many hotels offer an aurora alarm service if you don’t want to stay up waiting.

“The lights also have their southern counterpart, the aurora
australis, but the principal audience for this is penguins.”
Where you go will depend on your budget and the time available, but
a more crucial decision is what else you want to do when you’re not
standing outside in sub-zero temperatures staring up at the night sky with
fingers crossed.
It’s important not to become obsessed with the single goal of beholding
the aurora, but to see this as just one of many thrills of a winter holiday
to the Arctic. Sparkling white landscapes, fairy-tale ice hotels, romantic
husky-sled rides, the hi-tech-meets-frontier lifestyle of the indigenous
peoples, cool city breaks – these are reasons enough to go. With luck
you will also see the heavens ablaze with a silky, swirling light, but this
can never be guaranteed.

These make sense for an Arctic adventure, particularly if you want to
travel on a short break or in half-term and include activities such as
snowmobiling, superjeep trips or husky sledding. Scandinavian countries
are much better than us at keeping their transport systems moving in
winter, but even there bad weather can disrupt journeys and it helps
to have the support and fi nancial protection that comes from booking
through a tour operator.

Jamaica Review by Inside Flintshire Magazine

Jamaica Review

An insider’s guide to Jamaica, featuring the island’s best hotels, restaurants, bars, attractions and things to do, including how to travel there and around. By James Henderson.

Why go?

Jamaica is the liveliest, most captivating and most compelling island in the English-speaking Caribbean – and among the most beautiful too. It has the beaches and the hotels, but Jamaica also has more depth, with culture in its history, art and of course its music. The Caribbean experience is stronger here – Jamaica takes familiar strains from around the Caribbean and amplifies them.

When to go

The best time to visit is when the weather is at its worst and coldest in the UK, between mid-December and mid-April (the official winter season). In Jamaica this is also the driest part of the year. However, prices are at their highest then, so you may want to consider the shoulder season, up until July, when hotel prices reduce by as much as a third and the weather is not that different. The summer months are hot and sometimes muggy. You may want to avoid September and October because of the risk of hurricanes and November because it is the rainy season.


The currency of Jamaica is the Jamaican Dollar, or ‘J’, which floats on the international exchange (currently £1 = J$175 approx). However, many people use the US dollar (hotel bills are quoted in this currency). You should check the rate and make the calculations to see what exchange rate you are being offered. There is detailed advice on personal security on the website. Currently there are no recommended restrictions on travel to Jamaica.

Local laws and etiquette

Personal safety is an issue in several islands around the Caribbean. Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach nor in a car. Do not walk in remote areas in the main towns nor on remote beaches, certainly not at night. If in doubt ask your hotel reception what they do. Largely speaking the Jamaicans are charming and if you stop to ask them advice or directions they are delighted to help. Be careful when you are approached, however – consider what you would do at home if approached by someone you didn’t know – and act in a similar manner.

Negril Beach

Negril Beach is a Caribbean classic – five miles of white, west-facing sand that shelves gently into gin-clear water. Much of it is developed and there are scores of bars and restaurants. Remember to stay for the nightly show – the sunset over the sea horizon.

Who goes?

Everybody – each has their own favourite bar in which to base themselves for the day (if their hotel isn’t on the beach already). The sea at Negril beach is safe for children and is a popular day out for local families as well as tourists.

What is there to do?

Areas are sectioned off for swimming. Beach concessionaires offer wind-surfers, parascending, glass-bottom boat tours, jetskis and scuba. Masseurs sometimes set up their tables.

Bars and bites

There are scores of beach bars, any of which would be happy for you to drop by for a drink and a meal (and then you can use their changing rooms). Kuyaba (00 1 876 957 4318; has a nice deck overlooking the sand. Cosmo’s (00 1 876 957 4330) at the top end of the beach has facilities and good seafood among other Jamaican fare.

Getting there

Negril is at the western tip of the island. If you are not staying there, it is an hour’s drive from Montego Bay. Tours will offer a day on the beach followed by the sunset at Rick’s Café. Know before you go.