THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELANDReg White
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.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND Elusive and ethereal,
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.
WHERE AND WHEN TO GO
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
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.
HOW TO BOOK: PACKAGES
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.