Our team of Arctic travel experts have come together to pass on their many years of experience in Aurora hunting to help you have the best possible chance to experience the Northern Lights. We hope these simple hints and tips will help you see the the Arctic in a whole new Light!
GIVE YOURSELF THE BEST CHANCE OF SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
With the end of the winter approaching, there is still time for visitors to enjoy and experience the Northern Lights – so our team has put their expert heads together to bring you some of the inside tips as to how they increase their chances of experiencing the Northern Lights.
Where to see them?
For the Northern Lights you need to head north – to a point, the further north the better. Anywhere around the Arctic Circle, or further north than that the better. That gives your plenty of scope, and for those heading to Lapland, that opens up a Northern Lights holiday in Norway, Finland, or Sweden.
Which month? To get the dark skies, then anytime between September and March is optimal, however from December to March will also give you snow on the ground for other classic Lapland activities.
What year to go?
You may have heard the words “solar minimum” and “solar maximum”. This is an 11 year cycle the sun goes through which can affect the amount of energy sent from the sun. To be honest, in our experience, if you head north above the Arctic Circle in Lapland, you have a great chance to see the northern lights no matter what the point in the solar cycle. If you are talking about destinations further south like Scotland or even England – then this might be more of a consideration.
Which way to look?
Look North! Look on a map to find landmarks that will show you north, use your phone, ask a local – or even take a compass. Unless you are right up towards the pole, the vast majority of the time, Northern lights will be seen from the northern horizon and up.
How do you see them best?
To Northern Lights you need clear dark skies – and, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is nothing we can do about the weather … sorry. You also can’t do anything about the activity from the Sun. So, let’s look at the things we can control.
Persistence is key. There is no point sticking your head out of the window for two minutes, seeing nothing and giving up and going to bed. That is a recipe for failure. The Northern Lights are a natural thing, they can come and go within moments, or stay for hours. To give yourself the best chance it is best to be persistent. If you have an evening to yourself, or after your activity has finished, then pop your head out of your cabin and look North. Stay out for a few mons away (as much as you can from natural light) for your eyes to start to adjust, and if there’s nothing happening – go for another coffee. Try again in 20 mins, and if there still isn’t anything happening do the same – repeat as long as you can. As soon as you see something starting in the sky – make sure you are properly kitted out and fond a nice dark spot from which to enjoy it.
I usually set a limit of about midnight or 1am. If nothing has happened by then call it a night.
How long do they last for?
The reality is that Northern Lights can last any length of time – from a few mins to many hours (if not days). The important thing to remember is that it takes around 20 mins for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark – yes 20 whole mins. And if at any time you are exposed to a bright white light, the rest button is triggered and it’s another 20 mins. So, once you see things develop – spend some time out there for your eyes to become accustomed. Quite often you will see deeper colour and a clearer Aurora develop in that time, partly due to your eyes becoming more accustomed to the dark.
One thing to add to your kit list is a head torch with a red setting. A red light source does not affect night vision in the same way, so you will be able to see, but will also maintain your night vision. Ultimately if it is safe – it is better to have no light at all. It really is amazing how much you can see at night when your eyes become accustomed to the dark.
Trust the experts – get a guide!
Although the northern lights are happening all the time, it is recommended to book on a guided trip to experience the northern lights. There are a number of reasons this is a good idea, and there are a wide range of experience you can find on Visit Lapland that help you experience the Northern Lights in a wide variety of ways. The reasons a good Northern Lights guide is recommended include:
- They know the best spots from which to experience the Northern Lights and can take you to dark areas with limited light pollution.
- They can take you off the beaten track safely – it is never recommended to go walking off into the Arctic wilderness on your own if you don’t know where you are going – simple common sense.
- Some tours have a number of locations and will take you to the best of them on any given day due to weather or the Aurora forecast.
- A good guide will teach you more about what you’re seeing. Whether that is the science behind them, or local myths and stories about the Aurora – a bit of additional knowledge can bring the experience to life even more.
I often get asked – “when should I book my Northern Lights guided trip for?” – there is no real right or wrong answer to that one. My preference, however, would be to book a good Northern Lights guided trip on one of your first nights in the Arctic – and book this before you leave so you have it ready to go. This way you will learn all about the Aurora at the start of the trip.
Remember – you can always book more activities when you are there! Personally, I plan and book the three or four things I really want to do before I go, as some of the more popular activities can quickly book up – especially in high season. Then, when you are there, you can go back to VisitLapland.com to book additional activities for free time you have. That gives you both the guarantee, and the flexibility, to make the most of the region.
Aurora forecasts – can they help?
You may have heard about apps and websites that give you an Aurora Forecast. These are great as a rough guide, however the factors that create a display of the Northern Lights are so complicated, that they should be used as just an indicator, rather than a guide as to whether or not to go aurora hunting. I’ve been in the region when the Aurora forecast is predicting very low activity and seen amazing displays, and likewise, I’ve been out looking for the Aurora during much higher activity forecast from the sun, and nothing has happened. There is no substitute to simply keeping an eye on the skies.
Likewise, with the weather. Forecasts can be useful, however even on the most unlikely of evenings where it looks like you are set for a night of cloud or snow – the skies can quickly clear and the Northern Lights can shine through. You just never know – and that’s half the excitement of hunting the Northern Lights.
We hope this gives you a little more hints and tips for your next Northern Lights holiday – and we hope to see you in the Arctic region soon.