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The Northern Lights (and why you should see them!)

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Most, if not all of you, will know of the Northern lights and have seen some of the incredible images capturing this stunning natural display. For those that don’t know, the lights come about from solar storms which release certain gases which, when entering the earth’s atmosphere, produce a stunning display of green (and sometimes purple) lines which can shift into the most extraordinary patterns. What adds to the charm is that seeing these depends purely on nature – most notably the weather and the sun’s activity.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen them on a handful of occasions, and every single one was most memorable. Having heard so much about them, I booked a trip to Tromsø in the north of Norway. So far north in fact that it actually lies within the Arctic Circle, and being the middle of February, I was confident of seeing them for the very first time. I even went on a special Northern Lights hunting tour to make sure this would be possible. It just happened to be my luck of course that every single evening I was there, the sky was completely covered in cloud. Even on the tour, we were unable to get a clear view (at best we saw clouds with a slight green tinge which certainly doesn’t count.) Whilst it was a great trip to learn more about the history of the Samis and engage in fun local activities, there was no doubt that the trip was underwhelming having not seen the lights. It made me even more determined to see them in the future.

My next attempt was a trip to Iceland. You can only imagine my disappointment when the forecast for the entire 4 days was heavy rain and overcast conditions. I remember on the bus from the airport to Reykjavik, the heavy rain and sleet was quite spectacular. However as the journey went on, I noticed that half the sky was beginning to clear all of a sudden which gave me hope. By the time I got off the bus, it was half past 10 at night and I waited outside the station to get picked up by my sister’s fiancé. In a ponderous moment, I looked up at the sky to assess the conditions and was immediately stunned as I saw a large green line, slowly moving, it’s body thickening and then thinning before lighting up. I couldn’t believe it – it was a moment I would never forget. Something I had been wanting to see for so long was suddenly visible against all the odds. I texted my sister’s fiancé to say they could take their time as I was admiring the northern lights. He thought I was joking, so when he pulled up and saw them he was just as shocked as I was! After taking multiple photos, we headed to our accommodation, by which time the lights were taking up most of the sky. By 3 in the morning, it was sensational. Above our heads, these huge green shapes were dancing above our heads, completely overpowering the moon and stars that were hiding behind them.

Whilst the weather was stormy for the rest of the trip, it did mean the clouds would shift quickly, meaning we did get more glimpses of the lights. I suppose it is inevitable with Iceland’s location, and that is why I would recommend it as a destination to see them. It was pretty spectacular seeing them again whilst sat in the Blue Lagoon, a short drive from the capital. The lagoon has a bar in the middle of it, and so it was somewhat surreal to be sat drinking a beer in water so warm you wouldn’t notice the air temperature of -5 degrees Celsius and admiring the ribbons of light on the horizon. Whilst the display wasn’t as spectacular as the opening night, the setting in which we were admiring them certainly was!

I had one more experience seeing them which was in Norway this time. Not far from Tromsø in fact, Alta also lies in the Arctic circle and is one of the most northern points in Europe. I had little expectations after my previous trip to Norway, so you can imagine my surprise when on the plane my friend exclaimed they thought they could see the lights. Initially I was sceptical, however having glanced out the window I was shocked to see the lights once again! The shape was almost like a tornado funnel, but the distinctive green glow was a very unique sight from an aircraft. Once in Alta, again the weather was challenging, but we did get one more brief glimpse of the lights on a special tour when there was a brief break in the clouds.

Despite having seen them on a handful of occasions, I can honestly say I would happily go on another Northern Lights hunting trip. These incredible displays never lose their beauty and charm. With Global Dream travel you can experience these on one of our tours, the one we recommend the most would be our Iceland tour here: Iceland's Northern Lights 11 Days | Global Dream Travel

Bear in mind we offer custom and bespoke tours to any destination – just get in touch using the form here: Contact Us | Global Dream Travel

My top tips would be to first of all go to a destination where the lights are commonly seen. Legend states that the lights have been seen as far south as Rome, Northern Canada, Russia as well as Finland, Norway and Iceland are the most common places. You could also opt for more extremes such as Greenland and the North Pole – our range of Polar tours can be seen here: Polar | Global Dream Travel

The time of year is also key. Typically the lights tend to come out between September and April, but you will have the best chance between late December and late February realistically. In the most northern parts, these times of year are dark for at least 18 hours per day with just a few hours of dawn and dusk (in the arctic circle, for about 2 months in the depths of winter, the sun doesn’t even come up above the horizon). Our expert guides will always ensure you have the best chance of seeing them but we also recommend downloading the Aurora app as this shows you the probability of seeing them in your area, as well as forecasts on solar activity and push notifications when they should be visible in your location.

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