The Northern Lights are one of those spectacular phenomena that most people have heard about but few ever see with their own eyes. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the natural light display was named after the Greek goddess of dawn, ‘Aurora‘, and the word for the north wind, ‘Boreas‘. This amazing light show is only visible from the northern hemisphere, and holidays to see the Northern Lights also provide an opportunity to experience some of the world’s most breathtaking environments.
The mystery surrounding the Aurora Borealis is what makes seeing it so special. Although we now understand that the phenomenon is caused by charged electrons in the upper atmosphere, the lights have fascinated philosophers and scientists for centuries. The ancient Saami of Finland, believed the lights were fires created by a celestial fox sweeping its tail across the sky. In Norwegian mythology, the lights have a more warlike origin: Valkyrie warriors riding their chariots with the light reflecting off their armor.
While the lights are visible from many points around the Arctic circle, there’s no guarantee of seeing them in any given location. Chances improve, however, depending on how far north you venture – and the time of year. The Aurora effect is more frequent from late autumn through to spring (September to April), with the deepest, darkest nights of winter delivering the highest probability.
Taking a Northern Lights tour can also increase your chance of experiencing the phenomenon. Trips through northern Europe take travelers past the haunting winter landscapes of Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway – on luxury ocean cruises and rail tours. Visitors to Norway travel to Tromso, the country’s largest town and a gateway to the north and the “Aurora oval” above the Arctic and sub-Arctic region. Tromso’s sprawling, bustling locales give way to Norway’s remote coastline, where cruises hug the dramatic, sheer cliff-sides. The journey is punctuated by isolated fishing and farming communities – nestled against backdrops of snow-capped mountains and green, forested hills.
As an alternative to an ocean cruise, many travellers opt for a rail tour. Trips around Iceland and Finland deliver a unique taste of life in the extreme north: historic, bustling towns and cities, like Talinn and Reykjavik transform into colorful landscapes as trains travel through untouched countryside, towards the Arctic circle. While you search for the spectacular Aurora during the night, during the day, you’ll visit glaciers, hot springs and unique volcanic rock formations.
Journeys towards the Arctic circle are about more than the search for the incredible Aurora Borealis. An escorted tour means you’ll see the best northern Europe has to offer – and experience everything from the comfort of your cabin or carriage.