If you find yourself spending a lot of time above the Arctic circle, particularly in the darker months, it’s almost inevitable that you will see the spectacular phenomenon known as the Auroras, or the Northern Lights. We’ve been told that the Sami people up through the centuries used them to settle disputes by singing to them, and one theory names them as the bridge between ours and the Gods realm in Norse mythology. Having spent several years up here now, Jana has been able to capture this spectacle many times, and even with the already considerable amount of information out there, we decided we would share our thoughts about them as well.
There’s no point for us to go into any detail about the hows and whys, as there’s plenty of places elsewhere that will describe it far better than we can. Instead, we will offer a few of our thoughts on where, how and when to view them.
First off, the obvious: Yes, you should go north of the Arctic Circle, the further the better. In rare instances, during particularly strong storms from the sun, will they be visible further south, sometimes even mainland Europe, but in general they tend to stick to the north. It also needs to be dark and mostly free of clouds. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go hiking off to a secluded mountain, but the fewer street lights around, the better your chances. The “season” up where we are (Northern Scandinavia) generally starts around the end of August, and ends around April when it starts being daylight 24 hours a day.
Of course, this being a naturally occurring phenomenon it’s hard to predict when they will strike, but science has gotten better. There are a few places to check the activity level, we usually use a site called Aurora Forecast. Be aware that even if the activity is listed as strong, you might need some patience, as it’s hard to predict when the lights will actually appear in the sky.
Around the north there are many, many places that offer guided trips for viewing the Auroras, and to be completely honest, most of these are completely unnecessary. A few will offer the full package: campfire, stories and a drive around to the best spots, and these might be worth the price, but in general there’s no reason to pay for a guided trip. It will be cold most of the time the lights may appear though, so we highly recommend warm clothes, maybe something warm to drink/eat and something to sit on. Make time and relax, as they may not appear early in the evening, and be patient. As for taking photos, it’s absolutely necessary to have a tripod, and if it’s already winter maybe an extra battery for the camera, kept in a warm place.
Perhaps the best piece of advice we can give though, is this: Be careful making a trip north only for watching the Auroras. The weather can be difficult to predict as well as the Auroras themselves, and many have spent a lot of money to watch a cloudy sky. It’s not a good feeling to come all this way, looking forward for a spectacular sight, and then come up empty-handed. Do some research beforehand and look into other things to do around the area, or make a longer trip to different places to maximize your chances. Should you be lucky and see them, it will definitely be worth it.