Tuesday 25 April 2017

How to see the Northern Lights

Travel Insider

Woman outside tent with Northern lights, Myvatn, Iceland
Woman outside tent with Northern lights, Myvatn, Iceland
Spectacular event: Northern Lights
Kakslauttanen, Finland
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Ireland's Travel Journalist of the Year shares his tips on how to see the Northern Lights this winter.

I'll never forget the first time I saw the Northern Lights.

It was early evening, in a snow-dusted Reykjavik. I was walking to my hotel, cribbing about the cost of things, when I looked up.

The sky wasn't clear. But it was clear enough to see a spectral wave of green, billowing like a shawl overhead. That was the moment I understood that Iceland was a once-in-a-lifetime destination. The hook was in me.

The aurora borealis are generated when electrically-charged solar particles collide with the earth's atmosphere. Aurora activity is cyclical, peaking roughly every 11 years - we've really been spoiled these past few winters, seeing the lights as far south as Inishowen, and even Inis Óirr.

But the cycle is now set to wane again, with spectacular events the exception rather than the rule - this winter could be a last chance saloon for sightings.

The best time to see the aurora is late October through March, with hours of darkness increasing the further north you travel.

The best place is typically above 65-degrees latitude, where the skies are clear, and there's an uninterrupted view of the northern horizon - Norway, Iceland and Finland, for example.

Kakslauttanen, Finland
Kakslauttanen, Finland

Remember, full moons and city lights can obscure the aurora, and sightings are never guaranteed - so try to manage your expectations. Travelling for longer, and to several destinations, increases your chances.

Here in Ireland, you can also sign up for the Astronomy Ireland newsletter (astronomy.ie) to get aurora alerts. Happy hunting!


Project Travel has direct flights from Dublin, two nights in Tromso and a three-night Hurtigruten cruise from €1,090pps. It also has five-day packages to Tromso from €795pp (from February 23 to March 23).

Other activities, such as dog-sledding, can be added on at additional costs. 01 210-8391; Project-Travel.ie.

Meanwhile, Finnair (finnair.com) flies to Helsinki and onwards to Ivalo, a 30-minute drive from Kakslauttanen (kakslauttanen.fi, above), an Arctic Resort tailor-made for Northern Lights lovers. Why? Glass igloos, that's why.

Glass igloo rates start from €206pp. The resort also includes log cabins, snow igloos and the chance to ski and take reindeer safaris.


If you can bag a low fare with Wow Air (wowair.ie) or easyJet (easyjet.com), which fly from Dublin and Belfast to Reykjavik respectively, you're off to a good start.

Airbnb (airbnb.ie) has rooms from around €29, and there are hostel options too. Wow also offers a 'Northern Lights Tour' from €47.50.

Here in Ireland, Visit Inishowen has produced an interactive map (visitinishowen.com/northern_lights) featuring recommended lookout points when conditions are favourable on the peninsula.

NB: All prices subject to availability. This article has been updated to reflect changing prices and tours.

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