Travel

Tuesday 17 July 2018

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
The Aurora Borealis on the morning of June 23, 2015 over O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands. Photo: Cormac Coyne
Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon, Iceland.
Spectacular northern lights appear over Mount Kirkjufell in Iceland.
The Northern Lights, photographed with wildflowers in Landmannarlaugar, Iceland. Photo: Deposit
Kakslauttanen, Finland
Northern Lights in Norway. Photo: Deposit
Northern Lights in Lapland. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Our travel editor 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 Reykjavík. 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 on the morning of June 23, 2015 over O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands. Photo: Cormac Coyne
The Aurora Borealis on the morning of June 23, 2015 over O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands. Photo: Cormac Coyne

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 (above).

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.

Top tips

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Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon, Iceland.

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. Or further afield, in Canada or Alaska.

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!

Splash

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Kakslauttanen, Finland
 

Project Travel has direct flights from Dublin, two nights in Tromso and a three-night, full-board Hurtigruten cruise from €1,495pps.

It also has five-day packages to Tromso from €795pp.Other activities, such as dog-sledding, can be added on at additional costs. Contact 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 around €206pp. The resort also includes log cabins, snow igloos and the chance to ski and take reindeer safaris.

Read more: Fancy a night beneath the Northern Lights? Try a glass igloo

Another option is a winter trip to Lapland, with packages available from Sunway (sunway.ie), Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.ie) and Visit Santa.ie among others. These aren't cheap - two-night trips with Sunway, for example, start from around €1,269pp.

Adventure Holidays (adventure-holidays.ie) also do packages.

Save

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The Northern Lights, photographed with wildflowers in Landmannarlaugar, Iceland. Photo: Deposit

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

Going to press, one-way fares to Iceland start from €49.99 (excluding bags), and you can tack on a three-hour Northern Lights tour from ISK5,325pp (€43pp).

Airbnb (airbnb.ie) has rooms in Reykjavík from around €29, and there are hostel options too... the city can get very expensive, see our tips for Iceland on a budget.

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.

Read more on the Northern Lights in Ireland here. You can also follow @aurora_Ireland for alerts, updates and photos on Twitter.

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

Read more:

Iceland on a Budget: 10 ways to save on your trip of a lifetime

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