You might have already heard or read that the Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon no one can predict or guarantee. But even if you can’t take the lights for granted, there are still a few things that can help you maximize your chances of seeing them!
Keep reading to get my personal answers in all your “When”, “Where”, “How”, “How Much” and “Why” questions.
When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?
As a general rule the period between mid-September and late March is by far the best time, weather-wise. After extensive research, amongst all months, I would personally recommend anytime between late September and mid-October. And here is my full argumentation, explained:
- Already from September the nights are getting darker, the sky is still free of clouds and the additional lack of snow (Note: nights are darker without snow) are clearly adding up to what makes this period more favorable.
- It has been proved scientifically that during this time the geomagnetic activity that generates auroras is very high.
- Another advantage of the late autumn season is the fact that the cold is still mild. Do not underestimate the fact that you’ll have to stay out for a couple of hours while hunting and hopefully watching the Northern Lights’ show!
- The lack of ice in the lakes and rivers will allow you to take greater pictures of the Northern Lights and their perfect reflection on the water.
- Lastly, autumn is yet a low-season and therefore much more affordable.
Where is the Best Place to See the Northern Lights?
The Aurora Zone extends over Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Canada, so you have plenty of options to choose from! Pick up your favorite destination and then deep dive onto the map to decide your exact base location. Personally I have visited (and seen) the auroras both in Iceland and Finland. But since my most recent visit was in Finland, I will give you some extensive tips about this country!
The ideal place to head at is clearly the Finnish Lapland, right above the Arctic Circle. And the Santa Claus Village or the (more affordable) nearby city of Rovaniemi can definitely serve as a good basis. In both places visitors can engage in many day-time activities, while waiting for the perfect aurora night!
Amazingly, and despite the fact that light pollution is making the phenomenon less visible, aurora activity has been frequently reported even in Rovaniemi city center. Something that I can also confirm myself, since we were able to vividly see the Northern Lights over the Rovaniemi sky on the night of October 7th and while we were there.
How Will I Know if the Northern Lights Will Show Up?
Just follow up on the Northern Lights’ forecast!
Let’s not forget that this phenomenon is actually a combination of geomagnetic activity and weather conditions. Therefore, it comes without saying that any kind of forecast can only be utilized while onsite and only a few hours before aurora actually takes place.
Having said that, every aurora-hunter should be equipped with two extremely useful mobile applications:
- Aurora – This app is automatically detecting your location and is providing real-time statistics, indexes, as well as a map of the aurora activity world-wide! It calculates the likelihood of aurora visibility at current and future time and suggests the best locations to see the Northern Lights “right now”.
- Nlalert.fi – This app is utilizing a network of aurora sensors that have been spread around Lapland and is sending its users a real-time alert whenever Northern Lights are visible in the Finnish sky! The app also provides a forecast on aurora activity, weather conditions and hence the likelihood of Northern Lights’ activity!
How Much Will It Cost me?
Considering that Northern Lights cannot be guaranteed, I personally recommend that you organize a trip without having Northern Lights as your stand-alone objective. In this way, in the unfortunate case that the Lights do now show up, you will still not bear the whole cost of your trip as a big loss.
But let’s think positively and assume that you have the luck on your side!!! How much does it cost to see the Northern Lights? Good news is that you have a great variety of options:
- You can join a group tour. This service usually includes a pick-up from your accommodation, and optional snow suits / footware. The driver will take you to the best spots for tracing and viewing the auroras, following the forecast of that specific day. Some tours offer a free BBQ and professional photos under the Northern Lights! Some others give you the opportunity to drive a snowmobile, take a boat ride, or float over a lake! For the simplest, and therefore cheapest of tours, you will pay around 65€ per person.
- Alternatively, you can opt to self-drive and look for the auroras on your own. In this case, make sure you have done a prior research about the best viewing spots, ensure that your clothes are warm enough and be well-prepared for driving under snow conditions. Your only expense will be the car rental, yet do not embark on such a night adventure unless the aurora forecast is favorable.
As a general rule, for a great view of the Auroras you need to look for a place that can provide a dark and wide panorama. I can recommend an interesting spot close to Rovaniemi and by the beach of Lake Norvajarvi. Here you will find a wooden hut that is available for public use. This hut offers your the essential benefit of setting up a fire to warm up! Additionally, you will find some basic equipment for preparing your own BBQ onsite (remember to bring the food)!
- Book your stay in a glass igloo. Glass igloos are very popular across Lapland, but they are somewhat pricey! These are usually suites with glass walls or roof, offering great views of the night sky (and hopefully the auroras) in the warmth and comfort of your own bed! This is clearly the most luxurious option, so be ready to pay something between 250-500€ per igloo (or even more during high season!).
- Pray that the Northern Lights become visible from the city center!!! Zero cost!
Are the Northern Lights as Impressive as they Appear on Pictures?
Yes and No! From my personal experience the colors of the Northern Lights look relatively fainter in the naked eye than through the lens of a camera and subsequently on the pictures. Instead of the brilliant green color, you will more likely witness a pale off-white color, some shades of grey, a silver glow and at the very best a green hue on the horizon. It’s better to start from that, so that you don’t have a preconception of what you are going to see.
But before you start thinking about Photoshop (which is not the case here), it is important to understand that there are certain limitations of what our eyes can see in the dark, compared to what a camera can capture. The camera sensor has a more dynamic range of vision in low-light conditions than human eyes. And that is why the aurora will always look greener through your camera (or on a picture) than in real life.
By no means should you let yourselves get disappointed! Because the auroras are spectacular in their own way. And what’s more, their night show is different every single time! Having seen the Northern Lights twice, I can share with you two completely different experiences! The first time the aurora gradually lit up the sky by creating a perfect rainbow-like arc which covered the horizon in approximately 20 minutes. The second time the lights were moving across the black sky on a constant speed that resembled the “dance” everyone is talking about! Both times we stood in awe and literally couldn’t care less about the hue or intensity of the colors.
Going back home, the most important thing we took with us was definitely not the perfect pictures that we could later on show our friends and followers on Instagram, but the fact that we were there and witnessed this great natural wonder with our own eyes!
Fun Facts About the Northern Lights
- The Northern Light show can last just a few minutes, a half hour, and sometimes longer!
- Auroras can be seen both in the northern and southern hemisphere. Aurora Borealis refer to the lights seen in the North hemisphere, while Aurora Australis are the ones visible in the South hemisphere.
- The ideal place to see the Northern Lights in Europe is Tromso, Norway. Here, should the weather conditions be favorable (i.e. dark sky with no clouds), the Northern Lights are visible at 100%. Note: In Rovaniemi, Finland, the visibility of the Northern Lights has been calculated at 50%.
- For more extensive info about how the phenomenon is generated, visit the website of the Aurora Zone.