Spotting the northern lights isn't all that easy. But head to the right places at the darkest time of year and you may just be in luck...
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are best seen in the months between September and April when nights are longest and skies are darkest. Avoid planning a trip around a new or full moon as the skies are brightest then – making it harder to see the aurora. Green lights are most common, though you could see swirls of pink, red and purple if you're particularly fortunate.
A good hundred miles into the Arctic circle lies Abisko Mountain Station, the best place in Sweden to catch more than a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Abisko is the country's driest spot, so has cloud-free conditions for northern lights viewing – some even consider it to be the best place in the world to see this incredible natural phenomenon.
The crystal-clear skies mean the northern lights can often be seen clearly from Abisko's viewing platform at the top of the mountain. Abisko is also close to the famous Ice Hotel, where you can snuggle up in a suite made entirely from hand-carved ice.
During the day, strap on your skis to tackle Abisko's cross-country trails and challenging off-piste areas. Downhill skiing and snowboarding are also good here. If that sounds too energetic, sit back and let a husky musher guide you through the white wilderness, or try your hand at running your own team of dogs.
Tromsø, also known as the 'Gateway to the Arctic', is at the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia – a prime spot to see the aurora. During winter, there is barely any daylight in Tromsø, with nearly 24 hours of darkness from the end of November to mid January.
While you're not northern light hunting at night, spend your days ice-fishing, cross country skiing or dog sledding. If you happen to be in Tromsø on the first Sunday of February, join the locals on the main street to watch the Reindeer Racing Championship – the event consists of people attempting to stay upright on skis while being pulled by a reindeer at speeds up to 60km/hr. Good fun indeed.
Lake Laberge is an area of pristine beauty and wilderness in north-west Canada. Log cabins at the edge of the icy water can be hired for front-row views of the lights and their reflections in the glassy lake.
The city of Whitehorse, a 40-minute drive away, has a mineral-rich hot springs complex that's open from 8am all year round. There are also plenty of museums where you can while away your afternoons before the northern lights watching begins again.
Finland's northern capital and gateway to Lapland, Rovaniemi, boasts some 200 nights of the most famous light show on earth. Locals say the aurora appears every one in three clear nights in Lapland, meaning that viewing is very likely.
If you head east from Rovaniemi, you'll find yourself at Salla Reindeer Park where visitors can obtain a reindeer driver's licence for €10. If you're heading to Rovaniemi with children – or you're just a big kid yourself – it would be rude not to visit Santa at the SantaPark during the day.
There are trains and buses to Rovaniemi from Oulu and Helsinki which take between 10-12 hours. The airport, which is Finland's most northerly, is also known as Santa's Airport, where he is said to park his sleigh...
As long as you're away from the lights of Reykjavik, Iceland is one of the planet's best places for seeing the aurora. Hotel Ranga, found in the island's rural south, is run by northern lights experts – and staff will wake you in the middle of the night if the displays are good.
During the limited daylight hours, take a soak in Iceland's Blue Lagoon – the water is so hot that even if it’s freezing outside, you’ll still remain toasty warm (except for the run from the changing rooms to the pool).
Horse riding is also spectacular here: the Icelandic horses are very sure-footed and adept at making their way over snow and ice. If you book with a reputable company, they’ll even provide outdoor gear such as insulated snow-suits so you’ll stay warm and dry no matter what the weather brings.
The northern lights in Alaska are at their most dazzling between December and March – when nights are longest and skies are darkest. Try standing at the top of Ester Dome, a local hill, for uninterrupted views of the sky. The aurora can also be seen in the summer in Fairbanks, but this is a very rare event.
There's plenty to do in Fairbanks during daylight hours: try some winter cycling, learn to sculpt ice, or give your complexion a treat with a soak in the hot springs. There is also a good selection of art galleries, and the locals love to Tango the night away if the lights haven't made an appearance.
Don't forget to do as the Alaskans do and lie on your back in the snow for a full view of the sky!
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