The Northern Lights are a truly magical sight, and they’re something each and every traveller should witness at some point in their lives, but with their elusive nature and unpredictable patterns, many shun the idea of going in search of this natural phenomenon in case they fail to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lights. Don’t let their puzzling ways put you off! By taking a Polar Regions cruise during the winter months, you actually have a very good chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, and it’s an experience we guarantee you’ll never forget.
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What are the Northern Lights?
Although those living in 6th century Europe wholeheartedly believed that the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, were a direct sign from the Gods, today we understand the origins of this spectacular natural phenomenon a little better. The lights, which illuminate the sky with vibrant greens, pinks, and reds, swirling around, almost as if they were dancing through the night, are the result of positively charged particles and atoms that are drawn to the magnetic field of the North Pole and collide. The clash creates this magnificent effect that appears truly mystical, and the Polar Regions have become one of the most popular cruise destinations in part thanks to the beauty and wonder of the Aurora Borealis.
Why is Cruising the Best Way to See the Phenomenon?
There are many ways to see the Northern Lights, but we think cruising gives you by far the best opportunities to witness the Aurora Borealis, and is also the most luxurious way to travel. To see the best of the Northern Lights, to see them glow in all their glory, the surrounding environment needs to be as dark as possible, so if you’re attempting to view the lights from land, your view is likely to be obscured by nearby town and city lights. Cruise ships have the ability to venture to remote, isolated places far away from the big city lights, giving you the best chances of catching a glimpse of the fantastic light display in the sky.
What Cruise Options do I Have?
The Northern Lights can be seen practically all across the Polar Regions, so there are plenty of different ships, routes, and itineraries you can choose from. Here are some of the most popular cruise options, with great chances to see the Aurora Borealis:
The most northern parts of Norway are ideal for viewing the Northern Lights, and there’s nowhere better than Tromsø. The small city lies more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and it really is one of the most beautiful places in all of Europe. With plenty of snow covering the historic streets and the looming Lyngen Alps in the distance, the city looks to have been pulled from the front of a Christmas card. If you’re looking for activities to fill your days whilst waiting for the prime Northern Lights viewing period, reindeer and dog sledding is available here and snowmobiles can be hired in the neighboring town of Lyngen. As well as Tromsø, you’ll likely visit some other fascinating ports in Norway, most notably Stavanger, Alta, and Bergen. Alta is another destination that is renowned for it’s Northern Lights viewing, whereas Stavanger and Bergen are much more city-like, providing a good contrast between the remote towns in the north of the country and the more vibrant, lively cities of the south.
One of the best places to see the Northern Lights from North America is in Fairbanks, Alaska, where it said you have a 90 percent chance of witnessing the phenomenon. Fairbanks is one of the few interior cities that Alaska cruises visit, with river boats sailing along the Yukon River to reach this beautiful destination, so it is remarkably different from the big cities on the coast. Far less touristy and much more ‘real’ Alaska, Fairbanks is a great place not only for viewing the Aurora Borealis but also for learning more about the history of Alaska, especially about the gold rush and the fishing economy.
Reykjavik, Iceland, is yet another wonderful destination where it is common to see the Northern Lights during the winter months. Although temperatures can drop well below freezing at this time of year, passengers can warm themselves up in the numerous thermal spa pools dotted around the city. Of all the places to see the Northern Lights, Reykjavik is perhaps the best suited to families with young children, as there are plenty of activities for them to enjoy during the day, such as whale watching trips, the domestic animal zoo, and Tjörnin, where children can feed the ducks. Cruises to Reykjavik frequently stop at the Faroe Islands, which really are unique. Located between Scotland and Iceland, they have their own language and culture which is a blend of Nordic, Scandinavian, and Gaelic. The islands are a wonderful place to visit, and they’re somewhere many travellers would not think to travel to if it weren’t for Iceland-bound cruises.
When Should I Travel?
Although there is no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights, you have a much higher chance if you cruise during the autumn and winter months, with September and March bringing peak viewing conditions due to the equinox. In order to see the Aurora Borealis, the sky needs to be completely dark, and if you travel around the Polar Regions in the summer, you’ll likely experience another natural phenomenon – the midnight sun. Although this is something that is well worth experiencing, the light doesn’t lend itself to viewing the Aurora Borealis. The lights are often at their most visible between 6 pm and 4am, so make sure you’re up on deck to get the best view – you can sleep when you get home!