The Northern Lights are among the world’s most stunning natural wonders, offering a bona fide light show that glitters overhead and showcases a rainbow of colours. Unsurprisingly, they’re most visible in the northernmost parts of the world and though often considered remote, these icy areas are made amazingly accessible with the likes of special tours and exclusive Northern Lights cruise deals.
Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are caused by gas particles from the earth and sun’s atmospheres colliding. They’re best viewed in clear night skies, especially in September and April. And there’s really no better way to escape light pollution, than out on the water.
If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of these mysterious beauties in all their glowing glory, cruises will put you in a prime position. To get started, here are some of the best places to see the Northern Lights and the top Northern Lights cruises on offer.
Alta, Finnmark, Norway
Alta is the largest town in Finnmark, Norway and the second northernmost city in the world. It’s a playground for nature-lovers, with Norwegian fjords cruises coasting through nearby waters and dog sled teams setting out into the snowy wilderness.
The world’s first Northern Lights observatory was built in Alta, which is perhaps why the little town was nicknamed the Town of Northern Lights. That being said, it’s an amazing place to catch the ribbons of blue and green overhead, with organised tours offered nightly in the winter and spring.
Tasiilaq appears modest in size, partially due to the sheer magnitude of its surroundings. Tucked amid tall, craggy mountains, the town is made up of a smattering of colourful houses and is an outdoorsman’s paradise.
Popular activities here include kayaking through ice-laden waters, as well as hiking up to or taking a helicopter ride over snowy peaks or past nearby icebergs. Because Tasiilaq is so remote, its light pollution is extremely limited, which means it’s an excellent spot for viewing the Northern Lights.
The largest city in northern Norway, Tromso rests amid Norwegian fjords and mountains whose white peaks dominate the skyline. The city itself is alive with history, filled with vintage wooden houses and museums uncovering its vibrant Norse heritage.
Often a base for Arctic exploration, Tromso is situated in the middle of the Aurora Borealis zone, which means it’s one of the best places on the planet to see the Northern lights. There are a number of tour companies that can take you out on a Northern Lights tour and there are numerous small Northern Lights cruises that set out on expeditions solely devoted to seeing the dancing colours in the sky.
Because Tromso is such a popular Northern Lights destination, many of the best cruises for Northern Lights will dock here. Cunard and Marella Cruises both offer some Tromso cruise variations, each with their own range of outdoorsy excursions. Cunard brings you the popular husky expedition, while Marella Cruises explores the Sami culture in the Tromso Museum.
For culture vultures, a special mention ought to go to Bergen in Norway, a mainstay of many a Marella Northern Lights cruise. It was home to composer Edvard Grieg, but also wins plenty of praise for its stylish dark-beamed houses that huddle by the bay. Waterfront seafood cafés are a given for your time ashore, although don’t miss the chance to take the trail to the summit of Mount Floyen for views that’ll make you feel as though you’re on the top of the world.
Iceland’s capital city was largely undeveloped until the 18th century, but you wouldn’t know that visiting it now. Reykjavik is a vibrant cultural hub, with Icelandic history museums and a popular nightlife scene out on display.
Many adventurers come here for the great outdoors, with relaxing geothermal spas and activities like off-roading tours, fjords cruises and kayaking excursions that explore the snow-covered natural landscape, not to mention the Northern Lights. If the conditions are right, almost all of Reykjavik’s skies are filled with dazzling colours come nightfall, though you might need to take a short drive outside of the city for maximum viewing potential.
Upon stepping into this port, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world. The Faroe Islands are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, known primarily for their Viking folklore and stunning scenery.
Here, you can embark on a fjords cruise past sky-high cliffs or set out for bird watching, catching a glimpse of the islands’ famous puffins. The weather in the Faroe Islands can be a little temperamental – due to being not far from England – but when the skies are clear, the Northern Lights shine in brilliant waves.
Luckily, these little islands aren’t quite remote enough to escape the cruising world. Cruise & Maritime Voyagesloves it here and links the Faroe Islands with Scotland, to make one Northern Lights voyage. Cunard also runs a Scandinavian cruise that runs up to Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, among other snow-capped destinations.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Scotland is a hidden gem in terms of places to see the Northern Lights as, believe it or not, there are parts of the United Kingdom where these glowing waves are visible. Turns out, you didn’t have to go so far to see them after all.
The Isle of Skye is steeped in green landscapes, with massive cliffs overlooking the crashing waves below. You can tour remarkably well preserved castles or hike to towering peaks for spectacular panoramic views of the rolling hillsides. Unpolluted skies make this island a top spot for viewing the Northern Lights. They usually shine in whites and pale greens in this part of the sky, with the occasional pink hue as well. Cunard often runs up to the Isle of Skye, so keep this in mind as you explore your options.
There are so many places to see the Northern Lights and so little time to experience them all. Just remember to bring your camera.
Keen to see the Northern Lights yourself? Make the most of the solar max by booking a fjords cruise for 2016.
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