Northern Lights Holidays
Book luxury trips to the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. So if you have always wanted to witness this beautiful natural phenomenon then contact us today. Whether you are looking for short breaks or soft adventure tours, our tailor-made holidays are sure to please.
You will not see thousands of different packages on our website because our holidays are about quality and not quantity. Each Aurora destination has been hand-picked by one of our travel experts and your holiday will be tailor-made to suit your exact requirements.
Whether you want a personal guide, to join one of our small groups or would like to travel independently we are sure we have a Northern Lights holiday to suit.
Where to See
Visible in an area called the Auroral Oval, this special area forms a ring around the magnetic North Pole concentrated between 65 -72 degrees latitude, although they can often be seen outside these latitudes depending on solar activity levels. This means that countries such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland are well positioned. All of our destinations are selected because they are in great locations to give you the best chance of seeing this amazing natural phenomena.
The Northern Lights can only be seen at night but there is no need to worry about finding things to do during the day. We can offer a wide variety of activities in our packages such as cross-country skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling to keep you occupied whilst on one of our trips or tours.
Best Time to See
The Aurora can be seen any time between September and March and can be visible from when it gets dark to when the sun start to rise, although the best hours are normally between 9pm and midnight. You will normally need to be under clear, dark skies although powerful aurora can be seen under clouds. Other factors to consider are what activities you would like to include in your trip, such as dog sledding or snowmobiling and whether these are going to be available when you want to travel.
TIPS FOR SEEING THE AURORA ON YOUR NORTHERN LIGHTS HOLIDAY
- Topping the list of tips from the Off the Map Travel experts is to plan your trip in prime northern lights viewing conditions. Firstly, choose a destination within the Auroral Oval. Once there, you need clear, dark skies. Use aurora and weather forecasts to help plan your time whilst on location.
- In order to achieve the dark skies that deliver the most spectacular displays, you need to get away from any nearby light pollution. You can do this by tapping into local knowledge from local guides, your hotel staff and local people you meet to point you in the direction of great aurora viewing spots and experiences.
- You will need to kit yourself out properly with well insulated and waterproof clothing. It is cold at the latitude’s beneath the Auroral Oval and, when you are enjoying the best display ever seen, you don’t want to have to leave because you’re cold.
- You need your eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. Use a red torch to find your way around as this will not affect your night vision and therefore ensure your eyes are well adjusted to best appreciate the lights.
- Take a camera and take photos. A photo will confirm if there are the beginnings of an aurora or not. However, don't spend the whole time behind your camera as it’s just as important to step back and enjoy them with your eyes.
- Just like the scouts, you need to ‘be prepared’. Even if you are just popping out to check the sky, you don't want to leave a great aurora to get changed and pack your bag only to come back out and they have gone.
- Persistence and vigilance is vital; aurora can come and go very quickly so always keep your eyes open for activity.
- Finally it is important to never give up. Snow can stop and clouds can clear for just long enough to get a glimpse of a stunning aurora even on a wintery night.
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE AURORA ON YOUR NORTHERN LIGHTS HOLIDAY
- Firstly, you need the right camera if you’re going to capture high quality images. Always use a modern digital SLR camera. Pocket compact cameras, even high-end models will not provide quality results.
- Get familiar with the ISO settings on your camera. Because you’re shooting the aurora in low light situations you’ll need to use a high ISO, generally this will be 800-1600 ISO for all exposures unless you are using an extremely fast lens.
- Just as your camera is important, so is using the right lens. If possible try to use a fast, wide angle lens. A minimum aperture of f3.5 will work but f2.8 or faster is recommended. An 18mm lens is a good minimum starting point.
- A stable tripod is a must. You will need to use a slow exposure to capture the lights and if you try to do this by hand you’ll only get blurry results. Forget about inexpensive, low quality tripods as they often fail under the extremely cold conditions present above the Arctic Circle. It’s worth checking if you can hire these on arrival.
- A relatively inexpensive pro-tip is to invest in a wireless release for your camera. This lets you take a photograph without touching the camera and works best when the camera’s shutter needs to stay open for a long duration and you want to eliminate all possibility of camera shake. A wireless remote control device is a better option than a cable releases as the cable can become hard and brittle in the extreme cold above the Arctic Circle.
- Be prepared for the effect that the Arctic climate will have on your camera equipment. You’ll need to bring several extra batteries as they will function approximately one third as long as they usually would under normal conditions. Also, invest in a high-quality memory card. All the prep of the right equipment will be for nothing if you have a cheap memory card, as they can become sluggish and fail in the cold conditions.
- A headlamp with the option of a red beam is a must. The red beam ensures that you’ll be able to maintain proper night vision while adjusting equipment and you won’t ruin anyone else’s shot.
- Pack a few sealable plastic bags that are big enough hold your equipment. Before you go back indoors after a night’s shooting session, put your camera gear in the sealed bag. This helps to keep condensation off your equipment.
- Never breathe on the front element of your lens while you are out in the cold. Ice crystals will form on the glass and cause blurriness, ghosting and overall image degradation.
- Infinity focus is of the utmost importance. In order to be 100% certain that your images are in focus you need to be sure that your lens is properly set to infinity. There are several ways to do this but Chad would recommend that you use the digital zoom function while in live view mode to be sure that everything is perfect.
- Before you book your trip, research your destination as some locations offer far better chances of seeing lights than others due to local weather patterns. Jonny would recommend locations such as Bjorkliden and the Abisko National Park which are shielded from some of the arctic weather by its surrounding mountain range.
What are Aurora
The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis (Northern Hemisphere) or Aurora Australis (Southern Hemisphere) are the result of a collision of high energy particles from the sun and atoms high in the atmosphere causing them to become what is known as excited or ionised. When these elements in the atmosphere return back to a normal state a proton is released in the form of light, the Aurora.
Origin of the Aurora
The energy that drives the Aurora is generated by the sun and the constant release of high energy particles causing what is called the solar wind. Just like a normal wind the strength and speed of the solar wind can change, depending on what is occurring on the surface of the sun. Events such as Solar flares can cause a high density of these particles to be directed towards Earth so creating a solar storm with high solar wind speeds. In turn this then increases the energy in the upper atmosphere so causing large Auroral displays.
Colours of the Aurora
Aurora can come in many different colours depending on which chemical elements in the atmosphere are excited when hit buy the solar wind. The different colours seen depend on which element is interacted with, what height they are and what state they are in. If oxygen is involved then the Aurora can be green or red, nitrogen blue or red.
Where can I see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights can be seen anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere which is located within the Auroral oval. Forming a ring around the magnetic North Pole the Auroral oval changes in size depending on the activity levels of the Aurora, however for the majority of the time it falls within a band between 65 to 72 degrees latitude. As with any other astronomy based phenomena there are also other factors that can effect it such as weather conditions and light pollution levels.
Below you will find the latest Aurora forecast. This forecast provides you with two main pieces of information, the KP index and the Aurora Oval. For more information on each of these visual representations click on the explanation beneath each
THE MYTHICAL SIDE OF THE AURORA
Experts at Off the Map Travel explain the myths behind the lights
The northern lights have, and in some ways always will be, surrounded by myth and legend. Even the modern day solar scientists openly admit that there is so much that is still not understood - continuing to fuel appetite for stories passed from generation to generation.
Although the first written account of the aurora is thought to date back to 2,600BC in China, it is a cave painting from southern France from 30,000BC which is believed to be the earliest surviving record of the phenomenon.
The Bible is also believed to describe the aurora in the Old Testament *1 as well as references in ancient Greek and Roman literature*2. It looks as though we have been fascinated with the northern lights for as long as records exist.
Ancient Greek thinkers tried to explain the aurora in 593BC with Hippocrates and Aeschylus’ theory that the aurora was caused by sunlight reflecting off of the surface of the earth. Then in 350BC, Aristotle postulated that the aurora was caused by steam rising from the surface of the earth and burning as it met the light from the sun.
Jonny Cooper, director of Off the Map Travel said: “For thousands of years, the northern lights have captured the imagination of cultures across the world which has influenced folklore and religion. It really is another worldly experience, so without a rational explanation it is not surprising that people read into its meaning and developed stories around it.”
These mythical beliefs have since been passed down through cultures and found their way into many works of literature and art. As science moved forward, explanations around the northern lights evolved with logical explanations slowly starting to challenge the centuries of superstitious myths and legends.
The northern lights were given their scientific name in the 17th century, the aurora borealis. There is, however, some dispute as to who should be credited for this with some claiming it was Galileo Galilei in 1616 and others believing it to be a French mathematician, Gassend, in 1649.
The aurora borealis remains a source of wonder for those who see it, and is explored to this day by scientists striving for a better understanding of the phenomenon. However, many myths about the magical lights remain, woven deeply into the cultures that held them, and serve to provide a fascinating insight into our past.
The Sámi people traditionally lived in a vast Arctic area of northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. With an unparalleled proximity to the northern lights a number of legends to explain the phenomenon were passed through generations.
Believing that the lights were souls of the departed, Sámi believed in behaving solemnly and respectfully whenever the lights were in the sky. Bad fortune awaited anyone who showed them disrespect so many people chose to keep their families indoors when the lights were on display.
It was also believed that if you whistle a tune under the lights, it would summon the spirits closer and closer, until you were whisked away.
On a positive note, they also believed that the lights were also considered to have the power to aid conflict resolution.
The Scandinavian name for the aurora translates as ‘herring flash’ as it was believed that the dancing whirls of green light were a reflection of huge schools of herring in the sea. Whenever the lights were visible, fishermen were expected to be blessed with good catches of fish.
According to Swedish legend, a winter with frequent displays of the northern lights served to predict a good yield of crops the following year.
In Norwegian folklore, the northern lights were thought to be the spirits of old maids dancing in the sky and waving at those below them.
According to one popular Finnish myth, magical arctic foxes sweeping their tails across the snow and spraying it into the sky is the real reason for the spectacular light show. In fact, the Finnish name for the northern lights even translates as ‘fox fires’.
Norse mythology connected the aurora borealis with war. It was believed that the lights appeared when sunlight reflected on the shiny shields of the Valkyries who were racing across the sky on the way to their resting place, Valhalla.
Old Icelandic folklore believed that the northern lights would ease the pain of childbirth. It was not all good news for mothers though – it was also thought that pregnant women looking at the lights would give birth to cross-eyed children.
Aurora (or Eos as she was known in Greek mythology) was the sister of Helios (The Sun) and Selene (The Moon). Eos was believed to wake before anything or anyone else.
The northern lights were believed to be caused by Aurora riding her mighty chariot across the sky to announce the arrival of Helios, opening the gates of heaven to bring in each new day. Boreas, the mythical Greek north wind god, was believed to cause the northern lights dance.
China and Japan
In China, the lights were believed to be the fiery breath of dragons fighting in the sky.
The Chinese also linked the lights to fertility and childbirth. It is still believed in both Chinese and Japanese cultures that a child conceived under the northern lights will be blessed with good fortune for the duration of its life.
In Scotland, it was believed that the lights were clans at war and that blood spilled in violent battle was the true cause of the red lights common in the area.
United States of America
The Fox Indians of Wisconsin saw the northern lights as a bad omen believing that they were the ghosts of slain enemies.
The Makah Indians believed the lights were caused by dwarfs lighting bright colourful fires.
The Alonquin Indians, however, believed that after their god, Nanahbozho, created the earth he travelled to the far north where he builds great fires, the light from which reflects southward to remind people of his everlasting love.
The Eskimos of Labrador in North Eastern Canada believed the northern lights to be torches lit by the dead who were playing soccer in the heavens with a walrus skull. The Eskimo word for the northern lights is aksarnirq which literally translates as ‘ball player.’
In North West Canada, the Eskimos of the lower Yukon River believed the lights were the beautiful dances of animal spirits.
The Eskimos of Hudson Bay also associated the lights with bad omens, believing that they were caused by spilled light from the lanterns of demons searching for tragic lost souls.
In Estonian mythology, the northern lights are said to occur when a celestial war or wedding is taking places. The lights are the reflections of the sleighs and horses drawing the parties. Another Estonian legend connects the aurora to whales playing in the sky.
Jonny Cooper, director of Off the Map Travel explains: “As we approach the peak of the solar maximum, the most intense period of solar activity which causes the northern lights, there are many more chances to see stunning aurora dancing across the sky. In the shadow of the arctic mountains, Bjorkliden has the ideal microclimate that gives a higher percentage of clear nights and therefore a greater chance of seeing this spectacular event.”
To travel to Bjorkliden to see the northern lights, you can fly from Gatwick to Kiruna with Norwegian from £165 per person, with a three night stay including transfers, stunning 4* accommodation in Bjorkliden, Lights Over Lapland experience and a dog sled experience will start from £975 per person.
Off the Map Travel is a tour company that specialises in organising tailor-made soft adventure holidays in stunning destinations that are off the regular travel routes and adventurous with a luxurious touch.
For more information call 0800 566 8901.
Tour of the month
Grand Aurora (10 days in Norway, Finland & Sweden from £5999 per person)
Visit three of the best European countries for seeing the Northern Lights under the aurora belt. This ultimate 10 day tour allows you to experience true Scandinavian hospitality and take part in the best possible winter and Northern Lights activities. Join a highly experienced aurora guide on an adventure, with all of the creature comforts you‘d expect on a luxury holiday. Learn More >>
Where to go and what to do
Interested in a northern lights holiday?
If you are looking for a holiday to experience the spectacular Northern Lights, we create tailor-made Northern Lights itineraries giving you personalised experiences, based on our in-depth knowledge, to meet your exact requirements.
To speak to one of our personal travel experts about your next family trip simply call +44 (0) 800 566 8901 or leave us a message through our Contact Us page. We can’t wait to help make your next dream holiday a reality.