Sunday, April 12, 2015

Five best places to see the Northern Lights

 The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are quite a beautiful phenomenon that occur during solar storms, when a solar wind is blocked by the Earth's magnetic field and creates a colorful light display in the sky. The auroral zone is the region where most auroras are visible, and the zone is a circle around each pole. The best places to see the aurora are typically within the zone. Because of Europe's location near the north pole, it is a great place to witness the northern lights. Be prepared for some cold weather, though, since the best time to catch a glimpse of the lights is in the winter when the solar winds are the most active. If you have your heart set on seeing the aurora in person, then here are the best places to go.

1. Tromso, Norway

Tromso is an ideal place to see the northern lights. Not only is it well into the auroral zone, but it is also a hospitable city with friendly locals. It is a vibrant city, but not so bright that the city lights would dim out the sky. Getting to the city is possible by bus, plane, train, or ferry. The city is in a remote location, but it is not a tiny Scandinavian town like some other locations nearby. Even if you can't manage to witness the aurora, skiing is always an option in this mountainous town. When it comes down to accessibility and convenience, Tromso is by far the best option on the list.

2. Isafjordur, Iceland

All of Iceland is completely in the aurora zone, but Isafjordur is a particularly good place for viewing the northern lights. Isafjordur is a small town in the northwest of Iceland with a population of 2,600.  The scenery is very beautiful, and there are many hiking trails around the town. Kayaking is also a fun activity here because of the calm waters. The view of the lights will be spectacular since there are no city lights and the town is relatively high in altitude.

3. Luosto, Finland

It would not be a complete list without mentioning Finland. The main attraction in Luosto is the famous Aurora Chalet, where you are given an "aurora alarm" that beeps whenever the lights are visible. This makes viewing the northern lights much easier, since you don't have to stay up all night watching the sky. The Aurora Chalet is one of the top hotels in Scandinavia, and it is surrounded by the Pyha-Luosto National Park, so there are plenty of activities in this remote area in Lapland.

4. Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

This is a more expensive option, but those that can afford it can get a good view of the aurora by staying at the world's first and only ice hotel. You can book a Northern Lights room with artistic depictions of the lights carved onto the ice walls. Every year, the hotel is rebuilt and new artists are hired to carve designs onto the ice. The hotel offers many other activities such as ice sculpting, snowmobile tours, and even a trip into space! The rooms fill up very fast, so don't hesitate to check it out as soon as possible.

5. Murmansk, Russia

Murmansk is located on the Kola Peninsula, which is mostly inside the Arctic Circle. The reason that Murmansk is number five on the list is because of its inconvenience. A visa is needed to travel to Russia, and Murmansk is quite far from Moscow, so you will either need to take a plane or a very long train ride to get up here. Murmansk doesn't have as many attractions as the other places on the list, but the reason is it on the list is because flights to Moscow are extremely cheap. If you are traveling on a tight budget and really want to see the lights, this might be your best option.

Some other locations outside of Europe great for watching the aurora are:
  • Denali National Park, Alaska
  • Nunavut, Canada
  • Southern Greenland
Some locations for watching the aurora australis, or the southern lights, are:
  • Ushuaia, Argentina
  • Southern Australia 
  • Southern New Zealand
  • Antarctica
 Remember, even if you do travel to these places in the right time of  year, you may have to wait for up to a month before the aurora appear. With time, patience, and a little bit of luck, you will have a great chance at witnessing an extraordinary sight.

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