Who never dreamed to see Aurora Borealis! This natural phenomenon is observable in precise conditions. Thus, you understand, you don’t chase the northern lights without preparation.
Where chase the northern lights?
In a general way, the northern lights appear in the arctic circle. There are several different countries and continent in the arctic circle: Alaska, Canada, Island, Russia, and Laponia.
I’m going to focus on Laponia because it’s the territory I know the best.
Laponia spread in 3 countries: Sweden, Norway, and Finland. If you are on Laponia, you have hight chances to see northern lights. However, each country has famous regions or cities to see Aurora Borealis: Abisko – Kiruna (Sweden), Tromso – Narvikk (Norway) and the Ivalo’s region (Finland).
However, to hope to see them, you have to be as far as possible from the cities to avoid the luminous pollution.
The northern lights occur all the year. But, we can see them only during the night. This is the reason why the best to see them is the winter. More precisely from November to February during the polar night. Like stargazing, the sky has to be clear and you have to wait the dark night ( between 8 pm and 2 am).
How see the northern lights?
There are many different ways to chase the northern lights and each depends on your wishes/tastes. Of course, I strongly recommend you to go outside each night to maximize your chances.
To rent a car and go somewhere by yourself to a fare place is obviously a solution! You can ask local people for a good spot and go there on your own. This is the cheapest solution, especially if you’re a group.
With a tour:
In every city, you will find travel agencies which organize tours to see northern lights. The advantage of this solution is that the guide knows where to look for northern lights. I chose this solution twice: at Tromso with Tromso Safari and at Abisko with Sky Aurora Station.
Most of the time, when you visit Laponia, dog-sledding is a staple! In this case, why not chase the northern light while you wander by dog-sledding? I guaranty an unforgettable experience!
For those who prefer snowmobile, it’s also possible. We can be a beginner or not, chasing the northern lights by snowmobile is easily accessible.
In the same category as the dog sledding, I propose you to try the reindeer sledding! As magic as dog sledding, except this time, you feel like Santa Claus.
Ride a horse:
This activity is less exotic compared to dog and reindeer sledding but is still unforgettable. Moreover, you can ride for a few hours, enough for beginner to discover equitation and enjoy it. Those more experimented will plenty enjoy the moment while they are living their passion.
From your room:
If you’re lucky, you can see the northern lights from your bedroom. Unfortunately, this phenomena is rare. If you’re skittish, there is a solution: Kakslauttanen in Finland. It’s a glass igloo in which you can, of course, sleep but also admire northern lights from your bed! I agree, this solution is especially expensive, it costs several hundred euros per night. But, it’s so romantic and like in a dream, isn’t it?
In a Spa-boat:
I discovered this experience during my last trip: the spa boat. It’s just a boat with a spa in it. The boat sails on the river and has a sauna, a hammam and a hot bath with salt water outside. You can enjoy it and relax, while you visit the fjords from the boat. In bonus, the boat stops in the fjord and you can swim in the river! This replaces the cold bath after the spa ;). This excursion is also possible during the night and you might see northern lights from the sauna or the hot bath outside. What else do you need to be happier?
If you want to know which activity is available in the region/town you decided to go, I advise you to check on the tourist pieces of information website. You will find all the information you need, the prices and sometimes you can even book the activity.
Obviously, the question you’re asking now is: “how can I know when the northern lights will occur?”.Simply thanks to apps (it’s not a joke!). Personally, I used two apps: Aurore and Northern Eye Aurora. My favorite is Aurora. The interface is more instinctive and easier. But, using the two apps gives more accurate information.
Of course, there are lots more apps, some free some not. The 3 others apps we advised me are Aurora Forecast, Auroral Forecast, and Aurora Alert. If you know other apps, don’t hesitate to tell us in the comments!
How to dress?
Even if the temperature is rarely below -10°(in Laponia), you have to wear warm clothes to chase northern lights. Most of the time, you are still while you’re watching the sky and so, you’re quickly cold! You probably know it, you can’t just wear clothes anyhow and put several layers. Thus, this is the usual layer order (n°1 is the closest to your skin):
For the top:
1. The technical T-shirt. It’s a breathing layer to evacuate the body humidity. Be careful to avoid cotton: this matter keeps humidity and you risk to be wet quickly.
2. The fleece jacket, the heavy pullover: This is the insulating layer. This clothe keeps the body heat.
3. The winter jacket (and not the coat). It’s the waterproof and the windbreak layer.
For the bottom:
1. It’s not necessary to wear a breathing layer, unless you sweat from the legs.
2. The pantyhose: This is the insulating layer.
3. The ski pants: This is the waterproof layer.
You have also take your gloves, a hat, socks, and ski boots. The winter sports fans know it, the cold comes through the extremities (hands, feet, etc.) or through direct contact (face, etc.). Be also careful with the material quality if you buy new equipment. There is nothing worse than miss the northern lights because of the cold.
How to photograph northern lights?
First of all, I warn you: I’m not a photography expert. I can use the pre-program mode on my camera and that’s it! Nevertheless, I can give you some advice.
- Use a tripod. It’s mandatory, without a tripod your photo won’t be clear. The camera must be absolutely still the moment you take the picture.
- The programs. On some cameras, there is a “night” program. If you’re not an expert, you can use this program. The first time I took pictures of northern lights, I used this program. The second time, I was more comfortable with my camera and I changed the settings myself.
- The settings. If you wish to set your camera, here are the settings I used for my camera: 10s delay with the focal length at 2,8 and the Iso at 2000. As I told, I’m not an expert so if you’re a professional photographer, don’t hesitate to add more advice in the comments.
- Practice. The northern lights can last for minutes or hours. Try your settings/programs and your tripod before trying to photograph it!
Now, you know everything about the northern lights, you can go chase them!