This one’s on our 2016 travel wish-list!
A symphonic ballet of cascading colours. A light orchestra. Overwhelming silence. Unforgettable. Those who have seen the Northern Lights often struggle to capture its emotive energy in words. Not to get too science-y on you, but as with all natural phenomena, this too has an explanation. Drawn in by the magnetic fields, electrically charged particles dance towards the Earth’s poles and are dispersed into an array of colours by gases in the upper atmosphere. There are no guarantees when it comes to a sighting of the Aurora Borealis, but it helps to take into account what makes each viewpoint a potential winner.
Nothing beats nature’s own theatre, and the travel experts at KAYAK.com.hk have put together the top 5 destination suggestions to help you hedge your bets:
Iceland is on top of the list for so many reasons. Its diverse and awe-inspiring landscape almost makes a sighting of the Northern Lights feel excessive. The viewing season is a long one by any standards and while it is relatively remote, it is also easily accessible and somewhat affordable as far as Arctic destinations go. Not to mention the endless opportunities for outdoor adventure, the deliciously hot Blue Lagoon thermal retreat, city nightlife and the culinary specialties the country has to offer.
Best locations to view: Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park
How to get there: Flights from Hong Kong to Reykjavik from HK$7166*
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Reykjavik from HK$824* per night
Time to go: September to April
The amateur meteorologists out there will have already joined the dots to figure out that Svalbard is about as good as it gets for the Northern Lights in Europe, scientifically speaking. A Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, Svalbard is getting up there as far as latitude is concerned. Should the Aurora Borealis escape you here, the eery Polar Night won’t, allowing you to experience life without daylight, something us more equatorial dwellers are sure to find fascinating. Keeping things a little closer to the mainland, Tromsø is also a good option. Within the Arctic Circle and in possession of a well-placed airport, the town is a logical destination to commence your search for the elusive light display. Consider a cruise along the fjords to take your sighting to the next level.
Best locations to view: Tromsø, Alta, Svalbard, Finnmark
How to get there: Flights from Hong Kong to Tromsø from HK$8449*
Where to stay: Clarion Hotel the Edge from HK$1384* per night
Time to go: November to February
Here is a place you need not fear boredom biting at your heels. If the Lights don’t show, take a reindeer safari, chill in a sauna or explore the Urho National Park. In fact, why not combine outdoor activity with your Northern Lights chase and try traditional snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling under the glow of the Arctic sky? Officially, the Northern Lights are visible 200 days per year in Finland, and we say those are some pretty good odds. From Helsinki you can head to Kakslauttanen, Luosto, Nellim, or any of the much sought after viewing spots in Finland.
Best locations to view: Kakslauttanen, Luosto, Nellim, Utsjoki, Ivalo
How to get there: Flights from Hong Kong to Helsinki from HK$6786*
Where to stay: Glo Hotel Kluuvi, Helsinki from HK$957* per night
Time to go: August to April
We would be remiss to exclude Canada from the top 5. No place with names like the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia should ever be left off a list. Choosing which delightfully monikered town to visit first may be an issue, but given the Aurora Oval covers most of the country, Calgary is a convenient starting point. From there, head out into the vast wilderness for your own private viewing of the heavenly theatrics.
Best locations to view: Calgary, Ontario, Yukon Territory, Manitoba
How to get there: Flights from Hong Kong to Calgary from HK$6212*
Where to stay: Fairmont Palliser from HK$1431 per night*
Time to go: August to April
5. Northern Russia
Russia doesn’t appear on too many lists when it comes to the Aurora Borealis, yet the phenomenon still holds cultural significance for the Russian Saami tribes, and the region is an adventure in itself. Basing yourself in Murmansk or the Arctic city of Severodvinsk is a good place to start, with proximity to a number of potential viewing sites and virtually endless wilderness. Citizens of Hong Kong are in the rather enviable position of being able to travel relatively unrestricted in Russia, due to visa exemptions. This means if you’re brave enough to accept the challenge posed by a life-affirming Siberian winter, a truly unique Northern Lights experience awaits.
Best locations to view: Murmansk, Siberia, Kola Peninsula, Severodvinsk
How to get there: Flights from Hong Kong to Murmansk from HK$8523*
Where to stay: Azimut Hotel Murmansk from HK$515* per night
Time to go: November to March
So you’re ready to take the plunge and head North for the winter? There are a few things to consider for the ultimate trip. Above all, go for the destination, not the Northern Lights. This way, if you witness the spectacle it will be a bonus, and if you don’t, your holiday won’t feel wasted. Avoid dates around the full moon and make the effort to travel away from the light pollution of the civilised world. Spend as many nights as you can in the area or use an Aurora Forecast app and stay flexible. Take a tripod and mid to high-end digital camera with you to capture the wondrous display and make these memories last long after you’ve witnessed this incredible experience.
Top tip: Explore is an easy way to find the price of flights available to several destinations from your nearest airport. At a glance, you can gain inspiration for your next trip, or identify offers for flights within your budget.
To search and compare prices for flights, hotels, car rentals and much more, visit KAYAK.com.hk or download the app.
*Prices displayed are based on searches conducted on 10th November 2015. Flight prices are based on a round trip economy fare for travels from 10th – 16th January 2016. Hotel prices are for double occupancy per room per night. Prices are subject to change, availability may be limited or offers may no longer be available.