Did you ever love fairy tales as a child? Fantastical stories of witches, wonder and magic? Where a swish of a wand could turn a rat into a stallion, an urchin into a princess and a drab day into happily every after. Perhaps the reason mankind has forever been (and will forever be) fascinated with fairy tales is that they present a version of the world that we would aspire to live in. Fortunately, there are a few places on earth that are so breathtakingly beautiful that it feels like we are in a mystical and magical land.
One such magical phenomenon is aurora borealis, or, as they are more commonly known – the Northern Lights! For about six months a year, the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Finland as well as parts of Canada and Alaska become home to skies painted in shades of neon green, violet and red smeared across the night sky in varying and ever changing patterns. As expected of a heavenly phenomenon such as this, the Northern Lights carry their own diverse folklore - in ancient Greece, Aurora was believed to be the goddess sister of the Sun and the Moon who chased them across the sky at night to beckon a new day, the North Americans considered the lights to be the spirits of the departed who remained in the sky to be a part of the lives of their loved ones while Swedish fishermen believed that the lights were reflections of giant schools of herring swimming beneath the ocean. Regardless of how thrilling these tales might be, thanks to modern science, we now know that the actual cause of the Aurora Borealis is the frequent clashes of high-energy electrically charged particles originating from outer space that are trying to enter the earth’s surface.
Luckily for millions of people around the world who do not happen to be Scandinavians (or fortunate enough to live in the Auroral Zone), Odyssey Tours and Travels has a number of varied options for you to tour across countries and view these inexplicable pieces of magic with your own eyes. Whether you want to explore multiple European cities, or sail at the edge of the word on a cruise ship, or gaze at this magnificence with nothing but a campfire by your side, you are sure to be enthralled. This blog explores the ways of making this dream a reality, no matter how you choose to.
Northern Lights Exploration in Iceland:
Iceland is a tiny Nordic Island nation, that eponymously boasts a topography replete with not just ice, but glaciers, craters, hot springs and volcanoes. What makes most people gravitate towards Iceland (specifically in the latter half of the year), are the lights painting the night sky into a spectacular canvas. The tour entails exploring the highlights of Iceland while trying to maximize the chances of seeing the elusive Northern Lights over eight days. The itinerary includes exploring the capital city of Reykjavik, climbing the Grábrók volcano crater, walking between two tectonic plates, taking a dip at Europe’s warmest hot spring, a series of waterfalls pouring from beneath a field of lava, cruising the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Hvalfjörður fjord as well as the Skaftafell National Park & Vatnajökull Glacier and an in-depth understanding of the Northern Lights by the Northern Lights Academy. This tour has been crafted exclusively to pick destinations and spots across Iceland that will provide the best views of the lights while your days are occupied with exploring this wonderful land.
In the middle of the Norwegian Sea:
Imagine a scenario where you are standing on the deck of a ship, the sky above you impossibly brighter than anything you could ever have imagined. And all around you, the pitch black water has been charmed into shades of neon, changing forms as quickly as the heavens above. Such magic is only possible when you are far away amidst the waves of the ocean, probably on a cruise. And when it comes to the Northern Lights, there is no cruise line as well versed and trusted as Hurtigruten Cruises. For over a century now, Hurtigruten cruises have successfully carried out voyages to parts of Norway, Greenland and most of the Scandinavian countries with cruises every single day of the year. With the mighty mother nature as company, as well as skilled crew members and astronomers who ensure you get to see the best sights of the night sky, a cruise here is guaranteed to stay in your heart forever.
Their exclusive Northern Lights cruises range from expansive 12 day voyages to 7 day cruises between Bergen and Kirkenes.
Camping across the Great White North:
Wild, hilly and sparsely populated, the northwestern Canadian territory of Yukon is the perfect escape from civilization to immerse yourself fully into the glory of your surroundings. Over the four days you spend in Yukon, you will first explore Whitehorse, Yukon’s charming capital city surrounded by stoic mountains. Your engagement with urbanity and civilization ends right there, as the next three days are spent moving away from the capital towards the Aurora Centre. The evenings are reserved for camping at specifically chosen spots for viewing the Northern Lights, while the mornings are for leisure and exploration of the wilderness that surrounds you.
Touring the Countries in Northern Europe:
You can also choose from multiple tour options of the countries in Northern Europe to experience the Northern Lights. Each country has its unique charm and culture – here are the key countries that you can visit over 7 to 8 days for an immersive destination experience along with viewing the Northern Lights:
Your days in Norway will be a testament to the Norwegian lifestyle with activities such as dog sledding, King crab fishing, the famed Whale Safari in Tromso, and visits to Kirkenes, Stavanger, Alta and Bergen. Artic Norway being located in the middle of the Northern Lights zone, as well as its proximity to other Scandinavian countries makes it the ideal stop for most travelers to kick off a Northern Lights tour.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a particular favourite of passengers travelling with their young families. The city is dotted with kid-friendly activities, from whale watching trips, the domestic animal zoo as well as Tjornin, an idyllic city pond were children can feed ducks.
Contrary to what its name suggests, quite a lot of this island is actually snow covered and white, and far removed enough from the glitz of most modern cities which makes it an ideal place to see the Aurora Borealis. A trip to Greenland will also give you the opportunity to explore its varied wildlife including polar bears, whales, musk oxen and a number of rare species, best seen in their natural habitat.
A world away from the hubbub of London and the rest of the UK, the Scottish highlands and nearby islands feel like a gateway to heaven, particularly when you can see green pastures and moors around you, and the ‘mirrie dancers’ -as the Northern Lights are called there- in the sky. While here, you cannot possibly miss a journey to Faroe Islands, Lerwick in Shetland and Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. Lerwick, Shetland’s main port, is on the same latitudinal level as Bergen in Norway, and the wonder of seeing the lights from these clutches of islands can be nothing short of magical.
While summer is always the season for travelling to Europe, the shorter daylight hours in the winter turn out to be a complete blessing. It is because during these months, with all due respect to the sun, the night sky steals the show entirely. No amount of time spent in the Auroral Zone is enough so savour every minute, pack as much warm clothing as possible, brush up on your high school geography to understand the latitudinal differences, keep yourself warm, insulted and caffeinated at all times. You’re going to be spending many a night gazing at the sky, pleading the million stars (that you never even knew existed) to show you a swish of colour playing hide and seek. But, truly, every single minute is going to be worth it.
And most importantly, while your hands are going to jump to your camera, let your eyes first relish in the mystical opera the Gods have put on display. Breathe in the cold and freezing air while trying to believe the vision before your eyes, and when you are absolutely certain you are seeing what you think you are, pick up your camera, and click away to your heart’s content (though it will never truly be!).