The beguiling phenomenon of the Northern Lights is one that has been fascinating humans around the world for millennia. Most visible from within the Arctic Circle, the best way of appreciating nature’s most spectacular light show is through a Northern Lights cruise. Many routes combine a few nights on shore with others spent sailing in the utter darkness of the ocean – the best way of guaranteeing that you are treated to the hypnotic colors of the Aurora Borealis.
When should you book a Northern Lights cruise?
Produced by the collision of gas particles from the Earth’s atmosphere with those from the sun’s atmosphere, the lights are displayed in many different colors and patterns. Pale pink and green appearing as clouds of scattered light or ribbons of color are those which most frequently grace the northern skies, and the best time of the year to see them is during the winter months between September and April when the sky is darker.
The activity of the Aurora Borealis is cyclical and the last peak was in 2013, which means the last few years have been some of the best times to see them. But don’t despair. The cycle lasts for a period of 11 years, so the activity of the lights will continue to be more prominent for at least the next few, making it still a perfect time to plan a cruise.
Where are the best destinations to see the Northern Lights?
Although the northern lights have been seen as far south as the North of England, the best destinations are located much further north. Small settlements and vast stretches of ocean that suffer from the least light pollution are the best, and nothing beats the sight of the Aurora Borealis appearing in double as it reflects upon the ocean.
Culture and Northern Lights cruises to Greenland
The most northern community of east Greenland, Ittoqqortoormiit is a regular spot on the cruise circuit. Clear skies and minimal light pollution make it a prime setting for viewing the Northern Lights. Home to indigenous Inuit people, it also allows a fascinating window into this traditional culture.
Cruises to Greenland to see the Northern Lights also stop in the colorful capital, Nuuk, where brightly painted houses dot the icy tundra and humpback whales are observed in the ocean.
Encountering the night skies in Iceland
Another frequent stop off on cruises to view the Northern Lights is Iceland, where ships normally dock at the vibrant capital of Reykjavik. Very cold, clear nights are the magic formula for the Aurora in this city, but if these conditions don’t appear, the nearby geothermal Blue Lagoon is perfect for a soak, and Iceland’s multiple glaciers and national parks are a short distance away.
Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle in Norway
The northern coast of Norway finds itself in the gold zone of Northern Lights viewing territory, and cruises here often dock at Tromsø. At 190-miles (300 km) north of the Arctic Circle, the chances of viewing the lights are excellent, although the high levels of snowfall can lead to overcast skies.
Svalbard, an island deep into the Arctic Circle, also offers the Polar Night phenomenon, when the island doesn’t experience daylight between November and January and chances of seeing the Northern Lights are vastly increased.
The most northern city of Norway, Honningsvag is on the doorstep of the North Cape, a once significant navigational landmark and now another lauded spot for encountering the Aurora Borealis on a Northern Lights cruise.