The dancing Northern Lights near the Churchill Northern Studies Center calls to visitors from all over the world. Photo by Emmanuel Milou / CC BY 2.0
‘Tis the season when the lure of multi-coloured hues dancing across the night sky ignites a deep wanderlust that is beyond words and impossible to ignore. The Aurora Borealis invokes a deep stirring – and rightly so, for it is one of the most visually enthralling natural phenomena in the world.
The frenzy to book a Northern Lights holiday gets a notch more competitive this season, what with reports of a coming decade of “dimming” and, more recently, forecasts predicting the lights will be particularly stellar this year due to solar flares. In fact, if you start your search only now, you are late to the game!
Should you find it challenging to book popular destinations such as Kakslauttanen in Finland, Tromso in Norway, Sweden’s Jukkasjärvi and Icelandic capital Reykjavík, or prefer a less-touristy Northern Lights adventure, remember there are worthy alternatives you can consider. Read on for Quotient’s picks of lesser-known spots where you can feast your eyes on the spectacular wonder while indulging in unique experiences to boot.
Boasting one of the heaviest concentrations of Northern Light activity in the world, the town is a safe bet when it comes to viewing the potentially elusive display. Hop aboard a Tundra Buggy and embrace the majestic vision from the great outdoors or take in a 360-degree view of the aurora from the comfort of a glass pod specially designed to keep you toasty on frosty nights.
Wildlife enthusiasts will no doubt encounter a different sort of paradise at Churchill. Home to one of the few human settlements with polar bears, passengers get up close and personal with the massive padded creatures while on board a Tundra vehicle. For a rush of exhilaration, race through the snowy lands on a dog sled as the crisp wind blows past. Take rein of the energetic animals and carve your own path through the terrain — there’s no adventure quite like a self-made one.
Outside of the season, between mid-June and mid-September, embark on a Zodiac boat or kayak in search of curious beluga whales; the marine animals are prone to frolicking in their natural habitat out on the Churchill River.
Aberdeen shares the same altitude as Alaska, making it possible to catch sight of the fascinating aurora from the northern part of the city. Lock in the remarkable sight of the lights illuminating the ruins of the Slains Castle as it perches atop a cliff or savour the feeling of sand beneath your toes as you gaze out at the lights shimmering softly in the boundless skies above the Aberdeen Beach.
With buildings made from granite, the city literally dazzles when sunlight strikes the silvery-grey rocks. Aberdeenshire is peppered with an impressive 300 castles; the stately Balmoral Castle at Royal Deeside is a firm favourite amongst the royals, while the salmon-pink Craigievar Castle is believed to have inspired Walt Disney when he created his magical kingdoms. Ascend Bennachie Hill to immerse yourself in the rustic Scottish countryside — the peak offers panoramic views of rolling farmlands stretching as far as the eye can see.
Few get the opportunity to indulge as fully in the awe-inspiring spectacle that is the Northern Lights than at this coastal city. It is home to Northern Scandinavia’s only Aurora Safari Camp, the luxurious lodging that includes an outdoor tented sauna. Alternatively, soak in the beauty of the aurora undulating over the Lule River while nestled in a cosy treetop cabin standing tall amidst a regal forest.
Located on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, Luleå’s frosty conditions also open it up to an unparalleled world of entertainment. Make like the locals and whizz on a snowmobile atop sea ice through an archipelago or dense woodland rich with wildlife. At Gültzauudden, become one of the rare audiences to listen as a full orchestra performs in an igloo with instruments delicately constructed using ice and snow. On a hush winter night, leave imprints of your footsteps on powdery snow as you wander with lanterns under the blanket of the midnight sky through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gammelstad, home to the largest late-medieval stone church in Northern Sweden.
Embark on an epic adventure as you interact and even fall asleep with wolves under the myriad of Northern Lights floating overhead. For a less heart-thumping but no less breathtaking experience, ascend in an indulgent gondola high up into Narvik Mountain and marvel at the fluttering aurora as it casts a mystical glow on the town and fjord beyond.
The dreamy winter landscape sparkles with a different beauty in the daylight. For a taste of it, cruise into neighbouring fjords in search of whistling orcas; you’ll surely find yourself diminutively juxtaposed next to mighty mountains along the way. In addition, the 42-kilometre-long Ofoten railway, which counts amongst the most spectacular train journeys in the world, effortlessly scales the white-washed mountainous terrain where glittering waters occasionally peek through.
Sitting in a prime position, the city boasts majestic views of the Aurora Borealis along its peaceful coastline. Appreciate the otherworldly lights from a heightened elevation of 500 metres at Sugarloaf Mountain, the most popular hiking spot in the city for its spectacular panoramic views. For a relatively effortless viewing option, trundle down to Little Presque Isle’s sandy shores to soak in the mesmerising sight of the phenomenon as it reflects off the glistening surface of Lake Superior.
When you awake, grab your snow gear and get ready for adventure! Zoom down the 24 trails of Marquette Mountain armed with skis or a snowboard. Suitable for all levels, the cosy lodge also provides classes for beginners to these winter sports. If you’re up for a new experience, give Fat Tire Snow Biking a go. Invented in Alaska, the sport features fat bikes purposefully built to boost mobility and stability as bikers cycle over snowy terrain. Who would have thought cycling in winter was possible?
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