Ask for holiday advice for the depths of winter, and most people would suggest heading south, towards the sun. For the winter of 2013/14, though, the smart move is to head north, because there are more ways to enjoy the sun than just basking in it on a beach somewhere.
Every eleven years or so, the sun becomes very active. Like an obstreperous teenager it develops spots, flares up unpredictably, and starts throwing things around, disturbing the atmosphere. Luckily, the result is the awe-inspiring display of celestial fireworks we know as the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. This winter coincides with the peak of solar activity, and the aurorae are already dancing across the northern skies.
It’s a long time since people believed the Northern Lights heralded the end of the world, or that the red streamers across the sky were the work of fire-breathing dragons. They’re quite safe, so why not enjoy the show? As natural wonders go, they are certainly amongst the most breath-taking, and never the same twice. Vast swathes of the sky fill with shimmering curtains of green, white and red light, and although they may appear to reach right down to the ground, all the action actually occurs nearly a hundred miles above the ground.
See The Light
Every season, a dedicated band of aurora-watchers flock to northern climes to view this natural spectacle. Although the Lights do occasionally appear over the UK, they become more common and reliable further north, so the Nordic countries, Alaska, and Canada are all popular destinations. City breaks, remote wilderness treks, and independent travelling are all viable options for enjoying the show, but it’s always best to have some other interest for those times when the skies are cloudy, or the Lights take a night off.
Northern Lights Cruises
An increasingly popular way to sneak a glimpse of the Northern Lights is on a dedicated cruise, and various cruise operators, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises, are gearing up for the season this year. Apart from the Northern Lights, fjord-hopping up and down the coast of Norway offers some spectacular scenery, plenty of ice, and interesting drop off points. Being out to sea affords some excellent viewing conditions, too, as the night skies are free of the bright lights found on land, and the Northern Lights stand out all the better.
Pack Your Thermals
No pain, no gain, though. Before embarking on a cruise consider if you are a good sailor – the North Sea can be a little choppy in winter, and it would be a shame to miss the show and spend the whole trip feeling queasy in the cabin. As for baggage, expect to take a little more than shorts, flip flops, and dinner jacket. Plenty of layers and weatherproofs will be required, as the breeze off the glaciers can be rather nippy, and stout footwear is needed for the snow and ice when taking trips ashore. Being prepared will pay dividends and allow you to enjoy the glorious sights in comfort.