Where do the northern lights come from?

Aurora borealis and silhouette of standing man

The beautiful lights of the aurora borealis can sometimes be seen over UK skies. But where do they come from?

In short, the northern lights are a result of charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth's magnetic field.

As particles from the solar wind follow the lines of our protective field down to the poles of our planet, they collide with the individual atoms of our atmosphere to produce the spectacular light show.

Incredible ways to see the Northern Lights
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Incredible ways to see the Northern Lights

Witness the spectacular phenomenon while on a flight for unique viewing. Fly via Helsinki with Finnair and you could encounter the Northern Lights as your flight comes within the aurora range. Tromso in Norway is almost always directly beneath the hottest streak of aurora activity and a great place to start. Pilots advise passengers which side of the aircraft to look out of so that no-one misses the incredible light show from the sky. Flights to Lapland are a popular route to take in the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous spectacle and even flights across Asia to Japan and China stand a good chance of seeing the lights. Finnair flies from London Heathrow to Helsinki five times a day, from £165 return.

For a unique way to experience the Northern Lights, travellers to Finnish Lapland can hole up in a mobile camp on Lake Inari. You'll spend two nights at the Hotel Kultahovi before sleeping in a mobile cabin for one night. The cabin is towed onto a secluded spot on the lake, complete with a personal sauna and hot tub. With large windows on the front, sides and roof, it's an ideal base for spotting the Northern Lights, while a cosy double bed, heating and on-board facilities ensure a peaceful and restful night. Best Served Scandinavia offers the four-day holiday from £855 ​per person, including flights, which are available from ​December 2017 to April 2018.​

Rail lovers can celebrate the New Year and Rozhdestvo (Russian Christmas) in style, venturing deep into the Russian and Norwegian Arctic Circle in pursuit of the magnificent Aurora Borealis from the comfort of the luxurious Golden Eagle train. A guest astronomer joins the tour to bring the night sky to life with his extensive knowledge and once deep in the Arctic Circle, you'll leave the train behind at Nikel and travel across the Russian/Norwegian border to Kirkenes, spending two nights at the Snow Hotel before you rejoin the Golden Eagle to travel to Murmansk, Petrozavodsk, Vladimir and Suzdal en route to Moscow, a fitting finale to this once-in-a-lifetime quest for the Northern Lights. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers the Arctic Explorer – Quest for the Northern Lights holiday departing 29 December 2017 from £9,695 per person on an all-inclusive basis.

Sledding is one of the coolest things you can do in the Arctic but it gets super chilly at night. The Aurora Zone's heated Aurora sleighs allow you to spend the night hunting the Northern Lights while staying warm. Available in the tiny and remote village of Nellim, Finnish Lapland, the sleighs are pulled by snowmobiles and feature heating, cosy seating and transparent walls with plenty of room to transport you through the Arctic wilderness in comfort. A Nellim - Wilderness Weekend costs from £1,085 per person, including flights and three nights' full-board accommodation.

Snowmobiling is one of the most exciting ways to search for the Northern Lights and Lake Inari in Finland is the ideal spot to get out and enjoy the spectacular displays. The Aurora Zone's Nangu Tailormade trip takes you Aurora snowmobiling at night across the stunningly still lake. Led by an experienced local guide, you will travel to a prime Northern Lights spotting location in the real Arctic wilderness. Accommodation is at Hotel Nangu, an adult-only boutique hotel made up of a series of elegant wooden lodges. The three-night break with The Aurora Zone costs from £1,295 per person and includes flights and full-board accommodation.
Take a dip in a frozen lake while wearing a warm, head-to-toe rescue suit. You'll lie comfortably in Arctic waters while looking up to the night sky above Rovaniemi, Finland, to search for the Northern Lights. This three-hour long experience starts at 7.30pm when the last hints of daylight have left the Arctic sky – perfectly timed to experience the polar night. The Aurora Floating experience from Off the Map Travel is included in a three-night itinerary which costs from £1,289 per person based on a half-board basis with a stay at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel.

Sip cocktails as you await the Aurora Borealis at Ion Hotel's Northern Lights Bar in Iceland. The glass-walled drinking spot offers panoramic views over Lake Thingvallavatn, as well as beer from Iceland's independent micro-breweries and Icelandic folk tunes. Perched on stilts at the foot of Mount Hengill, the hotel is just an hour's drive from Reykjavik but feels a world away, providing a unique spot for remote Northern Lights viewing. Standard rooms are available from £207 per night.


The new Apukka Resort in Finnish Lapland offers superb Northern Lights viewing opportunities with a range of unique and unusual accommodation options, including the unusual heated Aurora Wagons. These wagons can be transported to unique and beautiful spots in the wilderness, from snow-laden hilltops to frozen lakes, and feature a comfy bed and a small kitchenette, while the glass roof panels look up to the inky black of the Arctic night and, hopefully, a private view of nature’s greatest light show. Trips depart at 8:30pm and last for 12 hours. A four-day tailor-made break with Best Served Scandinavia starts from £1,195 per person, including flights, two nights in an Aurora Cabin and an overnight Aurora Wagon experience.

Reminiscent of something from a science-fiction movie, The Aurora Zone's exclusive Aurora Bubbles are heated pods in the grounds of the Nellim Wilderness Hotel in Finland. The Bubbles feature a large north-facing dome window, double beds and a toilet area, and are ideal for scanning the night sky for a Northern Lights display. They are located in an area of minimal light pollution to enhance your chances of witnessing the Aurora, but within walking distance from the main building and give guests a genuine wilderness experience. A three-night Nellim - Wilderness Weekend costs from £1,085 per person, including flights.

Join a trained chef and mountain guide in the Arctic wilderness where a four-course banquet will be prepared, using local ingredients and cooked over an open fire in the middle of the Arctic wilderness. Dinner will be served in a locally built igloo and as well as learning about the ingredients and how important they are for local cookery, your guide will tell you about the local connection with the Northern Lights as you, hopefully, witness the Lights dancing overhead. The Taste of the Arctic experience from Off the Map Travel is included in a three-night Northern Lights itinerary, which costs from £1,499 per person.


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