Top 8 Places to See the Northern Lights
This article was written by Zoë Smith on behalf of Viator.com's Travel Blog.
One of the world’s most dazzling natural phenomenons, few vistas can top the Northern Lights, officially known as the Aurora Borealis (signifying the meeting of Aurora, Roman goddess of the dawn, and Borealis, the Greek North Wind). Created by solar winds interacting with charged particles in the earth’s magnetic field, the Lights appear as otherworldly streaks of green, red, yellow, and purple light dancing across the arctic skies. Visible throughout the so-called ‘Northern Lights Oval,' countries lying in the far-northern latitudes, optimally between 10 and 20 degrees from the magnetic North Pole, are most likely to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, which occurs predominantly between late-September and late-March, often close to midnight. While travelers flock to the world’s northernmost countries for a glimpse of the Northern Lights, seeing them is no exact science and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a good look. From the snow-enveloped wilderness of Siberia to the northernmost tip of Canada, here are some of the best places to see the Northern Lights. So wrap up warm, pick a crisp, clear night, and cross your fingers.
With its stark beauty, starry skylines and magnificent frosted landscapes, Iceland’s unique backdrop makes it a favorite place for photographers to capture the Lights. Auroral activity is greatest during the mid-winter months and the lights are visible from locations all over the country (on clear nights, you might even catch a few glimmers in Reykjavik). Two of the most popular watching areas are the ‘Golden Circle’—encompassing the Thingvellir National Park and the Haukadalur geothermic valley—and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, home to the famous Snaefellsjokull glacier, both easy trips from Reykjavik. For some of the clearest views and viewpoints away from the crowds, head to the northern coast on the brink of the Arctic Circle—the volcanic Reykjanes Peninsula and the northern city of Akureyri are both great choices.
In the far north of the United States, Alaska’s vast snowy wilderness casts an eerie shadow beneath the glow of the Northern Lights and the further you venture out of the cities, the brighter the lights seem to shine. Fairbanks, Denali, and the Yukon Territory are all popular locations for watching the lights (the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau claims an 80 percent chance of seeing them if you stay there for three nights), or else, you can hire a knowledgeable guide and just head north. Alaska also offers some of the most unique ways to see the lights, meaning that you’re guaranteed a memorable experience with or without the lightshow. Take an arctic cruise from Fairbanks, Anchorage, or Ketchikan and view the lights from the water; go ‘flightseeing’ for a chance to get up close to the lights by flying over the Arctic circle; take an overnight train over the snow covered Alaska Range; or stave off the frostbite by soaking in the Chena Hot Springs while you wait.
Read more about When to Visit Alaska.
Those looking for a dose of wintertime magic will find plenty to fuel their imagination in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region and Santa Claus’ official European base. Along with visiting the home of Mr. Claus and whizzing over the snow on a husky-driven sled, viewing the Northern Lights is a right of passage for visitors to Lapland. In Finland the lights are known as Revontulet, meaning ‘Fox fire’, named after the local fairytale featuring a fox whose swishing tail sent sparks flying across the North sky. Northern Lights tours are everywhere in Lapland with in-season viewings occurring on an average of two out of three nights, and there are a plethora of viewing options. Take a reindeer safari, climb to popular lookout points on a snowmobile, stay overnight in an igloo or visit the world’s first Northern Lights Observatory atop the 904-meter Haldde Mountain.
The Northern Lights still hold special significance for the Russian Saami tribes, who gather to watch the lights from the shores of the vast Lake Lovozero and read their fortunes in the colored streaks. Perhaps one of the lesser-visited Northern Lights regions, Russia is the go-to place if you want the wilderness to yourself, with a mammoth stretch of the country lying close to the Arctic Circle and almost all of the northern regions offering great views. The Kola Peninsula, snaking towards Scandinavia in Northwestern Russia, is one of the principal Lights-watching areas thanks to its prime location on the Northern Lights’ belt and a number of guided excursions run from the Arctic city of Murmansk. Get there in December or January and you’ll be gifted with pitch-black days and nights, as the sun disappears from view for around six weeks. Alternatively, Severodvinsk is renowned for having some of the brightest lights in Russia, with red and green glows even visible from inside the city and Salekhard is the world’s only city located on the Arctic Circle putting it firmly inside the superior viewing zone.
The most southern country in Scandinavia might be a bit far away from the Arctic Circle, but there are still opportunities to see the Lights on Danish shores. Greenland’s Inuit population have been enjoying some of the clearest views of the Northern Lights for centuries, believing that the eerie illuminations are the lost souls of the dead, and today the territory retains one of the highest hit rates of Aurora sightings. Head to the popular town of Kangerlussuaq or take a cruise along the sparsely populated East coast, with a backdrop of towering icebergs. Alternatively, Denmark’s Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago stranded halfway between Iceland and Norway, are likely one of the most unique locations to experience the Lights, with regular flights from Copenhagen.
Each Scandinavian country has its own stake in Northern Lights tourism, but Sweden boasts its own unique claim to fame. Jukkasjarvi was home to the world’s first ice hotel and bar, fashioned entirely out of the cold stuff, inspiring dozens of imitations around the globe, and remaining one of the most atmospheric places to base your Northern Lights excursion. Abisko National Park is another one of Sweden’s highlights, where you can head to Torneträsk Lake, renowned for its unique micro-climate which affords weatherproof clear skies or visit the legendary Aurora Sky Station where you can take a chair-lift up to the summit, explore the special Northern Lights Exhibition and watch the night sky from the open-air observation deck. There are plenty of other prime spots, too—the Tornedalen region, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Laponia and the far northern town of Luleå are all popular choices. Time your visit for the darkest part of the year, between November and February, and if you’re lucky enough to catch the sky ablaze, make sure you keep quiet—local Sámi mythology dictates that it’s bad luck to make a noise during the Aurora Borealis.
With its wild landscapes blanketed with snow and ice-capped fjords glistening beneath the stars, Norway offers one of the most otherworldly backdrops for watching the Northern Lights. With the northern half of the country stretching into the Arctic Circle and more viewing locations than anywhere in Scandinavia, Norway has some of the brightest and most frequent sightings in the world. The Lofoten islands, Alta, Svalbard, and Finnmark all have high rates of Lights spottings, but Tromsø remains one of the most popular destinations, so much so that Hurtigruten ships even run Northern Lights cruises along the rugged Norwegian coastline. And there’s plenty to pass the time while you’re waiting for the midnight lightshow—Norway is one of Europe’s premier winter sports destinations, with skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding and snowmobiling all popular ways to enjoy the snow.
Read about more Winter Activities in Norway.
With the north of the country lying within the North Magnetic Pole and the western Yukon Territory crowned as one of the world’s best viewing spots, there are plenty of good reasons to take your Aurora quest to Canada. Make the most of snow while you’re there, by learning the popular local sport of dog mushing (riding husky-driven sleds) and exploring some of the most stunning winter landscapes in the Northern Hemisphere. Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offer plenty of opportunities to see the Lights, as well as being snowmobiling hotspots home to over 1,500km of trails; or spot two winter wonders in one trip, with a visit to Manitoba, on the cusp of the Aurora Oval and a popular place to witness polar bears in their natural habitat. For a real adventure though, take a boat or plane to Iqaluit, a natural paradise tucked away on Baffin Island, where you’ll be in the heart of the Arctic and far away from the lights of the city.
Cazenovia, NY, Makes An Impressive Leap in Our Coolest Small Town 2014 Contest!
Wow! Cazenovia, NY, has rocketed to second place in our Coolest Small Town 2014 contest, passing (at least for now!) the folks in Buckhannon, VA, who had held first or second place since the contest began in mid-January. (Berlin, MD, still holds the top spot.) Cazenovia, a charming upstate hamlet that's home to a vibrant downtown, lovely lake, and a variety of distinctive architectural styles, has received nice publicity from media outlets in central New York, including Syracuse,com. That, in turn, has clearly inspired the town's fans to spring into action and vote daily. Congrats, Cazenovia! So, how does a town with a population of fewer than 3,000 zoom to the number-two spot? Well, keep in mind that Budget Travel is all about, well, travel. The towns on our list were nominated by our audience because they are not just cool places to live but also cool destinations to travel to. Translation? The winning town will grab the title of Coolest by organizing its fan base—whether they are in town, in state, or even across the U.S. or the world!—so that each person casts one vote per day until the contest closes at 12:00 a.m. on February 25. (We allow up to one daily vote per IP address to prevent "robo-voting.") Here's where our 15 contenders currently stand: 1. Berlin, MD 2. Cazenovia, NY 3. Buckhannon, WV 4. Mathews, VA 5. Travelers Rest, SC 6. Galena, IL 7. Rockport, TX 8. Kelleys Island, OH 9. Elkin, NC 10. Estes Park, CO 11. Nevada City, CA 12. Deadwood, SD 13. Pahoa, HI 14. Everglades City, FL 15. Huntington Woods, MI
Berlin, MD, Leads Our Coolest Small Town Voting!
Congrats to the folks in Berlin, MD, who have organized a great early turnout in our Coolest Small Town 2014 voting! After Buckhannon, WV, shot to the top in the early days of voting last weekend, Berlin steadily built a lead. While we consider every one of our 15 contenders cool towns, the final results are now in the hands of folks like you all over the U.S. (and, really, all over the world) who visit us each day to cast a vote for their Coolest pick. In past years, we've seen incredibly devoted boosters organize worldwide campaigns to propel towns like Lititz, PA; Beaufort, NC; and Hammondsport, NY, to the toppermost of the list. Voting continues till 12:00 a.m. on Tuesday February 25 (that's more than four weeks away), and you're allowed to vote once each day. Got a fave town on the list? Vote early, vote often! And check back here at This Just In for regular updates. As of Sunday night, here's how our 15 contenders stood: 1. Berlin, MD 2. Buckhannon, WV 3. Mathews, VA 4. Travelers Rest, SC 5. Cazenovia, NY 6. Rockport, TX 7. Kelleys Island, OH 8. Galena, IL 9. Nevada City, CA 10. Elkin, NC 11. Estes Park, CO 12. Deadwood, SD 13. Pahoa, HI 14. Huntington Woods, MI 15. Everglades City, FL
Vote Now for America's Coolest Small Town!
Budget Travel knows a cool town when it sees one, and these 15 finalists—the result of weeks of nominations from BT's online audience—are now vying for bragging rights to the title of Coolest. This year's 15 contenders—which stretch from upstate New York to Hawaii—have a few things in common: populations under 10,000, beautiful locales, thriving downtowns, outstanding community spirit, and a noteworthy food, wine, art, or music scene. One thing they can't share is the top spot in our 9th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest. CAST YOUR VOTE—up to once a day!—between now and 12:00 a.m. on February 25, when one town will be crowned Coolest. Here, our 15 contenders for the title of America's Coolest Small Town 2014: Berlin, MD (Population: 4,563) Like the scenery in the films Tuck Everlasting and The Runaway Bride? You'll love Berlin, MD, where both movies were shot! Downtown is a National Register Historic District that plays host to fun events all year long, from a regular farmers market to one-of-a-kind bashes like the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, Victorian Christmas, and, yes, even bathtub races. Buckhannon, WV (Population: 5,645) Smack dab in the heart of West Virginia, Buckhannon received the most nominations of any town in this year's Coolest Small Towns preliminary round. With an artsy Main Street (with specialty shops, antiques, and galleries), historic downtown, and a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers just outside of town, Buckhannon just may be "the little town that could." Cazenovia, NY (Population: 2,756) If Central New York isn't already on your travel radar, get ready for a big, and very pleasant, surprise! Cazenovia, on the shores of Cazenovia Lake, may make you feel like you've discovered the perfect small town you thought didn't really exist. Stroll down Albany Street for a trip back in time, and drop by the Scottish-themed Brae Loch Inn for its exceptional Sunday brunch. Deadwood, SD (Population: 1,263) These days, the "wild" in "wild west" has more to do with gaming, fine dining, and having fun than white hats and shootouts on Main Street. Take a tour of the Broken Boot Mine, visit any number of historic homes and shops, and even visit the graves of real-life western legends Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Elkin, NC (Population: 4,024) Here, you'll find just about every outdoor activity you might like, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, bird watching, and cycling. But when you're ready to relax after a day in the wild, the town's galleries, historic sites, shops, theaters, wine trails, and restaurants will make you feel that you're in a town more than twice the size. Estes Park, CO (Population: 6,017) When your town is the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, you've got a pretty good head start on other cool burghs. Skiing and snowshoeing the surrounding mountains is a must in winter, and rafting, fishing, and wildlife viewing are on tap in warmer months (if you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the iconic bighorn sheep with its curved horns). Everglades City, FL (Population: 403) This lovely, tiny town is truly the gateway to the unique mangrove estuaries and 10,000 Islands of Everglades National Park, not to mention a prized destination for tasty stone crabs (reserve a table at the Seafood Depot, a nice eatery housed in the town's 1928 train station). Galena, IL (Population: 3,400) Nestled among rolling hills along Illinois's Galena River, this bustling town, once home to Civil War general and 18th president Ulysses Grant, has a thriving downtown with unique boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Visit one of the area's three local wineries, hike the easy, beautiful hills just outside town, kayak the gentle rivers, and golf at one of the state's most prized courses. Huntington Woods, MI (Population: 6,288) Ranked one of America's friendliest towns by Forbes and one of America's top 10 suburbs by MarketWatch, Huntington Woods is a quiet suburb of Detroit (with a small piece of the Detroit Zoo within town limits!) appropriately nicknamed the City of Homes. Kelleys Island, OH (Population: 313) Located in Lake Erie, about 12 miles from Sandusky, Kelleys Island proves that good things come in small packages: Spend a long weekend here (it's a 20-minute ferry ride from Marblehead) and you'll likely agree, especially if you like getting up close and personal with nature. Mathews, VA (Population: 8,884) Mathews is not just a town but also Virginia's smallest county, with just 84 square miles and no traffic lights. But we know "small" and "cool" go together like beaches and cottages. Speaking of which, Mathews includes miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline that make it a prime summer destination for beachgoers, bird watchers, cyclists, fishermen, and kayakers. Nevada City, CA (Population: 3,046) Nevada City may be a little off the beaten path (60 miles northeast of Sacramento, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), but residents value the Gold Country town for its music and art scene, food, and proximity to some of California's amazing rivers, lakes, and the Sierras. Pahoa, HI (Population: 945) Located on Hawaii's Big Island not far from Hilo, Pahoa has unique shops, a retro mid-20th-century vibe, and puts you in beautiful volcano country, a short drive from dried lava fields and about an hour from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rockport, TX (Population: 9.133) Never heard of Rockport? Well, we hadn't either, which just means it's now not only a candidate for Coolest Small Town but also for one of our best-kept secrets. Here, artists, saltwater fishermen, and birdwatchers have been lured to Texas's warm Gulf coast. Travelers Rest, SC (Population: 4,750) Travelers Rest gets its travel-mag-ready moniker from the pioneer days, when travelers followed a trail dotted with the occasional tavern or inn. But the town offers not only restful, comfy lodgings but also world-class outdoor activities.
6 Places To Visit In Cairo
Article by Jennifer Gilligan. With thousands of years of history tied to the area, Egypt's capital is a spectacular place to visit, especially for those seeking a historic adventure. [Editor's note: If you decide to make the trip to Egypt anytime soon, please proceed with caution. Otherwise, a little armchair travel is in order.] Here are six of our favorite must-see spots in Cairo. Pyramids of GizaWhile the Pyramids of Giza aren't technically within the city, they aren't too far of a drive and are definitely a must-see if you're in the area. The pyramids are the only one of the original seven Ancient Wonders of the World still standing today, dating back to more than 2,000 B.C. Visitors can get an up close and personal look at these incredible structures and can even buy tickets to tour the inside of the pyramids. You can begin purchasing tour tickets on-site at 8:30 daily, but tickets for each tour are limited, so make sure to get to the ticket kiosk early to beat the crowds. Cairo Opera HouseEnjoy the performing arts in Cairo at the Cairo Opera House—with seven theatres, you can catch a show almost any day of the week. If opera isn't your thing, you can always catch a ballet or musical performance, explore the art gallery, opera museum, or music library, or grab a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. Cairo TowerMake your way to the top of Cairo Tower to enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Standing 187 meters high, the tower features an observation deck and a rotating restaurant at the top. Entrance fees cost 20 L.E. (about $3) for Egyptian residents and 70 L.E. (about $10) for non-Egyptian visitors. During the winter, Cairo Tower is open from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. during the summer. Egyptian MuseumThe Egyptian Museum in Cairo is the largest museum in Egypt and home to 160,000 items in 107 halls. Here, you can explore ancient pharaonic artifacts stretching back 5,000 years, and see mummies up close. General admission costs 4 L.E. (about $1) for Egyptian residents and 60 L.E. (about $9) for foreign visitors, but you'll have to pay a little extra to enter the Royal Mummies Room and the Centennial Gallery. Colossus of Ramesses IIMeasuring 10 meters long, the Colossus of Ramesses II is a spectacular sight. With a museum built around the lying statue to protect it, the site is especially well-preserved. You can inspect the statue up close from ground-level, or capture photos from a second-story balcony. Even though the statue is unfinished, visitors are still amazed by the craftmanship and attention to detail of this magnificent sculpture. While you're here, explore other artifacts in the museum or check out other structures outside the museum like the Alabaster Sphinx. The Colossus of Ramesses II statue is located in the Memphis Museum, located just south of Cairo in the village of Mit Rahina on the Nile's west bank. City of the DeadThe City of the Dead spans four miles and includes a wealth of tombs and mausoleums. One of the most unique aspects of the massive cemetery is the fact that some people still live there, some to be near their ancestors and others because they have no other choice. Visitors enjoy this site because of the marvelous monuments and structures, while others love discovering the cultural diversity of the area. If you want to explore Egypt's history, this is a great place to do it, where you can enjoy monuments, structures, and buildings, such as the Funerary Complex of Sultan Qaitbay.