The Northern Lights – or aurora borealis – are solar winds disturbing the magnetic field surrounding the sun. Does that sound frightening? Luckily, the human eye sees these storms as enchanting color shows. Most commonly, the Northern Lights appear as long, green-colored swirls or ‘curtains’ that dance around the night sky. White, red, and purple rays have – although rarer – also been observed.
As a resident in Scandinavia, you are in the perfect position to go and seek out this magical phenomenon yourself. However, the Northern Lights are careful in showing themselves to the world. They are rare and even when they occur, difficult to catch. In other words: preparation is key!
Three Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights
The most crucial factor: Find a good spot. Despite Stockholm lying far south of the Arctic Circle, even here you can see the Northern Lights if you are lucky! The best places in Stockholm are Hammarbybacken and Lappis Beach. Both locations are fairly central and each comes with its own advantages. As you may already know, Hammarbybacken is a ski resort on top of a slope. Its height provides a clear view of the northern skies. Lappis Beach is in close proximity to many student accommodations. The many trees ensure that it’s free from any direct ‘light pollution’ that may hinder you.
Outside of Stockholm, ‘the further north, the better’ counts. This means that you have the greatest chance in Lappland, Sweden’s northernmost province. In Abisko, just north of Kiruna, you can visit the Aurora Sky Station for the best possible views. Located on top of a mountain in the middle of a national park, a view of the Northern Lights is almost guaranteed here!
During December and January, it can get dark as early as 2:30 pm in Stockholm. Since the Northern Lights cannot be seen in daylight, the northern latitude works to your advantage. March and the beginning of April are also favorable times. Using the Aurora Forecast, you can check beforehand whether the Northern Lights are detectable in the area you live in. As this tool gives real-time information, you will likely jump out of bed or drop everything you were doing to text your friends that the time has come.
The weather can be a major deal-breaker. Clear skies are the best circumstances. Rain, snow, or even just clouds without any precipitation block the skies, preventing you from seeing anything at all.
Catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights entails having a lot of patience. When they appear, they usually do so for a short period of time only, until they vanish again.
One final tip: Dress warm! Since they are most likely to pop up during the winter months, wear warm clothes, good shoes, and perhaps even multiple layers of socks. Yet, once the skies are colored green, you will see a scenery so magical — one that you’ll never forget.
About the Author
Nick (age 22) studies environmental social science at Stockholm University. A Dutch native, he moved to Stockholm two years ago. Although once the very worst at finding artsy coffee places and affordable restaurants, he now has an eye for what’s going on in the city. Likes: hiking in nature and spontaneous meet-ups with friends. Still afraid of the dark Swedish winters.