Everything you need to know about nature's own mesmerizing light show, the Aurora Borealis, and how to see them.
It's dark, you're outside and everything is quiet. Suddenly, a flicker of light in the sky grabs your attention. Pale and modest at first, soon intense and vibrant, transforming the dark sky into a mighty display of nature's power. It’s hypnotic and impossible to ignore.
But perhaps stangest of all: There is complete silence, while cascades of green, yellow, violet and red dance across the sky in silent harmony. The Northern Lights are like a mighty symphonic ballet with muted sound.
The Northern Lights and where to find them
The Northern Lights are also known as the Aurora Borealis, a name given to them by scientist and astronomer, Galileo. Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn, and Borealis is derived from the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.
The Northern Lights appear to those on the ground in different forms. They can look like a swirl of colours dancing through the sky, rays of light reaching up into space, and sometimes they appear as a giant fissure stretching across the sky.
They manifest as a dynamic light show across the skies high up in the Northern hemisphere near the Arctic Circle. The lights are strongest right beneath the auroral ovals, which makes northern Norway a prime spot for Northern Lights sightings.
The unearthly beauty of the aurora borealis mesmerises all who stay or travel in Polar Regions.
And like most natural phenomena, it has a prosaic explanation: It is caused by electrically charged particles, high in energy, entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
And those particles originate from the sun.
2. Aurora season lasts for 7 months
Technically, the Northern Lights are present for much of the year.
There just aren’t enough hours of darkness to see them during the summer months, even above the Arctic Circle.
The winter season in the Arctic lasts from late September to late March/ early April. During this time, the Arctic sky is dark enough for the Northern Lights to be visible in the right conditions.
Have more questions about the Northern Lights?
Photo: Swen Stroop, Ørjan Bertelsen and Allen Hwang
History of the Northern Lights: Myths and Legends
It's no wonder the aurora borealis have influenced folklore and stories through the ages. Imagine gazing up at green, red and purple lights flickering across the sky. Captivating, for sure. Scary? You bet. Today we know the science behind the lights, but back then, stories painted them as everything from bridges to the afterlife and football players to dangerous monsters and warning signs.
Having influenced art, history and religion, the myths and legends behind the Northern Lights are a fascinating insight into the mindset of different people across continents:
Norse myths and legends
The Vikings believed the Northern Lights illuminating the sky were the reflections of the Valkyries’ armour as they led the warriors to Odin.
North American myths and legends
Cree Indians also believed the lights were a way of communicating with their ancestors, and when dogs barked at the lights, it was because they recognised their lost companions.
European myths and legends
Swedish fishermen looked forward to seeing the aurora, as they thought the lights were the reflections of giant schools of herring swimming nearby.
Seeing the lights with Hurtigruten
The Northern Lights have enthralled mankind for a long time. Today, it keeps captivating travellers who venture north to the Arctic.
This cruise 100 per cent guarantees you'll see the Northern Lights – so did it deliver?
Hunt the light on a sailing with Hurtigruten. Video: Ole Christian Salamonsen
Northern Lights Winter 2020/21
The winter months in Norway are something truly special, and adventure is most definitely in the air above the Arctic Circle. Stand amazed as the graceful Northern Lights weave its rainbow of colours across the starlit sky.
The best time to catch it is from October to March*, and from the deck of a Hurtigruten ship, far from the city lights.
Travelling to see the Northern Lights in Norway? Here's a guide with the most frequently asked questions about cruises to see the aurora borealis.
Learn more about:
what temperatures to expect
what to pack
your options when travelling with Hurtigruten
Interview with our Northern Lights expert
"The northern lights are comparable to snowflakes; there are millions of them but no two will ever be the same."
Dr John Mason has been working with Hurtigruten since 2007, and this will be his eleventh consecutive winter season on our Astronomy Voyage.
Some of the Hurtigruten team had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with Dr Mason, quizzing him on all things aurora-related.
Nature's greatest light show
Witnessing the celestial Northern Lights shimmering in the star-studded sky is a life-affirming experience that will remain with you forever. Their wondrous, magnetic beauty is the reason why you'll happily brace the Arctic chill, and why you'll be drawn back to see them time and time again.
See the Northern Lights, or get a voyage for FREE
The Northern Lights simply cannot be described in words - they have to be experienced. And if you travel with Hurtigruten, we have a promise to you:
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