Polar lights attract travelers to North | DW Travel | DW | 20.12.2018
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Polar lights attract travelers to North

In the winter months, more and more people are drawn to the far north of Europe to watch an extraordinary spectacle in the sky at night: the aurora borealis — a light phenomenon that enchants the observer.

Northern lights illuminate the sky over snow-covered mountains in Norway (Getty Images/AFP/O. Morin)

Northern lights in Norway

Among the most fascinating natural and weather phenomena are those luminous phenomena in the sky that occur particularly north and south of the 66th parallel in the polar regions around the magnetic north and south poles. 

Who has the best aurora borealis?

Today people travel especially to the far north to admire the so-called aurora borealis, which in recent years has increasingly developed into a winter attraction for Scandinavian holidaymakers. Alta in the northern Norwegian province of Finnmark is considered to be the city of the northern lights; there are reportedly only a few places in the world where you can experience the glow more intensely than here. Tromso even self-confidently describes itself as the "capital of the northern lights."

There is almost an excursion industry around the northern lights here — probably also because of the many photos posted on Facebook & Co that make you want to experience them. Several dozen providers have nocturnal bus tours in their program. The season for polar lights lasts from the end of September to the end of March, but in the dark season they are particularly good to see.

Northern lights fill the sky over a coastal landscape in Iceland (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/W. Pattyn)

Northern lights in Iceland

Nature as an incentive to travel

Stefan Gössling, professor of Sustainable Tourism and Mobility at the University of Lund in Sweden, has observed a growing interest in tours to the northern lights.

Northern lights in Sweden (Getty Images/AFP/J. Nackstrand)

Northern lights in Sweden

For example, winter trips providing a chance to see the northern lights were being "marketed very offensively" by the Norwegian postal shipping line. In his opinion, people are attracted by phenomena that are rather rare. The aurora borealis is such a "particularly unique and very aesthetic natural spectacle." Other holidaymakers are concerned with "the creation of social status through the consumption of particularly exotic experiences."

But the risk of standing in front of a closed cloud cover simply speaks against a hip weekend trip with the plane to the far north. The longer the stay, the more realistic the chance of actually catching a glimpse of the glow in the sky. And for some years now, there have even been special apps for this, which observe solar activity and reliably predict the probability of northern lights.

For example, the website "Auroras Now!" of the Finnish Meteorological Institute offers free email notifications after registration, which are sent whenever the magnetic conditions in the sky over Finland are particularly favorable for northern lights. Whoever then stands at the right place, away from settlements, thickly packed at midnight in the icy silence, experiences a glow that he will not forget for the rest of his life.

is/ks (with kna)

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