There’s something about the blue light of the mornings that turns buttercup yellow at noon, then takes on pinky tinges as evening falls, the serenity of the pure white landscapes, the impossibly intricate design of a single snowflake, the sparkling jewels of hoar frost that grow on the branches of spruce, that never ceases to entrance.
Viewing the dance of the northern lights is one of the world’s great travel experiences. High above the Arctic Circle, visitors brave the icy temperatures for a chance to get a glimpse of the aurora borealis swirling across the night sky.
Once the sun comes up there’s a whole winter wonderland to explore across the Arctic, whether you want to take a trip in a tundra buggy to meet polar bears in Canada, explore Norway’s frozen lakes and snow-laden forests on a husky sled, or indulge in a leisurely soak in one of Iceland’s many hot springs.
However many times you see them, this magic never dies.
It’s difficult to decide which is my most memorable aurora experience. The most magnificent: that’s easy. It was at a tourist aurora-viewing centre in Yellowknife, Canada. That night the lights came out and performed a body-popping breakdance of movement and colour, swirling, soaring and tumbling above the perpetual white of the northern winter.
Observing the aurora in Finland © Konsta Punkka, VisitFinland
The most mood-enhancing? That might have been during a camping and dogsledding trip when temperatures had dived into the minus 40s and morale was low.
We were about to turn in for another frigid night when the faintest of milky spires weaved up from behind our tents. It moved with creeping timidity – it seemed even the aurora was unwilling to venture out into such brutal cold – yet the sight filled us with a sense of calm, a feeling of privilege despite our discomfort.
The moment that really sticks in my mind, however, boasted no very special display at all. I was in Canada’s Dawson City, the historic home of the Klondike gold rush.
I was coming out of a timber building onto the wooden boardwalk pavement – planning regulations keep Dawson’s heritage alive – following a jazz concert. Two grey-haired women walked alongside me; from their conversation it was clear they were locals.
‘Look,’ one interrupted the other. ‘There’s the aurora!’
She pointed beyond the rooftops to where the now-familiar green fingers clawed up into the sky. Both women stopped and took a few moments’ silence to appreciate the spectacle. And then, more thoughtfully, they walked on.
For the first time, I began to understand why people have for so many centuries lived in awe of the aurora. These women must have seen the phenomenon hundreds of times, I thought as I walked back to my B&B, yet still it held them captive.
In our world of technological bangs and flashes, the remarkable has sometimes become everyday, but there’s an otherworldliness to the northern lights, something that really verges on the magical. And, however many times you see them, this magic never dies.
Our pick of the best activities guaranteed to nourish the soul.
From Alaska to Finland, these are best places to marvel at the northern lights.
Here are some of our favourite views of the northern lights and what to do on a trip to the Arctic.
Polly Evans writes about the Sámi people of Lapland and their way of life.
If you’re longing to catch a glimpse of nature’s fireworks, take note of these top tips for your arctic adventure.