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Even if the cold doesn’t bother you, the trouble with winter is that nightfall arrives sooner than most of us would like it to. There is however, one good reason to venture out into the frigid winter air during the darkest months of the year: the Northern Lights. Also known as aurora borealis or the “northern dawn,” this electrical phenomena is approaching a peak period that will last until about 2016. In other words, if you haven’t seen this shimmering display before, the odds of catching a glimpse in the next few years are higher than usual. Clear skies on or around the spring equinox (March 20 in 2013) will up your chances even further. And for travelers planning a trip to see the aurora, the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks helpfully posts a forecast online. Read more
Looking to explore a new country this fall and partake in some adventure? Getaway to Iceland for three nights from October 1-December 15 for only $777 per person. This package costs the same as current rates for round-trip airfare, essentially making the other components of the trip free. Those components include three nights at the 4-star Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura, round-trip airfare from Boston, New York, or Washington, D.C., a day long excursion that includes a glacier ice walk, a northern lights hunt, and a lobster soup dinner, and daily admission to the Natura Hotel’s Soley Spa.
You may dismiss Iceland when brainstorming fall and winter vacations due to it’s chilling name. But Iceland is actually quite mild (a modest monthly average temperature of 39°F-45°F in October-December) compared to other Nordic nations like Norway where temperatures can easily dive below freezing at the end of the year. Fall and winter also make for prime viewing of the aurora borealis which is most vivid around the equinoxes (the fall equinox occurs September 22). Read more
If you’ve always been intrigued by the Northern Lights, the curious phenomenon that turns the sky around the Arctic Circle a splendid panorama of green, red, and yellow hues, start packing the winter gear, because the best time to catch this elusive natural artwork is from October through March.
But, as anyone who’s in search of the lights, also called Aurora Borealis, will tell you, there are no guarantees. You need a cloudless sky, little or no moon, and luck. And because craning your neck in the sub-zero darkness will try the patience of even the most intrepid adventurer, your best bet is to pick a home base destination that has more than the lights to offer.
Here are a few destinations that offer good opportunities for both. And if you’re itching to see the lights but would rather not experience the bone-numbing temperatures of such chilly destinations, mark your calendar for this time in 2011. Every 11 years or so, the lights are spotted much further south than the Arctic Circle. So wherever in the world you happen to be in October through March of 2011, remember to look up, and you just might get lucky.
We’ve all seen pictures of polar bears on receding sheets of ice, but it wasn’t until I flew to the western shore of Hudson Bay, in northern Manitoba, that I understood you could get so close to them you could appreciate the fearsome moistness of their snouts, the awesome sharpness of their claws and teeth, or the fact that the thousand-pound predators still look like fat, furry white blobs you want to leap on and hug.
Or that you can see them in the summer, in weather that sometimes approaches 70 degrees, against a backdrop of purple fireweed, gentian, primrose, buttercup, and cloudberries, as well as potbellied Arctic ground squirrels. Except that you might also see one of those winsome squirrels hanging limply from a polar bear’s teeth.
The Deal: For a chance to gaze up at the awe-inspiring Northern Lights this winter, snag one of the low fares to Scandinavia (and more Europe) posted on Icelandair, starting from as little as $325 round-trip (working out to just $163 each way). The cheapest rates we found were to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, for travel in early December – fares turned up for $400 round-trip (with taxes and fees factored in).
Sample Round-Trip Fares: Boston–Reykjavik: $325; NYC–Helsinki: $399; Seattle–Stockholm: $486; and more
Book by: ASAP
Travel By: Select dates through winter
The Catch: These fares are subject to change at any time.
I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but staring up for hours at the Arctic sky just didn’t sound like fun–until now. I recently read in The New York Times that Jussi Eiramo, owner of the Hotel Kakslauttanen, in Lapland, Finland, came up with the perfect solution for catching the Aurora Borealis. No more standing around with a stiff neck and freezing–you can view the Lights from the comforts of your private, glass-domed igloo–all while laying down. Read more
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