SCOTLAND – Full disclosure: Scotland will not provide your highest probability of seeing the northern lights. That said, on a clear night in the depths of winter, far from bright lights (and with no full moon), the ’mirrie dancers’ may perform. The Caithness region is as far north as you can go on the British mainland. At John O’ Groats, modern wooden chalets by Natural Retreats offer sweeping coastal views, plus the chance to dash outside when the skies erupt Even in the case of an aurora no-show, the wide landscapes and mysterious Stone Age monuments of Caithness are truly compelling.
ICELAND – Four hundred miles closer to the north pole than John O’ Groats, Iceland is also a good bet for dark skies, with only eight people per square mile on average, and huge tracts with none at all bingvellir National Park has a double claim to be the country’s birthplace: a wide valley where two tectonic plates are pulling apart, and also the old meeting place of the Alpingi – the parliament of the early Norse settlers. Just south of here, the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel brings high comfort into this wild terrain. It has big viewing windows, and also runs after-dinner tours to spot the aurora borealis.
NORWAY – Above the Arctic Circle, there is at least one day a year when the sun doesn’t rise. In northern Norway, this means a few hours of milky twilight, then a long night – hopefully illuminated with shimmering curtains and other light displays.
Sollia Gjestegaard is an aurora-spotting base with more history than most: built in 1929 as a lakeside sanatorium to take advantage of the pure air, its wooden cabins are well enough away from Kirkenestown, and just a few hundred metres from the Russian border. It even has a tent camp for guests to get further into the wild… and closer to the lights.