The Northern Lights are one of nature’s most amazing phenomena. People who have observed it in person assure us that Internet photos do not convey even one-hundredth of beauty. Would you like to see it for yourself? Then go to one of the places where you can see them with your own eyes.
When To Go?
The likelihood of catching the northern lights is highest in winter, from about November to February – although technically the northern lights appear in the sky from the autumn equinox to the spring equinox. Remember, however, that several conditions must be met to observe the bright lights.
First, you need complete darkness and no light pollution. In the northern regions of Russia, these conditions are fulfillable – there is a polar night in winter, and there are not many cities and towns. Experts say it is best to go somewhere out of town between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Second, keep an eye on the so-called space weather forecast. The likelihood of seeing auroras after solar flares increases by three times.
And, of course, the sky should be clear. No clouds! So it’s important to check the weather forecast, too.
Where to go?
In Russia, several regions are located near the Arctic Circle, which means that in winter the sky there is colored by the green and blue lights of the northern lights. There are not many large cities and towns in these latitudes. How to get to them? We tell you about the five main destinations.
Murmansk and Murmansk region
How to get there: the fastest way is by plane – it takes two and a half hours from Moscow, a round-trip ticket costs 3000 rubles. You can also go by train, but then be prepared to spend almost 35 hours on the road.
Murmansk is the most convenient destination for residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the city, it is difficult to see the lights, too much light, so people who know advise going to one of the villages in the area, for example, Teriberka, Lovozero, Vidyaevo, Pechenega or any other point on the map, to which you can get. For example, there is a regular bus to Lovozero, but keep in mind that you have to go late at night and come back at night. You may try to make a deal with some locals or rent a car from one of the few car rentals.
And in general, the best option would be to join one of the groups of chasers for the northern lights. Tours are organized by locals who monitor weather conditions and take travelers to optimal locations where the likelihood of seeing Aurora Borealis is higher. Offers can be found on the Internet or at Murmansk travel agencies.
What else to do
Winter is harsh here by the Moscow standards: it’s dark all day and the temperature sometimes drops to -35°C. In the city itself, there are several museums – local history, art, and the history of the Murmansk Shipping Company. You can take a sightseeing tour to see the few places of interest. But most tourists are attracted to the outskirts – many take trips to the Arctic Ocean, to Teriberka (130 km from the city), where the film “Leviathan” was shot, or to the peninsula Rybachy and Sredny on the Barents Sea (in winter you can get there only with an organized jeep tour).
How to get there: by plane to Kirovsk. The ticket from Moscow and back costs from 5500 rubles, the trip takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.
You can observe quite often the light of the sky in Khibiny. The polar night lasts in Kirovsk from December 15 to 28 – during this period the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all, so, if the weather and geomagnetic conditions are favorable, the probability to see the northern lights is great. Usually, chasers for this natural phenomenon go on special tours in the mountains, but you can fly to Kirovsk and then go to one of the ski resorts, where light pollution is less.
What else to do
Of course, skiing! There are all conditions for this: you can even not leave Kirovsk, the northern slope of Mount Aikuaivenchorr is located within the city limits. And on the southern slope, there is an excellent complex “Big Woodyavr”, or BigWood, which attracts skiers and snowboarders with modern slopes. If you get tired of skiing there, go a little farther to Kukisvumchorr, known for its freeride areas. In addition, you can ride snowmobiles in the area or fish in the lakes.
Arkhangelsk and Arkhangelsk region
How to get there: by plane from Moscow. Travel time is a little less than two hours, round-trip ticket costs from 4100 rubles.
The farther you are from the city, the more chances to observe the northern lights. This rule also works in the Arkhangelsk region, so in the city itself, there are not too many chances to see the aurora borealis. But Severodvinsk is often in the area of the northern light – you can get here in 45 minutes by car or in an hour by train (a one-way ticket will cost you 900 rubles).
What else to do
Arkhangelsk region is called an open-air museum – there are many interesting traditional villages, beautiful churches, and stunning nature. For example to Solovetsky monastery, which is on the five hundred rubles banknote, you can get there only by plane (it takes less than an hour and costs about 7000 rubles for a round trip ticket). Perhaps you should limit your sightseeing to the city: there are many well-preserved old buildings in Arkhangelsk, most are located on the pedestrian Chumbarova-Luchinsky Avenue. The embankment was renovated a few years ago – if it is not too cold outside, it is definitely worth a walk there.
Syktyvkar- Komi Republic
How to get there: direct flight Moscow – Syktyvkar, travel time – two hours. The cost of round-trip tickets starts from 5800 rubles. By train is a little cheaper (from 2100 rubles for a ticket one way), but much longer – almost a day on the road.
Local residents say that in Syktyvkar you may see the northern lights at the end of August, and in winter under favorable conditions, this natural phenomenon is observed even in the city limits. If you want adventure, you can go to Vorkuta. The train trip from Syktyvkar takes one day, but on the way, you will admire the wilderness, and eventually end up in a wonderful city, which is called a Soviet reserve for its architecture. Due to its geographical location, the northern lights are often observed here.
What else to do
Syktyvkar is quite an interesting provincial town. You can visit the St. Stefanovsky Cathedral and Trinity Stefan-Ulyanovsk Monastery, built in the 19th century. Buy a magnet with the symbol of the city, the fireplace, and take a picture on the central Stefanovskaya Square. That’s all the local entertainment.
Yakutsk and Oymyakon
How to get there: there are regular flights from Moscow to the capital of the Sakha Republic. If you change planes in Novosibirsk, the journey will take about 10 hours, and the ticket price is about 30,000 rubles round trip.
And now to the more distant and harsh regions of central Russia. Winter in Yakutia lasts seven or eight months, and almost half the republic is located north of the Arctic Circle. However, during the long winter nights, local residents of almost all settlements can admire the northern lights, and it is believed that they are the brightest in Russia. For the greatest beauty, one should go to the village Oymyakon (one of the coldest places in the Northern Hemisphere), which can be reached by car from Yakutsk in a day along a fairly comfortable route. But if you do not want to have extra adventures, you can stay in the city.
What else to do
Yakutsk itself is unlikely to impress you with the beauty of local architecture, but that is not why people come here. They say here you should try the local cuisine, admire the nature and of course test your body with Yakutian frosts (suffice it to say that junior high school classes in Yakutsk are canceled only at -45°C). Also, go down under the underground, to the Museum of Permafrost. Be sure to visit the Mammoth Museum, where you can look at the stuffed animal of the famous mammoth Dima. And the complete mammoth skeleton is in the Yaroslavsky Museum of Culture and People of the North.