Chasing the Lights
Seeing the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, is a question of careful timing. The aurora season generally lasts from the autumn equinox in September to the vernal equinox in March.
However, visiting the Arctic at this time of year does not necessarily guarantee that you will be able to enjoy this spectacular natural phenomenon. You have to meet a few conditions:
• Clear skies are a must: any clouds will block the view.
• You will have to travel to the countryside, away from big cities as the aurora can’t be seen in the presence of bright artificial lighting.
• Watch out for sunspots and solar flares: the greater the solar activity, the greater the chance of seeing a bright aurora within the following two to five days.
• Basically, the further north you travel, the more likely you are to see the northern lights.
The Russian North, including Chukotka, Taimyr Peninsula and the Komi Republic, is an excellent vantage point to see the northern lights from. However, the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, which offer equally exceptional views of the aurora, are much easier to access if you are travelling from Moscow.
There are several flights by Russian airlines from Moscow to Murmansk every day. The two and a half hour journey will cost $129 (round trip) in December. A trip by rail from Moscow to Murmansk takes 35 to 37 hours and will set you back at least $37 (one way).
A two hour flight from Moscow to Arkhangelsk can be booked for $100. One way train tickets to Arkhangelsk, a journey of about 20 hours, start at $18.
The largest Russian city inside the Arctic Circle, Murmansk itself is probably too brightly-lit to make aurora-watching possible. The light shows are best visible from Teriberka (best known as the setting for the controversial movie “Leviafan”), Pecheneg, Polyarny, Vidyaevo or any of the small villages and towns within easy reach of Murmansk.
There are lots of local travel agencies providing guided tours for aurora viewers. To calculate the date of the next aurora, travel operators generally rely on specialised weather services. In some cases, you will have to wait a few days for a northern lights display, so why not use this time for some sightseeing? Marvel at the nearly 36 metre tall war memorial “Alyosha” in the centre of Murmansk or visit an atmospheric Saami village.
Located to the south of Murmansk, the Arkhangelsk region enjoys many bright days in the autumn and winter, which makes it an excellent site for watching the celestial attraction. However, it's recommended that you travel to the north of the region to do this.
The city of Arkhangelsk, with its numerous hotels and restaurants, will provide an excellent base for your Arctic holiday though. While you are waiting for the next great aurora, visit the Malye Korely open-air museum or choose from a broad selection of local attractions.