Looking for the Northern Lights: how to find the aurora by yourself

How to catch the aurora without having to sign up for a package holiday.

Aurora imaged over Inari, Finland. Credit: Yuichi Yokota / EyeEm / GettyImages

Is it possible to see the Northern Lights without an organised tour group? I’ve been lucky enough to see them on a few occasions: I’ve travelled to Iceland and joined a busload of people following a fixed route, getting on and off a coach in order to catch a glimmer.

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I’ve also had the chance to view the aurora from the air, again in Iceland, and watching the Northern Lights emerge as a glow on the horizon.

A few years ago I decided to try something new, heading to the Arctic on my own to hunt this magical phenomenon.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the number of tours on offer: Northern Lights tourism runs across the Arctic.

Tours have benefits such as the expertise of guides, getting to meet new people and so on.

But going it alone gives you the freedom to stay as long as you want in one particular place – you are not tied to a  group after all – and travel to places that tourists don’t frequently go.

I journeyed to Finnish Lapland to start with, but also ended up venturing into Norway.

I spent some time with tour groups, but came across astronomers who had decided to forge paths away from the crowds.

Heading out alone is certainly not something to be done on a whim – it requires careful planning.

“Of course you are going to be naturally wary,” says astrophotographer Jamie Cooper, who I ran into in a hotel in the village of Inari.

Cooper is something of a veteran aurora hunter, having chased after the lights independently six times already.

“It’s really not as challenging as you think,” he says, though he does admit that for some stepping away from a group does mean leaving your comfort zone.

So what do you need to do in order to hunt the aurora alone?

The first things to decide are where you want to go and for how long: the more time you have away, the greater your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. I spent just over a week in the Arctic.

Try not to be seduced by advertising campaigns from your possible destinations; you need to think about what you really want out of your trip.

For scenery Norway is great, but the climate means it’s likely to be cloudier. Iceland offers lots of winter activities in addition to aurora chasing, but it’s not as far north.

Look around for somewhere that will provide everything you want out of your trip.