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northern lights & an eclipse: bucket list trips for kids (and grown-up kids)

northern lightsVisitors to Iceland  with big hopes of witnessing the natural beauty of the northern lights won’t be disappointed thanks to a new facility in downtown Reykjavik.

The Aurora Reykjavik is a new educational, recreational and interactive attraction which uses the latest advances in multimedia technology to bring the Northern Lights to life. Split into sections including information & photography, interactive & educational and the history of the lights, the centre’s focal point is the experience room which uses a large HD projection to immerse visitors in the Aurora Borealis’ majestic green glow. The Northern Lights are usually only visible during the winter season, but the Aurora Reykjavik allows summertime travellers to get the best of both worlds and enjoy the ever glowing midnight sun before gazing at the magical Aurora waves.

For wintertime travellers, a visit to the centre will whet their appetites for the real thing which can be seen in Iceland from September to the end of March. Last year’s solar peak saw NASA predicting a winter of stunning light shows and it seems this is set to continue for winter 2013 due to an unusual double peak in increased sunspot activity. Holidaymakers can visit the Aurora Reykjavik and try their luck at witnessing the phenomenon for themselves with one of WOW air’s unforgettable Northern Lights packages. Priced from £224/$342 per person for travel from September to December 2013, the Northern Lights Weekend Treat includes a Northern Lights tour, Golden Circle tour, entry to the Blue Lagoon, three nights’ hotel accommodation with breakfast, transfers and return flights from London Gatwick.

WOW air’s direct route between London Gatwick and Reykjavik costs from just £74/$113 one way, which includes taxes and hand luggage allowance (one bag measuring 56cm x 45cm x 25cm) plus handbag and duty-free shopping bag.  The Aurora Reykjavik is open daily from 10am – 10pm. Ticket prices cost £9.50/$14.50 for an adult ticket, £8.49/$13 for a senior/student ticket and £5.80/$8.87 for kids.

northern lights I’ve also had the heads-up from soft-adventure tour operator, The Mighty Fine Company They’ve just launched four new, dedicated Northern Lights holidays, in light of NASA’s revised prediction that autumn 2013 will see the best Northern Lights show in a decade.  The specialist in experience-led holidays believes that NASA’s exciting forecast, coupled with the warmer climate that a visit to Scandinavia in the autumn offers, makes autumn 2013 the prime time for a Northern Lights adventure. Patrick Coyle, Sales Director for The Mighty Fine Company, told me, “The Northern Lights are stronger when the sun reaches the peak of its 11 year cycle, the solar maximum. NASA initially expected this to happen last winter but experts now believe that there will be two peaks; one in mid-September this year and one in March 2015.”

ON OFFER are…

Norway – The Mighty Fine Company’s Autumn Northern Lights Holiday in Norway takes holidaymakers to beautiful Vesterålen, North of the Lofoten Islands.  The region is spectacular, boasting fjords and sounds, rivers and lakes, moors, valleys and plains.  In the autumn, the dark evenings return to create a fitting canvas for the Aurora and Vesterålen’s remote setting, away from artificial light, also optimises Northern Lights-spotting conditions.  Each day of the tour is packed with activities and exciting experiences including hiking, kayaking, wildlife and Northern Lights photography lessons. Every evening, local, expert guides are available to help you hunt for the Northern Lights, subject to favourable conditions. Departures are available between 12 September and 30 November 2013 and prices start from £1,408/$2152 per person. This includes: return flights from London to Evenes via Oslo, transfers, four nights’ full board accommodation in a waterfront apartment, an eagle safari by boat, a photography workshop, a guided mountain walk with outdoor education and wildlife cooking, a kayak tour and a sightseeing bus tour.

Iceland – With its northerly location surrounded by the vast Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is perfectly located for Aurora Borealis spotting. The Northern Lights Exploration tour takes holidaymakers to all of the country’s hotspots to maximise the chances of witnessing this glorious phenomenon. Whether relaxing in the warm waters of the famous Blue Lagoon, touring the mountains and valleys of Vatnajökull National Park or watching reflections in the Jokulsárlón glacial lagoon, guests on this tour are in constant anticipation of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, which could illuminate the skies on any night of the holiday.  Aside from the Aurora Borealis, visitors will witness other incredible, natural wonders such as smouldering volcanoes, bubbling hot springs, thundering waterfalls and bright white glaciers. Departures are available between 29 September 2013 and 23 March 2014 and prices start from £995/$1521 per person. This includes: return flights from London Gatwick to Reykjavik, Flybus transfers, seven nights’ accommodation in a selection of hotels and country guesthouses on a bed and breakfast basis, a fully escorted six-day coach tour with an English-speaking guide, a six-evening Northern Lights Academy programme which features lectures, guided searches and midnight refreshments, a Breiðafjörður fjord cruise including lunch,  a visit to a traditional shark curing farm, a geothermal cooking experience by a hot spring, a visit to an Icelandic horse stables and geothermal greenhouse, a visit to the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano Information Center which features a multi-media presentation, a trip to the Skógar Folk Museum, a visit to the Blue Lagoon and a traditional dinner in the Northern Lights Inn.

lapland igloo village northern lightsLapland – The Mighty Fine Company’s Autumn Aurora Break at Lapland Igloo Village combines stunning accommodation and family-friendly activities with the very real chance of witnessing the Northern Lights.  Set in the beautiful Saariselkä fell area, close to the Urho Kekkonen National Park, a stay at the Kakslauttanen Igloo Village is an experience in itself.  Holidaymakers will spend three nights in a cosy traditional log cabin, with its own private sauna and then an evening in one of the resort’s world famous glass igloos.  There’s no better way to watch the Northern Lights display, should they decide to make an appearance, than from a cosy bed, gazing out of a glass igloo! Car hire is included in this trip, allowing visitors to explore the local countryside, taking in a visit to the Santa Claus Village, or venturing further afield to the Siida Museum and the Saajos Cultural Centre to learn about the fascinating lives of the Sami people.  Other optional activities include white water rafting and hiking. Departures are available between 24 August and 31 October 2013 and prices start from £868/$1327 per person. This includes: return flights from London Heathrow to Rovaniemi via Helsinki, car hire and four night’s accommodation on a half-board basis.

Finland – The Northern Lights Experience at Menesjarvioffers the perfect Aurora mini-break. Holidaymakers will learn the art of photographing the Northern Lights in a dedicated workshop before being taken out to the most advantageous spots in the hope of witnessing them.  The trip also allows time to discover the culture, history and wildlife of Finland with a visit to a husky farm, a horse-riding venture across Finland’s most beautiful terrains and trips to the local museum and nature centre, all on the itinerary. Departures are available from 1 September to 31 November 2013 and prices start from £865/$1322 per person. This includes: return flights from London to Ivalo via Helsinki, transfers, three nights’ accommodation at the Hotel Korpikartano on a half-board basis, access to the sauna, the Aurora photography workshop, Northern Lights excursions and a Siida and Inari visit.

WHAT”S MORE … since science these days is cool in school, I’m inspired by Explorers Astronomy Tours’ brand new selection of family-focused galactic getaways. Right up my street, the tour company want to encourage families to see and do something spectacular on their travels. It’s a welcome break from the standard fly and flop fortnight at another predictable resort. These trips for kids take in both the northern lights and desert stargazing. All tours are accompanied by Explorers’ resident Galactic Rangers who provide their expert insight into the celestial activity. As well as increasing the number of departures for its sell-out tour to the sought-after aurora borealis, Explorers has introduced a 5-day family-only Northern Lights holiday, departing February.

David Phillips, Operations & Planning Manager at Explorers, told me: “With northern light forecasts continuing to suggest that the next couple of years will provide prime viewing conditions, it’s wonderful to see how this natural phenomenon has captured the nations’ imagination… the sky’s the limit’ perfectly sums up the potential for incorporating astronomy into year-round adventure holidays & trips for kids all across the world. Whilst this November’s Total Solar Eclipse in Australia is sure to prove another ‘must-see’ experience, we’ve also introduced stargazing trips that take advantage of the wonderful desert skies of destinations such as Jordan, Turkey and Morocco.”

Here’s a preview of what’s on offer…

glaciers geysers northern lights trips for kids Glaciers, Geysers & Northern Lights – Astronomy Trip for Kids… 5 days from £1,099/$1,724 per adult & £1,039/$1,630 per child – For the first time, families can now explore the rugged beauty of Iceland and watch the Icelandic skies come alive at night with an astronomy expert on-hand to guide them through the light display. For children aged eight and above, the tour will take families away from pollution zones to get a good view of the phenomenon.
                                                                       

Turkey Adventure & Astronomy… 8 days from £1,429/$2,242 – Taking advantage of the new moon, families will camp under the stars and watch the sky come alive as educational planetarium shows entertain and educate families with children aged 12 upwards. The clear skies of Cappadocia and its surreal scenery will allow holidaymakers to view the planets and constellations in a whole new light.




Perseids meteor shower trips for kids Sinai Desert & Stars… 8 days from £1,069/$1,677 – Incorporating a desert jeep safari, families will be whisked off on an Egyptian adventure which combines all the action of the desert with the wow factor of the stars, planets and Perseids meteor shower. During the holiday, families will be treated to two nights of stargazing hosted by resident ‘Galactic Ranger’ and acclaimed astronomer Dr John Mason. Minimum age 12.



petra trps for kids Petra & Desert Sky at Night… 7 days from £1,429/$2,242 – For an experience to capture the essence of the Wadi Rum desert, families will experience life in a Bedouin Camp before sleeping under a blanket of stars. The private use of a 16-inch telescope will give children an even closer look at the constellations and the Milky Way, providing them with an unforgettable hands-on learning experience. Other highlights include exploring the lost world of Petra, floating in the Dead Sea and a 4WD desert adventure.

For more inspiration on bucket list trips to view the Northern Lights, go get lost… recommends

Lonely Planet Finland (Country Guide)

Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide)

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Norway

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