They’ve enraptured, mystified and often frustrated people throughout history, but the Northern Lights are undoubtedly one of the natural world’s greatest displays.

The chance to witness this natural phenomenon of electrically charged particles entering the earth’s atmosphere at the magnetic poles attracts an increasing number of tourists each year. From swirling green streaks to rippling red curtains, no two shows are ever the same.

Here are our recommendations for the best places to see the Lights.

Best for outdoor enthusiasts… Lake Inari, Finland

Most people associate the aurora borealis with snowy landscapes, but the lights have been known to appear in Scandinavia as early as August.

Anyone who shivers at the thought of plummeting temperatures should plan an autumn trip to Lake Inari, Finland, where it’s still a relatively balmy minus five degrees at night.

At this time of year, longer daylight hours allow hikes through birch forests and boat rides across the lake, which also serves a giant mirror if the lights do show up at night.

In the 1940s, prospectors struck gold in the region, and it’s still possible to pan for the precious metal at nearby Saariselkä. It’s just one of the many riches this wilderness on the Russian border has to offer.

Best for intrepid explorers… Svalbard, Norway

The northernmost landmass before the North Pole, set far above the tree line, Norway’s Svalbard archipelago will appeal to extreme and adventurous travellers. Home to more polar bears than people, it’s a harsh but beautiful environment that’s remarkably accessible throughout the year.

Visitors can fly into Longyearbyen, a town of 2,000 residents on main island Spitsbergen, where there’s even an art gallery (Galleri Svalbard).

From November to January, 24 hour darkness increases the chances of seeing the aurora, with the option to explore pristine Arctic desert on snowmobiles or with husky dogs.

Best for photography… Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Reykjavik is a popular option for travellers wanting to combine a Northern Lights hunt with a city break, but in reality you’ll need to travel out of town to escape light pollution and find clear night skies.

Head southeast to Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lake in Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, where the iceberg-filled waters provide an eerie setting for Northern Lights displays from September to May.

The location has featured in various Hollywood blockbusters, such as Batman Begins and View to a Kill, and is a favourite spot for professional photographers. The winning image in the 2014 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition was a shot of the aurora taken here.

Best for guaranteed displays… Yellowknife, Canada

Just 400km from the Arctic Circle, the city of Yellowknife is the gateway to the Canadian Arctic and is regarded by many as the best place in the region to see the Northern Lights.

The city sits directly below the aurora belt, where displays are supposed to be the strongest. They also occur overhead rather than on the horizon, meaning you can lie back, watch the show and really fall under the spell of nature.

Clear skies are essential for seeing the lights and, as a result of low rainfall, Yellowknife is cloud-free for more than 240 days per year.

Best for scientific research… Alberta, Canada

Who better than scientists to trust when it comes to selecting a destination to view the Northern Lights? Athabasca in Alberta is home to a NASA station, where studies about the magnetic effects of the aurora are carried out.

Visitors to the province can start their journey in main city Edmonton which, although being one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, is a great place to encounter one of nature’s greatest phenomena. Dark skies are a short drive away, although green streaks have been known to appear above the city’s skyscrapers.

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