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Northern Lights
Winter is here and though heading somewhere colder may not be your first thought, if the Northern Lights are on your bucket list, mid-September to early April is a top time to try and experience them, with the period until mid-March the best.

The Aurora Borealis, as it is also known, can be seen on earth when charged particles emitted from the sun (creating the so-called solar wind) hit the earth's atmosphere and excite the oxygen and nitrogen molecules. Whatever the scientific explanation is, it's a thing of beauty and wonder, a shifting curtain of light.

Crossing the Arctic Circle significantly increases your chances of seeing the phenomenon, as the lights are active in a ring around the pole. At this latitude you'll also find the aurora overhead rather than low on the horizon and it is stronger in intensity. A word of warning though, due to our relatively poor night vision only the strongest displays are seen by humans in colour, you are most likely to see the familiar shape-shifting lights as white or faint green.

Not sure if you're seeing the aurora or light pollution? Your camera will pick up the colours - intense green most likely, whereas the lights of a distant town will show orange.

Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten offers a 'Northern Lights guarantee' on its 12-day Astronomy Voyage, half of which is spent above the Arctic Circle. Those who fail to see the phenomenon get a return trip. John Mason, who was mentored by TV's Patrick Moore, leads most of these special sailings. He gives enthusiastic lectures, accessible to all levels of science knowledge, about the lights, the solar system and more and shares tips on photography.

Hardened souls will wrap up and stay on deck all night but others can retire to their cabins or darkened lounges nearby and await a call when the lights are most active. In the last ten years of similar voyages Mason says three nights of sightings has been the lowest recorded and 10 nights the highest.

As locals also use Hurtigruten's service as a hop on and hop off ferry, the ship stops at numerous ports on route. Of most interest to tourists are the North Cape - the most northerly point on mainland Europe, and Kirkenes, where dog sledding excursions are popular. Twilight whale watching using spotlights and a Viking-style feast are among other possible activities.

Fresh produce is bought on board throughout the voyage, so food standards are high and having a full-board meal plan helps pre-plan costs in this expensive country. Fish lovers in particular are in for a treat, though do read the menu carefully if you balk at eating Rudolph and friends, as reindeer meat is popular in Norway.

You don't have to view the lights afloat of course; they can be seen a few miles from some European city break destinations including Reykjavik, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki and the more southerly Aberdeen and Inverness. Further afield, Greenland, the Norwegian islands of Svalbard, Northern Russia, Canada and Alaska also witness the aurora borealis. Plan winter activities like sledging, snowshoeing, snowmobile riding and the like and you'll be less prone to disappoint if the aurora doesn't play ball.

Losing the light pollution and heading North is the key - so if you can cross that Arctic Circle for a few days, then you're far more likely to make that bucket list tick.