Tromso, the buzzing hub of Norway's far north, is the coolest vantage point from which to see them. Located 450km north of the Arctic Circle, Tromso is right beneath the auroral oval - the ring around the North Pole within which the lights can be seen. The sun doesn't rise from mid-November to mid-January, so you don't have to wait until midnight to experience the display. The best viewing spots are usually a little way out of town.
The 24-hour polar night, a twilight period in which the sun doesn't rise above the horizon, can last up to 51 days here. During this time without sun, the northern lights brighten the day. Between December and April, weather permitting, visit the Snow Restaurant at Hotel Kakslauttanen, where tables made of ice are arranged inside an igloo and guests can try their hand at snow carving while they wait for their meal.
The lack of city illumination means Abisko, a remote town near the border of Norway, is Sweden's top spot to see the northern lights. In Abisko National Park, ride a ski lift up to the Aurora Sky Station, a panoramic observation point, where you can have dinner and a guided tour. Another good Abisko experience is a stay in the Icehotel, rebuilt from snow and ice each year.
Iceland is also close to the auroral oval where the northern lights form. If the sky is clear, the lights are almost always visible. One of the best spots is the edge of Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajokull. And be sure to visit the magnificent glacial lagoon, where you might spot seals playing around newly formed icebergs.
Kjollefjord is the largest village along Norway's Nordkyn Peninsula, the northernmost region of the European mainland in the far north of the Arctic Circle. Nordkyn is renowned for its stark, beautiful nature, fresh air and friendly atmosphere. The northern lights shine bright in winter, the crisp air and snow amplifying both moonlight and starlight. Join a snowmobile trip to Mehamn to catch a glimpse.
John Mason has been showing Bentours guests the northern lights from Hurtigruten ships for the past six years. bentours.com.au.
Pictured: Kakslauttanen Glass Igloos, Finnish Lapland; Served on snow at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finnish Lapland; The Northern Lights as seen near Tromso, Norway; Sunset over Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland's Vatnajokull Region.